Archive for August, 2016

Carrington, The Mill at Tidmarsh — I watched the very great film, Carrington last night (written and directed by Christopher Hampton, featuring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, with a moving performance by Samuel West)

In the morning when I wake up and go to the computer, put it on, it reaches the Internet and I have letters from friends.

When I read my gmail and find evidence that other people are carrying on cheerfully, doing different things in their lives and finding it worth while.

When in the blogs I read I see a like spirit has read a good book and is talking about it with real interest, has deeply felt thoughts about it, cares about the book or author, and clearly has spent at minimum an hour writing this and many hours, more, in preparation (in effect).

When on face-book I see friends telling some truths about their lives (not just presenting themselves as having achieved this, or see me in this group or that, happy), involved in various political and work-related causes, sending a note to me or someone else, offering up good-natured jokes, or interesting videos, or some political view that is humane. I feel I watch other people’s lives who I know and how they get through. Over the years I’ve watched lived change and evolve, some suffering a good deal (other widows, people deserted, cut off from a job, getting sick, losing connectivity) and others going on trips

When I go to my listservs (I read three at this point and have a fourth I wish I had time for) and find email about the topics under discussion, and people communicating. Just now on Trollope19thCStudies we are having such a good time with Tolstoy’s War and Peace and many threads connected. We are trying to stay together, 3 of us reading about Virginia Woolf (Hermione Lee) on Wwtta. Earlier this summer we read and discussed a good book written by one of us, published.

My daughter who lives with me. My cats. Izzy had on a video by Simon about cats as I woke this morning. One cat was laying next to me, and the other came over to nudge me and show affecion as I woke.

Clarycat on my lap while I read Oliphant’s powerfully truthful Hester

If I have someplace pleasant to go to, either the JCC gym classes, or during the term times go to teach, or go to a movie by myself or with a friend, a play (Shakespeare), an HD opera. The good lecture at the Smithsonian. The wonderful concert. These things cannot happen every day but when they do, they help.

Later in the day the superb book that keeps me sustaining company and validates my experience or extends it; in the evening, the great movie where I am led to feel I am not alone and I’m watching an intelligent group of people acting out important issues in life, or wonderful versions of this in love and adventure tales of the type the BBC does, and PBS used to play a lot of. Images Beautiful paintings, illustrations, drawings

The very occasional visit to a friend. I’ve had one friend visit me who lives in another state: four days. Once I’m at the friend’s and spending time with them in a beautiful or interesting place. This is necessarily rare.

My house. Sine qua non.

Routine, to keep me stable, a sane kind of motion over the day through time. Listening to good books read aloud beautifully, with full tones of all the characters so I am not out there forging ahead on the road alone. I feel I’m with someone. Comfort. My mind’s eye sees the characters in a kind of inward stage of my mind.

Solvency so I feel safe. Sine qua non.

Some food and wine so I don’t feel weak.

I think watching other people go through their days enduring it, carrying on, seeming cheerful, saying hello, those who know my name and smile seems to me a reminder life’s okay, doable without Jim, a kind of relief comes over me. I don’t want to die. As Hamlet says, once you are led somehow to decide to be, so much kicks in. So when I am reminded life is a form of enjoyment for these people, of all kinds,it helps.

These are the things that help, that enable me to live on, from one day to the next. That give me strength to do the things that are so hard for me to do. To cope with the outward world when it demands practical things I must satisfy — bills, making things work.

And above all, writing itself. Just what I’m doing now. For its own sake. And then the reaching those parts of people who can respond to where they live within, the self that matters, bringing it out. When they write back. This is life itself as I do it with others.

Which is what I began with on this blog …

Instead of an alphabet,

Miss Drake

J. W. Turner, Junction of Gretna and Tess at Rokeby (1816-18)

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Is this not a fine Dr Seuss T-shirt? (thanks to Glenn Shipway)

Dear friends,

Time for a little prosaic cheer. So, as we all know, people like lists. Why we can’t say, but they do. A meme has been going round, and for once I joined in:

My first 7 jobs:

(Does Unpaid library assistant in Richmond Hill high school count?)
Then paid, often not much:
1. Legal Secretary, FAA, JFK Airport (got there by bus, long ride, followed Contracting officer about taking down every word that man said in Pitman sten notebooks, then typing his great words up — I did this for 2 years, I was very young);
2. Personal Secretary/Administrative Assistant, John Waddington, Ltd, Leeds (worked for very nice chief engineer, and a sales manager; the company made toys, cards, packaged chocolate);
3. Executive Secretary, Warehousing Company. NYC (good salary! fancy office, bad people, cheating others; so quit);
4. Research Assistant to Prof Coleman Parson, Graduate School, CUNY (I loved it);
5 and 6. Adjunct lecturer twice, second time called Graduate Fellow (Brooklyn, then Queens College, CUNY);
7 Again and forever an adjunct lecturer and reader for a time of post-secondary schools applications for grants for FIPSE: 3 jobs at the same time: at Northern Regional Center for University of Va; at The American University (“professorial” – -the place had this pomposity but they were okay people), DC

This covers years from age 15 to 39, from NYC to Leeds, England, back to NYC and then Alexandria, Va, where I still reside).

Does anyone remember typing pools?

What were your first seven jobs, gentle reader?


An Alphabet: Eden Rock does it, but not driving down to the core. This is a “One cannot have too many holds on happiness”[Henry Tilney, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey] alphabet:

A is for the air when it is balmy yet dry and cool, sunny

B is for books, good ones and I own so many many.

C is for my cats, Clarycat and IanPussycat.

D is for my daughters, Laura Caroline and Isobel Alice

E is for Ellen Robillard O’Hara: the first heroine I wrote about; my earliest writing to show to others. The mother in Mitchell’s GWTW.

An exchange on face-book: “I do feel this odd frisson of identification when I read a novel where I see an important character named Ellen. Ellen is not a common name for heroines; in middle class fiction, she’s the Irish servant. But in GWTW there is Ellen Robillard O’Hara, Scarlett’s mother and I once wrote a fiction about her (I was age 14) where I characterized her with sympathy. Radcliffe’s Italian’s heroine is named Ellen. I felt peculiar because the character is so foreign from my ways of thinking — now would I have done that had she had another name? My middle name is Nancy so I used to like that the character Nancy Drew was a Nancy.

Jane Smiley: The main character of my new kids’ horse series is named Ellen. She is very determined and very outspoken.

Me: I’d better not read that one then (as Jane knows I’ve read several of hers, liked them immensely and blogged on a couple). I characrerized Ellen Robillard O’Hara as a woman cold on the outside, controlling herself, but near the edge of cracking, still in love with the man she was parted from. I rewrote the death scene. Came second in a contest but almost does not win the race. Maybe I was unconsciously attempting a woman’s historical romance in little? I worked quite on it; I no longer have it.

Glenn (who runs the Trollope face-book page where this occurred): What would it cost to have a “Glenn” in your next book; not as the hero, just as a harmless drudge?

Me: I’d worry about naming a child after a favorite character lest I burden them. So I called my cat Clarissa (from Richardson’s novel) which has become Clarycat.

Jane Smiley: I would prefer Shipway. Very memorable name, I think for a naughty boy in Ellen’s class.

F is for friends, local and Internet

G is for Winston Graham (author of Poldark novels) and the gothic (a favorite subgenre with me)

H is for my house, home, nest of comforts, where I dwell with Isobel

I is for the Internet

J is for Jim, all he has left me with, all my memories

K is for kindness which we need far more of.

L is for libraries

M is for good book film adaptation, BBC, good PBS, mini-series and good movies and museums filled with art

N is for NPR radio

O is for Opera, HD and the OLLIs (so teaching adults my favorite books and topics)

P is for plays, serious dramatic and funny plays in the theater, filmed or now on DVDs. Poetry

Q “Fair Quiet, have I found thee here … ” (a poem by Andrew Marvell)

R is for rain, when it’s soft, gentle, easy on a cool windy day

S is for Shakespeare

T is for Trollope

U is for YouTube technologies, and all video streaming which enables me to watch TV when I choose, to watch all sorts of movies, documentaries, as in my BBC iplayer and PBS online and Future Learn courses from Open University

V is for the Voting Rights Act as originally passed by Congress. We must all vote: it’s all the powerless have; you must vote to defeat the dangerous demogague bankrupt billionaire, Trump. Hillary Clinton will choose honorable decent people for judges and we can overturn Citizens United, Hobby Lobby and get rid of the gutting of the Voting Rights act.

W is for so many women writers whose books I love

X ah well. I says it’s for brilliant and good books read aloud beautifully in unabridged texts of CDs, MP3s

Y for Yahoo listservs; I will grieve deeply if they are shut down; debased as they have become, they are still a small lifeline for reading and talking about wonderful books with friends

Z is for New Zealand as a beautiful place, and New Zealand and Australian films like (just this past week, see below) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (with one of my favorite actors, Sam Neil), The Piano (ditto), The Dish (ditto, how Izzy and I loved it years ago and came home and told Jim about it) and Last Orders (which I watched the night of Jim’s funeral).



I’ve paid two honest men to improve my house in the last few days. My gardening man removed two large trees, huge amounts of ivy, unkempt bushes from my back yard. So now all is neat. In the fall he’s sow grass on where there is just dirt for now. He doesn’t overcharge. He fixed my hose too, made an extension and set it up so it’s easy for me to use.

A man who does kitchens, inside work of all kinds will soon be renovating my kitchen — modestly. I was told about him by my neighbor-friend, Sybille. This week, four of the house doors were painted so they are no longer eyesores; two removed (remarkable amount of doors in houses built in 1947); a new front and back door for the first time since 1947. Smoke detectors. Come September he’ll paint the kitchen, put down new tiles, new cabinets (a soft bright cream), re-arranged to be more appropriate for Izzy and I, some kind of lighting system, new countertop. He is not super-expensive and a man I can get along with, so I’m thinking I will at long last enclose the porch. And then have the whole house painted a soft cream color. And with that the renovation, fixing, I started when I first retired (remember when I cleaned out and ordered the attic upstairs), will be done. It will be easier on my eyes and self-esteem.

From a medieval Books of Hours

The cats do not enjoy this though. On Tuesday I first had to keep them in the back room with one of those many doors shut. They are indoor cats, and I surmise if they (especially Ian) saw the men working out of terror of them they’d run out of the house, become confused and I’d never see them again. But they were very upset. Ian really wailed for quite a time. They were separated, one in each room for a time. Clarycat didn’t like that. When my younger daughter was sent to a pre-school at age 2 and 1/2 she was so terrified (we couldn’t explain what this was to her as she was not talking at the time) that after the hours gone (bus ride there and back, 5 hours there, 1 hour at a sitter), she literally pissed all over poor Jim when he picked her up. She had held herself in all that while and was so intensely relieved. Well I did put the cat litter in the room with them, but it was the next day I came to it and found it utterly soaked. They too must’ve held themselves in and only after much time had passed in the night, relaxed. Today after the contractor and his men had gone and I opened the door again, Clarycat was desperately affectionate.

They are my holds on happiness. During the interval before the contractor arrived and I put them each day in the room, I missed them. I am so used to their presence.


And a cheering mythic fable of a movie.


I hurried out to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople written and directed by Taiki Waititi after I read a couple of reviews (Manohla Dargis from the New Yorker from Rogerebert.com; Matt Goldberg); people whose columns I respect where they said, don’t miss it, it’s hilarious and makes for ethical thought too. “Oddball” they called it, that unexplained word. “Quirky.” What it is is original with genuine feeling. I managed it with a friend probably on the very last showing in my local theater.

It is one of the many that are advertised through trailers so off-putting that they misrepresent the movie. The trailer presented two conventionally unappetizing males, one of them a very chubby boy (Julian Dennison as Ricky), being made fun of, slapstick it seemed to me. I can’t think of what I would less like to see a movie making fun of someone’s body. It included the line where we learn that Hick or Uncle (played pitch perfect as he does all his roles, by Sam Neill) as someone who can’t read. har har. so until I read said reviews I wasn’t going. In fact it was in this art-movie theater for a number of weeks and it’s superb. It reminds me of The Dish, an Australian/New Zealand unusual sort of comedy too. Unexpected. We saw it years ago and brings tears to my eyes since I saw it with Izzy before she went to college and when we finished we came home to Jim to tell him of it. She remembers The Dish better than I.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fable something in the spirit of Thelma and Louise, and it’s not the first of this type this summer. But it is also in the tradition of Rabbit Proof Fence and the grave Philomena: in the first aborigines are torn from their families and put in an institution to be turned into obedient workers for the society. Two of the girls run away and make this extraordinary trek back to their home, all the while hunted down by the whites. The bush as perspective is central to the movie: there is a long history in Australian and NZ legends and books regarding the bush as a vastly superior terrain to live in and off of than (mean, hypocritical, inhumane] society.

Well, Ricki, an unprepossessing looking boy with no people to support him, no to care for him, to provide money or status, is dumped off by Paula (Rachel House), a caricature of a fierce cold institutional guardian type who catalogues Ricki’s sins ceaselessly to others, bad-mouthing him before anyone can know him — on Bella (Rima Te Waiti), who at first seems just a very poor woman living near the bush, looking to make money as a foster parent. We quickly learn that Bella is deeply good-hearted, kind, generous in the way she behaves, and the boy begins to thrive. Her partner or husband, Hick, seems solitary, looking askance at the proceedings, but going along with her. When she dies, he cries hysterically, our first sign of his affectionate nature. A letter arrives from Paula: she must take the boy back. Well, to cut to the story, after some difficulties with one another (Hick does not want to take Ricki, Ricki sets fire to the barn to suggest he killed himself, the two men flee together. Soom they are being hunted down. The pair begin to be part of a sensationalized story (Hick a molester) that sells newspapers and is good for TV chatter. The posse grow bigger and bigger from an original group of down-beat men seekin a ransom until at last there are helicopters, tanks, armed militiamen. It’s a self-reflexive film: the landscape of steep green hills and then in winter snow is gorgeous, and there are allusions to Lord of the Rings: Ricky says this is not all that occurs in New Zealand.

Looking at Bushman

The film does not become too sentimental because it concentrates so on their improbable survival. As Bella did in the opening, so Hick kills with a knife an animal for them to eat. They are soon trapping animals, but Hick’s foot is broken (and improbably heals). Everyone seems to walk about with a rifle or some kind of weapon. One of the two dogs is attacked by a boar and has to be shot and hen buried. They both cherish Bella’s ashes in a box they carry with them, but at a beautiful waterfall Hick is induced to scatter them. There are extravagant bush people like Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) who help our heroes along the way — reminding me of characters in Dickens, like Barnaby Rudge and his raven, especially one bushman who wraps a bush around him and lives in a trailer. We are really frightened for them as an all out war ensues: these hunters are willing to kill. There is much over the top exaggeration and wild fantasy and also much reality: they meet improbably isolated up-to-date teenagers deep in the bush; but there is real heart: they come across a man who has had a heart attack and try to bring him help.

As they are gradually cornered, grab a car and go on a wild drive (chased by all in your exhilarating car chase) I feared it would end like Thelma and Louise, them going over a cliff. It does not: a gradual contented ending — after montage of court-room scenes, Hick going to prison (he has been there before, one reason he fled so stubbornly), Hick leaves his home for old people to join Ricky with the bush teenagers. Touching dialogues. If you want to have some experience of standing up to mad injustice, some creditable humanity, and a fable mirroring some aspects of our world today, it’s a fine summer movie: re-creative. The equivalent of last summer’s Mr Holmes.

It may be too late to see it in the theaters, but soon there will be Amazon Prime, Netflix, DVDs.

Miss Drake

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Friends, this is an addendum to “I go into a Towering Rage: Airplane Travel today.” I have read that Small Claims Court in Virginia has a top of $5000, and Expedia has cheated Izzy and I out of $1800, but she feels and I cannot disagree (not being a lawyer) that it may be when we clicked “accept conditions,” we accepted this ruthless fleecing. You will remember that two weeks ago I discovered that suddenly I had a 10 hours layover in Iceland going to London and when I tried to change that it took me 5 hours on the phone, only to discover the charges and penalities would made a 2 hour cut in time more money than the ticket cost. Then one week ago I noticed for the first time coming back from London Izzy and I had an 1 day and 3 hour layover. What I left out in my talk with Expedia is my suspicion they changed the tickets at the last moment. But I have no proof.

Around 4:00 today I received a phone call from Expedia. I had four times filed a complaint on their site, outlining what happened to me (see my previous blog linked in above). A young man came on the line, saying he wanted to respond to my complaint (or words to this effect). What happened was this: he said that he could not refund my money as he had first to call Icelandic as their policy needed to be “clarified” (which was what I was told on Tuesday when I was led to spend 5 hours and on Saturday 3 on the phone). He claimed that Icelandic had a policy of not refunding or changing this ticket. I again said (as I did the second time on Saturday) that I had phoned Icelandic on Tuesday and their representative denied that Icelandic had any such policy. They said they had not sold these tickets and had no control over them. They said the tickets were issued by Expedia and it was Expedia setting these rules.

He appeared not to hear me and repeated his mantra of having to call them to “get permission” to refund the money. I replied that if he persisted in this lie, I could do nothing about it, but if he wanted to go off the phone and pretend to call them or do whatever he did, that was fine (as what he does is invisible to me); but if he called back refund the money or make it go for another flight I would be grateful. I got him to acknowledge he had heard what I said and taken it in. There was a pause.

He then repeated he had to call Icelandic, except now he came up with a new rule which it seems I had to obey. He could not follow my suggestion that I get off the phone; and if he wanted to call me back, he could. This was not doable. I had to be on the phone while he phoned Icelandic and wait until he finished. I told him this is absurd. Who made such a rule? He did not say, but repeated it was a rule he had to obey. This what I was told and listened to on Tuesday: I must wait; and again told on Saturday, and after 40 minutes refused to wait any longer. I said a man I had hired to renovate my house today had received a wrong door from Home Depot; he phoned Home Depot and without him staying on the line (his time is valuable), Home Depot called the place where they acquired doors, made the substitute and then called him back. I refused to play this game. He repeated the mantra. I then hung up after I repeated what I had said before (I cannot tell what he is doing during the long periods of waiting and Icelandic had denied his assertions) and that if he called again to tell me he was refunding the money I would be grateful.

About half an hour later this email came into my box from travel@customercare.expedia.com. I read it twenty minutes after that as I had gone to the supermarket around 4:30 pm (shortly after I got off the phone) in the interval:

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for contacting Expedia about your flight reservation. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience that may have occurred and would like to assure you that every reservation is important to us.

We appreciate you take the time to let us know your comments, your feedback is very valuable for us to prevent similar situations in the future.

As per our conversation, we have called Icelandair and they unfortunately informed us that all your tickets are non refundable. If you cancel your tickets unfortunately there would be no refund back to your credit card and there is no credit that this airline can provide for future travel use. It means that if you cancel, the value of these tickets will be forfeited.

We tried to call you to inform about this and to also know if you wanted to continue with the cancellation. However, we were not able to reach you. If you still need to cancel this reservation following these rules and restrictions that Icelandair advised, please call us directly at 1-866-310-5768 local, toll-free or 1 404-728-8787. This is an international collect call number, but Expedia will accept the charges for calls to this number and provide the case number M-14539157.


Customer Service Team

It’s possible he called very quickly after I left and then sent the above email.

I replied as follows:

Dear Sir,

I will not phone you again. I have spent 8 hours on the phone plus today another useless half hour. In your letter you ignore what I told you. On the first five hours on the phone I phoned Icelandic and they told me they did not say the these tickets were non-refundable nor not changeable. They said the tickets were issued by Expedia and it was Expedia setting these rules. I told you if you persisted in this lie, I could do nothing about it, but if you wanted to go off the phone and pretend to call them or do whatever you did, that was fine (as what you do is invisible to me); but if you called back refund the money or make it go for another flight I would be grateful. You then came up with a new rule. I had to be on the phone while you phoned Icelandic. This is an absurd rule. You told me it was a rule you must obey. I said my contractor today had received a wrong door; he phoned Home Depot and without him staying on the line (his time is valuable), Home Depot called the place where they acquired doors, made the substitute and then called him back. I refused to play this game. I hung up after I repeated if you called again to tell me you were refunding the money I would be grateful.

Now I get the same lies, the same game with an invite to phone again.

I will do all I can to tell everyone I can reach about how you have treated me.

As my readers will imagine, I had been upset when I got off the phone, but had remained calm this time. This letter reiterated the deceit. There is nowhere on the site that enables a customer to cancel a flight by using the website; if I go to the website, I reach a place which gives me the same phone number. As seen in the letter, I would be drawn into these phone conversations again. I realize now the purpose of making me wait is to exasperate me and to claim that I disobeyed some rule (that I must be waiting on the line while the Expedia representative is said to be contacting and talking to Icelandic in this case) and thereby am ineligible for a refund. I also realize I should never buy from one of these companies because they reserve the right to change flights and times at any time. It is improbable Izzy and I did not see the 1 day and 3 hour layover until last week, but if Expedia changed it, it’s one of the conditions that they reserve the right to do that.

I am keeping my stated intent at the close of my email reply. I am trying to tell as many people as I can by writing this blog, placing a URL on Face-book and twitter to expose these people. One of my tickets (just for myself, single) is from 8/23 and again on 8/31 (round-trip) so there is plenty of time to cancel; the other for two of us, 10/13 and again on 10/18 (round-trip.

My hope is I will discourage others from buying at Expedia and any other on-line airplane ticket buying service. At least others who read my two blogs will have been warned of what can happen. Never buy a ticket from one of these online services if you value your money, your time, your state of health, your very trip.


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Stevie Smith

Dear friends and readers,

I hesitated in telling of this but I’ve been told by a close friend “I don’t know if you’ll be surprised when I say that your Towering Rage episode was nothing uncommon? Dealings with the airline industry, organizing your own itinerary, can be extremely frustrating, and almost everyone I know has had like experiences,” and that what I am about to tell has happened to her several times. Lost hundreds of dollars (and more) several times, been treated ruthlessly abominably with lies. Another close friend tells me she has had a similar experience with Orbitz. I don’t have that many friends and few people confide in this sort of thing. If it was so easy to discover other victims, there must be uncountable many. So I’ll tell my experience to make visible what is perhaps rarely said in public but ought to be SIGNED somewhere in letter twelve feet tall.

I could have called this, How I have wasted endless hours this past two weeks after we either made a mistake and purchased tickets, which had a 1 day and 3 hour layover. Is it probable we would not notice such a thing? or they were silently changed on us, twice?

I have rarely in my life felt this kind of emotion. This Saturday afternoon I had to take a walk in the supreme heat to calm down. I didn’t trust myself to drive anywhere. I found I could not settle to my work, could not read, could not cope with my cats who sensed something different. The last time I experienced this must’ve been years ago as then too I had to go for a walk to calm down. (Maybe in my younger years I did experience this kind of anger and explode — vague memories of a couple of occasions –, but I managed to stop before it got so bad I didn’t know what to do with this intensity of anger.) I probably remember this incident so well since when I returned Jim came to the door concerned and reproachfully: did I realize I had upset Isobel by suddenly departing? It was like Mr Knightley reproaching Emma for insulting Miss Bates. I felt terrible. I had slammed the door. My anger may have been started or continued by quarrel with him, but as I recall there was far more to it than that. I no longer remember the cause, only that I needed to calm down, it took time and then felt I had behaved unforgivably as a mother. She had not understood nor could I make her understand. Well I have not felt such a need again (or controlled it way earlier) until this Saturday afternoon. This time I told Izzy now well over 30 I could not calm down and needed to walk and she understood all right. She had heard it all from her room.

As I wrote about in my last entry, last week on Tuesday, I noticed the tickets for my trip to London included an 18 hour layover in Iceland, and to change it would cost me as much as the round trip ticket had done and all I would gain would be one-hour less going, nothing coming home. Now this week, Thursday (so 9 days later), I noticed that her and my round trip ticket included a day and 2 hour layover coming home. Either we didn’t notice such stretches (is it likely) or they changed our layovers to ridiculous amounts of hours in Reykjavit. ( Last September it was a sudden change made by Aer Lingus and would have meant I would not be in time to give my paper at the conference I was going to. I had printed out the previous document and was able after a couple of hours to get our tickets changed back.) This time it had taken 5 hours to discover this: at one point the person at the other end of the phone either hung up or we were disconnected, and I had had to start the process (which seemed to necessitate this person going to three different people to discover information or “get permission”) all over again. I was shaking when it was over. I decided to endure an 18 hour layover going home and a 10 hour one going there.

But I knew how intolerable these flights are. No food worthy the name on the plane, squeezed in a tight seat, no amenities at all; the airport hangar a horror of crowds, and unless I was in a European hangar cheap inedible over-sugared, sauced, salted stuff out of machines or be fleeced in a super-expensive restaurant. Airline travel in economy class is now a form of abuse. The people directly in contact with customers rely on shaming people; they stay just this side on the edge of neglect. And how people are afraid the plane will fall out of the sky so are willing to put up with a lot. The airplane companies have discovered it costs them less to have teams of people finding and delivering lost baggage than to be sure the person never loses his or her baggage. Izzy was without her case for two days during our time in Devonshire last summer.

Not Izzy; someone else; such photos are easy to find on the ‘Net

By Saturday I had decided to swallow the money the two tickets cost and buy anew. And I would go no stop. Less chance to lose baggage too. I would pay what was necessary. But what if I ended up having something similar happen. Either I not notice (or more likely) the airplane or Expedia change the layover. Business class takes a ticket into say $1800 and first class is astronomical. A friend suggested I call British Airway direct and buy from them. She went to her computer, spent more than a half hour away (in another room) (over half an hour at least) and came back relieved. She had found such a phone number.

I phoned and in no time was talking to a polite young man who was marvelously empowered to sell me decent tickets. He said different tickets from those available at Expedia or Orbitz. I was able to buy a ticket for myself going and coming with a 6-8 hour travel time, arriving in London in mid-morning so it would be comfortable and simple for me to get to Paddington and take a train to Devonshire where I was going to meet a friend. Ditto for Izzy and I going in October; I cut short our time in London, leaving us just one day to be there in order to make it easy for us to get to the plane the next morning as we had to come to London from elsewhere first. Yes I paid much more, but not out of sight (not the cost of Business or First class.) Izzy had said the time in London was inconvenient to her; she didn’t care if we left, and I knew I would find the extra effort such individual times take hard. I did buy something called Economy Premium, which meant we had bigger seats, more leg room and some promised amenities. I could change it at $275 charge; cancel before a certain date and get my money back. It took less than half an hour for me to be printing out confirmations with times and plane numbers. Sanity.


But then I made my second mistake. I tried to cancel the tickets we had had. I could have left it. After all, that would allow Expedia to take our money and then put others in these seats, but Izzy (ethical) said that would probably be wrong, worse we might be bothered about these tickets at some point. So I foolishly, gullibly went back to that fucking Expedia site. I tried to cancel the present tickets, knowing I was told they were non-refundable, and guess what? the only way to cancel a flight was to call one phone number which all FAQs led to. I found myself being subjected to the same rigmarole. I told the woman I didn’t expect my money back, and she left the phone before I could say anything else — for 40 minutes. Back she came with the same absurdity: now she had to call Icelandic air to discover their terms. I know from my 5 hour wait last time that Icelandic told me these are tickets they did not issue, have nothing to do with and as far as they are concerned should be refundable or changeable. So this is a lie. I became so angry I could scarce control my voice. Why cannot I not just cancel these tickets with you. She can’t do that. She doesn’t know numbers, doesn’t have permission. I began to scream on that phone. I demanded that she write a complaint to her supervisor about what had happened. It seems that she was permitted to do. She kept talking ever so polite and reasonable. I wonder how they train people to behave this way. I hung up. I went online and put complaints in the two places provided.

I am calm now and am not conveying the rage I felt at being so treated. I think my rage was the accumulation of several wretched plane trips, my experience of hours in an airplane hanger, and my reactions to the Expedia and other websites like it.

I thought is this what these crazed people we (US and colonialists) have so immiserated feel 100 fold because every day of their existence. then arrested, tortured, imprisoned for years by one of the tyrants our billions have put in place. Imagine such a young man coming out and how he feels. Mine was nothing to this.

I have now cancelled the extra days at the hotel in rapid time. We save some money this way, but it’s more than that as I indicated above.

I truly loathe what happens at airports. I am photographed incessantly; I was subjected to a “random [thorough body and baggage] check on the trip home from Belgium. Only because the people doing it were not Americans, was Izzy allowed to come in with me, and they behaved apologetically throughout. No humiliation. I was not the only person so singled out. I saw a long line and wait caused by this outside in that hangar. Again in most European places last September once I got past American security I was not subjected to this “security theater” as it’s called. It’s largely a pretense, supposedly wanted by Americans. Really? this paranoid atmosphere?

I seem to waive the reality that planes fall out of the sky and the death is horrible. But I don’t forget it. And that in this ever-on-going war planes are shot down.

John Tenniel, Chessboard seen through the looking glass (19th century, for Lewis Carroll)

So now I have some rules for the future for myself.

AVOID Expedia, Orbitz and all such websites. Find a phone number for the airline itself and buy direct. If you cannot phone the airline going to where you want to go, think again. Go somewhere you can buy tickets for. One can use package tours where this is done for you, but make sure you are going to get good treatment.

The above will not be so hard if I NEVER ever take a plane unless I am going across an ocean or a trip of say 1000 miles. Be sure I want that trip, that I know I’ll have a good time. Buy at least Economy Premium. Again phone the airline direct.

On shorter trips, go for a train. If there is no decent schedule and I’ve now discovered that Amtrac is so underfunded (as is most public transportation across the US) this is common, look at the buses. If the buses are similar, drive. If none of these work, stay home.

In other areas of my life I and Jim when he was alive did not compromise. We did without whatever it was in order to avoid such egregious abuse and exploitation — and here I include getting into debt which we have only gone into voluntarily for one car once and for this house. Our children did not go to undergraduate college out of state. I must get back to that principle Jim and I lived by for 45 years. It was very rare that we couldn’t do without whatever it was.

Late summer: my flowering bush holding out under intense heat assault ….

Miss Drake

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