Dear friends and readers,
What an October it has been! Wow. After returning to teaching for last Monday and Wednesday, and (I thought) bringing the re-construction of parts of my kitchen to completion, and yet another conference, I came home last night just in time to drive Izzy to a costume party where she found colleagues from her previous job: she wore a light violet regency dress that suited her coloring (she bought it at JASNA), a dark red Regency cloak, and her hair was put up, done in an early 19th century style of braids around her head. Pretty black pumps. When we arrived, the garden in front was lit with dark orange lights around the trees and bushes. The people there with Izzy apparently had good talk. All in costumes. People in their thirties to fifties.
The kitchen is almost there. On Thursday evening while I was away, Izzy reported the dishwasher is too far out of its rectangle and won’t work, and today my first day home I discovered the disposal unit (which seemed to work last night), does not work at all. Kaput. Nothing goes down the second drain properly unless I swish determinedly with my hand and I know that’s dangerous. So they will be back on Tuesday to mend this problem; still otherwise it is all I hoped. The room is in hues of soft beige, pinkish-cream, soft light and darker browns, and has a lot of soft light. The lighting fixture has a feminine look; it’s a sort of upside skirt.
The tiles are just lovely, with marbled kind of surface; there are nice wood cross-boards at the doorways, and the counter-top is many-colored and cheerful, with more yellow. Lots of soft browns for woodwork and trim. You must not imagine anything like what is seen in magazines; the room stayed much the same in structure. What I paid for is not impressive in photographs. I’ve a new front and back door, with a lovely small Venetian style widow at top for each.
I had two doors taken down and all the others painted a soft ivory kind of color throughout the house. All the rooms have LEL lights now.
What I achieved is comfort on the eyes, quiet cheerfulness, and respectability. Jim would not have been doing this kind of renovation, especially closing the porch in this spring (my next phase if the contractor returns to fix the dishwasher and disposal) and repainting the house a kind of soft cream-color. I’m even going to pay he man to put up a sign with my house number. He also didn’t have this need of a kind of minimal level of comfort in public I have wanted and often did not had with him since he didn’t care: I call it respectability. I didn’t worry what the neighbors think either (as they would be impossible in my view to please and yet live in a place I could be at peace in); this is for myself. He turned the porch into a storage place. I don’t know why, as this kind of appearance is understood in England. I don’t want this year’s latest look (as some who have looked at my house seem to look for), but some indefinable quiet rightness: by the time I’m doing there will be no eye-sores, no house colors (my house is a blue which faded as it has become is still noticeable, not nondescript), or peeling or anything else to embarrass me. He wasn’t embarrassed. I thought it came from being sure of what class he belonged to — one that does not quite exist here in the US. Jim also never quite gave up the dream of returning to NYC.
This last and fourth trip had a different kind of satisfaction than the other three. These are the people who astonished me last year by giving me an award — for service, friendship, panels, papers, participation. It was an easy drive for me now: a two hour drive, really a crawl in thick traffic down to Fredericksburg, Virginia. This for a two day and two night meeting of the East Central branch of ASECS (American society for 18th century studies). And this year have put me on their board. I agreed to it, and next year I’ll try to help where I can to put the meeting together at Howard University in DC. I have several real friends there, lots of friendly acquaintances: we may meet but once a year but we mean love for our subject and concern and interest nonetheless.
I went on a tour of George Washington’s mother’s house and discovered she had not lived an easy life: her husband died young, she was left with five children and the children of a previous marriage superseded hers in inheritance; she was herself “a loyal British subject” during the revolution. This was the last house she lived in, at the time really 3 rooms, one for show, one for sleep, and nearby slave cabins where the household work was done. I become aware of what an armed camp the south was when I contemplate how many slaves there were around compared to “free” people.
As usual I was re-juvenated by listening to the papers (again I’ll post about them separately on Austen reveries), and vowed to be more diligent in my reviews, write more myself, developing projects hat can lead to papers, chapters, though a full book is beyond my powers to be alone now.
I saw the final movie of the summer season at the Film Club at Cinema art last Sunday: Harry and Snowman, a documentary by Ron Davis. The story is well-known among people who train, race, so point-to-point matches, and otherwise keep horses for sport – and perhaps a bit of companionship. It was unexpectedly touching: a Dutchman determined to emigrate from a Nazi environment after WW2, and make good as a horse trainer in the US is hired by an elite girls’ school in New York State, to teach them to ride (of course) and take care of a working stable. He arrives late at an auction, and all the horses left are being taken onto a truck to be slaughtered. Harry spots a white horse with great plodding feet, and something nervous or feelingful about the animal leads Harry to buy the mare. He brings her back to health and she becomes deeply attached to him (when briefly sold she kept coming back) and his family. Gradually she is trained, and emotionally lifted somehow (she is part of his and his hard-working wife’s large family, his children ride her) to become a champion show-jumper. There are books about this pair, horse and master.
The movie makes us identify with both the difficult Harry (a driving man) and the loyal faithful horse. It has a cultural undertow: footage from 1950s TV shows of the elite in Madison Square Garden, making visible the s real elite world that stills exists (if differently dressed). They cheered when this man kept beating their inbred horses, but there was a real condescension element too. About 3/4s the way through, just at the right moment, we have footage of Harry in Nazi Germany rescuing Jews by helping them live in quarters hitherto meant for horses. His wife does leave him because in his drive to make his children as strong and winners like he he is almost responsible for causing his daughter’s death: after a fall she goes into a coma; she does emerge but is not the same afterward. The film also touched me because it reminded me of how Jim loved to go to such show jumping and how I would go with him, and we’d have these picnics and for a few years took our daughters too. It’s also in itself very well done — a final good film of a summer’s worth of these.
Have I said Clarycat has now taken to play-biting me. Ever so gently,she will nip at my hands or fingers, and then nudge my arm with her head, and then look up at me I swear with a sly look in her eye, making contact with my eye. I’ve made a new toy, attached to to ends of string, a glittering Christmas ball on one end, and a little round plastic ball with a little tinkle in the other. We play with it on and off. Ian wants to pounce on it, and wrestle, Here he watches from behind the computer:
Izzy and I were to celebrate tonight: I had put a chicken in the oven and we were to have our favorite pasta with a favorite Trader Joe’s Three Cheese sauce. Alas, neither she or I noticed we had not put the oven on at all. A letdown. I had had my glass of wine and so was weakened and spent the evening then watching a Poldark I managed to get off of my BBC iplayer. The new series is growing on me and I think the episode where he rapes Elizabeth done superbly well, especially Demelza’s flat bitterness after all.
Today a la Samuel Johnson I shall make a new plan, a scheme of reading and writing I hope to stick to for months to come, follow it for my reading and taking notes so I am steady at something. I hope (like Samuel Johnson with his schemes) to slowly work towards reviews, blogs, papers, read for fun, for the listserv. I would be happier if I could do this. I am sleeping better. Last night I couldn’t but most nights I can now read seriously as well as for fun and take notes and remember what I read the next morning.
I have found this now that the month is over: tomorrow evening Halloween, what I can’t have any more is closure. It’s a funny word, no? When I come back from an event that I did well at or enjoyed or just took a great deal of endurance, I used to have closure when Jim was alive. Somehow the satisfaction had some kind of ending that made it meaningful and it was not just a matter of and now another thing comes up to do. Jim may not have chosen to do what I’ve done for this kitchen and the other rooms but had he been here I would have achieved closure because he would have nodded and said, yes, it’s done. Or when I finish a paper, yes it’s good. That’s what a widow’s life is like for me. No closure, just return to first base and then have to do something else again. As in Wellington’s description of history as one damn thing after another. The movies at night help as they can stir deeper feelings for a time and I forget.
On the weather/season, we are very dark in the mornings now. I find it depressing. The world is black until well after 7; just now around 7:20 light begins to come in. This weekend we get to put the clocks back. Each year I lament the extension of daylight savings time into middle fall, for the darkness in the morning is for me so difficult. The world is filled with variegated pretty fall colors and flowers (chrysanthemums) so is pretty and at last cool, and when warmth comes, balmy. And so I’ll end on a winter poem:
While at the EC/ASECS I did hear one dreadful paper, by an arrogant young man, on which the less said the better, but its topic was Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, and the whole discussion brought to mind (as an kind of antidote) that while Johnson travelled with Boswell in Scotland, he wrote poetry — in Latin. In some editions of Boswell and Johnson’s Tour, the poems are included (in Latin). I have an edition of Johnson’s poetry which includes translations of some of these into English.
“Ponti profundis clausa recessibus” Englished, presumably by J Fleeman, the editor of a St Martin’s edition of Johnson’s poetry:
Enclosed in the deep recesses of the sea,
howling with gales beset by rocks,
how welcome, misty Skye, do you
open your green bay to the weary traveller.
Care, I do believe, is exiled from these regions;
gentle peace surely dwells in these places:
no anger, no sorrow plans traps
for the hours of rest.
But it is no help to a sick mind
to hide in a hollow crag or wander
through trackless mountains
or count the roaring waves from a rock.
Human virtue is not sufficient unto itself,
nor is the power granted each man
to secure for himself an untroubled mind,
as the over-proud Stoic sect deceitfully boasts.
Thou, almighty King, govern, sole arbiter,
the onrush of the stormy heart
and, when Thou raise them,
the waves of the mind surge up
and, when Thou calm them,
they fall back.
As I am an atheist, for me this “king” is the forces of life embodied in all that goes on around me that I can join in on. Like my mentor I am calmed and fall back — after reading a poem such a this one.