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Archive for December 3rd, 2019


Monet’s Path Through Forest, Snow Effect (1870) — what lovely shades of red against whites, greys, blues, black lines can do …


Paul Gauguin, Mimi and her Cat (1890)

Gentle reader,

Monet’s winter scene, is very pretty, no? A friend on face-book said to see it lightened his morning, another described it with delight in her tone: “And it looks just like someone would today, with a backpack & bag & maybe carrying a chainsaw to cut wood.” I have made it my header picture for my face-book time-line for winter. The second, Gauguin’s, I put on face-book the day after I was 73 (Nov 30th) to thank the whopping 40 Internet, FB and other friends (people I have met in the flesh too, and also on listservs) who wished me a good day. I’m not above feeling better for such support. I was alone most of the day — as I am them majority of most days since Jim died — and I believe that some of the people (however prompted by automatic software from FB) meant well: several added a thoughtful line to me. I wrote:

I want to thank everyone who yesterday made my day easier to get through. It was a peaceful, more or less a repeat of Thursday, which was more or less a repeat of Wednesday … once term is over (and they are shorter at these Oscher Institutes) I become a homebody again. You all really helped me stay cheerful. I felt surrounded by friends.

I will say this, despite the merits of good (recognizable) food, I have found that rest (sleeping the night for a minimum of 5-6 hours in a row) is more important in maintaining sane life — I should have said staying alive, having the will and strength to carry on, than food.

I got perceptive comments from others on Mimi and Her Cat:

I love the way he shows how a cat may lift as it is petted … Thanks, a new one for me. Lovely painting which was new to me as well … An unusual posture between child and cat. The animal seems so content. I could not imagine life without our cats.

I replied: I usually dislike Gauguin’s paintings: “native” women naked to their waists, with dull looks in their eyes. This is a rare one that for me shows he had genius: it’s reproduced in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, a book which combines a history of human attitudes towards cats with what we find in pictures of them.

Then another friend (also from a time long ago when I was on Arthurnet) said: “It reminds me of Vuillard in spirit.” and my liking of this image (I haven’t forgotten it since I saw it in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, and wrote: “Yes — I agree. Very good. Look at the arched feet. You’ve helped me understand why I liked this picture. I like Vuillard – I have a book filled with images of his pictures — from an exhibit I went to at the National Gallery, here in DC. I used to have one of Vuillard’s murals for one of my blogs — suitably cropped and lengthened out. Here that is before re-fitted:


Place Vintimille

People have asked me why I sometimes reprint utterances people write to me on these blogs: because I value them, think them worth saving, am grateful to people who speak to me as friends and want to remember what they said so I can re-find and re-live them. One of the purposes of a diary, is to live more intensely, with more awareness, adequately through writing, not to forget what has been.

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This is another of those hard times for me as a widow. The first week of October each year (which contain the day Jim and I met, the days and nights we first made love (no we did not buy it ready made), the day we married, the day he lost consciousness forever and the day he died). Christmas day a third — I have never been able to rid myself, expunge, gauge out this yearning for happiness and belief in it as occurring on Christmas day I was somehow inspired to feel as a child, despite some 65 years of disillusion and even wretched bitterness. New Year’s, the fourth. All in later autumn, early winter.

All these promote retrospective, memories, some good, happy now and again, most mixed with and a few almost all pain. I remember the year 2000 when Jim took Izzy and I to Paris during Christmas week and New Year’s. What a relief, to escape what I used to feel than as this imposition on us, an implicit demand we do likewise. On Christmas day many stores, restaurants, theaters are opened in Paris, the general atmosphere lively, gay, usual, light, none of this intensity the American holidays conjure up. Recently I quoted to someone, Johnson’s saying of “Nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment,” and to my astonishment, the person looked puzzled. “What could that mean? why?” she asked. Could she be that naive? That inattentive to all that is going round her on occasions made fraught by such expectations that cannot be met because of the baggage, history or past, and connections we all carry round with those we have known long and been involved with.

From this Thanksgiving morning:

I am driven from my study today. Izzy listening to the commercial-laden (imbricated?) Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (it started at 9 am!) in the next room: it is so noisy, made so deliberately continually loud, with continual accompanying high and low grade noise, shouting presented as singing (can you imagine “Jingle Bells” made rapid fire, speeded up?), with rhythmic accompaniments, I cannot shut it out. So must read in sun-room this morning — all the way in the front of the house. Nothing can be heard but a cat’s yowl from the back. The room faces east so what there is of sun streams in. One of my companions (advised by a friend) is John Mullan’s What matters in Jane Austen? and it’s not bad. An essay, “Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside” relevant to her and Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. Turns out it is risky in Austen, but also exhilarating. Mullan has the trick of continually interweaving, quoting Austen … (Later in the day)

I am finding myself not sadder than I was, but more aware of how nothing can replace Jim. Yes the grief of loss fades, we (or I) see we can survive without our best friend, life companion; we grow calm, and gradually get used to absence, to (in my case) being alone most of the time. This week two fine spirits died, both of whom Jim respected, enjoyed their work: Clive James and Jonathan Miller: I commemorated them, their lives, their work on my Sylvia I blog, to which I add James’s Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.

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So what can I record happened over the last two weeks or that I am looking forward to or doing differently.

The look of my face has changed. My new denture fits me (as my previous one did not) and narrowly holds tight (with the help of a little denture glue) on what’s left of my narrow upper gum. I can eat more things now as the upper denture slams down on the lower (teeth!). But what has also happened (and has been mentioned by others to me who get up close) is “You [I] look different.” They decline to say if I look better. Probably I look worse by conventional standards. My face falls in more, my once high cheekbones now utterly vanished, my face just narrower from where cheekbones once were downward. But I notice too that I no longer look like my mother. Since I rather disliked her (to put this mildly) and when I had to look at her face in mine it could be demoralizing, not to say corrosively ironic (to me). It’s not too much to say I’d be filled with helpless anger, frustration. I was stamped with what I wanted to forget. My mother was responsible for my first marriage. I’ve not told you that as yet. Yes, she engineered it and then hid what happened from my father who went mad with fear, anguish, grief for that week. She meant to estrange us permanently; she didn’t succeed in that but she did part us as I never returned to live with them again.

Well now for the first time ever I see I do like like my father too — or did. People used to say when I would say I look like my mother, there is your father too, your eyes are his, and especially the expression. Well now that my forehead comes out and the upper face, yes, I see him there. I see a family resemblance with one of my male cousins (whom Jim used to say from a photo Jim saw of this cousin looked like my father). What a relief …

So there is a qualification to be made to Johnson’s:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

For one of the Caturdays that passed:

This week I’ve been reading 18th century plays, about the astonishing but unenviable lives of Catherine Clive and Susannah Arne Cibber, and came upon Fielding’s Author’s Farce (mocking other productions, genres, authors &c) which concludes with an epilogue spoken by the actress as a cat. Luckless, our author in the farce, to show he does not value aid offered him by 4 different volunteering poets says “I’ll have the epilogue spoken by a cat.” The text suggests there was a real cat on stage. She or he came on and said “mew, mew.” Luckless is all encouragement but then a female player comes on and chases poor puss off: “Fie, Mr Luckless, what/Can you be doing with that filthy cat?” Upon which the cat exits. The actress (addressed as madam) and Luckless proceed to argue over whether a cat can “Speak an epilogue!” It can be only a “dumb show.” In the midst of this onto the stage “Enter Cat as a woman.” I have now been told in the revision of 1734 the epilogue by a cat was removed. So it’s the first one by an actress other than Clive who turns to the audience more or less in defense of cats, with some demurs, comparisons of wives with cats, and funny rhymes:

Puss would be seen where madam lately sat
And every Lady Townley be a cat.

She ends by suggesting many a husband would prefer to find a cat “purring by your side” in bed than a wife.


Clarycat watching me make our bed


Ian keeping warm on the DVD multi-region player where he can look out the window too

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I’m looking forward to the winter term at OLLI at Mason: I signed up for a movie course – this one will include going to art movies in this area, and meeting four times to discuss the movie together. Rather like the Cinemart summer film club — no surprise as this theater is going to cooperate for the month and try for better movies. At Politics & Prose I did sign up for a course meeting over 5 months, once a month, with two good teachers, where we’ll read and discuss the first two volumes of Olivia Manning‘s Balkan Trilogy (WW2 English people in Greece, adapted into a fine series, Fortunes of War with a young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Sarah Waters’s Night Watch (profound gothic), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve read them all but a long while ago. One I’m not sure of, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (a character is ceaselessly reincarnated — the writer is fashionable among P&P people, and she is Scottish), and then the cringeworthy All the Light You Cannot See.

I dreamed up two courses for P&P I’ll never teach: First three weeks on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie (in Sylvia Raphael’s wonderful translation), two week break, then a week each George Sand’s idyllic anguish of an Indiana (Raphael’s translation, an updating of Paul et Virginie), Marguerite Duras’s La Guerre (her diary-journal of the occupation in France), ending on the magical prose of Chantal Thomas in her lesbian inflected Farewell, My Queen. Or WII through Italian texts: Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (unforgettable bleak sojourn), Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and A Chill in the Air (marvelous review in NY Review of books by Adrian Lyttelton this week), ending on one of the best books in Italian of the 20th century, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). All literary masterpieces.  But I have no idea how to sell anything to anyone.

Izzy and I will see Amadeus at the Folger this Saturday (rave reviews), the Christmas Italianate concert at the nearby church, with Laura and Izzy, Come from There (a remarkable musical play about all the people landing in northern Canada where their planes were diverted on 9/11 and how the Canadians welcomed them …. January a HD screening at the Folger of Winter’s Tale with Branagh (now old) and Judi Dench as Paulina.

List life: I’ve started Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (I find I can read the French alongside the English translaton), and it’s just so compelling, I love her deep earnest tone, serious grave, intense — and read into one-third of a fine literary biography of Beauvoir by Carol Ascher. And am reveling in E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Aspects of the Novel and Abinger Harvest.

For my projects I will soon be writing an omnibus blog on my reading of Winston Graham’s mid-career suspense books, and have found the Durrells: Larry’s island books, Gerald’s memoir, and Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory (my latest mid-night reading), which brings together Larry Durrell, Constantine Cavafy and Forster in non-genteel roles, working during the war to help others. i wrote up Oliphant’s Agnes.

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These costume drama people sink into my consciousness, I dream of them, am attached to many. I mean to watch movies differently — more candidly before myself. Or just am. Last week one night after weeping (yes I cried, and by the way so did Elizabeth [referring to this third season of The Crown] at Aberfan — that she couldn’t and didn’t cry is completely false) over the moving death of John Hollingworth as Henshawe in the fifth episode of the third season of Poldark, I was rejuvenated to see him brought back in the fifth episode of the third season of said Crown as Porchey (Lord Porchester) next to the queen, both of them so enjoying one another’s company and a life at the races, at stables, at dinners, that she (Olivia Coleman) is led to lament her unlived life (with him, horses and dogs, in her headscarf) … Such such are the pleasures of costume drama watching …

On just one, but best of the episodes from the third season of The Crown, “Moonstruck,” featuring the astonishingly powerful actor, Tobias Menzies, now Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

The Crown

I use the term “moving” too lightly sometimes, so when I want the word to be taken more seriously, I am without a fresh adjective except if I add very or a string of verys. So imagine a string of verys and the word moving on this seventh episode. At last they gave Tobias Menzies something adequate to his talents: this is another learning a lesson story. To say it’s about Philip’s mid-life crisis where he is feeling the frustrations of existing in a fish bowl and spending his “job” time as a symbol at occasions, giving speeches for worth causes, is inadequate.

The hour opens with his irritation at having to go to church by 9 am and listen to a doddering old fool because Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) expects this. It is the time of the moon landing and Philip then gets so caught up with watching intensely; the whole family gathers around the TV for hours, but they leave after a while and Philip is there for days. He is identifying, bonding and thinking a an “airman” himself is their equivalent and to prove it endangers himself and a courtier with him flying the machine way too high.

The queen (and she is again the quiet improver) then hired a new man she thinks Philip might like: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan), but Philip is not going to church any more. This new man asks if he can have the use of one of the unused buildings on the property as a center for spiritual renewing; Philip finds himself asked to go and when he has to sit there listening to these depressed men, he bursts out in cruel excoriation of them, ridiculing them. Telling them they will feel valued and part of the world if they were active. How about cleaning up this floor and out he rushes. The camera on the face of the actor enacting Wood, pained blankness, patience. When the astronauts come for a visit, Philip insists on 15 minutes alone with them, we see him writing questions, and when finally most reluctant they come in, he finds hi questions cannot be asked — they are young, inarticulate, hardly gave deep thought to what they were doing –too busy. They have silly questions about life in the palace for him.

Then cut to Philip walking away from them through Buckingham Palace, and then unexplained there he is close up he sitting and talking very gravely, and we realize at he is back to Wood and his clergymen needing spiritual renewal — Menzies delivers an extraordinary speech baring his soul insofar as such a man could, apologizes to them, asks them for help.

There wasn’t a specific moment, uh, when it started.
It’s been more of a gradual thing.
A drip, drip, drip of of doubt disaffection, disease, dis discomfort.
People around me have noticed my general uh, irritability.
Um Now, of course, that’s that’s nothing new.
I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.
Not to mention, uh, an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts.
Compulsive overexercising.
An inability to find calm or satisfaction or fulfillment.
And when you look at all these symptoms, of course it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I’m slap bang in the middle of a [CHUCKLES.]
I can’t even say what kind of crisis.
[CHUCKLING.]
That that crisis.
And Of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better.
Uh Some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.
My mother died recently.
[CLEARS THROAT.]
She she saw that something was amiss.
It’s a good word, that.
A-Amiss.
She saw that something was missing in her youngest child.
Her only son.
Faith.
“How’s your faith?” she asked me.
I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it.
And without it, what is there? The The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation ghostly silence gloom.
That is what faithlessness is.
As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery.
No, the answer is in here.
Or here, or wherever it is that that faith resides.
And so Dean Woods having ridiculed you for what you and these poor, blocked, lost souls [CHUCKLING.]
were were trying to achieve here in St.
George’s House I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation as I come to say help.
Help me.
And to admit [CHUCKLES.]
that while those three astronauts deserve all our praise and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today than I would have been going up in any bloody rocket! [CHUCKLING

Then we see them walking out and Philip looking more cheerful and an inter-title tells us the real Duke formed a close friendship with Wood and in later years this organization became one Philip was very proud of. Then the queen is seen in the distance walking her dogs, looking on. Her face lightens with relief and cheer. Doesn’t sound like much? Watch and listen to Menzies.

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Oh my friends, what else is there to say. I spoke once again to my 83 year old aunt Barbara who sent me the only birthday card I got – she said as she heard my voice, she sends the card so that I should call her once a year. We caught up: I told her about my, Izzy and Laura’s Calais trip: on Thanksgiving day over our roast chicken, Izzy and I toasted the 12 days as the best moments, of our year, the one we wanted most to cherish.

Surely with all the deep poetical spirits I commune with in books and through movies, surely surely there is a poem for me to end my recording of this interval on. Well Clive James’s essay on an Australian poet I’d never heard of before, Stephen Edgar’s two stanzas:

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

But you see he wasn’t just anyone. My Jim was a prince. And I am 73 and without him. I thought of titling this blog the 74th year except that’s not what matters. I have not been alone for 74 years. For 45 I had a friend. The 8th year of remembering begins. The play has ended, one of the two principle characters left the stage, and I am left to create an after-piece.


Gorey’s haunted Wintertime Dancing Cat ….

Ellen

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