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The Falmouth Hotel

I am not as I have been — Benedict, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, me after six years sans Jim

Friends,

A tout a l’heure. A first photo ahead of time. I’ll be going to Cornwall, starting out May 13th in the afternoon and flying home the 22nd to arrive mid-afternoon. A second time.  friend who will be on the tour with me (I met him last year on the Road Scholar tour to the Lake District and Border country) sent me the promotional photo. Falmouth Hotel, first built 1865, with chateau-style architecture and surrounded by lawn and gardens. A seafront location. I don’t know how I’ll manage to imagine Verity Poldark here … But I can imagine tonight the people who will be on the tour, older middle class people. I have checked out all the places we will visit in Cornwall against a map of the place and will bring a map with me so I can know where things are relative to one another.

I have at long last been diligently reading my books on Cornwall, finishing those half way through, looking at those I’ve finished, trying to make it all vivid in my mind so I have the place and its history fresh in my mind – I will take with me a Daphne DuMaurier novel (Jamaica Inn?), Graham’s Warleggan (Poldark 4), I’m still hoping that Peter Maxted’s The Natural Beauty of Cornwall (he is one of the two Road Scholar leaders) will have come in time. I might best enjoy Bate’s book on Shakespeare, Soul of the Age! (I loved his Future Learn lectures, 1-3, 4-8) but my copy is a heavy hard-back, a beautiful book, but can I lug it? I admit the book that got me through the Lake District last year was a hard-back, beautiful book, Lucy Worseley’s Jane Austen at Home.

One of the real reasons I go away is this way I am with people doing things, looking at the world from a safe vantage provided by Road Scholar and I have gone in August twice because there is no teaching at the OLLIs and most events going on in DC and here in Virginia come to an end, or occur at night and it is so hot here, just about impossible to go out. Looking at the Road Scholar itineraries I found many places don’t have an August set of dates and that was true of Cornwall and I did want to go for the sake of this Poldark project of mine. (That seems to me ironic — and also indicate Road Scholar types don’t worry about when in the year they go. I would have thought August was a vacation time.) So I am making do with mid-May.

All Road Scholar three trips have been to the UK not only based on what I have read but because Jim and I went there once and I’ve wanted to go again or he and I never made it (Lake District). Another motivating force is each year to return to the UK where I met and married and first lived with Jim. England and the countries on these isles have a strong nostalgic memory meaning for me which I’m renewing each year. It’s like I’m going back to him, to where what happiness in life that I’ve know started in England with him in Leeds. “This is where.”


Jim would have picked out this from a book shelf: see John Betjeman at St Enodoc Church, Cornwall

Come on! Come on! This hillock hides the spire.
Now that one and now none. As winds about
The burnished path through lady’s-finger, thyme,
And bright varieties of saxifrage,
So grows the tinny tenor faint or loud
All all things draw toward St. Enodoc.

Where deep cliffs loom enormous, where cascade
Mesembrynthemum and stone-crop down,
Where the gull looks no larger than a lark
Hung midway twixt the cliff-top and the sand,
Sun-shadowed valleys roll along the sea,
Forced by the backwash, see the nearest wave
Rise to a wall of huge, translucent green
And crumble into spray at the top
Blown seaward by the land-breeze. Now she breaks
And in an arch of thunder plunges down
To burst and tumble, foam on top of foam,
Criss-crossing, baffled, sucked and shot again,
A waterfall of whiteness, down a rock,
Withot a source but roller’s furthest reach:
And tufts of sea-pink, high and dry for years,
Are flooded out of ledges, boulders seem
No bigger than a pebble washed about
In this tremendous tide. Oh kindly slate!
To give me shelter in this crevice dry.
These shivering stalks of bent grass, lucky plant,
Have better chance than I to last the storm.
Firm, barren substrate of our windy fields! …


19th century church: St Enodoc, Trebetherick, North Cornwall: Betjeman may be buried here?

And I’ve not given up my dream of a study of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, working title now, A Matter of Genre.

Speaking of travel, or at least navigation, my garmin is fixed! working again. The man I found to fix it said I must treat it far more gently, and I will. In the meantime I’ve made some progress in learning to use Waze. I now know (more or less) how to get to “where to.” Izy and I did this on Sunday using the Waze to get to the supermarket. But alas I cannot figure out how to shut Waze off. The voice carried on telling me of road conditions.  It kills me how people will persist in saying this or that in electronics or digital things are so easy. They never are to me. I have no intuition and when I do something I must do it several times before the sequence of motions sticks in my head. I assure you I had my heart in my mouth as I drove to the place and tried to find this man without benefit of GPS (though I had taken a mapquest map).

But I now do have two working GPSs!  So one to use and a back up. I should get lost less often and have courage to try again to get to Politics & Prose Bookstore when I come home from Cornwall. I have become a member. I see they have mini-courses all year round, staggered across August too. I shall keep an eye out for a course I might enjoy and try it.

Laura told me over dinner (see below) that the pizza place next door is a where a wild myth about Hilary Clinton and child-trafficking occurring in a basement emerged in brains of impoverished crazed white Americans — Jim and I went there several times after hearing lectures at Politics & Prose — for pizza and to watch a classic movie playing on in a screen above the tables — one lecture I remember by Colm Toibin, who disappointed Jim; Jim had not yet learnt to compromise when you go to a fine author’s lecture for the public generally …

I am told one is paid to teach the courses there, and can see from the site that the people who teach there include people like myself, and I suspect a course once a month or four times over a month on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet might be welcome and go over very well. A new goal … I am well into Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and reading it with the Italian of Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta under the English text. A profound text.


From the film of My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Lenu reading Little Women together (I carry on with Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality about 19th century women writers & artists, two of whom are Louisa May & May Alcott)

I just finished teaching Trollope’s CYFH? and in the class where the institution encourages people in the class to provide an honorarium in cash, I cleared $300. A card with many generous thank yous. At the OLLI at Mason, the last class went very well too. In both I again had my Macbook pro laptop and showed clips from the Pallisers, using the cursor and a scroll along the frame of the in-built DVD, good talk after. The Mason group appeared genuinely interested in my Enlightenment: At Risk course. So I will have plenty of cash to take with me, and I will bring Andrew Curran’s Diderot, or the Art of Writing, at least one book by one of my Booker Prize Short and Short listed books (the course I’ll teach at OLLI at AU in June) authors, perhaps Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 and 1/2 chapters.

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Wednesday was Isobel’s 35th birthday, and so an anniversary for me who gave birth to her too. Yesterday I remembered how on my 35th birthday Jim sent me Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale:

On her completing her Thirty-fifth Year

OFT in danger, yet alive,
We are come to thirty-five;
Long may better years arrive,
Better years than thirty-five.
Could philosophers contrive
Life to stop at thirty-five,
Time his hours should never drive
O’er the bounds of thirty-five.
High to soar, and deep to dive,
Nature gives at thirty-five.
Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at thirty-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from thirty-five;
He that ever hopes to thrive
Must begin at thirty-five;
And all who wisely wish to wive
Must look on Thrale at thirty-five.

I didn’t send it to Izzy because she would not understand it — instead I sent her a lovely Jacquie Lawson card — it looked like a 19th century book illustration in black, white and greys and ivory colors and is gradually filled with colorful flowers, music En Bateau from Petite Suite by Claude Debussy.

I replaced a broken frame and put a photo taken of Jim and I two mornings after we had met, had come together and were living for a week in an attic flat in Leeds. I then realized that in my sun-room I have no picture of him, so now it stands on a medium bookcase where I can see it from my chair as I read. The way we were:


I am just 22, and he is 20. As I look at myself I see the same face that appears in my profile picture. Much smoother, rounder, high cheek bones but the same face, also my hands are the same. Just the color hair. Mine is grey-white now.

But he lost that sweet boy look soon after we came to live in NYC, so well before his thirties. His face no longer so round and flat, his beard much fuller. His very skin color lost the whiteness; I have some intimate photos of him looking very gentle but am unwilling to share these; one close up shows the same features in a face altered by 8 years in another culture:

Tonight we went with Laura and her husband, Rob, to dinner on Friday to Izzy’s favorite restaurant, the Olive Garden on Columbia Pike. The meal delicious, the place comfortable and pretty, we had some cheerful talk — about Laura’s trip to Chicago this spring. She was surprised by the intense cold and wind. The restaurant gives so much (yummy) food that I, Laura, and Rob brought home 3/4s of what was on our plates.

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This Gorey drawing with colors is the April picture in my desk datebook, and now that April’s done and we are into May rains, I share it here: a fair metaphoric representation of humanity too. I have all five Gorey books — Jim enjoyed these enormously.

Thus I conclude on my two beloved cat companions.

One sign of how ClaryCat is now middle-aged is how she now sits or lays calmly in her catbed by an open window which has an awning overawning it, which has 2 bird nests on its inner shelves. Eggs and a momma sparrow with occasional visits of papa appear seasonally. When Clary was young, she be all over Jim’s desk (on which the catbed lays) in hectic excitement, trying to reach the birds and knock down things. Now she sits there and makes little whimpering or squeeky noises. Very alert. She looks out and sees a great deal from that window of interest to her: other birds, squirrels, she follow noises. But just sitting now — staid. She also stretches out luxuriating in the sun in my sunroom for considerable half hours — something she didn’t do when younger. She murmurs at me as we go through our days and nights together. So does Ian when he first turns up (after periodic hiding) again. “Here I am again,” he is saying; he comes up to my chair sometimes and puts his paw on my arm. I’ve read that cats do not instinctively make noise to communicate — it’s their long association with people that prompts this way of communicating.


Clarycat

I so love my Clarycat.

Often when I’m about to go out and I find her latest trophy toy (the tiny mouse has disappeared), a sock with catnip in it (long gone) laid over my shoes. Nowadays she puts this sock where I am or have been just or where something I’ve just worn or read is. She will trot about with it in her mouth, making crying sounds to get my attention, before she puts it down. Just as she used to, her little mouse. Above is a photo of her on the other side of my computer before she stretched out in the patch of white light sun to sleep.

I look at their bodies and see (from books) what are signs of middle-agedness — they are in their early 50s. A pouch; they are no longer that graceful or agile as they run. His face is funny colored and longer. Well look at me — remember the opening of Persuasion; we don’t want to be like Sir Walter, do we? and not realize how old we get. Ian still loves to play and his favorite time is just before supper; he waits by a colorful string attached to a kind of funnel, murmurs at me, and I take it and he wrestles and plays until he has had enough.

They are also wiser, mature in their interactions with me and so am I with them. I shall miss them while I am gone, and they me.


Ian, his latest favorite place high on the cabinets where he can see me and thinks I cannot see him (like Snuffalupagus)

In the long days and nights, my cats’ murmuring at me or meowing in a talking way and my talking in English back to them breaks the silence — mornings I use my ipad and listen to the Pete Seeger channel, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, but just as often Nanci Griffiths or Mary Chapin Carpenter with other women singing country.

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Just before going to bed, I’m watching Andrew Davies’s magnificent Middlemarch (1994) — having finished his Doctor Zhivago (2001). Zhivago done in by war, revolution, his own susceptibility to tenderness and integrity. My favorite line was his stubborn reiteration that what he wanted to do with his life, his hours, was what he could do with it best: be a doctor and write poetry. Leave him alone to do what he can that a few others might value in the world.

I had forgotten the story of Lydgate to some extent: the thwarting of all his hopes to do some real extensive good in the world, to be a scientist, the political and career angle of the book. Davies brings this home so poignantly — also the story of Farebrother. I had also forgotten just how truly masterly is this earlier film adaptation. It is so detailed in the speeches, and they are so intelligently done and pointed. Middlemarch stands out as a high standard: fully intelligent believable thought, these truly well and carefully studied, integrated scenes of several complicated human presences at once are not what’s wanted any more. My midnight project is to go through everyone of Andrew Davies’s films.


Douglas Hodge as Lydgate: young, eager, unbowed — come to think of it like Yuri in Zhivago, he dies relatively young – so here is the pull, why Davies lit on this pair


Juliet Aubry as Dorothea hard at work on plans for cottages for workers

I also read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing bit by bit (after seeing YouTubes of his famous series) and fretted that I am going away for false reasons, allured by publicity pictures of un-reality, desirous not to be left out of this other (luminous?) world. But Pas de fantasie? Last words read by me on some nights putting out the light are words of sex reverie from an Outlander volume.

Ellen

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The vignette for February in my Edward Gorey calendar

Friends,

I spent a lot of today seated reading in a comfortable chair. I was immersed in a remarkably fine Poldark novel, No 11, The Twisted Sword. Unfortunately there are no good illustrations or stills for it. I was so moved at the death of the young hero, Jeremy, at the accurate depiction (based on minute research) of the senseless horror of the battle of Waterloo, of the intense grief of Ross and Demelza, his father and mother, and h how death is deeply felt by all those he lived among. There’s also a profound depiction of the cruelty of society to disability showing how society makes the disabled far more unable, and the exposure of a  lying, murdering socially liked cad to beat all cads (a fugitive from Graham’s suspense novels) married to Clowance, our heroine .


Hougomont Farmhouse where thousands lost their lives at Waterloo: today and as imagined June 18, 1815

My cats were nearby most of the time, sleeping, resting or playing, trotting about, looking out a window. It was a bright very cold day, and will be colder yet tomorrow. A good deal of rain on and off.

From what happened today I’ve a poem to share too, by Adrienne Rich:

Storm Warnings

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of gray unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky.

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A roof against the wind; the wind will rise
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things that we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.

Part of the power of the poem is it’s not free verse: these are 7 line stanzas, each with a refrain of the same number of syllables. She uses syllabic verse to control the rhythms, and off-rhyme. It makes me remember the frequent Gorey illustration of someone coming to a window, looking out, and closing the curtains, turning away. This is how Ruth Prawer Jhabvala pictured her response to life ….

This evening I watched the third part of an extraordinary film adaptation for the BBC of Les Miserables, by Andrew Davies, whose lack of distribution on American TV strikes me as a deep betrayal of Davies’ humane critique of our crazed society then and now. I become breathless with stirred emotion as I watch. Davies has distilled the essential vision of Hugo — a 1000 page novel — into 6 hours: low budget sets, make-up that is a cross between Dickens and behavior out of the trauma of Marot/Sade; not heroic individualism, but society itself, the worst of human beings as at fault, reinforced by meanness, coldness of heart, a punitive persecution mentality as reigning. I thought of Hugo’s slender anti-capital punishment (the phrase seems inadequate), The last Day of a Condemned Man. Original too: the ferocity of Oyelowo seems so overwrought, and his horror at Jean Valjean’s goodness is a function (it feels like) homoerotic passion. I must write a blog-essay on this one after I’ve watched all six, comparing it to the recent 4 part Woman in White scripted by Fiona Seres. Davies’s movie does not supersede the now famous musical but might be regarded as what can frame it with understanding.


Jean Valjean (Dominic West), Fantine (Lily Collins) with Cosette, Javert (David Oyelowo)

How I get through life: When a day goes by and I realize I forgot to do this (say some specific book I was to be reading), or should have done that (blogged), or was too tired to do something else and I must to bed, and find I cannot read, I tell myself as I turn the light out, and put my small mask over my eyes, tomorrow I’ll do better, tomorrow is another day. When I wake the next morning, and feel so intensely sad, I tell myself, I’ll do what I can. This cannot be helped (the being alone), that I cannot get over (difficulties in traveling), the other thing I must accept (when I write to someone say about my project whose help I could use, or an official where I need something and no one responds — very common, gentle reader). What is the use of being angry? why blame or take it out on others? no. Try to get along, be kind, remember others suffer a lot and more than I do too. When I write postings that are misunderstood or not accepted by a majority of people, turn away from the hostile and belligerent, block insults. This doesn’t happen too often as I usually stay away from a group of people when I discover they are an unpleasant fan group but have become fascinated by Outlander and post there far too much (I must and will stop soon.) When I’ve tried to be social in non-virtual places and somehow have not managed it, when the classes I teach shrink in numbers, when I’ve decided after all not to go to this or that meeting, accept. When I see I will not able to do this paper or that review, live with it.  Do not berate self.  Remember the good blogs I’ve done, the passing pleasant conversations I have had that day at the OLLIs at Mason or AU. That we had some good conversation on my listservs and face-book pages, are reading good books, that this or that chat has been comforting.

I also go to and teach at these two OLLIs, and the winter term has started at Mason’s: two good sessions, one on American poetry, What Whitman, was at least suggestive with excerpts from a fine film Voices and visions, once shown on PBS:

Speakers include Allen Ginsburg, Justin Kaplan (Whitman’s biographer). Of course in the high school teacher running it, there was this insistence on his optimism, but part of session was devoted to Whitman’s war poetry, his homosexuality was just mentioned (it’s central), but one learned how difficult it was at first for him to gain any traction for a readership. His harsh childhood, working from a young age as a journalist, his travels all around the US, refusal to imitate older genres. I found his poetry to be more about solitude than I thought as his “I” is the only presence in the poems beyond gestures to and endless general images suffused with love for all the occupations of people.  Robinson Jeffers owes a lot to him I realized. The other on women photographers, which I have started to blog on, first up, Dorothea Lange.

I’ve had a bit of bad news: I agreed to have a general health assessment for the first time in years, including renewal of shots for things, and lo and behold was diagnosed as having the virus Hepatitis C: if you are not treated, the results can be scary. I’ve done the required “bloodwork” at a lab now, next week a scan, then see a doctor. So I’ve had to quit drinking, no more wine. Tonight was my third night: perhaps I’ll lose weight I tell myself. I feel hungrier. As someone basically toothless, I usually have sops with wine in the early evening. Now I can’t. I’ll save money. And of course perhaps my liver, if I’ve got any left. This is a big change in a long life of drinking (kept just under control). My taste buds have gotten to the point wine often doesn’t taste any good any way. Still what will I do to calm down, relax when I’ve been over-excited or come home all tense? In the later evening, alas, I’m not more wide awake and as true night comes on, I find I still can’t work or read seriously. Maybe I am more alert watching movies? I slept less the last three nights. I’m also told not to take over-the-counter sleeping pills (well I don’t, I have a prescription but …. ). However, still unsteady on my pins when I first rise from bed.

I am much relieved the senseless maniac’s partial gov’t shutdown was brought to an end, and my heroine for tonight is Nancy Pelosi:

She didn’t gloat; she remained calm, quietly reiterating all her and Chuck Schumer and the democrats’ positions. My favorite moment was when she dis-invited Trump from doing his SOTU in the Congressional assembly room and made it stick.

Ellen

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Snow-cat, made by Rob, Laura’s husband, just outside their backdoor

This morning I realized there was a sweetness about life, about existence, being alive somehow, a tone, a feel to the very air, which has vanished altogether since Jim died. My eye lighted on a house near my street, so familiar after 35 years that corner, and it came to me when I would see that corner and was driving home to where Jim often was, how the world was suffused with sweetness, a tone, a feel — gone forever, with vacuity in its place.

Friends,

The past two weeks have been cold, rain has poured on Alexandria, and now we’ve had a mild three day snow storm. Mild because only some 12 inches but enough to close down what parts of gov’t have been left open after Trump and his regime decided to make their right-wing dictatorship felt. A coup is underway to nullify the election of a democratic house. I am far from alone in being sick with worry and anxiety for my and Izzy’s comfortable existence, this house and my books supplying all that make my life worthwhile.

I’ve been thinking what can I do if Trump succeeds in keeping this up: can the money I have invested be turned around to produce some kind of income? I thought of Jane Austen’s line in Persuasion: Is there any one item on which we can retrench. I’ve been thinking of many items, including eating less and more cheaply. I’ve not bought a thing I didn’t have to since the gov’t shut down. I am already committed for two trips but after this stop. Apply for tax relief from the Alexandria property rates. I have been so proud of my garden: it would hurt not to have the gardeners work at it at least once a month (they came twice in the fall); it would break my heart, but I know nothing of gardening so need them. No more cleaning ladies. That’s easy. Izzy loves her four sports channels but we could go down on the phone somehow. Anything to stay here and keep my books. Night after night Judy Woodruff on PBS catalogues another set of individuals devastated by this.  Trump came on Fox  enjoying himself utterly. Remember he and his Republican loathe most of the agencies, like the FTC which is supposed to protect consumers, stop monopoly and exploitative practices. They are shutting all this down as a trial to see what they can destroy. They like the idea of federal workers forced to work for no pay.  Well these workers won’t keep it up for years.  My especial heart-break is the closing of the Library of Congress.


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

I’ve been out minimally but not lonely because of the worlds of the Internet I have found so many friends and people who share some part of my taste to spend time with. I visited a friend where we had old-fashioned grilled-cheese sandwiches (on white bread no less, fried lightly in butter on a frying pan) with tea and then settled together to watch the wondrous French A Christmas Tale. She enjoyed it as deeply as I. She’s worried too: she lives on a much larger social security and annuity payments; she will rearrange her annuity payments for a start she says.

One night also I went on a date (the first in 52 years) — an old-fashioned date where the man picked me up by car, drove me to an elegant yet home-y Irish pub in Northwest Washington where we had a yummy meal and good talk; afterwards a drive through very pretty park-lined and riverside streets, and then home again home again, jiggedy-jig, where he walked me to my door. I even dressed up, complete high heels and an attempt at make-up (feeble, basically lip-stick).

I know my face looks awful but consider that the cell phone picked up harsh shadows in Izzy’s half-lit room.

We were in a neighborhood in Northwest Washington I knew existed, sort of, but had never been in. The OLLI at AU is there. Very wealthy, exclusive (he pointed to three clubs he belongs to along the river, one where no one else can come into that piece of land in that park), beautiful, forest-y. There’s a Great Falls I’d never heard of and he was even startled to hear I’d never heard of it. His big income comes from years of working in high positions in agencies Trump will destroy: environmental; he did “operations research” (mathematical finding of which is your best option to do; this is used to bomb things). He is by older heritage Jewish, but his family spent so many years in Arkansas and then Tennessee so he has no memories of any heritage but American — one of his clubs meets in a local very tasteful Episcopalian church.  An intelligent sports person, someone who knew how to and still does socialize and network, a widower, with 2 (!) guns in his house. I could see he was rightist — trained to be a fighter pilot in the later 1950s. He knew what an adjunct is, and said of Jim’s career, what a shame he didn’t make more money with such degrees. I think for us, given my expectations, & where we both came from, Jim did very well. I know mainstream people will comment (adversely) he retired so early. Yes, and I have much less because of this, but he lived for 9 years he would not have had he worked until 65, gotten that dreadful cancer, and been devoured.  So not a lot of common ground. The evening was though very pleasant. Both people kept up cordial conversation.  I think I’d actually never been on a date like this before — never treated that way in my teens. Perhaps it fit Christine Blasey Forde’s expectations when she found herself among thug upper class males for the first time. The evening was a sociological lesson for me.

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The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

I read a new remarkable short novel where the central consciousness is a nearly kidnapped dog, the 19th century novella, The Confessions of a Lost Dog by Francis Power Cobbe — she anticipates Woolf’s Flush: deeply humane and somewhat convincing attempt to get inside a dog’s personality, not the physical self the way Woolf tried. She is one of the women I am hopeful about writing about for my projected part of a book, working title, The Anomaly (only single women trying to live apart from men have not been.) I  am now reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as translated by Ann Goldstein: she describes a world I grew up in (Naples = southeast Bronx, circa 1950s). Lenu the reader, and Lila who learns to cast off ambition because thwarted hope is one of the most painful of experiences..

Still inching along in the helpful Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Ella Westland, have opened and begun more of my Cornwall travel-memoir meditative history-as-reverie books. I’m now reading the three Poldark novels I’ve chosen for the paper I’m supposed to give in Denver (if airplanes are flying — I don’t know why the TSA people just don’t go on strike — all terrorized they will lose their jobs; this is what employment in the US has come to). And I’ve had one of those delightful literary discoveries fit only for cherished re-telling in a diary.

All the years of watching the two different Poldark, and having read the twelve books I thought carefully through, I never realized both series had omitted Aunt Agatha, the 98 year old unmarried Poldark aunt’s kitten. In scenes where she appears in Black Moon we are told she has a kitten and then cat keeping her affectionate company. His name is Smollett and I suspect the name is reference to the popular 18th century novelist, Smollett who features an old unmarried woman and her beloved dog in an epistolary novel, Humphry Clinker (the hero is Methodist), and cats and offensive smells in a travel -tour book.


Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) saying goodbye to Verity (from Season 3, Black Moon)

When we first see Agatha, we are told

A black kitten moved on her lap. This was Smollett, which she had found somewhere a few months ago and made peculiarly her own. Now they were inseparable. Agatha never stirred without the kitten, and Smollett, all red tongue and yellow eye, could hardly be persuaded to leave her. Geoffrey Charles, with a small boy’s glee, always called her ‘Smell-it.’ [When George Warleggan intrudes.] The kitten, to Agatha’s pleasure, had arched its back and spat at the new arrival (Black Moon, Chapter 1).

Smollett is mentioned in passing, and when on the last page of this novel, Agatha lies dying:

The bed shook as Smollett jumped on it again. Her head was sinking sideways on the pillow. With great effort, she straightened it … then the light began to go, the warm, milk yellow sunlight of a summer day … She could not close her mouth. She tried to close her mouth and failed. Her tongue stopped. But one hand slowly moved. Smollett nudged up to it and licked it with his rough tongue. The sensation of that roughness made its way from her fingers to her brain. It was the last feeling left. The fingers moved a moment on the cat’s fur. Hold me, hold me, they said. Then quietly peacefully, at the last, submissively, beaten by a stronger will than her own, her eyes opened and she left the world behind (Black Moon, last chapter, last page, last paragraph)

Graham is very fond of animals, and especially a lover of cats throughout his novels. Ross Poldark meets Demelza because at the risk of her own severe body injury she was defending her dog, Garrick, from torturous abuse for the amusement of a mob and several boys. Here are Ian and Clarycat near a snow filled window with their toy mouse:

For snow days: I recommend the remarkable movie about Gertrude Bell narrated by Tilda Swinden, for its remarkably contemporary film footage, Bell’s letters, virtuoso performances of BBC actors as Bell’s family, friends, associates: Letters from Baghdad. I’m listening to Timothy West’s inimitable reading of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, as prelude to Can You Forgive Her? and for a group discussion (Trollope&Peers); this is alternatively with Davina Porter reading Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn. I shall buy no more of these but listen and re-listen to what I have. My kind Irish friend has sent me so many copies of DVDs of very good British BBC movies, I can go for years. My movies at home and nightly for now are both sets of Poldark serial dramas (back-to-back watching of equivalent episodes), Outlander Seasons 2 and 4. I was disappointed but not surprised when Caitriona Balfe, nominated for Golden Globe as best actress for four years in row, lost once again. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride ….

It is hard to find Balfe in a dress I can endure to look at at these ceremonies: a salutary reminder of the real woman (the first phase of her career was as a fashion model).. She is presented in the features as a cooperative team player . The blog where I found the image, repeatedly said of the dress it’s too “LV” — perhaps Louis Vuitton, but a sneering tone accompanied by scorn for those “who have trouble paying their rent,” so it’s probably a withering resentment of her outfit as not overtly extravagant, ritzy, expensive enough. I remember Jenny Bevan who has dressed hundreds of actors and actresses in the best movies for years, turning up for her award for costume in ordinary pants, top, her hair simply brushed was booed. So you see where the outrageous lengths this red carpet stupidity goes to comes from: the worst values of mean minds.

******************************************

As for keeping body as well as soul up, I walk for 20 minutes in the afternoons, and listen to country and folk music in the mornings as I exercise for 10 minutes and close this evening with Pete Seeger’s “There’s a river of my people:

There’s a river of my people
And its flow is swift and strong,
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.

Many rocks and reefs and mountains
Seek to bar it from its way.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.

You will find us in the mainstream,
Steering surely through the foam,
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.

For we have mapped this river
And we know its mighty force
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.

Oh, river of my people,
Together we must go,
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my brothers wait I know.
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my sisters wait I know.

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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My new stationary exercise bike

Friends and readers,

I hope all who read this diary blog had some good enjoyment yesterday. Izzy and I passed the day as we have three out of the five times we’ve live through this one since Jim died — more or less alone together.  Once a friend-daughterlike-student came with her partner from Canada to meet over a chicken with us, and once we were invited to a neighbor to partake of a turkey dinner with her and her disabled son.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the new photo. Yes I bought a stationary exercise bike at last: it arrived this past Tuesday in a big long box I could hardly move; if I understood Amazon accurately (it was not clear what would happened until I clicked to spend $148 for the bike and $73 to have it put together, separate buttons) soon after a man would come to put it together. Well he did. I almost missed him because he texted me to try to see if I was home and when I heard the call, I picked up the cell phone and tried to talk to him. No matter, I had clicked on Amazon I would be there. I have done another 8 minutes this morning and realize I have also to invent a warm-up pattern to help myself some more.

Well, back to yesterday: in the morning Izzy watched the Macy’s Day Parade, and after household tasks, I read & wrote: yesterday on Winston Graham’s No Exit, one of his few worthwhile suspense novels (not marred by misogynistic and other trash & silly tropes). I have identified thus far two other good, ethical, even fine fictions by him in the suspense mode: The Dangerous Pawn and Strangers Meeting (I recognize some of the misogynistic books have attracted male mass media movies, plays, even an opera). And I posted on my two listservs @groups.io on good books and films we are doing there, to Victoria on women’s hats in the era as showing status, rank, all sorts of cultural signals, even Outlander on the recent episode of Season 4 (caused an explosion of comments, some 246 over the day). We were unable to go for our usual walk in Old Town Alexandria or a nearby park — it being too cold where we are, so in the later afternoon I watched the 1974 Oliver Stone’s All The President’s Men. Excellent film where we watch the very early stages of finding out hard-to-get necessary information and clues to understand something important had happened and to begin to find out what it was. All actors superb. Then Izzy and I had a usual good dinner we both like and are able to eat: a roast chicken (from a family-owned farm, free range) with basmati rice, Dell Monte zucchini with yummy sauce, orange juice for her and wine for me, all while listening to good music and talking.

From friends over the day letters, emails and from Nick Holland’s blog on the Brontes an unexpected photo of Emily Bronte’s Keeper, which made me hope that Gaskell’s story of the beating of that dog by Emily which probably the truth was a rare moment in the life of that animal:

I’d gotten into Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and returning to it for my historical fiction project. She then read and watched TV & was on the Internet too, perhaps saw a movie.

Our cats played, hung about, stayed near to us, & rested & slept a lot ….

It doesn’t seem commensurate but of the good things that happened this year: I was able (with help) to move my three long-time listservs from bad yahoo to good groups.io, and made it back after many years to the lake district in the UK, and Ian, my boy pussycat is looking better of late than he has, for unknown reasons his fur a better color, smoother, fluffier, and his eyes while still surrounded by grey, somehow his face a healthier ginger with light yellow and white once again. Of the bad and losses: my friend Vivian died. One year Christmas eve we walked with her in the twilight to look at the Alexandria City Christmas tree.

A favorite a propos Jane Austen remark: “My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy.” –Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Clarycat and a truly congenial book-as-friend await me on my pillow for the night …..

I posted this to face-book at the end of the day, but found that because I did not pretend to more cheer than I felt or talk of joy or post pictures signifying these things — though I do believe conviviality and sharing the good things about this holiday ritual — I received replies which implied I was sad or in such a mood because of Vivian’s death: “condolences” and “sorry for your loss” sort of thing, which grated so I put a comment onto face-book that I’ll recycle here:

The above intendedly mild paragraph in response to FB well-meant conviviality is being misunderstood or one detail too emphasized. I mentioned Vivian’s death but my mood and point of view is not the result of that one event but the whole year I have lived through, and the kind of day I passed truthfully described amid this hegemonic order. There is one correction I should make this morning: I did not read Tomalin (who is on the pillow for what she stands for in my mind), but instead her biography of Katherine Mansfield and the very great literary biography by Nicola Beauman on EM Forster called Morgan, worth probably far more than countless books. How well she quotes Woolf on Forster.


He and she my companions

I am so tempted to cite Merwin’s Thanks in order to try to reinforce the balance I intended that I will:

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

But I found Merwin inadequate or simply comes across as ill-tempered not to forget for a few hours, so wanting to be adequate I watched DemocracyNow.org with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh discussing what is happening in our world that matters this very week and put links to that on face-book too:

among other things, a new Brazil emerging which returns us to the horrors upon horrors of the 1970s and 80s fomented by the US gov’t (and its corporations and military). The transcripts are there too: the caravan of wretchedly poor miserable people in danger of losing their lives to be met by guns and detention centers (and separation) at the US borders, the looming nuclear war ratcheted up, and how he who I won’t sully this page by naming knows there is climate break-up as his request to Ireland to allow one of his companies to build a wall shows. Lula in prison the equivalent of Mandela.

For today another day’s study, reading, writing, communicating as best I can with what uplift I can that is nonetheless truthful to be with others in the best way available to me ahead. Izzy is preparing a new song for us … and worked on that yesterday too, several times.


My computer’s automatic Windows 10 computer-enhanced latest wallpaper — as of November 23rd, this morning (click to enlarge, remembering that yours truly cannot reproduce the luminosity of the original, which comes from the computer light and had to cut off the edges in order to cut off metal frame of the computer that the cell phone software caught)

Ellen

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A woman reading — one of the Corot paintings I saw with a friend at the National Gallery exhibit yesterday

Friends,

Sometimes I wake up and in my mind I know I am deeply distraught. This morning as I came out of sleep I realized I had been having a dream the first two weeks I came home from my trip where I was on another trip and behaving in an isolated manner. Now that the dreams have ceased I cannot tell the details. Had I a real psychiatrist as twice I have been lucky enough to have, I could have talked to him or her and perhaps brought these details to surface. Even now they are just outside my mind and disturbing me, and I Know this is so because until this morning I half-believed that the experiences I dreamed happened. I am relieved to realize that the skein was not real but also distressed because I believed in them.

Then as the darkness fades and the room become filled with a grey morning light (there is just now an intense hurricane near by northern Virginia where I live) I see my two cats. They are waiting for me to get up. I know if I obeyed some deep inner impulse and did not behave in the usual morning calm way of getting up, petting them, going with them into the kitchen, getting out their food, and then going round the house to open the shades, decide whether to open the windows (would you believe the air is still and hot this morning just outside the window?), put on the computer and the rest of it, they would be very distressed. I used sometimes to distress my dog 40 years ago because I could not keep to a calm routine. I was not even able to want to and when I realized what was happening to the dog it was too late to turn things round; age 13 Llyr became mortally ill with cancer.


Close up of Ian, 2016

I have today tickets for Izzy and I to go to the Folger theater where the company is playing Macbeth by William D’Avenant, the 17th century poet, playwright, impresaro, entrepreneur who opened one of the two theaters in London after the Stuart regime was put back on the throne and took over the establishment again. He could write exquisitely beautiful erotic pastoral poetry. He claimed he was Shakespeare’s son (his parents’ tavern was on a road between London and Stratford and it was said Shakespeare sometimes stayed there). He is one of those who adapted Shakespeare to the tastes of audiences in the 17th and 18th century before Shakespeare’s reputation improved to the point no one would do this openly: only abridge and in the case of a movie, adapt to be a movie. I must ready myself so as to be available, dressed, and on our way by 1 o’clock. So this helps too.

I have this computer and face-book, people to interact with, the two listservs, have to eat, dress, do tasks of tidying up. All these help.

But it is the cats who keep me in my routine equilibrium aka staying sane. My obligation to these two creatures who are deeply attached to me, and would become themselves not emotionally well —  if I let out what I am.

Among the many retrograde movements against personal liberty and liberal thought and action is what has happened  in the “health care establishment” to coerce people who are not well or do not conform to feel or think the way a majority of people. Ultimately the cause is money: the vast majority of people don’t pay to pay anything towards helping such people and on top of that others saw an opportunity for huge charges. The result, indifferent demeanor, pushing drugs,  and now and again new cruel operations that are not needed but make oodles of money.  This push back culminated in the 1990s when insurance companies led the charge against psychiatrists. On that trip all around the Lake District and the Borders I was lucky enough to meet an 80+ year old man who was a practicing psychiatrist. He told me his daughter, Amy Goldstein (I believe her name is) is a journalist who wrote a book for which she got some kind prize, Janesville, about the destruction of this town or city by the economic choices and racism inflicted on the unaware and powerless by the ruthless powerful and their opportunistic henchmen and women over the last 50 years.

Bob said he is the only physician or psychologist in his office still practicing psychiatry or effective psychological work. All the others do this CBT, which (this is my view) comes down to pressuring people by talk to force themselves to think the way to be well is think good thoughts, push bad thoughts out of your head by conforming, and of course taking drugs. How easy it is then. And oh yes join clubs.

He talked of the absurdity of the new definition of autism. You take 2 characteristics from 6 sheets, they can be entirely different ones but if they match a slew of such characteristics on a huge sheet, the person is declared autistic. It makes no sense. Does it not matter what is the specific characteristic ? Does it not matter you have thought up so many disparate characteristics and not tried to align them in any reasoning convincing way. He said this kind of non-thinking lies behind the prescription of many strong drugs.  These drugs can and do help some people, but it is all scatter-shot. He will soon have to retire completely and then there will be no sensible person trying to help the real paying individuals who come to that office.


Photo of ClaryCat taken by Laura during one of the times I’ve been away

Meanwhile I have my cats and others their pets too. I keep my promise to them when I bought them that I would come up to what was required, the responsibility I had taken on. Just now Clarycat is sitting tight on my lap looking up to me.

They are such good animals: I’ve now determined it is best to keep them out of the space between my computer and window and if only I will keep to saying, no, they cooperate. They voice to me nowadays on and off, stay near, keep an eye out for me, play when I am happier and all feels content. Have I said Ian (Scruffy) is not longer well? age 10, his heart is not operating right any more. His facial colors are distorted, grey here, too pink there.

So love, reciprocating obligation and responsible keeping of promises, can rescue us, just enough so we can function steadily too.


Tater-du Lighthouse – this morning as my revolving wall paper my screen was cover with a dramatically angled photo of Tater-du Lighthouse in Cornwall

Ellen

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Me at Hill Top House (Lake District, August 2018)

Dear friends and readers,

You owe this blog to my just having watched an extraordinary gem of a TV film made out of a masterpiece production of Macbeth done at the Royal Shakespeare Theater starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellan; with only the most minimal props and simple costumes, they played intensely from the depths of their psychic beings. To try to describe Dench’s performance of Lady Macbeth sleep walking would defeat me: it was a silent howling grief of her whole being.

The use of close-ups, and the intense sexual interaction of Dench and McKellan were all riveting. The opening (the musical accompaniment is not the same as in the film but endure it for what you see)

I could talk of the performances, played deeply straightly, no rejection of what drives each — three witches by Marie Kean (mother), Susan Drury as mad as Macbeth by the end, Judith Harte, against the calmer presences of Bob Peck as Macduff (who left his wife and children behind), Richard Rees as the nervous Malcolm, Ian MacDiarmid the politician Ross and the porter. But then the reader will pay attention to the names, try to remember other performances. No it’s the lines from Shakespeare that they speak so of anguished despair, transcendent horror, crazed hallucinations, and especially Macbeth’s in his isolation, and loneliness, and how the ambition which drove him to kill the king was idiotic. It is as ever easiest to quote the high peak

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

But the shorter lines matter just as much, the ones that in context depend on the action of the play but resonate in the heart: no troops of friends, not one of my children left, no all slaughtered that Macbeth’s hirelings could find.

So often people don’t want to talk about what so moved them — in this case McKellan in three features accompanies the film of the play. He speaks of the original production at Stratford (and like so many now lightly grazes over how the RSC now is not what it was then), of how to play Shakespeare, the choices that Trevor Nunn made (they did it in an inscribed circle on the “other space” which holds only 100 people); the history of the Scottish play, and particulars — like of course you should not bring on someone playing the ghost of Banquo: the point is no one but Macbeth sees him. He never speaks the way Hamlet’s father’s ghost does. The film’s genre seems to be film noir in its continual blackness all around the people interacting so clingingly, in tight groups on stage, though McKellan categories it as horror.

He is such a good friend to have with you — this summer I believe it is that Izzy and I saw his great documentary film about his career at the Folger. he says TV is talking heads, that’s what you should take advantage of. In the theater he has to talk to the others at large or in a small theater of 100 perhaps individually catch your presence one at a time; in TV he talks out to me, says he.

Categories: Mark Kermode has 5 not so intelligent takes on film categories, and Andrew Marr three brilliant on Spy, Thriller and Sorcerer movies — they are on movie genres, so little talked of, the packaging of these commodities. it was almost good enough to make up for the cliched in thought and name-dropping analyses of his first two, which I’ll remind any readers of this thread were on Rom-Com (romantic comedy, which includes the tradtional “wacky” comedy genre and famiial comedy, part of traditional family dramas) and “the heist movie” (which included male violence, crime, film noir, mystery, horror — male genres which females appear in only as sex objects for when a group of women replaces the central group of males).

In the third “new” genre he turns to coming-of-age movies and suddenly he’s better, more engaged, more personal and comes up with analyses that connect the motifs of this genre to social realities in the UK and US (however indiscriminately). He lumps female coming-of-age with male so there is nothing wrong with LadyBird and he does not recognize any difference in a movie where the center is a girl and woman’s friendship and all the mentors are either mothers or women friends or a male coming of age where the question is the place of the individual _in society_, his end success in society, and the mentors are a father or male figure of some sort (avuncular). All is lumped together, and he again reaches back to old classics and then speeds up to reach modern indies and films about minorities — which in this batch are singled as about minorities and so the analyses is again better (Moonlight — black young men are utterly disadvantaged).

Still if you yourself know the difference you can see these things in what you are watching: better, his theme is finding one’s identity. He says such films are about finding one’s identity and the parents regarded as good and authorities on the surface are often those you must get away from, those whose norms will destroy you. He Kermode identifies here and the movies he choses and comments are worth seeing in this light. Movies you might not have regarded as coming of age (for example Sally Hawkins and her fish lover) he does.

I watch these sorts of things at night alone too, gentle reader.

In the silence. Ian McKellan my companion tonight bringing to me the Macbeth he did so long ago with these marvelous actors. Alone but for the imagined community the technology supplies. Yes I have much real there spiritual and emotional companionship from my many Net friends during the day with (as Penelope Fitzgerald calls them) imagined voices (in a novel on her time at the BBC radio) in the silence. I should put on the radio more, but often I don’t care for the music, even classical is too bouncy, loud, incessantly cheerful, too there. I like the music Izzy pulls up from her ipad when we are making supper: play lists of categories like calm; new age; folk music; specific kinds of classical, but then it’s enough.


Emily Mortimer as Florence Green (The Bookshop, Isabel Croixet from Penelope Fitzgerald)

That is the fate of the widow — or at least is mine and others who write about their lives as widows from time to time in newspapers and magazines — the French title of the film is Le Librarie de Mademoiselle Green. The emphasis on how she is single, not married without saying the dreaded word widow “la veuve.” I saw the excellent film adaptation by Isabel Croixet of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop in last week’s film club, and Emily Mortimer as Florence Green uttered a line from the book about how the word “widow” is so ominous (vedova parlando, an Italian phrase, carries strong disdainful connotations towards such talk). Florence is a widow of 5 years finally determining to try to work in the world, do something useful; the world does not want her she discovers. Or like Sister Ludmilla in Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, only if she costs them nothing, asks nothing, contributes without expectation of anything in return.

There’s your key. Alas, for Florence she did need money in return. When Mrs Gamart has the gov’t requisition the old house in which Florence made her bookshop, no one will give Florence any of the money back she sunk into the house, and now she is broke. Money. No matter how commercial motives have driven Croixet to soften the source book, she gets that dark hollow at the center of the book. And one is really alone when one’s life’s partner goes. It does seem as if no other relationship can come near this and not all do. All others not intertwined in the heart’s core where our breathing comes from, our oxygen. So how easy it is then, to drop people.

The year is turning into fall as the calendar directs many people’s activities to change. Not the weather, as at least in the Washington DC area, the temperature remains very hot, humid, uncomfortable. There is a softening as the sun does not emerge to glare down until after 6:30 am and fades away around 8 pm. As ever the dark mornings do not make getting up easier, but darkness does mean less heat, and when Jim was alive, we’d walk in Old Town as darkness was coming, and the twilight time in colors can be the prettiest time of each 24 hour cycle.


Alas I did not assign these — next time if there is one

And I’m finding people are behaving slightly differently to me — I’ve had a bunch of letters all at once as if people are remembering others who are part of the autumn pattern or saying goodbye to summer. I’ve been keeping my word to myself of not pushing myself out of the house just to be among people, staying in and finding more real satisfaction in at last getting to a given book or project of reading and writing more steadily and for real, thoroughly. I made some progress on my Winston Graham project this summer once all courses were over even if I went away for two weeks. Truly read carefully some eight or nine of his early suspense books, compared the original and revised first two Poldark books (Ross Poldark and Demelza were originally longer, RP considerably longer). I have found it in me to blog on some of this at Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two: “Graham’s Suspense and just pre-WWII novels.”

For the course I’m teaching at the OLLI at AU, The Enlightenment at Risk, I sit and reread or read for the first time astonishing texts by Diderot — La Religieuse, Rameau’s Nephew — Madame Roland, Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques, much more central to what I want to convey about the Enlightenment than Candide, which merely shows us the results of human nature let loose in intolerance. I am too lazy, or it is very hard to do justice to these in blogs, but I will produce a few for Austen Reveries as I go through the course and find myself having to put into words for lectures why these are so supremely important, and why another great tragedy is unfolding all around us as those who can understand find themselves helpless once again to implement their insights into what human life is, what happiness, what unacceptable (and should be forbidden) cruelty into law, make them central to custom.


Mark Rylance as Cromwell trying to create a barrier between himself and power (the King)


Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn adjusting the eye cover (2015 Wolf Hall, Straughn, Koshinsky, script, direction)

These imagined voices are my company too. I listen to Michael Slater read aloud Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and know she’s onto this too. I’m scheduled to teach Wolf Hall: A Fresh Look at Tudor Matter at the OLLI at Mason. I’m into Bring up the Bodies now, much harder, deeply pessimistic book as our hero, Thomas Cromwell, grows older and finds himself in Wolsey’s place against power now. Not read as well by Simon Vance who hasn’t the reach for the iciness and the deep turn to ghost figures for solace both books present in ironic guise.

Yet I’ve understood now how it was also necessary for me to go away in August — I should not spend weeks this way with no break — so upon one of the people in the Canterbury set I described saying twice, would I like to go on a Road Scholar trip alongside him (both take separate rooms) and we both have reserved places next May. I will go through with it with the appropriate low expectations. You see the Road Scholar programs for Cornwall do not occur in August, so I will have to find something for August too. Do I have the nerve to return to the UK for research in libraries about Graham? I’d love it, especially if I could get into BBC archives.


Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960), Winter Garden (1928): this week’s choice of artist on one of my face-book friend’s timelines ….

Most of the time I’m not literally alone in the 24 hour cycles — as I’m not literally with others on the Net. Most of the time Izzy is here in the evenings, weekends, and whatever other times she is not at work, and we go out together or live our lives in tandem, joining most closely for supper. Not these five Labor Day weekend days, as she has gone to NYC with Laura, where they appear to be having a very good time. Here they are at Coney Island in the blessed breezes.


Izzy and Laura at Coney Island.

They are staying in an apartment of one of Laura’s friends from the Net; they do thus far seem to be going to places Jim and I used to: the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum (where Laura found a fashion show), theater through half-price tickets. One day they will spend in Brooklyn, the museum, the botanical gardens, walking in Prospect Park. There is a great borough library too, but they won’t have time for that. One full day at the US open for tennis. I know Izzy the time she went alone enjoyed mightily the bus tours up and down the streets of Manhattan with the stream of talk from the guide-driver and regretted not taking one through Brooklyn.


At the Metropolitan Museum


At the Cloisters

A new level of companionship has emerged with my two cats as I carry on giving of myself in the way I do every where I am physically when one-on-one. I said how Clarycat kept up deliberately yowling-as-scolding the first two days I was back. As if to say you have some helluva nerve disappearing like that, without so much as a by your leave. Now she is under feet and all around me all the day, my perpetual pal, anticipating where we are going, what we are about to do. It can get a bit much.

But Ian or Snuffy has outdone her. He now wails with a point. He came to my room and set up a wail. I couldn’t figure out why. Izzy’s door was open: complete ingress and egress everywhere. So I asked him, what gives? and picked him up. Then he did it. He stared up at the ceiling and wailed again. What is on my workroom ceiling? why a ceiling fan! in these supremely hot dog-days of August, I not only put on the air-conditioning. I’ve taken to putting on all the fans I The house, one in each room. It helps circulate the air. Now in three rooms the fan is a (pretty) ceiling fan. He was telling me he objected to that noise and that turning gadget. A cat who wants to come into my room should not have put up with this. I obligingly turned it off. Absolute truth: about 10 minutes later I noticed him settling down into his cat-bed snoozing. Peace & quiet at last. The rigors of cat life are insufficiently appreciated, Jim used to say.

This is not the only instance where he has wailed in such a way as to communicate an idea, and when I have acted on it, (luckily) I have been somehow confirmed that we have had a good interspecies communication. On the same page as they say. Clarycat also talks at me a good deal, meowing, when I’m not there wailing and then when I call, coming to where I am to be with me.


The cover of Barnes and Noble edition of Howards End — the importance of home, place, history is central to the novel

In about two weeks my fall schedule kicks in and I’ll be going out again: at the OLLI at Mason, I’ve gotten into “The Poetry of Robert Frost,” “Four famous propaganda films” (important ones, two on labor, fancy that), Green’s The Quiet American (which I once taught) and go to a book club three times over the next 4 months (choices are like Exit West Moshin Hamid, whom I’d never heard of); and at OLLI at AU another serious course on films (politically, morally considered), the first half of War and Peace (where I can just come as I read it so carefully two years ago now on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io. There we are beginning E.M. Forster’s Howards End (book, two films, all else about Queen Forster — how Jim loved his letters with Cavafy), and are in the middle of Elizabeth Taylor’s Soul of Kindness (the lady is anything but).

I do have another personal blog, one which is crucially political to tell about my trip: the abuse of travelers on an airplane in the year 2018, the ugliness of the way the airline and the airport authorities and to say a lot about TSA who know how dispensable you, my fellow traveler and me are.

Ellen

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A new miniature magnolia tree

“To give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil minded” — Ross to Jinny, Demelza (I’m studying Winston Graham, “with all the reassurance of companionship … ” here on the Net)

Of course there has to be an end. Of course. For that is what everyone has faced since the world began. And that is — what do you call it — intolerable. It’s intolerable! So you must not think of it. You must not face it. Because it is a certainty it has to be forgotten. One cannot — one must not — fear a certainty. All we know is this moment and this moment. Ross, we are alive! We are. We are. The past is over, gone. What is to come does not exist yet. That’s tomorrow! it’s only now that can ever be, at any one moment, now, we are alive — and together. We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask — Demelza to Ross, The Angry Tide

Friends and readers,

Today I succeeded in installing a hook on the door into my study (workroom, whatever you want to call it — where I spend most of my existence).

This may be the first one I’ve ever done near accurately — the hook fits into the latch easily! I imitated what the handyman did for my front door: he put a hook on the screen so I can open the door proper and yet keep the screen semi-locked. This way I can further hope to prevent anyone from coming in the front door who I might not want to come in. Thus when I’m gone for 13 days my cats will not be able to get into my workroom and disturb or destroy anything (by mistake of course). The great test will come the next time I go out and put the latch on. Later today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

My friends, this was no trivial task. Jim used to plan for this kind of thing well ahead. I have thought and thought about it, and finally went to Home Depot, and bought the equipment. Then I waited for two strategic days of calm. Out came hammer and a device I now use to turn things that are hard to turn: it’s made of a light weight iron.

After hard experience I also decided that it’s a bad idea to have Jim’s tool box so high that every time I try to bring it down, stuff falls on my head, and I teeter on the chair ladder. So I’ve come up with solution here too! I have moved said box into a unobtrusive corner in my sun-room.

I should not omit that my cats were made quite nervous during the progress of the operation. They ran away and hid. They can’t take much tension. Ordeals are beyond them.  But it’s all over now. Folding chair cum-ladder put back. And we three back in place, me at the desk reading near computer, Clary behind it in sun-puddle and Ian in his cat bed on the other side looking out window.


Carl Larsson, The Bridge (1912) — for the sake of the cat looking on

You see, gentle reader, I’ve been occupied this and last week with some forward-looking reading and preparations for my coming holiday trip to the Lake District and Scottish borderlands. Reading ahead for my courses I’ve been relieved and delighted to find I like all my choices still: Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s La Religieuse aka The Nun (what an astonishing book), Madame Roland’s Memoirs (abridged, in English) and Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands. Mantel’s Wolf Hall fascinates me still.


I now know there’s been a recent movie (since Rivette’s 1966) with Isabelle Hubbert — I will try to obtain a copy

Despite my not being able to understand ins and outs of Vitanza’s argument in Chaste Rape he has now helped me to understand Diderot’s The Nun and given me a way to teach it. I am also helped by all I have read about torture and the motives for it. He also brings both seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale into conscious alignment. I had seen The Nun as a Clarissa story: in the center Suzanne forced to become a nun by the cruelties of her family, coerced, harassed. I also saw the hideous treatment she is meted out by the other members of the nunnery (they humiliate her, strip her naked, force her to whip herself, starve her, leave her to be fithy, scream at her) as a parable of what can happen in a prison and when you are outcast in a community whom you have openly rejected.

But now I finally see this is a story just like all the stories of rape without the open sexual attack– and that is coming from a lesbian source in the next phase of the book. Vitanza says the purpose of rape is not the sexual attack centrally; that is part of the destruction of a personality until it asks you to hurt it itself, until it takes on your values, until it kisses the tormenter.
After one of the sessions of horrifying treatment, Suzanne is told her lawyer has obtained a change of convent for her. He lost the case to have her freed but he can do this. What does she do? she gives her most precious objects to the cruel superior mother; she begs those who thew her into the dungeon physically to take other favors form her and kisses them and thanks them. When the overseer comes who has the news she can move and he forbids her to see her lawyer, she says that she has no desire to see him and when there is an opportunity she refuses. This cannot encourage the lawyer to go on helping her. He might think her forbidden but he might think she doesn’t care.

This also reminds me of Offred-June in Handmaid’s Tale where she takes on the values of the Waterfords, Lydia and everyone else – like Suzanne. I suppose she is a heroine to American watchers because we are to believe her desire for revenge and hatred is natural and her personality (so they can admire this); at tny rate she does not utterly prostrate herself as Suzanne.

Suzanne is obviously such another as Levi in the concentration camp; people in solitary confinement and beat the hell out of and mistreated in US and other tyrannical nationds’ prisons ….

I would not have been able to put Suzanne at long last next to Clarissa without Vitanza’s hook. Paradoxically he takes us past the way rape is discussed by de-centering the sex.

I took brief notes on all the texts as I went through them. I wanted to be in a position when I go off that I need not worry about not having enough time to prepare or have made a bad choice when I return home and soon it’s time to teach.


A photo Jim took of me in 2005, at Stanton Drew, the summer we spent 3 weeks in August in England with Laura and Izzy, among other things in Somerset going round to neolithic and Arthurian sites.

I’ve been on the phone a lot for me: arrange credit cards, make sure phone is international, I bought a pretty new hat and two tops and two sweaters — I hope they all come in time — to add to the warm fleece jacket I’ll bring. As usual I’ve been anxious about the plane, and was made worse nervous by an email from AirFrance, but all seems resolved. Above all, this time I am steeling myself with these thoughts: che sera, sera. As long as the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky, I’ll make it back. What happens, happens. I hope to get there but if the people won’t give me seat (almost happened twice), scrutinize me (it’s now the policy of ICE to harass people who behave in the slightest way non-conformist), if they don’t let me on the plane, I’ll just come home. If on the way I get lost, I’ll find my way — it’s not likely; only one changeover of plane. Philosophically one can’t. Once I get there, I’ll try to have a good time — Sunday I’ll pick the right books to get me through. I have wanted to see the Lake District since 1974 when I had a a fantastically bad miscarriage, which turned into a abortion to save my life and Jim and I saw only the hospital in Kendal for 5 days; the places all look beautiful, soothing, peaceful. I’m interested in Beatrice Potter, it’s Scotland once again, Lindisfarne gospels, a castle. What’s not to like? (the Road Scholar site is worryingly down this morning so I can’t link the description of the trip in).

And this will be the last time for such a jaunt. I overspent ludicrously last year, and still overspent this. I can’t keep it up — says my financial advisor, or I need to be more careful. I’ve now seen Cornwall, the Hebrides and Inverness, gone to a Trollope conference, to a Charlotte Smith one and saw Chawton Library. So after this all trips must be something I must do for a serious purpose: research in a library in Cornwall or London (say for my Winston Graham project); or if a truly good friend wants to go with me to a place I truly want to go (and for under 8 days unless there is library research involved), the conference where there are friends (no wretched nights in soulless hotels), where there are papers I know I will understand and like (or for Izzy’s sake, JASNA, but not when it’s so far away as to need planes, and no more obscenely luxurious alienating hotels).  If possible no more planes when not going outside the US. Jim used to talk of boats. Yes. As when I took tests, went for interviews, I look forward to when it’s over and I’ve had the time away, that Monday morning when I’ll be home with my cats safe and and re-transplanting myself into my routine of reading, writing, studying, movie watching, going to and taking courses, with life with friends on the Net my solace, and forays out to plays, movies, concerts, the like (in the daytime when alone as I expect I shall be most of the time).

People tell me how much better I look than the first years Jim died. That I looked paralyzed or just very bad. In my heart I feel not much different. If anything, lonelier, just used to it. I know I can survive. I have found trustworthy good people to help me whom I can pay, now AARP to do my taxes, compensating activities I enjoy very much, some of them I would not have known of when Jim was here. A new kind of meaning. I’ve learned a lot. Maybe I’m learning to be my own person irrespective of what others think and no longer seeking someone, any one, company, but doing the difficult task of living on myself and finding meaning from within — I’m strained around 4-5 still, tired, and need that first glass of wine badly. Sometimes coming home from some social experience I drink too quickly to calm myself the way I used to when Jim was here. No life activities seem to come without some ordeal.  I deny that I have changed essentially from that first night I saw the medics take Jim’s body away, just adjusted, learnt to hold what I must do to be able to remain tranquil, with some enjoyment, a sense of doing something worth doing which I can contribute to others.

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Sideview

Last Friday finally the Roseland garden people sent out their crew and I’ve a new garden. Neighbors look approvingly as they walk by and even talk to me while I’m watering the new life. Here is one of the four new flower beds to go with the two magnolias. It’s all very symmetrical: two flower beds in front; One directly in front of house, one in front of fence by sidewalk; miniature maple at center; then on each side of house more flower beds with small evergreens too. All perennials. A picture of one of the new beds …


Flowers in the front


Evergreen shrubs to one side


The other side of the house

A little classical French designed garden! I love clarity, simplicity, order — I used to be a reader of Pope’s poetry and now I make a garden with his in mind. The crew came this morning and we’ve agreed they will come once a month to weed, to help if any of the plants need help, give advice. In fall (October) I’d like them to plant chrysanthesums — I think they are beautiful. Next spring under the miniature maple replant daffodils and crocuses and in front the house on the sidewalk by the street a small cherry blossom tree. Centered in a line from the miniature maple.

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All teaching and going to courses came to an end the third week of July. The week-long course in Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau I attended was fulfilling because I read for the first time ever (!) a good deal of Waldon Pond, all of Civil Disobedience and Slavery in Massachusetts, and a good essay on Thoreau by Laura Dassall Wall (his biographer), Writing Henry’s Life, as well as bought the modern edition of Dickinson’s poems. Reading the poems in a new revealing order and new ones too. Civil Disobedience helped me teach Woolf’s Three Guineas during that same week. I moved into a detour on Thoreau by way of Woolf’s allusions to Antigone as following a higher law of true morality as opposed to state laws:

Thoreau was strongly anti-slavery, an open abolitionist and it was dangerous to be so even up north and in the west in the US. Thoreau says we have a duty to disobey since when what is happening to people is criminal. Black people are people who are enslaved – they are not ontologically slaves and when they try to escape this deeply wrong violated condition, a law is passed demanding others help the criminals re-enslave them. Civil Disobedience argues against obeying the Fugitive Slave Act ,which Thoreau tears down as contrary to God – but he only brings in God at the end, it is more a matter of deep violation of human beings’ right to liberty and life. Decades ago I gave a course in American Literary Masterpieces at AU (in the college itself) where I did a lot of reading in American literature and discovered that just about every controversy, everything was colored by this existence of slavery, and also that those who enslaved others were shamelessly violent. What he says about slavery in Massachusetts is that those who don’t own slaves and do nothing about it are themselves profiting from slavery and that’s why they uphold the Fugitive Slave Act. Like today in Trump’s America where the armies are brought out to attack and cause violence among peaceful demonstrators and then arrest them, and do nothing to violent right-wing groups who come and attack, so Thoreau says the armed people come to attack the innocent and good and support the criminals. One area I had forgotten was why US people wanted to take over Mexico: among the reasons was Mexico was a good place for someone enslaved to escape to. And in one of the cases he discusses what happened was an enslaved man was snatched back and brought back to Massachusetts. How shameful he says this is. He urges civil disobedience does this mid-century transcendentalist.

The teacher was embarrassingly bad — despite her array of prestigious awards, positions, published book. The way she went about justifying Thoreau made him unlikable, utterly egoistic; she kept finding the worst normative values, and then would impossibly fatuously idealize the man. Luckily the class resisted her attempt to make Dickinson back into the high school texts of cutsy whimsy. Would you believe she sat and read aloud passages detailing the wonderful peaceful deaths of these poet spirits? You couldn’t stop her. One cannot expect Adrienne Rich in Vesuvius at Home, but a pollyanna? here is one she did read aloud but hurried past:

I have never seen “Volcanoes”—
But, when Travellers tell
How those old – phlegmatic mountains
Usually so still –

Bear within – appalling Ordnance,
Fire, and smoke, and gun,
Taking Villages for breakfast,
And appalling Men –

If the stillness is Volcanic
In the human face
When upon a pain Titanic
Features keep their place –

If at length the smouldering anguish
Will not overcome –
And the palpitating Vineyard
In the dust, be thrown?

If some loving Antiquary,
On Resumption Morn,
Will not cry with joy “Pompeii”!
To the Hills return! F165 (1860) J175

I found a blog sheerly on Dickinson’s poetry and this explication:

If humans are like dormant volcanoes, then the face may be quite still while a “pain Titanic” (referring to Titans and the convulsing pain that followed their utter defeat) smolders within. But like an awakened volcano the pain will eventually burst through, overcoming the “Vineyard” of the body (its living wine and fruits), ultimately causing its death and burial “in the dust.” And yet there is the hope of “Resumption Morn” (and Dickinson takes religious liberties here with the idea of Resurrection – as if life were to simply resume rather than the souls resurrected into a new spiritual state in heaven) where even Pompeii, the fabulous city famously buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius will shake off its ashes in response to the call of a “loving Antiquary” or historian.

This is the first of several poems Dickinson will write that liken her passions to volcanoes. Unlike later poems, though, this one ends on a note of hope. The historian can recall his beloved Pompeii. Perhaps whoever aroused this passion in the poet will also call her back to life as well

I thought of Scott’s Antiquary (which is one of his novels I do like very much, and one Austen was still alive to read) and Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, which maybe I’ll teach again next summer.


Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round—
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone—

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—

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I did go out somewhere beyond daily shopping and errands three times in the weeks since: twice to see a movie. Once for a lecture on the Nancy Drew books (a “special at OLLI, which deserves a blog of its own). Once for a long walk.  With my friend, Panorea. We also saw on another day Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik who with Anne Rossellini also wrote the screenplay. Very much worth seeing. It was very powerful, deeply upsetting at moments for me, it reminded me of Cathy Come Home (1960s British seeming documentary) because our two central characters, Will, a father in his later 40 or so, and Tom, a daughter aged around 15 are homeless a good deal of the time. And we see the miseries, the difficulties, and by implication, the terrors of such an existence. They get sick, come near death.

We understood it differently: My friend saw it as anti-war and full of grief for veterans we’ve thrown away — she took it the father was a Vietnam vet. He shuddered when helicopter went by. Now I detest helicopters myself. I wouldn’t go in one. She even cried over the father and those the two me on the road as she saw them all as vets. They are taking pills of all sorts – but then US people now are in an addiction mode in large numbers we are told. One of the people we hear of is a man who cannot bear to be with people. He is left a care package each week. I could not understand why the father had this need to run away from people to the point he could live around them — even if they made it clear he need never come out of his trailer. He is given a dog who attaches himself but he cannot attach himself to the dog.

I saw it as a parable of US life today, bunches of people who live in shacks, broken down trailers, corrugated iron huts, with its central tale about this profoundly disturbed man who is living with his daughter in a wood, filthy, dirty, they are picked up by authorities who are (amazingly) supportive of them in various ways; once they are cleaned up and in better health, the father insists on leaving while the girl has become happier by joining with other children caring for rabbits (all symbolic that); on the second mad trek to nowhere they both nearly die, finally the girl rebels and will not run away from a trailer someone has just about given them. I became upset when she left “civilization” for a second time with him and when she seemed to be doing it for a third time, it was so distressing. But she turned round and went back to the trailer she had rented – the kindness of the woman owner made it come cheap

If my friend is correct, and Leave No Trace about US vets, all of them together I can get why they are not overtly mistreated by authorities or when they come into contact with others. Last summer a film called Wilderness was again about a father (mothers who flee are probably imprisoned) this time fleeing with a son

I include the poster in the hope the reader might recognize this movie somewhere and thus have a chance to see it

Gavagai, an extraordinarily mesmerizing intelligent movie, was at the Sunday morning Film Club: Gavagai. The description at IMDB is ludicrously wrong: it shows how telling the literal truth can miss everything about a movie that matters.

The German businessman turns out to be a poet and as the movie unfolds we discover he is grieving deeply over the death of his wife and has decided to translate her poems written in Chinese into Norwegian (it’s co-written with Kirk Kjeldsen). We first see him getting off a broken down train (probably unrealistic as this is Norway), but maybe because it is arriving in a very small town in a rural area. He has to bribe a tourist guide, who at first seems to be a dense vulgar abrasive male, to take him to where he wants to go. The movie is their journey across the Norwegian landscape together as they reveal slowly to us their inner lives and dreams, mostly through imagery and voice-over Gradually the apparent lout is revealed to be a man estranged from a girlfriend he treated badly and over the course of the movie he manages to reconcile with her by texting her, visiting her in stop overs. He cannot get the poet to confide in him or be at all warm to him or anyone; the poet dreams of his wife at night — strange dreams with her dressed in extravagant Asian outfits. The same actress plays the ghostly wife and estranged girlfriend. It’s as if women are interchangeable to this director, and in a way they are treated as objects in the males’ dream lives. There are many correspondences and parallels between their experiences and thoughts: the climax of the film culminates on tall mountain where the poet scatters his wife’s ashes; there follows a quiet denouement which has a church-like feel as the poet walks away still in grief and never getting over it and the driver with his girlfriend join a group of people on the beach, making a bonfire. It’s summer. Beautifully photographed, long slow scenes.

It reminded me of Derek Garman and also my favorite Last Orders. A finer poetically expressive movie than you will come across in a long time. Rob Tregenza, the director runs the film program in a Virginia College (VCU) and doesn’t have all that many connections so it’s not played at festivals but is gradually gaining adherents or attention (I have no idea how) and will open in NYC and LA.

One of my favorite poets: this by her is appropriate to Gavagai:

Man Alone on a Mountain

​You stand on a black rock pinnacle with your back toward me
and look out over a rock-strewn valley which is half-hidden in mist.
In your long black coat, knee-boots and walking stick,
you seem a stranger from another century.

Before you the lower mountains, sharp
with black rocks, hover like a flock of petrified sheep,
that has wandered from the shepherd
until they are lost and frozen there.

Wind disturbs your red hair. Your balance seems precarious
and I wonder what brought you there
where the fog obscures so much?
How long did you climb and with what difficulty?
Why are you alone and what are you looking for?

Why does anyone climb to such a place? Once,
in winter, driving by myself after a snowstorm,
I pulled off the road by the trail that led up Avon Mountain.
And, wanting to see if I could do it, I struggled up the slope
which was slick with a foot of snow and ice.

My breath like sleet in my chest, my leg muscles,
unused to such climbing, ached with the strain.
A few clumps of snow fell from the pine branches onto the trail.
To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking.
If I had slipped and fallen no one knew where I was.

But you, I wish you well, stranger with the hidden face.
You seem self-assured as you stand there
sturdy but wholly alone under an uncertain sky–
its diffuse clouds, one taller mountain before you
a gray-blue blur in the distance.

​Patricia Fargnoli

Izzy and Laura went out twice together: to the US open for tennis, and this Sunday with two friends they will see Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. Izzy has studied the musical play and songs and read Chernow’s biography (my presents to her two Christmases ago). She’s been to three museum exhibits in DC. Don’t even think about the cost they paid for these tickets.


Francis Luis Mora, Rosemary, his daughter, The Little Artist

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I conclude with some music my good FB friend provided for all of us who are her friends one morning:

This will probably be my last diary entry until I return.

Ellen

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