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Vanessa Bell


Maxx pussycat confiding, trusting

… thou mettst with things dying, I with things newborn — Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale

Friends and readers,

For two weeks now I’ve watched from my computer scenes of protest, demonstration, and high destructive violence, burning, smashing, stealing, the defacing of buildings, walls, and the toppling of statues, across the US, and (it seems) across the world, from France to Hong Kong — and have in spirit been with the enraged, suffering, and immiserated people. The relentless brutality of US police has been before the eyes of the world; they treat the people they are supposed to serve as the enemy, armed for war. The murder of George Floyd has this week been followed up by more murders; people have remembered the murders so shocking that rose above the hubbub of daily news, and tonight there is evidence of literal lynching: two black men found hanging from trees, Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsh, 45 miles apart. Meanwhile Trump’s gov’t with its no plan, no money for anyone in true need, and anti-mask posture is leading the way into a second wave of COVID19 deaths. Tonight the figure of 117,000 dead was cited. Unemployment massive, food-lines everywhere and long.

I can’t begin to outline Trump’s destruction of the US gov’t agencies set up to help people and save our environment; his crony takes over the Post Office in 3 days. My anxiety is over a coming possible coup. People in western social democracies profess surprise that this wealthy country with its extraordinary sites of bio-medical science has worse conditions than most of the world — they forget for decades the US gov’t and its agencies destroyed all new social democracies, set up death squads and periodically does what it can to make the peoples of South and Latin America into serfs and the peoples of the Middle East unemployed & desperate for any job, any place in highly conflicted theocracies. The difference is now the US gov’t has aimed its cruelty at its own citizens in massive numbers. A war on the middling classes like elsewhere.

Against all this there is not much material for hope. Some police reforms are being enacted into law, some de-funding of them, the one in Minneapolis abolished (my own experience is for this), and in some states attempts to open up judiciously, slowly to institute anti-COVID19 social practices. Today the US supreme court affirmed that the Civil Rights amendment includes LGBTQ people.

I led with Laura’s kittens because they are oblivious to all this & appear to have realized they have lucked into a wonderful home, and enable Laura to put photographs of them on FB and twitter looking adorable, heart-melting, close ups almost hourly.

I did come across in TLS a review of a book by the artist Leah Goren, Catlady who in slight sketches captures profound love:

I feel any diary or writing in the US today that does not take into account what is happening here shows a moral indifference and simply sheer stupidity — as if to suggest the bell is not tolling for that person too. We are as yet not gone over the cliff into the fascist dictatorship Trump is taking all to; we are as yet in one of those “intervals” between the rule of crushing cruel force; there is still time and place not just for protest, for good things for the human spirit, “breathing holes”, “snatching [an] opportunity while the going is good.” These words are E.M. Forster in his famous “What I Believe” — and Biden may yet win the presidency, enough of congress go democratic, so we may yet not be overwhelmed, and those left (who can) set the world moving back towards a humane order and (who knows) something better than we had emerge again. I don’t mean we should count on much, but maybe it will not be as bad for so many (it’s been worsening for decades) as it’s been of late. Some new patterns are very worrying: the enforced continued de-personalization of daily business contacts.

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For ourselves, I will be teaching online in the fall, & Izzy will not have to return to going to work until August, and then not all 5 days; I’ll drive her to nearby and pick her up; the library has but five people in it as staff. She has bought herself a new computer. We had much worry over the installation. The guy forgot to bring wifi, speakers, webcam and mic. It’s a PC.  I did discover how we have wifi in this house: it comes from the comcast three boxed in my room; Izzy’s is just behind mine.  But you need software in your computer to access it without a wire.  All okay now.  We have altogether 10 computers in this house if you add in cell phones, ipads, her gov’t laptop (her now partly retired laptop is not broken and now resides in the dining room).


George Inness, The Monk (1890)

I have begun my classes and one is very enjoyable and instructive: American Artists in Italy, 1740-1860: the lecturer presents slides of beautiful paintings by individual artists about whom he knows a good deal. OLLI at AU.  The man is a German scholar who means very well.

I joined on in a wonderful two hours with people who understand how to read and we poured over Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry: because of this I have a much better understanding and appreciation of her work and am starting reading towards a foremother poet blog for her. Here is one which is not very well known — it was published after she died and apparently not in my edition of the Complete Poems:

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.
An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;
And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one’s back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as the kisses are changing without our thinking.

The joy of loving companionship. Two more sessions with Aspergers friends and I’ve learned more about myself through Temple Grandin (a movie and her book, Animals in Translation).


Dora Carrington, E. M. Forster

And my 4 week class on The Bloomsbury Novel appears to be going well. A moving moment came today when one woman said she wishes Forster had had the courage to publish his book, Maurice decades ago: it would have helped her to come out of the closet. That is, she opened up before us all. I tried to register this and reciprocate by saying how in the early 1990s when I first read Mary Pipher’s Saving Ophelia, it was an explosive mind-opener and relief for me; I could see I was not alone in those years of abrasive loneliness in a regime of predatory male heterosexuality and complicit female support for it. I did my level best to bring out how one need not be homosexual to enter into the bewilderment, alienation and emotional pain Forster’s hero knows for years, and then with a release and relief join in his joy with his companion, Alec. Here is the syllabus for the 6 week version I begin in a week and one half.


Elizabeth Russell Taylor

A friend gifted me with a exquisitely appropriate (for me, knowing my taste) group of books, all the way from Germany. She seemed to do this for the years of my efforts on the three listservs (now on groups.io); I began them this morning, — Margaret Macaulay’s The Prisoner of St Kilda: The true story of the unfortunate Lady Gange (restraint characterizes this one too, deft concise and suggestiveness) — and resolved that I would keep up from this line of books two of my TBR longed-for piles — one of 18th century women (fine biographies and studies) and the other of Scottish/Irish women (fine novels as well as critical books). Lady Grange crosses both. And I’ve piles with books by and about men in them too: early modern, and just gems left from my Italian Jewish reading: Giorgio Bassani’s The Heron, and Carlo Levi’s Fear of Freedom.

I got such a kick out of a map my friend sent: you open out the folds and it shows you 30 of the locations where the five seasons of Outlander has been filmed, most of them have been in Scotland. I miss the programs and am awaiting a DVD of the 5th season now.

And I read some wonderful writing this week: the two fictionalized biographies in Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist (Joan Martyn and Miss Willatt) ironic and persuasive gems of historical fiction, her “Gypsy, a Mongrel,” exquisitely sad and touching, yet so natural about a dog; her “Rambling Round Evelyn” brings him before us; Jacqueline Banerjee’s Literary Surrey, two sections, one on Evelyn and the other Forster. Woolf’s fictionalized biographies  I suddenly realized Vita Sackville-West’s biographical work on Joan of Arc and Anne Lady Clifford was the result of her identifying with them as manly woman, cross-dresser and lesbian.  Well, duh … All this for the Bloomsbury course …

And I was able to join in on an interview online of Francesca Wade (Square Haunting) that would have happened in York, but was instead placed in Zoom webinar online — and she talked of her book in plain simple terms that are not available in book writing and the led me to return to her book and read Eileen Power’s Medieval People and buy her tremendous Medieval Nunneries, c 1275 to 1535. The last time I communed with this book was in the 1980s in the evenings at the Library of Congress. I still have my old notes and xeroxes.  Well now I have the book itself in front of me.


The illustration makes me recall Remedios Varo’s pictures, e.g.,


Embroidering Earth’s Mantle

I think to myself how often in women’s novels do we get this scene of our heroine being encouraged, helped along, loved, bonding with a Mother Superior nun. From Claire Fraser and Mother Hildegard in the Hopital Dragonfly in Amber, to Anna Bouverie and the Mother Superior Ignazia at St Saviour’s in The Rector’s Wife: Claire is encouraged to become a doctor, Anna, a teacher of German and French. The older woman and young one. Frances de la Tour perfect for such parts.


Saving someone with the help of her dog — Outlander, season 2

Some lines from Shakespeare’s Lear as re-worked by Alan Bennet into his Madness of George III, spoken lyrically by Mark Gatiss as the recovering king (National Theater on-line)

These were the high points in the last two weeks for me — when my heart sung.

A more mixed pleasure: I’m following a Future Learn on Penhurst and the Sidney family poets — of the early modern period.  I was chuffed at long last to see Gary Walker whose work on Mary Lady Wroth’s sonnets I used so to admire. He spoke frankly about the real pain her work, and I watched Glasgow students enact parts parts of Jane Lumley’s Iphigenia (out of Euripedes by way of an Italian translation.  I realize Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke’s Tragedie of Antony (French classical concoction in English) has a Cleopatra who is fully noble, plangent, as a conception much kinder to woman than Shakespeare. Jim and I visited Penshurst — or was it Wilton House?  There are pictures of Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth (coerced marriage, love liaison with cousin, Wm Herbert, and two children by him) – I loved her father, Robert’s , harsh poetry just as much. I dreamt once of writing a paper on her and sending it to a learned journal. I did start a biography ….


Lady Wroth

A virtual Dickens conference instead of the yearly extravaganza in California at the Dickens museum. I was able to listen to and see several remarkable Dickens and Victorian scholars speak.

The OLLI at Mason on American poetry, modern, has as a teacher a published poet, a man who makes big deal out of knowing “scenes” and inner circles, disliking academics, a bad chip on his shoulder, very dogmatic when the class basically emailed him to ask for discussion (to be sure from what a couple of people said, many there might not be capable of understanding what is good poetry, how to talk about it). His choices are mostly white males (three females briefly, all white), but he presented a cogent guarded but convincing history of American poetry, especially de- over politicization since the 1950s.  The socialistic and radical poetry of the 1930s to 40s, social critiques silenced, and US poetry becomes all about self, says he. I’m not so sure or I doubt it.

I had some low points too: when (should I say) a long-time frenemy who has caused me so much grief to the point of last spring provoking a bad case of dermatitis, and scapegoating me off the Janeites list for good did it again (she got under my skin as they say) — though not before scores of eyes: a half-phrase meant descriptively (her reactions to these demonstrations are more white than mine) was excuse enough to vent her contempt for me, withering (because she knows she can get away with it) and vow never to email me again. I should have written, is that your arrogant promise? Alas, I didn’t. I was too stunned.

The OLLI at Mason staff is again pretending to but not helping (just the opposite) the teachers to cope with their zoom stuff. Extraordinary: they try not to give out the codes to the teachers individually.  The woman running it is a bully, with a dense face. Perfect for our era. I had to pull teeth to get the code to get into my class zoom.  I am supposed to have one session today with a site assistant and she didn’t give me the code for that. I’ve not gotten the code this morning. For your class you are told to “click” here and like some child are supposed to stand for not knowing. Hours later: I did have the training session and discovered that the problem was pressure on me to lead a Webinar (a kind of TV show where I see nobody nor does anyone else except for me; it allows for hardly any real class discussion but does allow for a couple of hundred “viewers;” perhaps it looks good on paper and they think will fool people into saying they have had a class. But all know the difference. I resisted and now have to trust again to these people and hope the meetings come over, 6 of them. As someone told me in OLLI at AU, worry not, it’s on them to make it happen.

Perhaps I miss some of the Poldark talk I used to join in with on an FB page devoted to the books (a vindictive FB owner who loathes critical evaluations worked to exclude me — these are fan places — again I was stunned, but again all this occurred where there is nothing to see), I miss reading the comments as they helped keep me at that project through reminders of Graham’s Poldark texts. The historical fiction project as a writing goal, is in retreat just now. Laura used to tell me to stay away from such places, ask me why I went there? I keep away from the Outlander FB on my own now as its material too is turned into open sexual fetish all too often or in this fifth (perhaps wearied material) season, they fall silent. One cannot learn from such places what the material they are talking about is even about. I suppose that is not much different at core from too many academic studies.

I return to my complicated work on Anne Finch’s poetry and life. And there I am fretting: undecided how far I should try to expose the craven career devotion that has led to the new edition omitting so much of her inner life, the actuating emotions and beauty in the poetry that would make her poetry come alive instead of remaining a historical dead-weight. I too have to have a care not to offend. The work goes very slow as I return to the manuscripts once again, combing through to decide, is this her? is it a corrupt text? is it any good?

Adieu until next time, on-screen as they say,


Susan Herbert’s Brief Encounter

Ellen

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Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral

Friends and readers,

When I saw the above photo I felt nothing in visual art came so close to expressing the emotions appropriate to what has happened in those countries where over the past couple of months the coronavirus has been allowed to spread, sicken and kill thousands upon thousands of people. Where 1 in 4 in the US who previously had a job, income, is now unemployed, countless millions not knowing where their next payment for rent is coming from, as another countless line up for bags of food.

She caught my eye because on Trollope&Peers we have been reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, and I had just finished the long chapter describing in detail the 15th century cathedral, with all its figures and characteristic elements and ornaments as yet semi-intact. It accompanies a story in the Times Literary Supplement (May 15 2020, pp 24-25) where the essayist, Stephanie Sy-Quia, tells the story of Nana, her grandmother’s life, which included a period as a nun, and another studying for an advanced degree where Nana wrote on Julian of Norwich; Sy-Quia is helping her mother to move the grandmother into a retirement home, and they are conveying a bookcase full of her favorite books to be re-read and re-read (see TLS,Books to End a Life with“). The grandmother is fragile, not far from death is the feel, and there is a meaningful conversation before Sy-Quia must leave her there, the essay ending with these words: “That’s how I like to think of her: on her balcony in the sun, book in hand, intermittently sleeping.”

Hugo finds in the chronicles and figures of stone that make up a centuries-old building meant to be a haven the meaning Nana finds in re-reading (among Nana’s listed favorites) Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. This week I turned back to the beauty of Roger Fry’s philosophy of art and found some humor in the divagations of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights‘ satire on airplane flight: from Godzone:


I prefer the French title

Tokarczuk works at not to write a book that can be labelled woman’s novel (horrors!) but in some of the many interwoven stories (the book is the closest 20th century book I’ve seen to Orlando Furioso), we are back to a female narrator who is a version of the authoress. First some funny vignettes depicting the “safety rituals” in airplane terminals (“they confiscate her nail clippers, and she laments the loss, because she’d liked them and had been using them for years” — I lost a favorite barret that way) as well as the “plastic airplane food,” but soon we are into her email – which she can still reach: “if you are not on the Internet, you don’t exist” (tonight the Burney Society opened a page on FB and a page on twitter and asked us all to click “like” and become followers. And we get a story of a love affair. We learn it was 3 decades ago at the time she was involved in “taking part in a massive program aimed at eliminating pests” (weasels opposums), anything that makes human beings sick. See that. Prophetic. Written before this present pandemic: she goes to the doctor and they do everything they can which appears to be “scanning everything they could” (in her body), diagnosing it all and sending her home.

She has a gift for light lucid prose and her translator, Jennifer Croft conveys how extraordinary it is such a massive machine with so many people can behave like a bird. She does make a mistake: she seems no to be aware of how noisy, crowded, overlit are airplanes; she is in the middle seat of a long row of small seats and all we are told is she is “uncomfortable.” That’s all. How about the skin of the next person near yours? She falls asleep, watches her screen with complacency.

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Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

These last two weeks I finished the spring courses I was attending on-line, carried on reading for my review of the new standard edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, and towards the course I hope I get to teach “on-screen” so to speak starting this Monday. I was beginning to feel some courage about it after a group training session two weeks ago and then a one-on-two 101 session with a generous-hearted person who will be co-host with me, until today I was among 5 people who were not sent the promised codes to open the meeting as host. I emailed several times and got no answer by phone either. People in the class told me they got the class invite so the course will go on, and I assume they do mean me to teach it this Monday starting 1:45 pm. As my co-host told me, “It’s on them, their responsibility to ensure that we are up and running no later than 1:40.”

I’ve been reading Framley Parsonage with an on-line Trollope Society book, as well as mesmerized by Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife, at the core of which is a modern re-write of the Rev Josiah and Mrs Mary Crawley story, and have been asked and delighted to say yes to give a twenty-minute talk on the Crawley pair. I’ll do him as Trollope’s Jean Valjean, and end on Joanna’s updating of the abject woman. does justice to the inner workings, modern style, of a rector humiliated, not promoted &c&c while at the same time showing us the Mrs Crawley figure, an Anna Bouverie (the Madame Bovary allusion is there as contrast) trying to build a life for herself of some liberty and finding out how hard that is.

I realized today that the Lucy Robartes’s journey-ordeal where she risks her life to nurse the ailing unto death Mrs Crawley (from the endemic typhoid is as relevant today as the Crawley one. Lucu’s story is not carried over except perhaps as part of Anna’s perpetual working hard for everyone else, high good-humored intelligence, and wry scepticism towards self-destructive self-immolating choices

I also hope to join in on three courses online at this OLLI at AU, which sound very appealing: four sessions on good or classic American films (last night I watched City Lights, the first, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, and was absorbed and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would); on American artists in Italy from the mid-18th century to World War One (I’ve long read about this topic and have two sets of marvelous picture and essays books on this English-speaking ambivalent art scene in Naples and Rome); the last on modern American poetry, 1940-2020.

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A new French law requires masks be worn in certain public spaces, but it is still illegal to wear religious attire that covers the face

None of this pushes away from my mind the bleak world not far from my neighborhood, seeping into it in fact. I chose David Holgate’s figure because she is also wearing a scarf. In this now literally sick world I abide in objects take on symbolic value that is as pernicious and counter-productive as the groups of people in this country who support the criminal con-man Trump. I am speaking of course of masks, surgical face masks, which all medical authorities and people who know anything about these coronavirus say, together with washing one’s hands, can go a long way to stopping the spread of this virus. I wear a mask over my face, wrap a scarf around my head. From a young child I have had ear-aches if I go out when it’s at all cold or windy without a hat or scarf around my ears. But I also like to wear a scarf, a head kerchief. Jim used to worry my more Muslim-like ones (two presents from students long ago) would attract hostility.

Well, now Trump has managed to politicize masks as well as scarves so not wearing a mask becomes a political statement showing your strong support of Trump and all his policies and attitudes (among them hatred for all people of color, including people of Asian descent), your disdain of fear of the virus and behavior shaped by concern not to spread it to others or catch it yourself. This intersects with attitudes towards the police, towards law, towards violence, towards women. The result is a witches’ brew ready to explode into mobs of armed thugs (these include military style police) destroying non-white people, democrats (yes), gay people, Jews, women seeking liberty for their bodies. Not to wear a mask, or wear one made to look like a flat cut up and you are marked as Maga — something to be proud of, especially if you don’t get sick; you want to work as opposed to these sniveling non-person immigrants whose deaths don’t matter.

This is in the autobiographical mode so here’s what happened to me this morning as I walked to the post box to return a DVD in order to get a DVD of Temple Grandin (for a zoom meeting this coming month with a serious-minded aspergers group). I went with my mask firmly in place and a kerchief on (have I said I wear a kerchief to protect an inner ear which hurts if I go out without a hat or kerchief until it’s very hot). A woman who lives in one of super expensive houses dotted all over my neighborhood (this one the result of a ridiculous renovation which made it into a one will walls of glass, appropriate to standing on a cliff — seeing its absurd transparency, they put curtains everywhere and filled their yard thick with greenery) was across the street with her daughter, both w/o masks. They are the Greenwich, Connecticut type republicans, part of the wide swathe of seeming reasonable people are callously cynically supporting Trump to keep their taxes low and make an American which serves them (hand and foot). I stopped and looked at them sort of pointedly. The girl went back in the house. I then carried on (of course no talk; we’ve never been introduced that I can remember – this place is filled with snobs), put my DVD in the post box, turned round to walk back and the woman was just putting her mask on as if she had not seen me

Fuck these people. They voted for this man. He has now attacked free speech, what he threatened to do before he became president. Before he won he said he would change the libel laws insofar as he could in an effort to end free speech. So twitter rightly at long last marking his lies and incitements to violence are his excuse, and he has a sycophant lawless Attorney General behind him. Net neutrality went when he took office. Read what is happening in Iowa, Texas, meat-packing factories where workers were forced back into lethal situations. People sickening every where and the death rate goes up. 40% of deaths are still whites

Governor Northam has not sent police out to enforce much of the closing of shops and I’ve discovered many did remain open — especially those run by people who dress like the Trumpite-base types. There was an incident where police were sent to stop a large party in a white neighborhood and it was stopped, the people were indignant and it made the papers. I think the purpose of the masks is twofold: they do stop the virus and if you wash your hands a lot that helps. But it’s that Northam wants to make a point life out there is dangerous and you must do all you can to avoid sickness. He is a physician and democrat. Trump by carrying on not wearing a mask does politicize it and the South Dakota governor can cry all he wants, and plead with his state citizens to wear masks to protect others, but Trump wins. Not wearing a mask says this is silly or it’s courageous or there is nothing else to do (nonsense – we could support all workers and businesses all summer with the money now given in billions to corporations with democratic consent). That woman didn’t want to wear a mask. It’s a bother – and she allows her daughter not to wear one. Like (my guess about her) she couldn’t give a shit what Trump is – she wants all the money and privilege she can have, she banks on being white to make her less likely to get sick because of how and whom she lives with.

A friend (white) told me someone in her community (or on the Net in a group she’s in talked about this) called the police when someone was not wearing a mask. Someone else defended this person for calling the police. The person defending was then subject to loads of abusive emails calling her a Nazi and threatening her. Now it’s been shown by numbers since masks started in this pandemic that far far more black people are stopped by police and their mask demanded. I would myself only call a cop if I felt my life so directly in danger that I was in less danger from the cop — I’ve tried to teach this formula to Izzy who twice has been badly bullied by police since they don’t understand disabled (autistic) people, and once it seems almost came near arrest for jay-walking. I would approve of the person calling the police on principle but in reality myself never call a cop for such a purpose. Once in my neighborhood Izzy was bullied on a bike by two black children; one of the women in one of the houses looking on called the cops: I was told later they visited the black people in the next impoverished neighborhood and those children will never be back her. How peculiar I felt to have had Izzy’s disability turned into a weapon against black people. Look what happened to George Floyd. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx and know police there were utterly involved in the drug trade. Yes as a white woman, especially now I’m older white cops have identified me as “like my grandmother,” and not that long ago I had an encounter with one where he became hysterical because I did not obey his every utterance and got out of my car. I was at risk for my very life. So police in the US are not simply instruments of peace, law and order because they have been given license by Trump to kill and by the society to imprison vulnerable people for a long time with impunity.


Temple Grandin

Here is where the US now is, and I live in this edge toppling us into a fascist (goes without saying I suppose) dictatorship. A calamity of such a magnitude that it has driven people into their houses — it’s a kind of paranoia turned into a way of life. The EC/ASECS group met in a zoom and while we are determined to have some sort of conference, it seems that in October the wisest and most possible thing is to do it virtually. I enjoy my Aspergers group which meets more frequently; in two weeks we will discuss the excellent movie, Temple Grandin, and whatever of her books and essays we have read. For me it’s Animals in Translation and one on how women experience autism.

More of the way the virus affects just me and Izzy:

In this conversation Fauci talked about reasonably efficient and continual testing before letting students back on campus this coming fall, with intervals of 2 weeks and then tracing and when someone falls sick, isolating them.

We had heard that over this week Alexandria and other Northern Va places would be testing for coronavirus for everyone. We were told places to go but they were all only for one day at a given place and for a limited number of hours (start at 10; I forget when ending. We were unable even to get in. The one nearest to us was disorganized, far too many people, far too few officers and people doing the work.
The fuller story (for those into details): I tried to drive Izzy and I to a testing place, worried lest we catch the virus going for testing (we washed our hands, wore masks), worried about waiting for hours and so on (I brought 2 books, she had her cell phone), but none of this happened because I failed completely in finding the entrance that the police wanted cars to come in from. In all the years I’ve lived in Alexandria, Va I always came in from the front entrance or a back street near the front entrance (Duke Street), never came to the Landmark Shopping through a Van Dorn entrance. I could not picture it; Van Dorn as far as I can picture it is a very busy 3 lanes on either side highway type street. I had no idea how to find this entrance. They just shooed us on and there was no sign anywhere for how to get to the Van Dorn entrance. I discovered I had forgotten my cell phone, could only picture and mass transit junction where the other entrance was said to be (and a different shopping plaza right off it). Well I drove home, located cell phone (whew) but then found that for Landmark Mall (where the testing on my side of Alexandria was said to be) there is only one address. The one I tried to come in at. When I tried to google other entrance, the name Van Dor landed me with instructions to to the plaza. So we had to give up. There was no way someone like me could find it. Izzy was disappointed.

Not near enough money, thought, organization put into this testing. Then what about tracing? Of course what is needed in time appointed encounters and this is available only through your doctor. We are told soon state-wide testing will be offered to people past 60 and people beneath a certain income (to try to reach hispanic and African-Americans). Tomorrow we will see our friend, Monica, who works 7 days a week, 2 in a supermarket, but now gets off every other day during the week.

We spent the rest of our Memorial day our usual way. She wrote, drew (she has taken courses in drawing and art now), practiced and sang her latest musical composition, watched TV, participated on the Internet. I read, studied, posted, wrote. Both of us our usual routs on just about all the days of the years (except when she goes out to work, I out to teaching, courses, museums, together to plays &c). Also we exercised, & separately walked in the neighborhood. At night I watched half way through the excellent 1990s BBC series, The Rector’s Wife (featuring a favorite actress of mine, Lindsay Duncan, when young) and all of Carrington (Jonathan Pryce, Emma Thompson). Our cats did their things too. Had Jim been with us, our day would have been similar — only with his witty presence to inject gaiety into our hearts.

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Matisse, A Young Girl Reading (1905)

The news is not all bad as some large percentage of the US population — a majority in fact, though their votes are nullified, they are disenfranchised, gerrymandered out of counting, are against this kind of fierce overt capitalist militarist state. I am not alone in calling for a boycott of all airlines. Now! I don’t understand why people are getting on these airplanes where, far from social distancing, people are packed in as closely as ever. If all Americans refused to get onto these planes until the seating arrangements were changed to at least allow some separation, the airplane people would change their planes. Boycott these bastards who got billions from the gov’t to tide them over ….

Some are still leading decent lives in their solitude attached to the world through zooms. My older daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, have adopted (bought) two kittens. This past year they lost two beloved cats to death and the cat that is left to them (they began with five) has been as lonely as they. Here they are, sweet tiny baby cats: at first very frightened upon coming into their new home:


The vanilla ginger tabby, Max, the greyish tortie, Charlotte, clinging to one another

Here they are the next day in Laura’s workroom, her office mates. It didn’t take them that long to decide that they belong where Laura is.

My grandchildren have four paws.  And in their honor, last Caturday (a couple of days before Laura and Rob went to pick them up) I wrote this on face-book:

From ‘Penguin Handbook of Cats. The care and training of kittens:’

“Talking is, I think, particularly important. Talking from the very beginning of your acquaintance helps throughout the cat’s life … I have always made a great point of talking to my cats from kittenhood onward, and very soon they have come to know the different tones of my voice. All my cats have talked back to me, and most of them have started to do so almost at once. This initial conversation does make a great different in a cat’s life … ” Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.

See you on-screen, the new salutation …

Ellen

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Still of Ackerley and his dog, Tulip, from the cartoon movie by Saul & Sandra Fierlinger, with Christopher Plummer voicing Ackerley, & Lynn Redgrave, his sister, Nancy (2009, from Ackerley’s 1956 book)

Neighbor

Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning.
O ring of snowdrops
spread wherever you want
and you also blackbird
sing across the fences.
My neighbour, if the rain falls on you,
let it fall on me also
from the same black cloud
that does not recognise gates.
— Iain Crichton Smith

Friends and readers,

If I’ve not written for over three weeks, it’s because I’ve not much new to say. I am prompted tonight because I have learned that sixteen (16!) years ago, Izzy wrote new lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas out of the Harry Potter world, and put it on our website. Now recently her song inspired someone calling herself Semperfiona to record it as a song, someone else, yue_ix, to provide a cover album for the song as if it were a record for sale, with the whole thing edited by a third person, pseudonym, flowersforgraves. Alas, I cannot transfer the podcast or picture over here, but you must click on this URL to reach this composition, an art work by 5 people (if you count in J.K. Rowling as inspiration, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Harry Potter Style, by Miss Izzy.


A Harry Potter Christmas moment …. a little out of season, but WTF, we are in need of cheer wherever we can find it

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I have been escaping myself into my past, bringing it up to the present. This morning as I lay in bed, facing another day at home, sheltering in place, I thought to myself, why does it bother me not to go out and circulate “in the world,” drive places to teach or take a course, see people regularly. After all at home I am among one of the lucky ones to be able to reach friends through the Internet by email, social media platforms, zooms, even the phone, and as I thought about the day ahead I told myself I or my life is not useless, empty and meaningless — for I am doing what I value and sharing my doings insofar as others want this – an authentic existence (as philosophers would say). So today I posted to my listservs, exchanged letters with friends, participated in a zoom session (a class on existentialism seen historically), then worked on Anne Finch, read more of Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, watched Part 3 of the three part movie: otherwise exercised, walked, talked with Izzy, was on the phone with a friend, ate and now am blogging here. Other days I have other schedules, but this is my main one for now. I’ll talk of these two projects (for they represent two sets of books) here.


Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), from a miniature, artist unknown

Today I worked on 25 years worth of materials gathered from libraries (manuscripts, printed books) in an effort to supplement Myra Reynolds’s sadly inadequate 1903 edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilesea: I ended up writing a biography, preparing or annotating nearly 300 texts, ordering them, writing about them, and putting them on my website. I have been asked to write an evaluative review of the new standard edition of this poetry published by Cambridge UP, from which there is a small archival site online now.

This is an ambiguous experience slowing going over my mountains of copies of original manuscripts, the letters I wrote, my hundreds of pages of notes, on sources too, rereading my biography: the first phase of being in a position to evaluate this new standard edition of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea’s poetry. They renamed the manuscripts in accordance with who owns them or where they were deposited: I named them after the places in which Anne and Heneage wrote them out.

Egoistically I was chuffed to see in my view the two editors have not (as I see this) truly gone beyond Reynolds because they have left out many poems that are by Finch — lest they be accused of false attribution. They have not (in Volume I — I won’t get Volume II until after the review of Volume I is done and printed) as far as I can tell as yet even included a section with poems of doubtful attribution. Doubtless because there are so many of them — about 30, with about 20 serious contenders. It would cost money, would it not? Mar their edition; they would have to quote me more centrally. Several of these are so strongly hers that they have been quoted elsewhere by scholars and written about (from my site); one is autobiographical but not sufficiently detailed to nail down an attribution. One cannot get rid of self. I ought to be so pleased that this edition exists for it makes of this poet for 18th century scholars an established central voice.

I am chuffed that they argue with me in their notes over my biography: they chose McGovern’s conclusions (she published what passes as a standard biography) over mine, several of which I am persuaded are wrong — so for those who come to my site, there is an alternative story which makes sense here. They do also correct me — apparently Anne’s older brother killed their Haslewood uncle (in a duel) not the uncle’s older son as I had thought: the two had the same names. I learned that one of the scholars who never answered any of my letters put on his dissertation a stop-reading so that no one shall read it for another 50 years!

Ah, me, were it not for Jim, none of this would have gotten out into the world.

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I am also hoping to teach online. It is evident that most Americans who can afford to stay home and avoid this dreadful COVID19 disease and the risk of death will do so until such time as it’s safe to come out, & that will not come soon for Trump is still refusing to allow “his” federal gov’t to do wide-spread testing and tracing across the US, and he squashed the CDC plan/strategy for opening the US in stages so as to minimize the risk. He thinks to force people out who need the money (by not sending them any more, by depriving the of unemployment insurance) and others will follow suit, unable to resist temptation to say make money on their businesses; universities he thinks will open up lest they lose the egregious fees they demand. He is counting on greed, fear, despair. But more than 81,000 Americans have now died — and early signs are that some or many universities at least, and more to the point the two OLLIs I work at, will carry on delivering their content remotely until well into the fall.


Mecklenberg Square by Margaret Joliffe (1935): one of the squares where the four Bloomsbury women Francesca Wade writes about in Square Haunting, one of the marvelous books I’m reading

So I’m reading towards what I hope will be a wonderful course called The Bloomsbury Novel. I changed my books slightly from what I had intended:

This course will examine novels & art included in the term Bloomsbury through three texts: E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Virginia Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist, J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Bloomsbury novels, books of all sorts really, are written by people who belonged to an amorphous early 20th century creative group, associated with a specific area in London, who were friends, or whose works were printed at the Hogarth Press. This (semi-invented) sub-genre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are good movies for Maurice, My Dog Tulip, & All Passion Spent. I ask everyone before class to read E.M. Forster’s “What I Believe” (from Two Cheers for Democracy); we may read a couple of other on-line shorter texts for context.

And also watching movies, and reading more than one excellent book on the Bloomsbury crowd, some on art. I know I don’t half-talk enough about the love and companionship dogs provide for human beings and (it is to be hoped) vice versa. (I’m ever on about cats.) JR Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip is about a deeply companionable interspecies love relationship; rated as a “classic” book and is certainly complex and beautifully written: he has his obsessions, some of which are clearly intended to shock the reader, wake us up to what an animal is(that includes us) , the book is at times hilarious and at others so moving: he also indites the way human beings regularly treat animals (dogs specifically); the brilliant cartoon (or should I say graphic novel, see way above, the picture from the film)rather indites British society vis-a-vis its treatment of animals; it too is a curious delightful experience. I am not sure you can get it streamed online — the creators intended this but other people may have gotten in the way since then. If you buy the DVD it comes with a marvelous feature about the making of the film. Here is Ebert interrupted by commercial ads (these are getting worse by the day, the hour). Ackerley was gay, a good friend to EM Forster, an important person at the BBC, editor for years for The Listener, wrote another “classic,” My Father and Myself, which I’ve sent away for.

As her final segment on PBS reports last night, Judy Woodruff did a number on pets; the pets of the staff and everyone working on the program, now all remotely. It was called the Newshour’s Furry Friends, and just delightful; she was so touching in her final words; she almost broke down saying how much they loved their companion-animals.

What had happened was people noticed cats in the background of William Brangham’s room — on the couch to the side of his wall of books; and also one cat in Lisa Desjardin’s space; sometimes on the couch but once the cat came up to look at the camera. This started mail which suggested viewers were not listening dutifully to the content but watching out for the cats.
So now we know Wm Brangham has 3 rescue cats and their names, and one dog (not permitted in TV room as he barks); and we have seen an array of pets. It seemed to me more dogs than cats; first with the person — very quickly shown — I spotted Amna Nawaz has a cat; then a shot of the animal alone posed properly as if for the cover of a book or other work he or she had achieved.

The title of the segment put in mind of a Sesame Street alphabet song, “4 furry friends, faithful together. Fun-filled, and forever free …” Jim used to say if he had to listen to that once more, he would do such things …. !! Aargh!!

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It is for me also an ongoing struggle just to carry on living sanely. Yesterday I was feeling parts of my body ache, and think that I am not getting enough exercise. As mild as it was, getting in and out of my car, walking to classes, to shop, to different places every day mostly was good for my body. I am exercising on the bike 20 minutes, walking outside 20 minutes but it’s not enough.

Nowadays social obligations shape my reading patterns. I’ve stopped getting on with my reading of Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light pile: each book just about belongs to a project or a group of books I love and am reading with it: in this case, a wonderful book on the man and poet, Thomas Wyatt, another on Cromwell (a biography), a French biography of another woman (beyond Anne Boleyn and the English) taken by Protestanism: Jeanne d’Albret by Francoise Kermina. I have put these aside for now.


Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame film (as powerful and relevant as ever)


Sanctuary! for Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) up high in the cathedral, he cries!

A set of books for the Bloomsbury novel course, a set of books for now this review I’m doing of the standard edition of Anne Finch’s poetry, yes, I am participating in the listserv for Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, with Victor Brombert’s book on Hugo as visionary, and four movies to watch! My ongoing commitment to Winston Graham and the historical novel: I just finished Graham’s powerful and good The Black Moon, and am going to being The Four Swans; I’m well into Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, a detailed wonderfully readable description and evocation, utterly convincing of the worlds of the 1790s, Nina Auerbach on DuMaurier, The Haunted Heiress, and her fiction; with a biography of William Hamilton (for Volcano Lover). Piles of Italian-Jewish writing (Natalia Ginzburg books) left over and inspired by Judith Plotz’s course (an OLLI at AU, the one true good one I had this term); and still on that supposed anomaly, single women authors & women’s writing. I give little time to the courses I attend by zoom but I do give some. And they help during the day connect me to people. I know others look at my workroom, my files, and are alert to see my cats. Where are they today, someone asked?


They are in their cat-bed to the side of me, said I


My new backdrop in zooms — only I am in the way so some of this obscured, and at a slightly different angle

At night I work my way through serials, documentaries, and Un Village Francais — 7 seasons, 13 episodes each. I just finished My Brilliant Friend (book 2 of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet). On these I will write separately. I also keep up friendships by letter, am on FB, nowadays a little on twitter, and blog to readers and friends here — all of which keep me “grounded” — and give me preciously needed company if at a distance. I saw, thought and wrote about a film about autistic women made in Iceland; see the comments for a review, which links the book to violence against women: Seeing the Unseen.  Annie Finch revived Wom-po, a listserv for women who write, translate, write about love, women’s poetry. It is lucky and meaningful to me that this old project of a quarter of a century’s work, my love of women’s poetry suddenly is structuring my days, and if I can pull off online teaching, delving the ethically comforting and strengthening Bloomsbury group.

All this keeps me grounded. I read JK Johnstone’s superb study of The Bloomsbury Group, an old fashioned 1950s style oh so readable study, with a long section on the philosophy of GE Moore as well as Forster, Woolf, and Lytton Strachey, the art lectures of Fry and criticism of Andre Maurois.

I connect the seen with the unseen and imagined and remembered and learned from — and not only because we must not forget the tremendous misery that is being inflicted on thousands of Americans by the present stranglehold fascist regime. I try not to let convention, fear of others’ conventionality/disapproval, authority and power come between “me” and what? a life my instincts have led me to make and share with others who recognize what I recognize. I no longer have Jim, his life was taken from him by a dread disease, and I am honoring him and the dog he and I had, Llyr, by some of what I am doing this spring and summer.


Jim and Llyr in our apartment on 76th Street off Central Park, 1972

We did “own” a dog for 12 years, Llyr was her name, partly a German shepherd. I was too young to appreciate her, and wish I could bring her back and make up to her now what I couldn’t give when I was younger because I let my depressions and nervous breakdowns get in the way. I feel such remorse. I did not know how to cope, to control them, to what’s called comparmentalize.  We had $125 a week to live on, and so I starved us all, including the dog (but not the child).  The atmosphere in the last 2 years on Seaman Avenue was bad. She died of cancer; my father paid for a couple of treatments, but then the vet said it had spread throughout her body.  Now I would treat her with extra-consideration, the kind of respect I would an adult companion-friend, as I try to my cats. If the non-traveling continues I will think of a way to persuade Izzy to accept another animal in the house, a dog I shall call Llyr.

Ellen

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Our miniature maple last week

Fountain

Let it disturb no more at first
Than the hint of a pool predicted far in a forest,
Or a sea so far away that you have to open
Your window to hear it.
Think of it then as elemental, as being
Necessity,
Not for a cup to be taken to it and not
For lips to linger or eye to receive itself
Back in reflection, simply
As water the patient moon persuades and stirs.

And then step closer,
Imagine rivers you might indeed embark on,
Waterfalls where you could
Silence an afternoon by staring but never
See the same tumult twice.
Yes come out of the narrow street and enter
The full piazza. Come where the noise compels.
Statues are bowing down to the breaking air.

Observe it there — the fountain, too fast for shadows,
Too wild for the lights which illuminate it to hold,
Even a monument, an ounce of water back;
Stare at such prodigality and consider
It is the elegance here, it is the taming,
The keeping fast in a thousand flowering sprays,
That builds this energy up but lets the watchers
See in that stress an image of utter calm,
A stillness there. It is how we must have felt
Once at the edge of some perpetual stream,
Fearful of touching, bringing no thirst at all,
Panicked by no perception of ourselves
But drawing the water down to the deepest wonder.

— by Elizabeth Jennings, in Ann Stanford’s anthology, Holding Our Own

Friends and readers,

This is the freshest and prettiest time of year, and were I to detail Izzy and my daily routine, many might say this is privilege. We are early risers, she watches a favorite conversation show (people around her age just talking often about contemporary issues that concern her), I answer my personal mail, respond to FB, twitter, listserv friends, both exercise, eat, shower, dress casually (as if ready to take a walk)


Clarycat in sunpuddle nearby

She is teleworking from home to the Pentagon library and really sits down to it at 8:30 and works more or less (with some breaks) to 5.


To my eyes how beautiful she looks — at home she can use her heating pad for her back and she listens to music as she catalogues

On dressing (complete with necklace, earrings sometimes). After living most of my life partially at home (working part time) and many years in NYC where I was in an apartment on the third floor so didn’t get out all the time — from quite a young age I determined that each day I would dress myself as if I were going out. I am not dressing quite the way I do when I go out to teach: then I try to spruce up. Now I’m in jeans and tops mostly by about 9;30 am, though once in a while a dress, a sweater. Ballet slippers. My cleaning bill is near zero.  This pandemic has shut the hairdresser’s shop and so my hair is now going grey/silver/white and I brush and put it firmly at the nap of my neck in a clip. For me dressing myself for the day is a matter of staying cheerful, I keep to a routine too — of posting, reading, blogging. When I was young and talked NYC talk, I’d say I was “being a person:” that’s very crude or blunt. But I do need to dress myself as if I were going out, and I am going out most days — a walk, to the post box, 3 days to supermarkets, drug store. Some sense in myself a need for in order to be peaceful. I hate to use the phrase self-respect but I can’t think of a less loaded one. I need to go sleep at night and be up during the day with most other people. To eat at regular hours ….. This keeps me sane and anxiety- and depression at bay. I feed my cats at specific times too and they know when the time “has arrived” for breakfast, snack, dinner and to go to bed too. I’m usually back in nightgown by 9 to 10 pm. We are all following a schedule to try for some sense of meaning in life. As in Camus’s Sisyphus: each day one pushes the rock up and in the night it rolls back down again

It’s an attitude towards the self, how each of us lives with our self. To me this does not relate to any outward standards of accomplishment or even whether we look on life favorably — as a good thing — or other people. It’s about our relationship with our self. I’m very much a home-body, happiest at home where all is set up for me to do what I like to do. I have observed for a long time now Izzy behaves the way I do and now in this pandemic she is dressed (not as for her office but as she does on Saturday/Sunday or the evenings) and sits down to work at 8:30 am (she is supposed to clock in virtually, and clocks out at 5 pm). She makes plans for herself and follows through on them. I’m taking a course in existentialism this term; it’s historical in approach; still we are talking of how we make and find meaning in existence. I behave this way were there no pandemic.

Izzy did not pattern herself on me at all. That’s just her way. We do have to accept what life offers — the hand of cards we are given — and I’ve made of mine what was in my character to make.

I settle down after tidying up chores, to post, read, write. I have agreed to teach on-line (if I manage it) so am preparing for The Bloomsbury Novel, read for the one serious reading course I have (not a heavy schedule), for my list communities, my projects. I’ll begin a new review May 1st. I thread stuff in — I returned to the Winston Graham with my energy renewed (“A matter of genre”) and three different historical fictions. The Mirror and the Light and books on early modern people. 18th century studies. Trollope. Some wonderful books, and new authors, especially Italian, e.g., today for four hours, Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.


A wonderfully humane book which gets down the level of how people live and what they do — shocking how readily human beings learned to and did make horrific weapons — for money too; she tells it all prosaically, the political movements and daily lives from letters & diaries, newspapers

I am now making myself a small pot of coffee in the later morning. Both lunch by noon, and the afternoon is a repeat performance. Both of us walk from 20 minutes to half an hour in the later afternoon. Snacks, supper together.


Ian up from his afternoon nap coming to play with me and a colorful string I have while waiting for supper, watching TV

At this point I watch PBS reports steadily for the hour because Woodruff and Co make me feel better while informing me of what’s happening, true news as therapy.

Evenings I find I am too tired to read most of the time, so it’s movies (A French Village, My Brilliant Friend aka The Story of a New Name, Inspector Morse, documentaries, Civilisations, Lucy Worsley on Suffragettes) and blogging. I’m up to five zoom sessions a week: these do divide up the day and provide a sense of social life’s satisfactions. There are fine movies on-line, and I’ve started to plan joining virtual conferences (one on Jane Austen — at Chawton House in June, something I could never have encompassed). One does not have to drive anywhere but to shop locally.

She writes fiction, works on her music, sometimes draws, watches movies, reads books and online. Then to bed … without the cats. They come into my room with me.

I have gone out regularly however briefly — three days this weekend to shop, one day to the post office (doing what I can to support them), another the cleaners, drug store and so it goes. Izzy comes with me on weekends. Thus far my annuity, social security, Izzy her salary, all paid.

Just back from immense shopping for free range farm chicken, basmatic rice, a carton of Robert Shaw shiraf wine ($3.99 a bottle), unadulterated cheese (very plain) & other things I can’t get anywhere but Trader Joe’s — which was this morning very impressive. Not everyone is cooperating. So the line for seniors also included just regular customers — clearly not disabled. But the employees don’t want to be police; I saw them try on a couple of obvious people. In the store the way the lines are managed shows thought. They are protecting their employees. But it was an oddly fraught experience. I was offered free flowers on the way out and I took the chance (might they carry the virus?). Because they are yellow. Too many years to count and shortly after Jim and I met he bought me a bouquet of 22 yellow flowers (it was out of money he was getting as his “dole” — he was homeless just then, I had taken him into my room) about 10 months too late. But I had said something about not having any gifts or wanting any thing done for some years. I was so touched. All this tires me out …

You are seeing the top of a credenza (I’ve been calling it all these years) bought at some thrift shop; Laura (maybe age 10 or so) and I carried it out of the store and managed to get it into whatever car we had. Izzy in stroller watching. Now it’s in front of a window where I keep snack food, bread, cheese, various condiments, book called Natural Cat, and a photo of JIm… I can no longer remember where my flower vase is.

So what’s wrong: profound distress provided every day by the news from Trump (unspeakable inhumane behavior — just some monster) and his cruel regime edging us ever more into fascism, so many suffering from economic disaster, a painful illness and thousands (thousands) dying — in detention facilities, prisons. In Europe, gov’ts are simply sending people under order to stay at home 80% of their salary, supporting all small businesses, nationalizing health care, testing away; here a one shot of $1200 to everyone, 37% of people eligible for unemployment (but it does not come right away), long lines across the country of people waiting for free food. Congress sending billions to corporations, chain stores, it was a hard fight to get them to agree to fund hospitals better.

One night I went to sleep in a stunned state having read that Trump refused to sign any bill that would enable the post office to stay in business. The post-office. All my life this is the organization that I receive and send bills through, reach people, a life-line for the public — the man would carelessly smash it – wreck to prevent people voting in the next election. I was shaken

It all just preys on my mind. I made a joke of this:

Trump suggested that we could perhaps get rid of, cure, COVID-19 disease if we would “inject disinfectant through the skin.” Or drink some harsh commercial disinfectant (the kind you are supposed to handle with gloves, keep out of the reach of children or animals).

I remembered Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where (as I recall) In an island of Lagado (or an academy?), there is a man who has been working at extracting sunbeams from cucumbers for some 8 years. It seems it was his idea to supply somebody’s garden with perpetual sunlight. Alas though, the year Gulliver arrived the cucumber crop was poor and so they were just then expensive. So plan had to wait and I seem to remember Gulliver gave him some money …. which man was glad to take

If it was a sardonic joke, it was a nasty sarcasm mocking all the people who have died and gotten very sick. He was irritated by all this talk of disinfectants, was he? But here is full description in French showing it was not meant as a joke:

N’essayez pas ça à la maison. Réagissant à une étude – très préliminaire – selon laquelle la chaleur, l’humidité et les rayons du soleil affaibliraient le coronavirus, Donald Trump a réfléchi à voix haute, jeudi, sur de possibles traitements à bases d’UV et de désinfectants. Des médecins ont aussitôt alerté sur les risques d’empoisonnement, comme cela s’est déjà produit avec de l’automédication à la chloroquine

Un peu de contexte. Lors du briefing quotidien à la Maison Blanche, un responsable du département à la Sécurité intérieure a présenté des résultats –très préliminaires– d’une étude. Selon cette dernière, la « demi-vie » du Covid-19 (la durée nécessaire pour diviser par deux sa puissance) sur les surfaces et dans l’air est fortement réduite par la chaleur, l’humidité et les UV du soleil. Du côté des désinfectants, l’étude conclut que l’eau de Javel tue le virus en cinq minutes et l’alcool à 90° en trente secondes.

Dans la foulée, Donald Trump s’interroge au micro : « Supposons qu’on frappe le corps avec une grande (quantité) d’ultraviolets ou juste une lumière très forte. Et ensuite j’ai dit, supposons qu’on amène la lumière à l’intérieur du corps, ce qu’on peut faire à travers la peau ou d’une autre façon… » Le président demande des précisions au responsable et continue : « Et puis je vois le désinfectant qui le neutralise en une minute. Est-ce qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose comme ça, avec une injection à l’intérieur ou… presque comme un nettoyage. Car vous voyez, ça (le virus) va dans les poumons… Ça serait intéressant de tester ça. Je voudrais que vous demandiez à des docteurs en médecine s’il y a moyen d’appliquer de la lumière ou de la chaleur pour neutraliser le virus. »

Un docteur, il y en a une assise à quelques mètres, Deborah Birx, qui fait partie de la task-force de la Maison Blanche contre le coronavirus avec Anthony Fauci. Face à la tirade du président américain, elle semble perdue dans ses pensées.

It is a strain being without human voices and the commonalty of acquaintances, friends, familiar and unfamiliar faces and bodies over the course of the day naturally

COVID19 Notes: “You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus. Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat,” said David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College, London, and an envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19″ (The Guardian).

On DemocracyNow.org Juan Gonzalez said that in his part of New Jersey, New Brunswick, a few middle class people set up a crowd-source fund online, collected $17,000 within a week and a half and have now begun to distribute it. Direct cash payments to people who are out of food and need money for rent or a mortgage payment. The 2nd trillion dollar bill from the feds has no money directly for people; Trump assures us (lest we worry) that he has his own fund set aside for fossil fuel industry. Trump at last sends tests to NY when Cuomo visits him – or promises to. My two daughters need got a penny back from the airlines for the money they paid for their Montreal planned trip to ice-skating contest; a friend and her husband paid twice each way going and coming back from Mexico, never got a penny back; I never got a penny back from my attempt to go to St Louis — but the airlines get another bunch of money — there’s black humor here. Too bad I can’t laugh.

Gonzalez also told how his 92 year old mother contracted COVID-19; he and his wife took her to the hospital when she seemed unable to breathe; the hospital would not test her unless they took her in; when they tested her, they were about to give her that dangerous malaria drug until Gonzalez realized what they were doing, and stopped them. She did survive, without intubation and is now in a rehabilitation unit. Meanwhile his wife contracted the disease; Thursday night last week she could’t breathe, had a fever, he called 911, Emergency ambulance came but the people said she’d be better off at home, safer as she was not yet near death, gave him some advice about positioning her, anyway she lived through the night and this week is recovering.

A friend told me that her psychologist friend seriously thinks millions of US people are going through trauma every day – -as they worry lest their money be worthless with such a malevolent fool having picked the man who runs the federal agency which controls the money supply. Another sent me and a group of friends this to help cheer us up: perhaps the name of the city is repeated too often, but I found this brought tears to my eyes. People here might enjoy it. I recognize many of the streets and places filmed:

I make diary entries on face-book and even tweet quips, sudden utterances, and re-tweet similar language and pictures (increasingly videos) from others

I now think that the OLLIs won’t be back as meetings in classrooms and other kinds of social interactions for quite a long time – maybe next spring. The people are mostly people with more money than me — that means they are really set up — I am vulnerable to losing my social security and widow’s annuity and with these I need the rent Izzy gives me. That means they have no reason not to quarantine themselves. They are also the population that travels. Some of them take several trips a year to expensive places. The Politics and Prose store had an older population for their classes – -some younger people but they were the minority. So if the owner of the store wants to keep the classes up he shall have to use zoom. He is doing that for the nightly lectures — actually some other more impressive platform. He is selling online rigorously.

Some of the more expert commentators on BBC are saying that early lifting of the lockdowns – they instance other, more regional, virus outbreaks as examples – will produce a second wave of infection, perhaps more serious; perhaps that and their ignoring social distancing will sweep through the USA demonstrators. Munich Oktoberfest is cancelled.

Gradually becoming obvious in (informed) commentary in UK is the realisation that this is going to continue in some form for a year or more. Financial Times (UK) says that UK government are talking about continuation, not emerging (not exact words – paywalled).

I am spending less; I got Izzy to start cleaning regularly with me. We started this weekend. I will take all clothes that need dry cleaning to a store where you put the stuff in a machine yourself I can put what we have (very little now as Izzy not going to work and I didn’t dress up that much) in and then sit in my car for an hour to wait. There’s a lady laundromat owner who has a hard life: she used to be there 7 days a week, 5:30 am to 10:00 pm, and she does laundry for you. When my house was being renovated Izzy and I took our laundry to her. Now she’s there 6 days a week, 8 am to 9 pm.

I made myself unhappy yesterday because it totally slipped my mind to join in on the Framley Parsonage read being done by zoom by the British Trollope society. One might say unconsciously I was not eager, but if so it was not conscious. I meant to skim the first ten chapters of Framley Parsonage yesterday so that was my first lapse. It is true that it would add yet another book to my budget just now. Now I’m feeling next week I’ll be too far behind, but probably they won’t care so I shall try to remember next week. Had I been this zoom I would have heard more human voices and voices directed at me as part of a group and myself spoken back.

My hair is looking pretty bad. When I was a young teenager, maybe age 13 or so, I began to use a hair style that however I have tried to find something else I’ve never much strayed from. I brush my hair, part it in the middle sort of, then take a clip that is plain and widish and clip my hair at the nape of my neck. When my hair was thicker, it held. Over the years my hair has thinned and thinned. Now the clip (a narrower one than ever) keeps coming out and sometimes as the zoom starts and I get a look at myself I pull the clip out and just brush the air back. It’s a style you see on Jane Goodall. Tp be honest, I don’t really mind how it looks and like the severe look. I’ve given on make-up too — more or less since I was 19, and now altogether.

Jim always had a beard. I never saw him without one. When he first got cancer, I thought to myself he’ll lose his hair and probably his beard and I will see his face for the first time. He had a round face. Well he didn’t live long enough for chemotherapy to be started because we were so stupid as to agree to that horrific operation first so I never saw him without his beard. He’d go to a male hairdresser (never a barber shop) to have it trimmed.

Other widows have told me how they miss human voices. Penelope Fitzgerald calls her book on BBC radio: Human voices. Izzy does not _seem_ to miss this so much – though one of her favorite programs now is a one hour chat between people in their 20s — I think really set up in response to this quarantine. She can imagine herself as with them

Watch the family of ducks escorted to safety in Ballsbridge: These ducks are being escorted from a park in which they hatched to the river at left of where the video terminates.

https://www.independent.ie/videos/gardai-escort-family-of-ducks-to-safety-in-ballsbridge-39144432.html

Tomorrow I will see my young woman friend Monica — last week she told me that two had died among the offices she works in, many in the DC Correction Department now sick with COVID-19. They were not allowed to stay at home — would not be paid. Her hair no longer looks so shiny as it did. We go to the Giant around 10 am. From last week my forays in the early to make senior lines for Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods:

This morning I arrived at the queue to get into Whole Foods at Senior hour at 7:19 am. Again as with Trader Joe’s I could see people on line (in both cases it has been women) who were clearly much younger. Now inside this store (as with the Giant) there are arrows drawn to show you in which directions to proceed, lines to stand behind, you must have your face mask on at all times (the Giant more like Trader Joe’s — one does not feel constrained nor are there signs requiring a mask).

This time the queue was strictly managed (again as opposed to Trader Joe’s — at the Giant the line is wholly voluntary, thus fictional). And when you got up to the front to go in, you were supposed to produce documentation. So yours truly is digging in her suitcase of a handbag, and looks up and says “you know” I’m 73, but I’ll find it, and he smiles and says, “you’re fine.” Got in w/o documentation. I felt a certain glee.

I do think the culture of Whole Foods reflected a Bezos frame of mind …

How to end?


Mark Rylance as Olivia

Tuesday night of this past week I saw one of the most extraordinary performances of a Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, I ever have — and I’ve seen many many. I can’t find a solid review of it, only commentary on Mark Rylance as Olivia, where he performs a miracle of comedy that touches you: he seems to walk like a bell that is sweeping across the floor without ever touching it. Or maybe a chess piece.

It was done during a year when Rylance was the Globe director; a year notable for an equally astonishing (it’s said) Richard III (he played the part) and an embarrassingly bad Macbeth.

The problem is that the production is throughout inhabited by equally brilliant in their roles other actors: Fry as Malvolio, Liam Brennan as Orsino, I can’t find a cast list in words, so just single out the actor playing Aguecheek, Mary the housekeeper, John Hamilton Dyer as Feste (his singing was matchlessly in feel Elizabethan); here is an excellent review of movie version as it played at the Angelica movie-house not far from me.

I never quite realized everyone on stage was a man, only when I realized Mary was acted by a man did I began to understand this. Last week I watched a Globe Shakespeare with a lot of gender switching but they never fooled me for moment, so I did not suspend my disbelief, This production managed to engage me thoroughly with the characters and yet throughout their acting, the costumes, style never let me forget I was watching actors playing this play. A kind of legerdemain miracle.

When I was 13 I saw Play of the Week Twelfth Night which was utterly bitter and melancholy, and I’ve never forgotten it — alas at the time I didn’t note actors or directors — so I know how important it is to convey the bitterness with the comedy; this production had it but not enough — you can’t have everything. They did convey the extraordinary artifice of the language and yet I understood what they were saying (I did use subtitles).

For 3 hours I forgot all about this pandemic, my new worries (Trump is now beginning to pressure the Pentagon to open — not that they are not working from home and Izzy works there so today I must phone my 4 representatives — gov, 2 senators, congressman).


Stephen Fry as Malvolio

I mean to re-watch until I can find language to describe what makes it so good. So it’s worth buying or paying the fee for a watch if you cannot find it another way. I did buy the DVD which means I couldn’t find it another way — that does not mean it’s not there.

After a play featuring all men, it’s worth noting those countries and places where women are in charge there have been far less deaths, less illness, less profound uncertainty, destruction of ways of life (in the US millions of small businesses will never come back, livelihoods gone forever).


Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir listens during a joint press conference with her counterparts from Lichtenstein and Norway on February 3, 2020 in Oslo

So, daily life for us “sheltering in place” in our small but comfortable house has its compensations, is a simacrulum of usual daily life (as long as the checks keep coming). Two women and our two cats, our books, our inner resources using electronic equipment. Izzy is working on a new song ever writing short fictions and putting them on the Net. Laura (I should mention) has more paid work (reviews of life on the Net) than she has time for, and Rob cooks away. Both never leave the house, Laura assures me. (Whether he’ll get his electrician job back again is another question.) They pay no rent as they live in one of his parents’ houses, which they hope to inherit.


David Hockney, Hawthornes in Bloom (1937) — sent by an FB friend

Ellen

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Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw) and Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whateley) (1987, first season)

Friends,

Times being what they are, I’ve taken to watching Inspector Morse. I started last week, at my usual witching hour for self-indulgent TV series, 11:30 to midnight, and it took a couple of nights for me to realize these shows go on for an hour and 45 minutes! That’s part of why they are so good: they develop the situation and characters slowly, with nuance, clever dialogue, and continually deepening in curious ways the character of our man of integrity, compassion, with his love of classical music, and extensive reading in high culture texts, Morse. Lewis is no fool and has his own personality, but he is the stable “ordinary” usual ethical person to Morse’s enigma. The fourth was a little more conventional than the first three, but all of them have recourse to corrupt politics (ultimately someone is making money off harming or exploiting someone else’s vulnerability) in the context of deeply observed individuals in complex fraught situations. I first watched these in 1987; they were a way for me to spend some of Thursday evening with Laura as she watched too. Now I think to myself I must’ve missed a lot. I was then more naive than these shows seem now. I’m sure I have confused notion or who did what and why and wish there were a wikpedia site explaining it all to me. This is common for me with mystery/thrillers and especially contemporary ones which are aggressive, have short scenes, un-nuanced, ratcheted up. I am drawn to the pain and real life predicaments of the people in the embedded stories. I like the tone of this 1987 Inspector Morse series.

I know it’s a kind of gimmick but I do find appealing and can identify with Morse’s brand of despair as seen in his favorite poem, A. E. Housman’s The Remorseful Day.

Here is YouTube of Thaw reciting the last lines:

To be appreciated, you do have to know the full text:

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

Housman is another of Jim’s favored poets (he had many), we even own Housman’s edition of a classical Latin poet, Manilius. Jim used to quote from the introduction.

I also watch the HBO My Brilliant Friend (1st book in the Neapolitan Quartet), Second Season, The Story of a New Name twice a week.


Elena (Lenu) (Margherita Mazzucco), Lila (Raffaella) (Gaia Girace) and Pinuccia (Giuliana Tramontano) arrive at the beach

This seems to me just now the best contemporary TV story program. What is so striking is the intense felt reality of the film experience. I’ve not seen or felt anything like this in a long time. It’s not just that all the actors and actresses project real feelings fully that we can enter into, but the whole ambiance of the situations.

For example, we first see them on Ischia as they trudge down the beach. In an other film it would be all surface, glamour, here we feel how tiresome beaches also are, how heavy the umbrella, how weary the walk, hot the sun, and a sense of sticky sand. I put it down to not magazin-ing everything. The house is like a house I would stay in, the curtains thin, the stone steps hard, the doors ugly and off-center, painted in such a way that the shades are not perfect. All the surroundings are like this — a boat is not super expensive, perfect in way but messy, slosh slosh.

Their dialogues are what people might say: not elevated into top wit or reflection, but such wit and reflection as comes out is from offhand, slightly spiteful distrustful talk, the way people do ever one-upping one another — a real sense of contingent interaction.

The fights every one has, the ambiguity of positions only once in a while made explicit: Lenu who is treated as a servant and yet is the educated person there with books with her. The mother says I’ll be blamed. When a quarrel happens, the debris and then how sordid things can be — yet the beauty of the air, light. When they swim, they swim as awkwardly as I do — I mean the girls, as feeble in the sea and yet moving along.

What the film does is give us in a way what book can’t — the viscera through sound, music, real presences — the series fulfills the book. Much enjoyment in the photography of the island of Ischia and the waters, the colors, the sunlight. A movie can do so much more than a book in presenting this — it’s like the pleasure of watching the Durrells. I have no screen shots of the water, but I do the beach

As with Outlander, the increase of monopolization, with only a few companies owning everything means I can’t buy DVDs of this series (the 5th season of Outlander is not available except if you buy a membership for the fascistic line-up of Starz). Now the site that offered scripts has been taken down too. One result is less wide popularity, but finally to those with the money to make such a series, the ratings far count less than sheer numbers of dollars. Worship of dollars everywhere.

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


Last night months after I bought them my Bernie Sanders T-shirt and yard sign arrived. How sad this felt — it’s tragic for the people on this globe, that’s how powerful the US president has become

One needs to try to escape when one lives in a nation whose federal gov’t is controlled by a man whose activities show him to be engineering sickness and death throughout the people said to be those he is serving; doing what he can to milk their taxes to make himself and other friendly billionaires and wealthy corporations richer, refusing to let the federal agencies do anything constructive (like testing, like helping them to have medical equipment), to let people get online to by desperately needed health insurance. It is an stunningly shameless perverse performance. Everyone afraid of him because he is so vindictive and will castigate publicly anyone who asks relevant questions, lies egregiously (“we have the best testing system in the world”).

I don’t know why but when I realized he was determined to destroy the post office I became especially distressed. I was shocked 40 years ago when during Reagan’s administration the direct attacks on the PO began. It was and continues to be one of the most selfless and apolitical of our institutions, a rare one that serves all people equally very reasonably. During Bush’s administration they cooked the books to put the department in egregious debt and still they survived.

Now they are singled out as excluded from these trillion dollar bills. I read Trump himself openly intervened here (when he has his thugs and gangster types outbid states trying to get medical equipment he does not personally intervene) and insisted no one answer phone calls from the Post office. Now they are not to get any money like any one but only a huge loan at very high interest rates.

All my life I have depended on the post office to send out my bills and when I send checks to send them back. No interruption of mails The 1916 rising was about the PO as a central place for communication. A friend described this in these words:  “destroying simple ordinary dedicated people’s modest middle class jobs, destroying a perfectly good and worthy government (though I suppose in our country now mostly private) institution.”

In the US it’s also racism: the PO is a place where many minority people work. And now to try to destroy them will prevent voting by mail which we may need to do in November. I have today bought two sheets of stamps at the online Post office; I opened an account. I have discovered many people are buying. If millions of us bought stamps, in this area we could stop Trump. It is a quasi-separate corporation.

This to me is peculiarly stunning. As a faithful reader of Trollope who delivered a paper on Trollope’s use of letters throughout his novels to the Trollope society in 2001: Since Trollope was a postal employee for 37 years, and then on and off again was a negotiator, and gave up years of life to a devoted service to creating a public unbiased efficient group imagine my horror at what is now being done to the US post office. Imagine his. The committees of correspondence were essential tools for reformists in the 1790s. I was just so horrified by this one. Is there nothing this man can do which will be seen as grounds for removal? just nothing? No powerful person stops him. It is the fault of the republican party which has decided he can do no wrong no matter what and no lie is too much for them to utter. They continually act in bad faith.

Trump and his important allies do know when to back off. They have to keep the military on their side and when they thought (these evil people who recognize one another) they could fire a captain for trying to protect his men against utterly senseless sickness and death, they backed off. The man who fired the captain has now resigned and there is talk of re-instating the captain. If there is a coup and no election and whatever is left of democracy or any social conscience is thrown out, Trump will have to have the military to back him so as to force people.

I don’t know when it will be time to dust off the old joke, “Praise God/Marx and pass the ammunition.” It is no longer funny. He is making war on the people of the US. the NYTimes reports 17,000 have died in the US since the start of this pandemic in January, that Trump was warned again and again, and instead had Fox News sneer and deny what was happening, that China did inform the UN and early. We are in the worst condition of all the developed countries of the world because of our incompetent hateful hard capitalist government. Tonight I witnessed long food lines across the US.

Saturday I was also personally distressed. Again I shopped at the Giant and saw my young African-American woman friend Monica. She is usually so controlled but not Saturday. She was distraught and angry with over-work, fear, and from being lied to. She had on a two part mask, gloves. What is happening is she can’t stay home at all, and the way her boss is getting her to work all five days in the DC prison office is by lying to her and her co-workers. They are continually promised tests and none emerge. Trump’s lies as a way of being have spread. Monica is lied to about all sorts of things. The virus is spreading in the prison and hardly anything is being done to help these people, many of them there for minor non-violent law infringements, most African-American. I saw on Amy Goodman how 1800 African-American prisoners in Louisiana were transferred to some infamously punitive prison, many of the infected, a place which will have almost no health care. Taken there to die. Louisiana is more than a thousand miles away. Monica was standing in front of me, her face fraught. I wished I dared to hug her. It took me a couple of hours to calm down.

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


Frits Thaulow, Stream in Spring (1901)

I try not to think about what will happen — especially if Trump manages to steal the election again. I am joining in on Zoom sessions some three to four times a week. I am registered and attend two classes sent out by the OLLI at AU (on Italian-Jewish writing, mostly WW2, but some more recent texts; on Hamlet, sources, different texts, different films, reception, critical history) and one by the OLLI at Mason (19th century existentialism up to today — who knew the earliest thinkers were fanatically religious, throwing over the crucial insights of the Enlightenment?). And I’ve joined in twice with my Aspergers group online. There are of course joke pictures (click to enlarge):

This is a generic picture of what I see in two of them:


Gallery it’s called

In the two at OLLI at AU I’ve been a participant/class member seen in one of the many boxes stretched across the zoom rectangle. I’ve now been told by three people that I don’t “fill the screen” when it’s my turn to talk and my small square in a room becomes the central picture. I know I sit an angle, putting my laptop on the corner of the desk and using a chair where one of legs is missing so I swerve it to the side so it leans on two books, and that sometimes my cats are on my chair with me. They tell me and I have experienced this too that the instructor fills or usually fills the screen — they say that’s because these people sit up close, have a big screen, and also stare directly out into the space (of their room).

In my case, those seeing me see a book-lined room! I didn’t realize that because the cases are very much to the side and my workroom or “study” is not so book-lined as others in my house. My desk to the other side of the room is seen, a table to the back. Also some of scotch-taped pictures on the walls. It seems I am at a distance from the screen, I am seen from a side sort of, so I’m unclear as an image but my voice is loud – and very recognizable because of my accent. Many of the other participants (discussants?) “fill their screen,” so now I know they are using bigger computers and sit up close.

For a few people I can see their surroundings; one woman appears to be in a sort of child’s nursery: there is a cradle near by, a roll of toilet paper as part of a kit to take care of a young baby. Another in a huge modernized kitchen in the round. Several contrive to or naturally have a row of books in shelves behind them …. de rigueur on TV.

An online friend who has not participated in these asked me more about it, and I tried to explain more — last week I tried to say how odd is the experience, not like a classroom in some centrally important ways (we are not there altogether). So I wrote this:

I’ve thus far experienced zoom with four sets of people; one (OLLI at Mason, Existentialism) I could see no one but the instructor and have been told she cannot see us; and everyone is muted until she un-mutes someone! two (OLLI at AU) have this have this gallery effect with the teacher in the middle and larger and they leave everyone un-muted; you are asked to raise your hand. A third, the Aspergers friends, has the leaders/friends (who are paying for it) with everyone else as part of a whole screen gallery. So I actually see just about everyone joining in. I am too anxious to hit an arrow which might let me see more rows of people at a time; I am told that the instructor at OLLI at AU can see all the rows of people. The center is sometimes used for a text or film clip. Most people are more like David Brooks on PBS; just side glimpses and now I’m told they sit up to their computer or it’s a big screen. A few like me or Mark Shields on PBS, you see far more of the room. I’ve seen people using false background — it’s very unreal. Maybe it’s the people I’m with but like so many of the people on TV many have bookcases behind them. I have seen a dog or cat to the side but no one but me with a pet on their lap. I’m not quite semi-profile just my face and body to the side — partly I’m sitting in a chair one of whose wheels came off so I have it perched against the near by case and I keep my laptop sort of catty-cornered to me and it feels close as I’m trying to hear what’s being said. It’s a strange, experience, you do have more information but the people are not there with you and they are behaving in differently controlled ways. The person at the center is very powerful. Three of the four I participated in there was a site assistant on line to help too – I only saw that person where all the people but the instructor could not be seen.

I believe I’ve said here that I volunteered to teach on-line for both places this summer: The Bloomsbury Novel. I will use the method of myself in the center, with all the people able to see one another and me see them, and everyone unmuted. I’ve been reading Forster and Wendy Moffatt’s wonderful biography of him (we’ll read Maurice), started LaSalvo on Woolf again (we’ll read Jacob’s Room); my third choice is the novella by Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent;. And I’m reading more about the Bloomsbury circles, and started the delightful Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London between the Wars.

There are now many places offering live-streaming of classics, operas, movies, some for free (as an advertisement for themselves). Actors and actresses reading books aloud. Other ordinary people trying to reach us and cheer us and themselves up. I do get more letters from friends and I answer them all. I am grateful to those who write me once a day a note — more more. Who chat with me. There are funny jokes too, meant to lighten and cheer:

The most endurable, and at moments comforting and yet truthful of the news shows is PBS reports, with Judy Woodruff at “the helm.” I am finding during this stressful crisis that along with factual truth I care about tone more than usual. Most of the time I appreciate gratefully the news Amy Goodman reports on her DemocracyNow.org, which no one else does, but lately her tendency to try to be so dramatic in order to entertain is getting on my nerves, her repetition and showing of Trump, and the leading long-winded questions (speeches in themselves), and I prefer the simpler direct questions, and the attempts at uplifting stories Judy Woodruff tries to include. I like her crew, especially recently Malcolm Brabant, William Brennan. I am laughing at myself, but honestly I find myself feeling better after an hour of Judy as opposed to an hour of Amy.  Click on the image to make it way larger and look at her after a half century of TV journalism:

Ellen

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Jim could recite by heart some of the lines from Beatrix Potter’s tales of small animals making do, managing

Troubles, I don’t have to tell you, don’t come at a gallop, like the Huns, but arrive quietly, stealthily, like epidemics …. Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, his reality the level of chemical elements interacting ….

Dear friends and readers.

Whether it be a massive increase in numbers of people growing very sick, and a frightening proportion of them dying, and dying in a peculiarly miserable way, or a consequent, concurrent depression or recession arising from the spreading attempts in countries the coronavirus has spread to by everyone staying home, and thus refraining from the kind of economic activity that generates income, constructive answers and behavior are eagerly looked for. They as yet seem heart-breakingly slow in most countries until the virus begins to kill in visible numbers, probably because as yet there (how many as yets do I have?) there is no vaccine, no sure and certain cure. Worse yet in some countries, groups of people are trying to use this crisis, calamity to extract huge profits for themselves (in the US Trump and his Republicans in power), or given them to constituencies; individuals in power refuse to act lest the principles of capitalism be noticed to be at all interfered with (Trump).

Last time I wrote, this lock-down, self-isolation, social distancing (self-quarantine?) whatever you want to call it, was only beginning. Tonight all the usual places I & Izzy go to are closed (schools, libraries, book stores, community centers museums, investment companies); remaining open are supermarkets, drug stores, police shops, hospitals, the post-office, restaurants which are still attracting customers. All those places where the employees can work from home, what’s called telework, or conduct business by remote access (programs include Zoom, webinar and others) are doing so — insofar as employees can pull this off.

Right now all people are waiting to see what happens next, either to themselves personally or to the society at large. So many are unemployed, our disguised dictator (so he’d like to think and works to make true), Trump has now silenced unemployment statistics (he a couple of weeks ago) forbade all gov’t agencies with information from telling the statistics of those sickening and dying from coronavirus. He can’t stop all information since newspapers, media, states & localities are publishing such information. So all his transparent lies have little purchase except with his worshipful followers who are inoculated against information not from him anyway. A huge number of people are without salaries who desperately need them; last night on twitter I saw a video of a city council in Florida where the council had shut off the electricity of all those people in the county not able to pay bills, where an African-American man broke through all the euphemisms, and pointed out what the woman at the head had done because she cared more about her relationship with the electricity company than thousands of people; she tried to shut him up but could not.


From the Washington Post: Union Station this past Wednesday/Thursday

I don’t get a salary and have to hope my investments and retirement annuities & social security keeps coming in or remain stable; Izzy is teleworking from her library, and being paid. So beyond having to stay home, and seeing supermarkets showing the results of other people’s hoard-buying so Izzy has no Skippy peanut-butter and I have to make do with other brands of tea, the cats ditto over wet-good. Not too bad. On my last public outing, I went to see the latest Emma and wrote a clog comparing it to The Portrait of a Lady on Fire, both women’s films, more alike than you might realize. I’ve written a blog beyond the ones linked in above on Angela Merkel’s speech to the German people, and some absorbing movies and books I’m turning to. I’ve put away some of what I planned to read in classes, and am concentrating on my true interests or authors, kinds of books, projects just invented and loved (E.M. Forster for example) more sheerly.


There she is modeling exemplary shopping — not piling up goods irrespective of other people’s equal needs

My IT guy, Jonathan, installed Zoom for me and I participated insofar as a I could in a remote access class — As I wrote last time, this Zoom experience is no substitute for a physically shared environment and space together. In this case we didn’t see the teacher and he could only see those who talked, and not all of them. I realize now I don’t have a computer microphone (and again will ask Jonathan to order one, even if they are as he says all out of stock), and couldn’t figure out how to make myself visible in a little square. I did see chat running underneath the screen, and saw where I could click and lo and behold began to chat with others and respond to those talking. At the end of the session the teacher first realized a few of us were contributing that way — next time, he suggested, he’ll pay attention to that too. Yet I admit that something real as an encounter happened, myself I learned little about Shakespeare’s sources for Hamlet (the topic) that I didn’t know but I did learn (oddly somehow outside what was happening, everything objectified) some more about what people value in a classroom and it’s not the content of what’s learned about the subject for most of them.

I hope this will amuse others. It has come through from a list where there are many academics studying Renaissance women. File under: are we down-hearted? no we are not, we are surviving

It is no trivial task. Thus far the people at OLLI at AU have managed to put and to participate in 20 of the originally scheduled 90 classes on-line — with some very hard work face-to-face in training classes at AU with the tech people there. I am still reading towards the Italian Jewish writing class: this week finished
the extraordinary Periodic Table by Levi; utterly appropriate and relevant, from his experiences in a concentration camp in World War Two, as Jewish boy growing up in Turin as the war came on, his fables of a desolation island afterwards, and his tales of life as a chemist. From what I can tell OLLI at Mason is struggling even more. There I have exchanged e-mails with a teacher attempting to put a class in Existential writing online. She and her husband are working away. Politics and Prose is working at putting some of their activities online. Their business must be hurting badly.

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

Mornings are the worst for me, I am in quite a state after troubling dreams — I’ve realized several of them I was believing in the other morning, and finally threw them off. Anxiety and depression manifest themselves as worry (about me, those I know and am close to, the world), and with no one to hug I can reach panic level — one morning I thought my gmail was not coming through. To mon cri de coeur of an email asking for some reply, a kind friend emailed tout de suite, 3 times (!) and I established in a couple of other ways the gmail is working, mail just coming in v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, far less ads (but I rejoiced t see a couple). Groups.io most unusually having a glitch perhaps (the owner’s child has a flu). Early mornings up from long night in dream world harder to recover from. I see all these Zoom and remote online access classes are very spotty, no substitute for what goes on that is called teaching in a shared physical environment Still hacking cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing — persistent mild cold. I am thinking of establishing new routs ….

You see ClaryCat and Ian on their cat tree this morning; although I am not watching Outlander 5 this season (because I will not pay to support fascistic programming and this ruthless capitalist move of Starz), here is Adso, Claire’s cat this season.

Sometimes around 8 after I have watched the somber news. Judy Woodruff on PBS does her level best to reassure and be hopeful or upbeat without sacrificing truth; Amy Goodman cannot get the kinds of higher officials she sometimes has on but she has substituted people with real knowledge about medicine, or the particular country which is her subject or aspect of what is happening in the US. I forgot to watch My Brilliant Friend last week on Monday. That’s the title of what will presumably be four seasons adapted from Elena Ferrante’s brilliant Neapolitan Quartet, this one The Story of a New Name. I did make up for it this past Friday, and am determined not to become too overwrought again.

As an individual I am helpless against the people in power (they have constructed the political structures that achieve legitimacy that way) — I can write blogs to try to disseminate information, cheer myself, lure someone into wasting a little of their time by forgetting or remembering and thinking and feeling with me. Wash my hands too — how about to the tune and using words of Edward Lear’s

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

III
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I will finally phone Kaiser tomorrow about this perpetual cold …

Ellen

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Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe


La Peste by Camus

Friends,

These two books are those that come to mind when I try to think of literary treatments where you can find both an experience of a deadly epidemic and profound meditations on the meaning of what happens to individuals and a society when such a calamity occurs. I’ve taught them both (La Peste Englished as The Plague). I’ve read others where the deadly epidemic is either secondary, something creating an atmosphere of devastation and despair (Mann’s Death in Venice), or there as a direct cause of utterly irrational destructive and from a pragmatic standpoint useless behavior (the opening of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, where an epidemic is turned into a mass hunt for human scapegoats to blame).

The New York Times today laid out what is happening in US society as the viral infection, COVID-19 or coronavirus spreads.

My friend, Bryan Alexander’s blog laying out the global story, continually updated.
Each of us will be affected differently once it begins to spread inside the nation state and particular region of a country we live in; beyond larger social political and economic decisions made by people who can control large groups of human behavior, and a multitude of individual reactions by those not sick (some people will rush out and buy large amounts of groceries, or pharmacy supplies) and those sick. Self-protective measures (self-isolating, washing your hands to the soliloquy of Lady Macbeth beginning “Out, damned spot!”) are also socially responsible. What kind of housing you have, with whom, your age and state of health. What you do usually to occupy yourself, make a living, keep sane.

For myself I’m 73, I live in what in NYC we called a private house, with my 36 year old daughter. She is well, I have had a mild cold for about two weeks now, and I cannot throw it, but it gets no worse. What I do to occupy myself is to teach voluntarily at life-long learning organizations for older retired people so I feel I am contributing to the lives to those who appreciate this the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime of study (of literature) in an enjoyable social situation. A form of school and social club combined. Well we have been hard-hit because 1) the Trump administration so cut the budget of medical agencies there to temper, ward off, and care for people during emergencies as well as daily life, that no general testing has been done (thus the only safety measure that can be taken is mass social distancing), and 2) refused to make available for free or securely affordable such tests, or treatments as are needed so to contain the spread. Not only are most social places closing down in order to prevent masses or groups of people from getting together indiscriminately and infecting one another. Also since the demographics of one group especially at risk (past age 60) is precisely the age of OLLI groups (most people somewhere between 55 and 85), the two classes I began to teach last week (The Novels of E.M. Forster) and the three classes I was beginning to attend (on Louisa May Alcott’s books but especially Little Women/Good Wives, Italian Jewish writing, Hamlet) and was scheduled to begin (Difficult Women with Elaine Showalter) are cancelled as face-to-face classroom in person experiences.

I am told that I can try to teach by remote access using a program called Zoom. I am crucially without confidence in my ability to pull off such a thing as in all previous experience I have failed (e.g., online Webinars). There are going to be training sessions for those who agree to use this technology to reach students this coming Monday. When I have gone to such training sessions (say in how to do wikipedia) I have not learned anything as the speed, lack of precision, and assumptions about what I know and can do to start with preclude my learning. I am also very reluctant to expose myself visually and orally that way. I would “virtually” “be there,” supposedly with people in a teaching situation at a distance through videos they can study except they are not there, not themselves physically involved, not at risk themselves in the same way, and thus can react differently to. I worry what others will pick up about me. Two of the three people teaching other classes are willing to try to do this zoom. I am willing to try to be a student in a class where someone else is teacher so that I could join in the class with others but more so I can understand what this experience is before I would ever volunteer to be the person in the center. I hope that I will be able to reach one of these people: the paragraphs sent imply this will be easy. I have no confidence in that and have asked my older daughter to come over if I need help, and I will try the IT guy if he can do it by remote if I cannot. I have to wait and see.

For the one of my two E.M. Forster classes that started two weeks ago — going splendidly in the class — I offered to communicate through email. You could as alternatives communicate through conference calls or email. Thus far 12 people have said they would rather the class be canceled and given the usual classroom way another time (several of them tactful enough to say they enjoyed the in-class so much more in comparison to a silent email) compared to 4 who liked my email letters — I wrote a more detailed one today where probably as to content I conveyed far more and precisely than I do in a classroom. Most of the people who come to these classes come for the social experience primarily; so do I but perhaps I also value the literary content I learn from (when there is something new or insightful in a way I had not thought of or understood) somewhat more than the average person in these classes. Hard to say. Any way it does not seem to me the email alternative will “fly.” I feel one must have 8 people communicating to one another in a listserv situation for it to be socially enjoyable as well as educational.

As you know I find life alone without Jim difficult to endure or enjoy all by itself.


Izzy noticed this walking into the front garden on her way home from work: she walks up a hill from a bus stop. It is a baby cherry blossom tree that she and I bought last spring and a man who does my mowing and some gardening planted for us. It’s a bit behind the others, just beginning to bud. So there was a leavening moment of cheer.

Nonetheless, this week stress from this situation was added to because by Tuesday of this week I realized that the Fairfax Regional Libraries could close; that is where I have been having my taxes done for 2 years. I have not mentioned that I cancelled my trip to ASECS last week: the paper was not going well, and I could no longer live with the idea I would have to find the restaurant and the place where the Marivaux play was being done after three times getting lost attempting to go on a 7 minute trip from the OLLI at AU to Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington, and once because the usual entrance to South 110 which takes me to the Virginia highway I use was closed off and I could not work my Waze right. Once I decided not to go to ASECS, I had free time to go and made an appt with my financial advisor for today to go over what he withheld and Izzy and I would go next week. But I began to dread that the library would close before we could get there. The alternative is an awful abrasive shyster lawyer who I paid $500 to for two years to do the taxes. He produces them last thing. When we went to H&R, they asked $400 and made mistakes.

I woke this past Wednesday morning shaking. I’d had enough. I determined Izzy and I would go that evening to that library and get those taxes done & transmitted. I spent the morning calling the library to make sure it was still open, and what time the AARP people who do your taxes for free with you would be there. I called my financial adviser so he could explain to me what he had withheld from my IRA investment distribution and I explain it to the AARP person. Izzy and I set off by 4:15 am (she came home early) and (as the last two times) mine took 2 and 1/2 hours. Izzy’s takes a much shorter time. You sit there with a person who does the form with you out of all the papers you bring; then a third person evaluates what has been done. All done online. I could never do it. Then I pay direct deposit through my routing number at my bank. They print out the forms I have done; everything is put neatly in an envelope and the next year I can bring it back. It was dark when we got out and I did make one bad mistake as I tried to turn onto a lane and instead turned onto the place by the edge of the street where you can stop if your car is in trouble. I was able to get back into the traffic but it was a scary moment. But if we had waited for the weekend, when Izzy can go during the day, it would now be too late. As of tomorrow or Monday all schools and libraries are closed for the next two weeks or more.

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

There have been some good moments, even hours and half days or evenings, stretches of time.


This is the cover of the British edition and a limited one of 300 copies signed by the author — I have an uglier duller design but like contemplating this image

I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me — brilliant, true, inspiring, comparable to James Baldwin. Paradoxically I agree with Coates’s comparison: “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.” His book explained to me how African-American people are voting for Biden when his record over crucial African-American issues has been bad (voted for mass incarceration, to cut social security, engineered the Iraq war): they do not believe the white world will share their power and wealth with blacks and so they do not believe that Sanders can win ever since Sanders will take from the white supremacy and make the US into a social democracy with effective measures to make people equal and life’s necessities affordable for real.

Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. It arrived two days ago and my copy is sturdy, lovely good quality paper, sewn. A fine book.

First response to first 50 or so pages. Spoiler warning in the unlikely case the reader does not know how Cromwell ended up. She’s done it again —

Let me put a couple of early responses in: It’s deeply inward attempt to try to explain to us (it’s historical) how inside 4 years a man so leant upon and seemingly central to Henry had his head cut off (a terrifying act) by this same man. Mantel has the problem that unlike the first book were at first Cromwell is a nobody and unknown, now he has his finger in so many famous pies. In the second here was a single trajectory and stealth heroine, Anne Boleyn. This time what she is doing is laying the groundwork for his downfall – which she laid in the first book too. He is nobody still and worse he has an agenda that has a conscience at its heart. He is a genuine Protestant — protester — and secular. Array ed against him are everyone, just about. the Boleyns were Protestant and Anne and George seriously so — so too Catherine Parr, wife 6, married to Thomas Seymour and bringing up Elizabeth. Henry came near to beheading Catherine Parr over her paraphrases of the Psalms.

The Howards (remember the duke of Norfolk, the Plantagenets, the Scots group) — all fervent Catholics. Then there are the old lines families — all Catholic — Chapuys, from the Emperor, catholic, Mary’s allies, bloody catholic, Spanish ambassadors catholic and france Catholic too.

Now why was Cromwell beheaded inside 4 years. I repeat that’s astonishing. Yes he got too powerful — and rich — like Wolsey and Forche in the time of Louis XIV. But Henry was attached.
Well he tried to get Henry to marry Anne of Cleves; it’s talked about how ugly she was – but to Cromwell she was a female from the Protestant German groups. Wife No 5: Catherine Howard, beheaded, was Catholic. She was in way over her head (stupid) and promiscuous. The day Cromwell was beheaded Henry married Catherine Howard.

Henry wanted to be all powerful (think of a contemporary — this fiction is about our world too) but he knew intuitively Catholicism was the ideology that supported mindless power and he believed in the older faith. Ghosts for example. So does Cromwell. Henry too and Henry shown as continually unstable

This is a haunted book. It is hard to get into — I had to look up who Henry’s sister was, Meg, and who she married, who she went to bed with, because her heirs are rivals to Henry — Mary Queens of Scots is her grand-daughter. You miss much if you don’t know what is behind a joke about Meg’s promiscuity and lack of legal secure marriage.

All arrayed against this man – who stands also for a secular state.

So in the opening we are watching Mantel preparing the ground. but also re-realizing this female hero in male drag. For then we go with him into his home: there’s Rafe off to Helen, Richard Cromwell ….

It does restore my faith in historical fiction and its great variety too.

It seemed to me (excuse vanity) that some of these first responses (not Mantel’s herself though she is talking out of a need to perform) are missing the inner life of the book. It is a woman’s novel as well as a superb historical fiction.

An online friendship that means a lot to me has been renewed. I spent afternoon with friend from OLLI at Mason watching David Lean’s Passage to India: we talked of Forster, books and life, and ate grilled cheese sandwiches, drank tea …. The week before we went out to Cinema Art movie-house and saw The portrait of a Lady On Fire, written and directed by Céline Sciamma — about the relationship of three women, one hired to paint another who is about to be coerced into a loveless marriage, and a third, their servant, whom the painter helps obtain a safe abortion. Deeply satisfying portrait of slowly growing friendship, equality, depth of feeling. Beautiful colors, landscape of Northern Brittany, appealing seascapes. It goes a bit slow, is a bit over-produced, pompous, self-important but these do not detract from the core experience. My favorite scene is the three playing cards by the fire

I am more immersed in Forster studies than ever: reading a superb biography at last: Wendy Moffat: A Great Unrecorded History. I joined a local neighborhood book club! We met at Panera; that’s where I began to read Ta Nehisi-Coates. They are mostly women and intelligent enough. I persuaded them to make Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices their choice in two months. At the last minute I changed my courses at the OLLIs for the summer, which I still hope will be realized in classrooms (that this plague time will be over). The Eustace Diamonds is way too long: I can’t stand how Trollope hates his awful heroine or the anti-semitism; I do like the governess-Lucy Morris story, and what we see of parliament as well as the choral group at Matching Priory but that’s not enough to hold me or a class. Here it is — it was written with the cancellation of this E.M. Forster class in mind.


One of many favorite pictures by (Dora) Carrington An Artist’s Home and Garden

The Bloomsbury Novel

This course will examine a wide range of novels & art covered by the term Bloomsbury through three texts. We will read E.M. Forster’s Howards End, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. None are long, one very short. Bloomsbury novels are recognizable as written by people who belonged to this amorphous early 20th century creative group, or were printed at the Hogarth Press. Closer to the time if classes are not canceled for the spring, I may substitute Maurice for Howards End This subgenre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are three superlative movies for Howards End & All Passion Spent, (and if the substitute is made) one for Maurice from which we will view clips

I will include excerpts from Roger Fry’s art criticism and go over pictures by him, Douglas Grant, Carrington; excerpts from the books on biography by Andre Maurois and Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf’s autobiography.

Izzy finished her art class at the Torpedo Factory and at its end drew a lovely sketch of two birds she had photographed by the beach while we were at Calais this summer. It’s now on one of the walls of her room.

I’m reading Gita May’s biography of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. She often quotes Vigee-LeBrun’s Souvenirs, which I’ve read in the French; both books very good. Also Trollope’s brilliant and at times so uncomfortably relevant Last Chronicle of Barset in the story of the impoverished outcast Crawley accused of stealing, and then harassed and left to kill himself if he was minded to (no real help offered). In my car I listen to Caroline Moorehead’s somber A Time in Winter, and soon I watched the first episode of the French TV series, A French Village (2017) — also about the dire German occupation, the ferocious cruelties of fascism/Nazism. It speaks to our present struggles to cope with the latest version of ethno-nationalism/fascism. Many many movies in this realm but this stands out because of its sincerity, brilliant acting, and intelligence.” No excess violence. We do see enough — three children killed as the Nazis fly a plane over shooting everywhere everyone in sight — implacable bullying of men in trucks armed. We are introduced to three or four family groups plus others, one Jewish couple and child. Yes this is serious and worth your time and feelings and thoughts. Still watching Mary Beard’s documentaries and the British 9 part Civilisations, with Simon Schama too.

Real grief that is permanent when Sanders lost Michigan after SuperTuesday. No real reform and change in my life time — no going back to where we were in the 1960s and early 1970s. I felt for the loss of Elizabeth Warren too. Men would not vote for her. Imagine Sanders as president and Warren as his vice-president. He made a true presidential speech tonight about what needs to be done socially over this COVID-19 calamity crisis. She would work to prevent what happened to me these weeks too: the airline refused to refund my $365. Her Consumer’s Bureau is right now de-funded, its power legislated out of existence.

So there you have it, another diary entry, another 3 weeks. You must take this as understood: my loving cats playing, being with me on and off all the time, shoring up my existence with their affectionate attachment to me. No small thing. I try to reciprocate, be responsible by not leaving them alone for more than an afternoon and making them know now and again I am aware of and with them.


Lots of seagulls on the river — photo by Izzy on her way to work

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

Let me admit at the end of all this I am very troubled. I cannot sleep for more than 4 hours unless I take sleeping pills, and sometimes not that. When I cannot sleep 4 hours,I do take a pill (zolpidem), but then I wake groggy, and distressed even more than when I wake after 4 hours with no pills. I am better rested with no pills, alert, and feel more healthy. I cannot help it that I am afraid and I don’t want to go in for “zoom training” if I show others that I am nervous and begin to cry. I was near crying after someone was unkind to me about this inability (or disability, which is what it is) yesterday. I am a depressive, with bad anxiety attacks, unable to travel without it becoming an ordeal (I had learnt to do it with Jim by my side). I don’t know if I could cope with life ordinarily were Izzy not here living with me. I help her too — she cannot drive for example, and sometimes she has meltdowns and my talk helps.

I am afraid for our society with a cruel sociopath at its head in such a position of authority and power. Many businesses might go under; many people go without money enough for food and medicine or other necessaries (like company. I wrote on twitter the other day everyone must vote for Biden as he is infinitely more decent and intelligent and humane than Trump. I fear that Trump will try to suspend the election and the powerful and wealthy let him get away with it. Now I agree with black people in the hope that since Biden is a conservative democrat, if he wins, he will be allowed to take power. What a relief that would be.

Ellen

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Keeley Hawes as Mrs Durrell reading aloud — her family and household listening (Durrells S2E4)

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fradulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit). Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

Dear friends,

The quiet winter time is coming to an end, and for a couple of months I will be busy with teaching and going to (mostly) literary classes at the two OLLIs (AU & Mason), the Politics & Prose bookstore, with the (to me) frightening trip to an ASECS conference at St Louis (where I am to give a short paper). I have been enjoying the preparation (reading & writing and movie-watching) as well as my online life on FB, twitter (I now go over there more regularly), the listservs (Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset is an extraordinary masterpiece, and I’m thinking Morrison’s Beloved is going to be painful one). Last night I became immersed in Atonement, Ian McEwan’s book and the Wright/Hampton film, yet once again, and today find myself eager to read more Louisa May Alcott, her books for adults and about herself. I was much moved by reading in Italian Natalia Ginzburg’s Inverno in Albruzzo (English found in a book which ought to be translated Small Virtues).


Snow in Abruzzo

I practiced twice going to OLLI at AU from this house, and then the P&P places from the OLLI, and I did explore parking in these neighborhoods just a bit (for the first time). Very stressful: some days since becoming a widow, it’s demoralizing to be forced to learn to be independent at age 73.

I told one of my letter friends here on the Net that I have ended living the life of what might be called an independent scholar. Truly I have made efforts for what I thought/think is a social life but have not managed it. It’s too late. I on myself must live.  ( I rephrase and think differently but analogously with Anne Finch’s I on my self can live.) I invent goals for myself, and the teaching schedules for reading on listservs, papers reviews give me a structure. Then I have to take care of this house, my car, pay the bills. The resulting daily structure and its patterns I call my “routs” (the term is Daphne DuMaurier’s). They stretch from around 7 am or when I get up to around 1 pm or when I put out the nightlight and go to sleep. I revise them every few days. Through these I fend off depression, and keep sane. When people respond that gives me meaning — so it means a lot when people write back about these various books or movies. Or appreciate my teaching. There are my daughters and my cats too. Tomorrow Izzy and I go to an HD screening of Handel’s Agrippina from the Metropolitan opera; we talked of the story matter over dinner; she is enthusiastic and looking forward to this one. Me too.

I told of how on Trollope&Peers a few of us told of our first memory from political life; yesterday after reading Caroline Moorehead’s review of Elena Ferrante’s La vita bugiarda delgi adulti (The Lie-Filled Life of Adults) Moorehead says Ferrante has her heroine feeling she is growing up, remembering a moment that woke her up from the “innocence” of childhood, its unawareness into adulthood — seeing the world in a disenchanted more abstract or in terms of larger wider adult perspectives. For Ferrante’s heroine it was when she overheard her father calling her fat; a similar devastation overcame Simone de Beauvoir in The Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: Ferrante’s heroine feared she was ugly; Beauvoir says she was found unmarriageable; Morrisons’ heroine is disturbed out of complacency when the abused orphaned child her family takes into their home longs for the bluest eye, and declares African genetic features ugly. I remember my father mocking me for being “too plump” when I was 15, too late for waking up, but in time to help trigger my anorexia. Girls are made to experience trauma over their face and body as seen by men.

But adult awareness happened earlier than that: when I was 9 into 10 during the time I and my parents moved from the Bronx to Queens. It was moving from an area called a slum, where most people would regard living as awful (bad schools, violence, no greenery in the streets anywhere, tenement houses) to an area most people might long to live in. I know my mother did. Kew Gardens, where we had a three room apartment in a tall building. I was suddenly in a neighborhood of trees, parks, one family fancy homes, apartment buildings kept looking well. I found myself in a neighborhood of (to me at the time) super-rich houses, great snobbery (the desire for prestigious possessions, creditable surroundings, people eating out the heart of every community), constant class slights, no playdates with other children through their mothers for me — and became very unhappy. Also in the schools prayers were enforced — I was startled and at first just didn’t cooperate. After a while I was forced to put my head down while the teacher read from the Bible and everyone was said to be praying. The southeast Bronx was majority black by that time, large minority of hispanic – what whites were there were mostly Irish. It had been an Irish neighborhood in the 1940s. Kew Gardens was all white, heavily Jewish, with a nearby Richmond Hill heavily Italian American, and Forest Hills said to be upper-middle. Yes no violence, the streets utterly quiet. No one on them. Very hard to meet anyone at all. Moving was the great shock, the clash of values, the kinds of people I saw, the way they behaved to one another. My father took to returning to the Bronx and old friends regularly. I didn’t have that option. I found a library I could get to myself — which was an improvement. In the Bronx my father had to take me – it was said to be too far to go on my own (a subway ride on the Bronx El). Now I had just to walk 10 blocks and I was there.

What else shall I tell you of? I have found three choral societies Izzy could try out for (audition), attached to NOVA, attached to Mason, part of the Fairfax county volunteer arts organizations, but she demurred, showed strong reluctance, she would have to work very hard, they demanded she sell tickets (!), rehearsals at night. It only took seven years. But at least I have found these exist.

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

Late Winter afternoon & evening thoughts. Wind makes for fiercely felt cold outside and in. I sit in my chair blanket hours ahead of my usual time, Clarycat in my lap, electric radiator just by us (with tissues on top for my cold), Ian across the way. Outside GreyMalkin freezes but I give him/her a dish of food, some milk, and stroke and talk to him/her.


Clarycat and Ian


Grey Malkin I call this cat — a lonely cat who visits me a couple of times a day — for food and affection …

I read as how “democratic establishment leaders” (who are these mostly unnamed people the NYTimes continually cites) are determined if Sanders does not win on the first ballot to stop him. I don’t see why if they choose Bloomberg who has bribed so many of them with money in so many ways shouldn’t send me $500 too. Why should I be expected to vote for him for free? The question is, Should I write him when the time comes? And is that too small a percentage of the take (i.e., otherwise known as the American dream). His “girlfriend,” Diana Taylor, says of women suing men for sexually harassing, raping, assaulting them, “get over it.” I.e., we as women do not have the right to pursue a career or job without enduring harassment, attempted rape or assault. If we are traumatized by such experiences of sex, that just shows how weak and ridiculous we are. She did (get over it), look how successful she is. Well, I can’t get over it, never will, my experience shattered my teenage years and crippled my ability to be pro-active for myself ever after. Trump says the coronavirus spreading about the world is not happening; it’s a hoax by the democrats seeking to discredit him. There is something wrong with what passes for a brain in his head.

Meanwhile there are daffodils which come before the swallow dares & take the winds of March with beauty …

I am reading Nina Auerbach’s brilliant Haunted Heiress (about DuMaurier), to teach myself how to write about material that compels me but I recognize is repulsive (i.e., Winston Graham’s whole oeuvre); and David Constantine’s wonderful biography, Fields of Fire, on Sir Wm Hamilton and his wife Catherine Barlow — they are an attractive couple and much kinder to their adopted monkey-child, Jack, than Sontag lets on … then very funny on Sir Wm, Emma and her mother (rather like a Dickensian novel the three of them).

Zadie Smith on Kara Walker in NYRB It’s actually open to the public: It’s in the February 27, 2020 issue

Zadie Smith asks what we want history to do to us? that seems to me an odd way to put it. I have asked myself in the last couple of days why do I like historical fiction truly — from a personal standpoint. Books about people long dead — or who wrote about people long dead from their time. So the question is, What do I want it to do for me? either writing it or reading it. We can define Last Chronicle of Barset as a historical novel and other older classic books since for us in a way it is — it teaches us history, it is set in the past as well as written in the past.

But there is a difference. The book self-consciously put in the past is different and for the 21st century readers (which is what we are) we have to approach history from today and also remembering who invents our past and says this is our past controls and shapes our future. (That’s Orwell.)

One reason is I often like the heroine at the center of such books — or the heroines. I can bond with them easier than heroines in really contemporary tales (say written in the 21st century). I can identify more, often they are realer to me, I feel less inadequate than I do before contemporary heroines — who seem to me not quite real — given agency that women in the worlds I’ve lived in never had and still don’t have — unless the book is by a woman writer who is giving a true account of ordinary life (not mystery or any of the other popular genres). I can relax with Demelza Poldark. I can escape with Claire Randall at the same time as nothing is asked that is beyond me that I find asked in say a Margaret Drabble book about a woman having a career or a Mary MacCarthy about a woman who thrives in social life in upper class New York City in the 1940s. They are also not as badly off, constrained as heroines of books written in earlier centuries. I am loving the Durrells, Keeley Hawes as Louisa and Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione because they ask less of me too — suffer as I do (especially in Gerald Durrell’s trilogy). I bond with Catherine Barlow, and Emma Hart, the two Ladies Hamilton


Sir William Hamilton and Catherine Barlow, the first Lady Hamilton, listening to, playing music (by David Allen)

Zadie Smith’s article is about what is erased and also how much pain and truth can a reader stand — especially black readers. I agree with her in her opening that was I taught in school was an utter white-wash and most of it utterly unreal – I was never told about what really counted maybe until college and graduate school.

We will be reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris on Trollope&Peers this coming summer. It was over 40 years ago now I read it in the original French. Hugo’s birthday was two days ago. I end on Hugo’s entry into his now severely disabled character, Quasimodo’s consciousness:

This justice must, however be rendered to him. Malevolence was not, perhaps, innate in him. From his very first steps among men, he had felt himself, later on he had seen himself, spewed out, blasted, rejected. Human words were, for him, always a raillery or a malediction. As he grew up, he had found nothing but hatred around him. He had caught the general malevolence. He had picked up the weapon with which he had been wounded.
After all, he turned his face towards men only with reluctance; his cathedral was sufficient for him. It was peopled with marble figures,–kings, saints, bishops,–who at least did not burst out laughing in his face, and who gazed upon him only with tranquillity and kindliness. The other statues, those of the monsters and demons, cherished no hatred for him, Quasimodo. He resembled them too much for that. They seemed rather, to be scoffing at other men. The saints were his friends, and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and guarded him. So he held long communion with them. He sometimes passed whole hours crouching before one of these statues, in solitary conversation with it. If any one came, he fled like a lover surprised in his serenade.
And the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside. He dreamed of no other hedgerows than the painted windows, always in flower; no other shade than that of the foliage of stone which spread out, loaded with birds, in the tufts of the Saxon capitals; of no other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; of no other ocean than Paris, roaring at their bases.
What he loved above all else in the maternal edifice, that which aroused his soul, and made it open its poor wings, which it kept so miserably folded in its cavern, that which sometimes rendered him even happy, was the bells. He loved them, fondled them, talked to them, understood them. From the chime in the spire, over the intersection of the aisles and nave, to the great bell of the front, he cherished a tenderness for them all. The central spire and the two towers were to him as three great cages, whose birds, reared by himself, sang for him alone. Yet it was these very bells which had made him deaf; but mothers often love best that child which has caused them the most suffering

I read Hugo’s Last Day in the Life of a Condemned Man more than 2 decades ago: its radical condemnation of all capital punishment, all murdering by a state has as yet not been sufficiently listened to.


Laughton as Quasimodo (the final scene in the rightly famous movie, Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939)

The hardest thing about widowhood for me is being so alone for long periods of time, hours, days, weeks. Going out is an interruption in a sense. I remind myself that the way our society has been structured and has been reinforced in the last quarter of a century many people live or are in effect as alone — or not. For my loving cats are always near me or aware of my presence somehow, and they are real presences too as are & were the people in my books and on the screen.

Ellen

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One morning over the past two weeks, photo taken from sun-porch/room window

A poem I came across, which I like:

Reading Greeting Cards Before and After

His photo in the hallway greets me each day
Being in my life was an extraordinary gift
He left my world leaving a huge vacuum

Still I feel his ever presence in my life
Triggering a burst of smiles and tears
Looking at the gardens he built for me
Coming across a book we read together
Hearing the evening news and imagining his comments
Knowing he would re-load the dishwasher if he were around

An accomplished writer of research papers but not love letters
He’d spend hours searching for my perfect greeting card
Now assembled in a large basket I select one daily
Before I used to read them quickly and thank him with a kiss

Now I read them slowly, sometimes over and over again
Savoring each written word and signed “Love, Charles”
Yet to me his actions spoke more softly
Than the words on any card

—- By Ruth Perry

Dear friends and readers,

This winter I have become more intently aware than I’d been in a few years (since Jim died) of the fragile fleeting character of social life as I experience it. How easily people drop you, are glad of an excuse to ostracize or exclude someone.

One dark morning as I lay in bed waiting for the sunlight to come into my room (with my two cats beside me), I tried to think of all the places or organizations I belong to that now provide me with what social experience I have: above and beyond all in frequency, intimacy (yes) and closeness as well as a spectrum of socializing from acquaintance-polite to friendly to friends where I know something of the person for real and the person me, plus experiences of exclusion, discomfort, hurt, on the Internet as much face-book nowadays as list-servs, blogs, websites, Future Learn courses, twitter.

But after that, what physically in the face-to-face bodies and places-in-the-world included? the two Oscher Institutes of Life-long Learning (at AU and at Mason), classes at Politics and Prose (Northwest Washington Bookstore-as-community center), the Smithsonian (more impersonal) lectures, twice a year conferences (ASECS), the WAPG, an Aspergers group in Washington DC (I rarely go but I keep in touch by email), a summer film club at Cinema Art theater (once a month for 5 months). I live with one daughter, Izzy, and occasionally the other, Laura, visits or we go out with her. I’ve joined on three and this summer I’m going on a fourth Road Scholar trip. That’s it. I’ve counted 22.

Two of the experiences over the last two weeks have been especially fun — or felicitous.


Covers of audio recordings

In a dramatic reading class I listened to people read aloud passages from Dickens and we discussed Dickens, reading aloud, listening to another read, in a group, by a CD audio in a car, or reading silently (how they differ) and one I read aloud (very well if I do say so myself), the opening chapter from Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged” — with that bitter caustic yet very amusing dialogue of Mr and Mrs Bennet), the closing dialogue in Volume I where Mr Bennet tells Mrs Bennet she should not worry about Charlotte Lucas replacing her in Longbourne for perhaps she will predecease him (she finds little consolation there), and then the explosive proposal of Darcy to Elizabeth where he unknowingly insults her deeply and she refuses him. On another I read the scene from Emma where Emma deeply hurts Miss Bates in front of a group of people (Box Hill), Frank wounds Jane by in front of others saying how easy it is to make a mistake at a watering place and engage oneself to someone you don’t want, and Mr Knightley lights into Emma so damningly — all the while we hear the pain of Miss Bates, of Jane, the swelled complaints of the obtuse Mrs Elton. The others read from Dickens and I was astonished to realize that Dickens wrote a near-rape scene at the end of Dombey and Son, where a much abused wife excoriates marriage as then practised — who knew Dickens could be so subversive? Now I wish we had talked more about the spreading popularity of dramatic readings in audoibooks


Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) and Walter MacMillan (Jamie Foxx)

On two Thursdays at the Mason OLLI I participated in class discussions of movies where the teacher is very good at teaching (he spent decades doing it before retirement) — they were lively, intelligent, fun, one on Just Mercy and the other The Parasite (see further down below).

On Just Mercy: a powerful film done in direct simply ways. I was struck after a while at how little filmic “tricks” of the trade; no flashbacks, not subtle in juxtaposition or dialogue at all. It moves forward,and the language is direct, simple. The movie is nerve-wracking to watch because I didn’t know it ended. The young African American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael Jordan) is almost throughout the film at risk for his life — he patiently endures set-back after set-back and finally gets the case on Frontline from which he gets to go to the Alabama supreme court to ask that the charges against his client, Johnny McMillan (James Foxx), simply be dropped immediately as the original trial was gross miscarriage of justice. It is an anti-capital punishment film. We see a black man who should have been put in a hospital for PTSD and was left to stew and put off a bomb in front of a house and killed a woman, now lamenting and so sorry, a one incident actually killed by an electric chair. They were still killing people that way in Alabama in the 1980s and early 90s? we the full barbarism of it — how there is this pretense of humanity on the day the man is murdered.

As with When They See Us, Dark Waters, and Chernobyl, at the end of the film we see photographs of the real people the actors played. It is very effective to do this. The African-American actor, Michael Jordan, playing the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has been snubbed: his performance is as good as James Foxx (nominated for best supporting actor, partly because played Ray Charles in another film)

A third was enjoyable in the class (at Politics and Prose) but it was the books we read and movie I watched that mattered: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and Alan Pater and Cellan Jones’s 1987 Fortunes of War. There is so much time to be alone.

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Sometimes it is so hard to get to and from these places. This to introduce a distressing — frightening in implications — experience I had this past Friday early afternoon.

As I was driving from Northwest Washington DC to get to Northern Virginia and took my usual turn to get onto some feeder road which takes me to South 110 and that to South 395, I found the whole roadway blocked. There was no way I could get onto that feeder road. I was quickly hopelessly lost. I became bewildered as I usually do in streets I am not accustomed to even if some of them were familiar to me from previous excursions. My garmin showed itself to be dead and I couldn’t get the cell phone even to connect to the network. I kept making wrong turns and feared in my bewildered state I would get into an accident. Finally I remembered I had put the phone on airplane mode so that it would not disturb a class I had been in. Luckily I was able to find a sidewalk I could park by. I put the setting back and voila the Waze program began to work.

But alas I have never been able to make the Waze program or app talk — or to be truthfully only intermittently. In fact what has happened is once it starts talking and I get home I can’t figure out how to shut it up. I don’t always get an “exit” box.

Another problem I have is I never knew where I want to go west or east — say on 66. I can’t tell what is north, south, east or west. I can with thought say to myself this is left and this right. Is there a long word for this for an autistic person? So that’s my first question. I would feel better if my condition — this has happened before – had a name. Getting lost. Not being able to tell where I am — have a big picture of coordinates unless I’ve lived in an area for a very long. A good pictorial memory but it has to be real buildings or streets I recognize.

So what I had was a map with lines and arrows. I managed to put it on the seat next to me and very slowly attempted to follow all the turns and arrows. It was difficult because Arlington around Rosslyn (I live in Alexandria) is no fun. The ironic paradox is what I knew to be true; I was at most 5 minutes away from some highway if I could figure out how to get to it. What happens is the lines and arrows began to show this way to South 110. I recognized that was one of the highways and going in the right direction. I drove very slow and kept adjusting the cell phone to face me.

Anyway I swung onto the highway from another exit but I could recognize pictorially where I was, and could calm down and saw this way to Exit 27, South 395 and knew where I was and then got home. Whew!

I am like a blind person when it comes to understanding directions or what I am on a map. Utter bewilderment is awful. I have tried buying a new garmin twice. But I cannot program it. All of them require some programming and I have no one to do that for me. Everyone says it’s so easy, nothing to do. I have no idea what to do and twice I have had to take back an expensive Garmin or GPS. The one I have now was programmed for me by a kind IT guy who was in my house shortly after my husband died — and helped me install a computer.

Intensely relieved to be back home. My younger daughter, Isobel, cannot help me because she is autistic and asking her to help, this kind of experience makes her intensely nervous.

My older daughter came the next day and — what happened? — within no time she had no problem.

At first the Waze was silent. Her response was to say “Waze stinks” and download google maps. She tried to look at the settings and could find nothing wrong. She did fiddle with them. Then she tried both Waze and google maps and both talked! We get in the car and both talk. But the problem is she never figured out what I had been doing wrong or what I needed to do to make the thing talk because it was talking. I did see that I often put my own address into location and she said don’t do that, just type where you want to go in the next rectangle below.

The problem is Laura (her name) really had no problem. She clicks away and after a while the Waze program talked. She finishes, somehow an exit box is there, and she clicks on it. Calm as the proverbial cucumber. I did sit with her in my car and I clicked and it talked. She could not fix for me what was working.

So a week and a half from now I have two new places to go. I worry the thing won’t talk for me. Has anyone had this problem of the cell phone Waze not talking — My cell phone is an Apple iphone 8 — I think.

To me it’s a wonder I go anywhere at all. If I were black, I would fear a cop might kill me. Laura installed for me Uber — I have Lyft. This is for my coming trip to St Louis. If I want to find a restaurant I am to go to on Friday night, and then a play on Saturday the only way is to hail one of these cab services there and back.

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The destitute-desperate family in The Parasite

Bong Jong-ho’s Parasite is part of my theme tonight: it seems to be a study of social modes of interaction exposing gross class inequities among three families. I’ve now watched it twice and people you should not miss it. It will absorb and entertain and then maybe horrify you. I am still not sure what I think about it.

First thing to be said about the film is how hard it is to talk about it, part of this Is the story line is unpredictable – that’s why you keep watching (even if it’s not assigned). You get drawn in because you are not sure what is going to happen next at all

Second it seems to me most of the thematic descriptions don’t apply generally. It’s not a thriller. We see a class war only at the very end when the destitute family driven to desperation because there’s another desperate destitute pair of people hidden deep in a many level basement of the super-rich people’s many layered – crack up and out comes from them terror, hatred, an urge to destroy these people who are exploiting them utterly – smiling all the while as if it’s perfectly okay to the destitute to be so exploited. The super-rich husband-father drops his mask for a moment when the destitute father playing a chauffeur for the first balks at an order – and threatens to fire him.

For a horror film (another designation) it’s constantly witty and funny – we laugh very uncomfortably at these desperate people – up to their chins in sewer water when it rains – yet they are endlessly ingenious, crackerjack it seems at surviving – they are all kept at a social and psychological distance from one another.

Realism is besides the point: the mother-wife is unbelievably naïve, believes anything – I saw misogyny in the way she was treated as someone who has nothing to do with her life but make expensive parties – we are better not knowing what happened to the employees the destitute family replaces – the housekeeper come back is living nightmare with her husband fleeing creditors

So I looked up Korean films and could find only a history which offered no interpretation, but I did find an essay on films called “periphery” films. Idea is developed countries, run by white people are at the center, and countries like Korea, Palestinine, Saudi Arabia – countries colonized – Australian are periphery. So I’ll conclude on 4 characteristics such films are said to have and this one has these:

1) An intense focus on place and setting. You never forget this is Korea and the two different houses are centrally photographed to stay in your mind as character in the drama – the people in the semi-basement stealing wifi in such appalling conditions – and the rich with all space hardly enough furniture, gadgets everywhere – I suppose it’s order if order is soulless.

2) A use of folk or story telling traditions – at the beginning of the film a brief fairy tale looking picture seems to suggest that the family is going to get their dearest wish using some stone – and this stone appears in the opening and closing sequences of the film. The son carries it around – it is dangerous and bad things happen around this stone. The talk is in European tradition — the fisherman and his wife, with its moral of watch out what you wish for ….

3) Looking at everything from the point of view of the excluded – no matter what it is or how – you might say those colonized whose everything is taken from them or are not allowed anything – cannot accumulate – so destitute cannot go to college — along with this these excluded people feel they can’t belong anywhere. They don’t fit in. The son says this at one point. It ends on the father in the deep basement obviously doesn’t belong anywhere. Even the super-rich don’t belong anywhere – their home is not a home, it’s an place for the real estate sellers furniture makers gadget makers, party makers to supply and sell stuff to — to make money on

4) Money and bullying. Any time a rich or powerful person is denied anything he or she resorts to bullying. But the predators all of them prey on other predators – -like the destitute family on the original employees – everyone searching for an identity – I saw an Israeli film (art film) where the characters are all seeking an identity – queasy comedy and sudden stark tragedy happen over money and bullying ow or what – at any moment a mask drops and you are facing the faceless

At any time the mask drops and you are facing the faceless

So I thought about movies made from the center as a control mechanism –- say The Durrells of Corfu, which I wrote about in my previous diary entry.

The exact place does not at all matter – they can make a home of anything.
No one bullies others and minimal money does – you need some but not a helluva lot.
The know who they are – they really do.
Point of view is that of the privileged those who assume courts are on their side – no masks – and those who have to wear masks very poignant, like Sven the homosexual man – everyone feels for him.

Last night I re-watched The Parasite, having read about cinema at the periphery (movies made by film-makers who don’t come from powerful countries run by white people, countries not colonized i recent history) and it struck me the destitute desperate family’s behavior is like that of us — when it comes to airplane travel. That is one place middle and upper middle white people come across the treatment poorer people across the globe do all the time. Similarly it appears on the surface and maybe is true that these white people accept this treatment from the airlines. They don’t go to war or paroxyms of rage, the candidates for office don’t use as one of their promises to regulate the airlines and stop their outrageous behavior to everyone but those who can afford to be deeply gouged.

OTOH, the movie makes this analogy hard to see because it calls itself Parasite and in Korean parasitic worm and seems to refer the to the destitute desperate family – a squalid word, and it also means blotches on your skin from such worms. I am not sure that the film is not problematic — partly because in the class I was in many of the people in the room defended the super-rich family: they were paying the others, they were “decent to them;” okay they were tactless and unaware of the horrible conditions of life of the others. But that’s not their fault.

If you can reach it, Michael Wood of the London Review of Books for January 2020 is very worth reading

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How to end this entry? We are today surrounded by creeping and overwhelming fascism in our public media and art — that is the mindset actuating not only the Trump administration. Every day another evil deed, yet more ugly hateful ideas and feelings spewed out. Yesterday the Trump regime rescinded decades of work to change attitudes to protect birds from wanton killing — now you may kill them as you please (and you can have as many and what kinds of guns you want. Public schools? why these are low-class government schools which debased people attend — a sign of their inferiority is no one is excluded.

Human beings need to think more about the nature of our social lives today in the year 2020. What are we seeking? What do these activities of ours depend upon? how or on what basis are we setting up our relationships with one another? Is it to escape from a default setting (to use the ubiquitous Internet jargon) of alienation, a world of cruelty and indifference as seen in Parasite and Last Chronicle of Barset and Curate in Charge? (David Copperfield ends in a wish fulfillment fantasy and the emphasis is — to be fair to the book — more about the richness of a life of solitude, of inner development of self and strength and also about death and sheer vulnerability.) These questions are urgent as we find ourselves more and more without the solid social support systems our daily lives and attitudes (beliefs in our togetherness) used to provide, more and more turning to the Internet worlds, to voluntary organizations unsupported by anything but human need.

Ellen

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From Durrells of Corfu (2016, first season, first episode): family on boat coming to Corfu


St Michael’s Mount, at first I thought Cornwall but now I know it’s Normandy? — it has this odd darkness because it is the screen image I see on my computer when I first rise and I used my cell phone to snap the picture; so it lacked the luminosity of the computer light

Friends and readers,

Hard as I try to find activities which keep me cheerful and feeling I have a meaning, in this 7th year of widowhood — maybe starting this past fall, I have had to face once again I am so deeply lonely. Last night I re-watched the second episode of the first season of The Durrells in Corfu and despite their troubles (they are real in the fiction and reflect real individual people’s lives) I find my spirit lifted and then last night I dreamt of them. As I woke in the night and again this morning I knew I had. I know I often dream of movies where I re-watch or if it’s a series and it gets under my skin (to use a metaphor), and then if there is a love relationship or character I can bond with, the vivid images and memory of sounds and places helps. I put one of the early stills at the head of this blog. Those who have watched the series remember how the headmaster caned Gerry and then was utterly unrepetent and how Mrs Durells (Keeley Hawes) refused to accept; but maybe we forget upon coming home how the next-door male neighbor speaks to her friendly-like and before you know it he is offering to marry her and telling her how he approves of boarding schools, and then her walk on the beach where she sees a girl running ahead of her parents from the sea and a tired old woman next to her on a bench, and makes up her mind to take Larry’s suggestion:

Trying to avoid taxi, she tells her four children Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo ( and Jerry they are not on vacation, they have come here to live on a meagre widow’s annuity, to escape the culture of civilization, which as far as she can tell is one of alienation and cruelty. But a generous taxi man who wants a fare comes along and he shows her respect: the mother, an important person:

To day I am working on this short paper for the coming conference – I hated getting the plane, will hate getting there, will be alone a lot as I have no rank and have not made any close connections or relationships where individuals are willing to go to a planned lunch or dinner with me, hate grand hotels and their anonymous rooms, but I will enjoy the sessions and doing papers gives me something to do on and off for weeks. I love the books I’ve chosen: Sontag’s Volcano Lover and DuMaurier’s King’s General and other books by them to make out my thesis with evidence. Last night I began to find what I needed for DuMaurier in her Enchanted Corwall and Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s collection of essays on her work. So you see how I manage.

I also today go to a movie an HD screening of Miller’s All My Sons – I’ve joined the OLLI at Mason theater group. One doesn’t go with these groups but arrives alone (so I must find the place) and because I can’t drive at night I won’t be able to go to a meal with them afterwards, but I’ll see friendly faces and probably a great play well done — it’s from the National theater in London at the Angelika theater in Fairfax (I ignore the ambiance and gimmicks as far as I can). Yesterday I was at the OLLI at AU main building to hear an hour talk by Helen Zughaib: she has had a hard life — born in Syria, an Arab family in a war zone, terrible experiences; they survived to weather life elsewhere — they were originally upper class and she grew up in Paris after they fled and then came to the US. She was enacting too much a sweet girl about to cry from trauma for my taste (there was something false about the way she performed her grief — apologizing for showing us torture in pictures when they were no such thing), but I felt what she has known, and all the people like her continuing endlessly to suffer & die so horrifically, in such squalid death camps (which are taken down if they become habitable civilized places) from ultimately US and powerful people’s ruthlessly greedy and crazed religious-grab power behavior.


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

Those in charge of so many powerful gov’ts and militaries across the globe are making a befouled burning flooded global dystopia — they are just now doing all they can to destroy and steal from the people of Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Today’s picture is my present screen image of Mount St Michael, which I had thought the one in Cornwall but is actually be the one off the Normandy coast; I’ve now been to the one in Cornwall there twice (I read years ago in Henry Adams’s famous meditative Mont St Michel & Chartres,  funny to remember all these years later and how I wondered if I’d ever see it). In Cornwall, once for real with two kind friends (who however dropped me afterwards) and once fakely (a Road Scholar group where we saw it from across the water in a sort of bus stop place and all the people took photos — but me). I still work on my Winston Graham-Poldark paper and am now reading his excellent (though so narrowly conceived, too apolitical) history narrative, The Spanish Armadas.

More on the upset, cynicism over, and defense and excoriation of Megham Markle and Andrew Windsor’s decision to live a different kind of life from that of dolls in rigid repeated silly rituals:

Yes. I agree. Misogyny. And also virulent racism aimed at Meghan Markle. It’s just fine for Andrew X to join with a vicious sexual predator and trapper of women like Epstein — you can stay POTUS even after breaking central laws intended to control the POTUS so he works for the American people. But say you don’t want your wife and child to be vilified racially in the press and you are a pariah. You upset everybody. Indeed.

I wrote a blog remembering Martin Luther King the other day, the tragedies of American racism, especially for African-Americans (Baldwin’s If Beale Street could Talk, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, on cat literature, cat art, studies of cats and other animals, what I read this year, made a start on my women actresses and artists series (Susannah Arne Cibber and Adelaide Labille-Guiard). Isobel, bless her strong heart, started her art course (once a week, 10 weeks at the Torpedo factory) and cancelled her membership to JASNA (I haven’t quite done that but getting there, as in my “Hardly Any Women at All!”). I am saving my re-watching of Sanditon for a separate blog,


The two friends, Crystal Clarke as Georgiana Lambe and Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood

But here can talk more briefly of The Two Popes and Edge of Democracy on Netflix


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

I endorsed Laura’s very sceptical (robust as they say) take on Netflix’s new line-up and choices of what to advertise, but I have to say they are also using their money to make some superb films. Last night I watched Mereilles’s latest, The Two Popes. Of course the two actors are unbeatable: Jonathan Pryce as the Argentinian priest and bishop who became Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Benedict 16. The film has a deep appeal of humanity — kindliness, two old men remembering mistakes — especially Pryce. Not so much Hopkins who does have a scary piercing look in his eye.

What is valuable is their relationship enables them to offer up memories of horrific scenes in Argentina when the US backed junta took over and slaughtered so many and destroyed all social progress that had been hoped for — since then there has been a real change and progress but the US with its instrument the OAS is again trying to create a real life dystopia

We see two people exchanging views, talking to one another.

Apparently, though, we are again in The Crown and Downton Abbey areas, for much is fantasy and idealization, especially of the retired pope (the real story)

I (honestly) personally don’t take the Catholic Church’s pronouncements seriously, so it didn’t bother me that except for the return to approving or disapproving homosexuality (part of the celibacy controversy), there was no resolution. I was interested – very much — in Bergoglio’s history and his behavior during the 1980s when the US backed coup destroyed so many people and a country for say 20 years. Human life is so short so 20 years means a lot to any individual living then. Maybe it was Mereilles in a relaxed mood. I do see that it can be called “cute” or a buddy film: it even ended in an absurd scene of them drinking beer together and watching football.
I was carried away by the good feeling of Jonathan Pryce’s character, the quietude, the whole ambiance of conversation. So many movies move frantically (including Little women) are violent, this was like The Crown in this way, a relief. There was no implicit endorsement of violence or capitalism, which most films (including the new Little Women) endorse.


Not a dream, a photo of one of these mass street demonstrations — where many are killed, maimed, and then imprisoned or disappeared for life ….

As for the Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa (she also co-wrote the script and co-produced and she narrates and is the over-voice). As a film, it was not as entertaining or absorbing as The Two Popes, but as an explanation of what happened in Brazil recently it is superb, how democratically-elected social democratic gov’t whose leaders (especially Lulu) were on the side of the people, had succeeded in improving their standard of living, had spread literacy from a dearth to almost everyone going to school and learning to read and to write and a profession or useful skill of some sort, could get thrown out — successfully! overlooking an election. And then how a cruel monster, Bolsonaro, another killer for capitalism, and for destroying whole tribes of people and a vast swatch of the earth’s environment (the rain forests of Brazil) could get into power was startling.

So now I know. And it’s demoralizing. It seems all one has to do is lie, lie very effectively — after having managed to squeeze the country into a financial crisis (this takes the help of other gov’ts and agencies also determined to wipe out any social progress or indents on their profits) so the average person is now suffering — just what Trump is doing to Venezuela, Cuba (and Puerto Rico too – see above) right now. Then the people themselves deluded, with no understanding they are putting devils in place, ignore the previous election, say a coup is fine, put the good people in prison. So the decent parties of this earth have to figure out a way to fight these new sets of behaviors and tools that have brought us dictatorship everywhere (and it’s here with us in Trump’s gov’t in front of us) and misery and destruction of much that we hold dear in principle and eventually for each of us in reality in various ways.

So I recommend The Edge of Democracy. It’s told as a story of the director from her personal standpoint — that provides the line of narrative.

One afternoon, suddenly Oh I was chuffed. A beautiful book (on art paper like the last) — The Making of Outlander: the Series, The Official Guide to Seasons Three and Four by Tara Bennett — arrived on my stoop. It was all I could do to stop myself from putting everything down and just luxuriating in it. I am on my third or fourth watching of the second season. I’ve read Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, but thus far only listened, skimned and dipped and read in Voyager and Drums of Autumn, but I do think some of her best writing I’ve read thus far is in Voyager and it must’ve given them the most headaches — they filmed in South Africa as well as Scotland — to turn into a genuine movie.


How I dream of her and him too at night …

I wish there were something like this for Poldark. The scripts for the first two seasons were published and a single Companion, but the Companion swung between historical short essays (some of them very good) and fluff about stars, then towards the end about the settings, and costumes (paintings used). What these Outlander volumes do is closely compare novel and film. The Outlandish Companions for the first six novels provide the historical background as Gabaldon understands and sees it — with dictionary style sections, and a wide purview on culture, lots of illustrations, bibliographies &c

Someone (or a couple of people) have suggested to me that Outlander is more popular: more books sold and the series too. It may be more books have been sold, but I doubt the series was at first more popular. It is slowly gaining recognition: they had it on expensive high tier channels. For my part I think the series is done much better than the Poldark series, but the Poldark books are very much superior to the Outlander ones. Probably the difference (my view again) between what’s available comes from WG himself being dead and his son very unsympathetic to his father’s work and the public, while Gabaldon is there all the time trying to promote and involve herself productively.

Still lower budget is not responsible for the poorer scripts for Poldark— though it is true that Outlander had several superior writers, and a crew of superior directors. Another factor (this is again my subjective judgement) is that the leads (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson) were just not as convincing as a couple as the principal pair (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) in Outlander. The Outlander books have power but they remain romances whose central raison d’etre is the intense love of Jamie and Claire for one another (that is what fuels whatever there is of deep life) and they are structurally after the first book or so a mess. Poldarks are much more seriously historical fiction and the central relationships all have a realistic or more common ambiguity. Neither compares as historical fiction to Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levantine trilogies or Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet … as DuMaurier’s King’s General does not to Sontag’s Volcano Lover: the good ones are brilliant history too, not slackened softened history as romance. With a friend I am eagerly awaiting the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

Signed up for Italian Jewish writing for the spring at OLLI at AU (books like Christ Stopped at Eboli — I’ve read it in Carlo Levi’s Italian –, Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, Natalia Ginzburg, Lampedusa’s Gattopardo (I will add that last), shut of out but still hoping for “Difficult Women” (I’m first on the wait list I’m told) with Elaine Showalter at Politics & Prose Bookstore (MacCarthy’s The Company We Keep, Patricia Highsmith’s scary angry-depressed Edith’s Chair — maybe she will explain to me why people read cruel mean spiteful mysteries — a Joan Didion and a Susan Sontag anthology). Cross your fingers for me.

Taking a Future Learn course at Night: How to Read a Novel. Actually teaching me something, insightful, and useful for teaching. Very contemporary novels and topics (autofiction) under discussion (Olivia Lang’s plagiaristic distasteful novel, which, much to my disillusioned grief, told me that Ian Patterson, the poet-husband of “my” Jenny Diski has already re-married), but I used as an example of powerful art using free indirect discourse, complicated presences for characers, and POV, Anthony Trollope:

Anthony Trollope uses shifts in perspective a lot; these shifts make for fascinating different interpretations of the same story matter that makes up the novel. Also the characters change so a perspective a character has at the beginning is gradually altered. In Small House at Allington, Lily Dale intelligent, wry, clear-sighted and non-pompous says of the man she will fall in love with: “I’ll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell.” Later she will see him so differently and use highly emotional language when in love; when he betrays her, she changes again — her idiom the same but her understanding of this man altering. I love how he uses letters: the letter is clearly by someone whose language is utterly that person but is read by someone whose perspective is quite different, and then we have the narrator’s impersonal ironic voice joining in. This kind of thing to my mind makes Trollope one of the great novelists in the English language.

Listening in my car to Juliet Stevenson reading aloud Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day still and sometimes reveling in the descriptions and Mary Gatchet, coming spinster, and Katharine Hilbury, enduring slavery to her family.

It is very cold out just now, Winter, the air closing in round my skin deeply chilled, fridge-like. A hollow sound from the damp edgy quiet winds pushing at my robe as I step out to get the paper or feel the air.


Outside Izzy’s window


My beloved Clary warming herself on the Cable Box and my multi-regional DVD player

So that’s for this past week or so. To end on cheer, I am re-watching Mary Beard‘s intelligent enlightened humane deep history, Ultimate Rome  (also called Empire without Limits) and will soon make a separate blog — what makes for real prosperity for human kind, a good world is her underlying theme. You also get to visit places far apart in the middle and at the edges of the empire; two I’ve been to: Hadrian’s Wall and Rome itself.


I am fond of her act, how she dresses, her tone

I — & Mary Beard — have been lucky.  She so much more.  I am alone, she is anything but. == at least as to her outer existence.  Good thing my mother and father worked all their lives, spent so little of what they accumulated, for now I have it to do such things with as assuage and compensate — buy books, join groups, go places. And keep Izzy company in her good spinster life. Widow and spinster, mother & daughter.

Be well, take care, do good work, and keep in touch (I miss Garrison Keillor)

Ellen

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