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Archive for March, 2018


Vivian and me, July 14, 2015, taken by Izzy: Alexandria’s yearly birthday party, a large park area by the Potomac, a concert and fireworks for all for free; we had a picnic

Dear friends and readers,

We are near setting off on our journey to Milan, Italy — Laura, Izzy, and I — where among other things (a visit to a friend who lives near Zurick which will necessitate a train-ride through the Alps and beautiful lakes; a visit to a fellow biographer of Veronica Gambara, in Reggio Emilia) we plan to attend the World Figure-Skating Championships, and find and look into what fashion museums and exhibits there are in this famous world city.

The last time the three of us were in Italy was 1994, 5 weeks with Jim in an apartment in Rome, from the which we took 4 trips: to Pompei, to Naples, to the island of Ischia for 3 days (where there is a beautiful beach and Vittoria Colonna lived for a number of years it’s thought), to Marino (where Colonna was born). We all three have many memories of that time. Upon coming into the flat, Laura, then 15, declared Italy had not invented air conditioning yet. Izzy said to another child at the beach: “mi chiamo Isabella.” A high point for Jim and I was a fresco we saw in a fourteenth century church one morning. We all wandered in the heat over the forum, the Colosseum, saw an opera amid some ancient Roman stones.

And early yesterday evening my good friend, Vivian, died: she went quickly, three weeks after the cancer resumed. I wrote about my visit to her in a hospice place in my last blog. I have learned as she died she was quiet (perhaps sleeping?), appeared to be at peace, kept out of consciousness of pain by drugs. Did she go gentle into that good night? I was not there and in her two earlier phone calls she expressed anguish.

What is it Macbeth says upon being told: “She should have dy’de hereafter;/There would have been time for such a word.” I will not be here when the memorial service is held. I grieve for her and will miss her.

Every moment I’ve been able to I’ve been either reading, writing, thinking for the courses I’m teaching (The Later Virginia Woolf; Sexual & Marital Conflicts in Anthony Trollope: HKHWR), or taking (The Brontes, a book club whose first item is Atwood’s The Blind Assassin), or still at that paper (Woolf & Johnson, biographers), or online with friends, blogging, nurturing (so so speak) my 3 groups.io (the book, the extraordinary American Senator) — not to omit getting through all things needful for the trip. Some of them arduous, time-consuming, confusing — like airline reservations supposed to be on a website which are not there. Not to worry: Laura made a phone call in her firm determined voice and our tickets & we now exist again. “Able to” is the operative phrase: many a later afternoon or evening I give out and succumb to a movie that can keep me up; this weekend I reached the fifth episode of Alias Grace (another Atwood adapted).

I’m more awake tonight than I have been for several, enough to tell of how this past Wednesday I went to the last of the four lectures on Impressionism outside France: so to my last blog on Russia, the low countries and Italy, I add the UK, and I was not surprised it was the most interesting because he had the most paintings to show. Gariff went on for nearly 3 hours. This time I had heard of most of the painters, but had not realized that the work of many of the painters I had “placed” in separate schools when regarded as impressionist made a different kind of sense. Elizabeth Forbes (1859-1912), who I’ve written about as an Edwardian woman painter in the Newlyn School, links to Laura Knight (1877-1970), who I wrote more briefly about as a Cornish artist. Victorian artists familiar to me as recording the abysmal poverty of the countryside and cities, i.e., George Clausen (1852-1944) belong here; and some I’d never heard of, Spencer Frederick Gore (1878-1914):


The Icknield Way (1912) — a road in Surrey since Roman times

Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, and his fostering of post-impressionism, his pictures belong here too. A Scottish woman artist, Ethel Walker (1861-1951) now fits. She painted Vanessa Bell, the first image I’ve seen that enables me to begin to understand why Bell was so liked:


Vanessa 1937

Two American artists this time were very influential: Whistler and John Singer Sargent. I learned that the next time I go to London I should go the London Imperial War Museum. Its name (because of the militarist connotations) is misleading: it is a leading place for artist painting during WW1, which most of these people did. Sidney Starr (1857-1925) has such a poor wikipedia page, I have to link in a sales one (he was an important art critic):


Starr’s City Atlas (1889-90) was part of an exhibit or talk about how difficult to get to know London

Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942) ended up an important teacher (teachers matter), he was influenced by Monet and this is his most famous painting.


Children Paddling, Walberswick (1894)


But perhaps this curiosity, of an over-dressed woman with a cat called Hydrangeas is more characteristic

Vivian’s favorite painter was Monet, and during the visit her brother and sister took her on to Paris this summer they took her to Giverny. She also had a cat called Sammy (Samantha) for seven years.

Izzy and I almost didn’t go to a performance by Catherine Flye accompanied by Michael Tolaydo as narrator at the Metrostage of a revue of the life and songs of Joan Grenfell. We had tickets for Saturday, and were so preoccupied we forgot to go. The woman who basically runs the Metrostage single-handed phoned us 5 minutes before, and offered to let us come Sunday instead. This remarkable pair of actors presented a later afternoon of witty cheer with an undercurrent of desperate acceptance; there were some twee moments but also direct hits at frustrated longing hearts. My favorite was a piece called “The Telephone Call” (a woman spending her life caring for an aged parent). A couple very funny: one of a woman on her first airplane flight when people were still treated with respect and given comfort as human beings. The pianist played wonderful older melodies I recognized, one famous from WW2, The Warsaw Concert by Richard Addinsell (who wrote most of the music performed).


Michael Tolaydo and Catherine Flye, 2002 (Gardener McKay’s Sea Marks)

We had both wanted to go because we both remembered the moving play Sea Marks, with Tolaydo and Flye, which we saw with Jim in 2002 at this Metrostage. I’ve had that black-and-white newsprint picture on the wall of my study all this time

I return to Vivian. One of the class members of my Later Woolf came for the first class and for the rest I’ll keep him in the email list as I send comments and readings out, and lectures too. He can’t come regularly as he’s taking chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. Vivian was killed by lymphoma (as was Jenny Diski) combined with brain cancer. She was no reader: odd for a best friend for me, but there are other things that matter. She was a kind person, sensitive. Charitable and forbearing at others’ flaws. She shared my politics, my lack of religion. While she didn’t read books, she always seemed to know the latest US political development; she’d take the progressive side most of the time, and post about it on face-book. We went to Bernie Sanders rallies. We also took wandering walks in Old Town. We’d go to some movies together (we didn’t quite have the same tastes): I went twice to Kedi (the movie set in Isanbul about feral cats and their caretakers in that city) so she could see it, and she cried. She stayed up (she had problems sleeping so would often fall asleep at movies) for and was moved by Still Alice.

Here is one of the poems Flye recited, movingly:

If I should die before the rest of you,
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone.
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must,
Parting is hell.
But life goes on …

That doesn’t mean one forgets however little one is given chance to mourn with any ceremony. I feel bad because Vivian had emailed the suggestion when she still thought she would live (some 5 weeks ago) that she and I go to the Grand Canyon this coming May. I had balked at the idea of the plane and asked if there was a way to go by train. No. It would take some absurd amount of time. A drive was ridiculous. I was adjusting to the idea of taking yet another plane (how I hate them all) and was beginning to propose we look into a package tour. I told her I imagined us on donkeys going up and down vast cliffs, which probably showed how little I know about modern tourism in the Grand Canyon. It was still in the realm of half-joke when she phoned to say the cancer had returned and she was in hospital. We had some good walks in Old Towne this summer: a ghost tour, one night along the water eating ice-cream listening to street musicians in the mild crowd.

We all come from the past … life is a braided cord of humanity stretching from time long gone … it cannot be defined by a single journey from diaper to shroud … (Russell Baker, Growing Up, an autobiography I read with freshman composition students decades ago, which I remembered tonight)

Ellen

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Van Gogh’s Red Vineyard was an important painting for Impressionist outside France, though Monet’s work was the most strongly influential

Dear friends,

Today was a strange day. I woke to hear a wuthering wind — appropriately enough I’ve begun to read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (in a fine thorough Norton — editions matter), and while I had a little trouble getting into it again, with the help of one of the BBC’s marvelous 1970s serials, I’ve caught its peculiar visionary atmosphere now. Sometimes the wind became a kind of ceaseless roar as if one were in a hurricane with no storm in the center. At the same time all day and night freezing cold as if it were winter out there. Meanwhile the sun shines. Everything in the DC and Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland area has shut down, wide electrical outages (we have been lucky thus far and not lost power), because of the dangerous winds (so it’s said). Climate break-up. We have not begun to imagine the phenomena that lie ahead …


1977-78 BBC Wuthering Heights: the moment of Lockwood’s nightmare where a hand from outside the window grasps his

It takes me a very long time to do something I’ve never done before. I’m not much for change. So I wondered if I would ever sit in that front room I’d wanted for so long. About a week and a half ago, I suddenly began. I tried the experiment of sitting in it after I’ve had my morning bout of posting with friends and on what business I have. I’ve now spent successive afternoons there, quietly reading, away from distractions in cyberspace, with no TV nearby, no radio, no phone in sight. I’ve begun to look forward to my afternoons and (sometimes) early evenings there. I love it. The cats moved in with me (so to speak). They now have a cat bed there, water bowl, dish for treats. They prefer the soft chair: Snuffy turns himself into a doughnut sitting just atop my shoulders and Clary settles down on the thick rug by the oil-filled electric radiator. A drawback is I cannot take notes on what I read because my handwriting has fallen apart and I have not yet taught myself to use the “note” program on my ipad but perhaps it’s all the more rejuvenating for that. I write in the margins and on the blank back and front pages of my book. I began with two afternoons of Poldark reading.

I remembered Jim laughing at me when we got our first dishwasher. It came with the apartment in 1981. For a while I kept cardboard boxes in it as I felt I didn’t know how to use it. Quipped he: “give the poor bathtubs and they’ll keep coal in them.” That was a mocking saying the Tories used in the 1940s to try to stop Atlee’s gov’t from giving subsidies to those who could get up half the amount for renovating their bathrooms. Due to Atlee’s gov’t’s passage of that bill, when Jim was 8 or so, his parents had an extension built on their house with a bathtub and toilet inside the house (in an unheated room) for the first time.


One of the singers at the Folger: we took home all the lyrics

I did have two marvelous experiences last weekend. On Saturday afternoon with a friend I went to Folger to hear and see their spring concert, Il lauro verde. It was quieter than most of their concerts recently, less “flash:” nothing on screen at the back, a more limited set of instruments (though the recorder and tambourine and harpsichord were much in evidence), no “star:” there was a play within a play, and dramatized duets; two singers from Italy, and all was sung in Italian. Nothing amplified falsely, nothing computerized, people playing their instruments. I feared my friend would be bored and was so relieved when she was not. She seemed to love the experience. I said it was like Easter or spring celebrated through themes from nature. By the end my heart was easier than it had been all week, it did my heart and soul good to be there in this non-commercialized quiet place where people played musical instruments with little fanfare, and they sang beautifully to deeply humane touching very delicate songs. Some witty, some erotic, some religious, some this ironic menace. No one a star. When I’m at the Folger and they return to the Renaissance this way I remember why I wanted to major in this material so long ago. Not that the world of early modern Europe was not as treacherous and crazed in many ways as ours.


Roz White in a performance some years back ….

On Sunday Izzy and I returned to the Metrostage where we had participated in a Christmas pantomime and music hall on Boxing Day. The music could not have been more different: it was a one-woman performance, Roz White, an African-American singer doing “A revolutionary cabaret.” A man at the piano, and some minimal props and clothes (hat, shawl). Years ago Jim and I saw a show in a restaurant in Greenwich village with an 80+ year old Alberta Hunter. She was just marvelous. Well Roz White did a couple of hers, two by Nina Simone, Roberta Flack — I had album by her even more years ago that I used to listen to again and again. Each time she imitated the particular singer mildly. They were protest and angry songs, but also songs of hope, witty, wistful, very contemporary. She uplifted and cheered us, exhilarating at moments. I wished it had gone on for longer.


Anna Boch (1848-1936): Dutch impressionist, Cottage in Flanders

This Wednesday I went to the third four (what are turning out to be) informative, insightful lectures (sharp intelligent comments on the painters, paintings) on Wednesday evenings on “Impressionism outside France” by David Gariff, a curator at the National Gallery. Instead of ending early (as is alas typical) he’d go on to 9:30 and later. Who knew there were so many beautiful, interesting varied Impressionist pictures across western Europe. I now realize most people see only a few of what impressionist pictures there are, the same ones over and over by the same artists. We are French centered, and because Americans see some American impressionism, and because we speak English, a few English. This seems to add up to less than fifth of the beauty and interest available. It’s that museums won’t buy these other paintings from other countries (on the basis no one is interested — but then how can they be if they’ve never heard of them).


Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), Russian impressionist: Early Snow

To characterize each country (and say at least ten painters) in a sentence or so is so inadequate but with my stenography so bad nowadays, and his pace so quick (to include a lot), I can do no more. Basically the Russians one are apolitical (no wonder, under such terrorizing regimes) and paint heart-stoppingly beautiful landscapes, often around great houses; the Italians in reverse are highly political (regional, it’s the risorgimento period) and we see realistic urbane scenes where the interest is a real building, real looking people, the culture. Belgium, the Netherlands seemed more contemporary, continually moving beyond impressionism to break-ups of naturalism. Next week impressionism in the UK. He said there is no single book.


It’s been adapted for the stage

My life goes into a different rhythm starting next week. It will be the OLLI at AU Mondays for teaching (leading a study group) on “The Later Virginia Woolf” and Tuesdays attending (a study group) on “The Best of Bronte.” 8 sessions each. My afternoons in my room I’ve reread Woolf’s Flush, Three Guineas, and am now into Between the Acts. The first a brilliant modernist, genuine biography of a dog; the second as necessary to read as Primo Levi’s If this be man and The Truce. I hope I can lead people to like and understand them. I get so aroused inwardly I begin to think next fall I’ll try a course I’ll call The Enlightenment: at risk!, and assign Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s The Nun, Johnson’s Life of Savage, and because no woman at the time dared, fast forward to Sontag’s Volcano Lover with brief online texts like Kant’s defining the term “what is the Enlightenment?” Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. A friend has added to the DVD collection of Bronte movies I gathered when I reviewed a book on “Nineteenth Century Women at the Movies,” two of whose essays were on the Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights films. A veritable feast of watching I’ve already begun.

Late March I’ll add the OLLI at Mason 8 Wednesdays for teaching Trollope’sHe Knew He Was Right and ‘Journey to Panama'” followed by 8 sessions on how WW1 transformed the world (a mix of unusual films and lectures) and 4 Thursdays the career and songs by Leonard Cohen (music not “to commit suicide by”); I’ve joined their Reston book club (3 sessions far apart) & first up Atwood’s Blind Assassins (I’ve longed to read since someone told me it’s about an older woman — like Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises), second a favorite, Swift’s Last Orders, and an Americanization of the Booker Prize, Saunders’ Lincoln at the Bardo.

The real news — affecting my life daily — is with the help of a digital expert, I rescued my 3 yahoo lists and they are now at groups.io, and our early verdict is we love our new home. It’s so easy to find postings, photos, links. Everything so clear and works well. I may be loathe to endure change, but when I have to — as Verizon is slowly getting rid of its yahoo parts that don’t yield huge profits — I do. Over the three weeks it has sometimes been stressful, but the (bearded) man who helped me was wonderful. He wrote out instructions step-by-step, literally, only occasionally leaving a step out. I should add (as it’s relevant) in the last 2 weeks the Future Learn course in autism suddenly switched gears and began describing the characteristics of autism thoroughly, and although the woman running never ceased asking her inane, indeed neurotypical question (for she didn’t mean it literally, it was a ploy), by the end she was asking what are the drawbacks for “coming out,” what the advantages (as a group these outweigh silence and erasure, for only then can you hope for help and understanding). I did tell Shal (that is his name) that I think I have Aspergers Syndrome traits, and it was then, he told me his son is Autistic Level 2, and he began to help me in earnest.


This soft cat toy is something like the one I left with Vivian

Not all good. In most lives some Acid rain must fall. I saw my friend, Vivian, for the last time. I drove to Bethesda, Maryland, found the assisted living facility her sibling have placed her in where she is having excellent kind (it seems) hospice care. Her life is over, drugged, controlled by her sister, I can’t reach her where she used to live as the sister as deliberately put herself in the way (telling me what I could and could not say before I was allowed in) and I could see when Vivian began to talk of her “issues” (her cover-up term for Aspergers), the sister grew impatient and changed the subject. I left by Vivian’s side a small soft toy cat, grey, with blue eyes, I’ve had for ever so long. A token to remember me by. I admit I hope to retrieve it when I go to the funeral. For Izzy’s sake. I will send Vivian a Jacqui Lawson card tonight — with her sister’s help she can read the Internet still.

[I will ask Laura for a photo of the apartment she has rented for us — it’s on her email bnb site where she’s registered]

My, Izzy and Laura’s preparations for our Milan trip included a trip to a Apple store, a stressful place where everything is arranged to extort from the customer absurdly high rental costs monthly by leasing phones built to last less than 2 years. We went into an Evolution Home store which from the outside looked like some once bombed rotting building, but inside was filled with exquisitely chosen and set up second hand furniture at reasonable prices (sold by whom? I wondered, after how many forced moves). On Route 1 one can see the blight of spreading poverty in the appearance and growth of trailer camp sites. Some huge percentage of people in he US between ages 55 and 65 are now near homeless or homeless and soon will have no health care whatsoever unless they work 80 hours a month … But Izzy, Laura and I have an invitation to visit a long-time Net friend (who I met once in London, so many years ago, 1990s), who lives just outside Zurich. We’ll see the Alps from a train and also beautiful lakes.


Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868-1807): Italian impressionist: La Fiumana

A pocket of hope: this is the first year since Jim’s death when I was not fleeced outrageously by someone claiming to do my tax returns — an expensive accountant hardly looked at mine individually (went there twice), a man in an H&R block store in a strip mall did not know what he was doing (there is a federal law forbidding states to require minimum education before you can put out a sign). And on top of that had to pay several hundred dollars in taxes! But two sessions of a truly expert AARP man at the OLLI at Mason where he taught us to understand the forms and then told us about AARP sites all over the US where people will make out your forms for free.


Sherwood Regional Library — it was a bit of a trip, but my garmin & mapquest got us there

So on two different nights around 5:10 Izzy and I set off for a library where we participated in filling out tax forms. The two women helping me paid attention, and I came back with papers showing my real estate and personal property taxes (deducible from the federal tax) and now I am getting a few hundred dollars back. The place is infected with the fundamental distrust across US society and only a social security card or number on a car would get you in; turned out this number is no where reprinted anywhere on any document but said card. At the same time not friendly people, not like British people in their daily impersonal relationships where there is a feeling of camaradarie. I told my name to both the women who did my taxes with me after we had finished and shook her hand and only then did we make eye contact: both turned, looked at me and smiled.

I have not been in a place like this since I went to Manhattan Eye Ear Nose and Throat (a hospital in Manhattan) regularly in the later 1970s. All services for free. The personnel could be blunt. I’d fill out the “need” form and someone would ask, “How do you live?” “With difficulty,” I’d reply. When Laura was born, we’d get money back from the tax system through Earned Income Tax Credit. (Jim did the tax returns all our lives). Like the people at OLLI all older people doing good deeds — one man became interested in a black young woman with a child who had been evicted some time this year (it’s recorded on tax forms!) and before you know it three people were attempting to navigate that horrible medical marketplace to help her find insurance that was better for her. Obama’s ACA stopped lousy insurance from being sold; it’s back. I know Virginia is one of the states that set up offices to help people. Another young white man was helped with something else not directly related to tax. A plain unadorned room in the back of a large public library.

So my fifth March without Jim begins:


(A Judith) Kliban cat

Miss Drake

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