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The Road Scholar group aboard the Fowey ferry

Fowey — a place not far from Menabilly (Daphne Du Maurier would row a boat on the river from one house to another when she went visiting). You can see me all the way on the right-hand corner, all wrapped up (kerchief, hat, red fleece jacket with hood), next to me my friend, Stephen. The man standing up with all the way to the left, white hat, red jacket, jeans is Peter Maxted, our guide (one of his several books on Cornwall is The Natural Beauty of Cornwall). Moving right along down from Peter is a woman in a light violet jacket, a stick to help her walk, sunglasses, my roommate, whose name (alas) I have already forgotten, very sweet woman


Two Swans gliding along in the moat by Wells Cathedral and its close

Dear friends and readers,

The second half of the journeys. Saturday morning (May 18), we visited a China Clay mine, Wheal Martyn Center. As with the Levant mine, we had a remarkably able guide who took us through the landscape and steps in manufacturing china clay.


Figures sculpted in china clay, representing typical workers

What was unexpected is the beauty of the park all around the parts of the mine no longer in use,

and then that there is a vast quarry where the people are still mining and using china clay.


Hard work at the end of the process

I learnt about kaopectate and other compounds made from China Clay, which I use daily. Also that copper and tin mining are more dangerous: you are directly risking your life in the early eras, at real continual risk in the 19th century; but both occupations caused early death through disease. It was the person’s lungs that usually went. Fishing too is a risky occupation — so life in Cornwall was not idyllic at all, and often impoverished even if it was early in industrialization.

I’d say the tour took at least two hours. It was one of the high points of the whole tour. The guide was knowledgeable, humane, witty, curiously moving too. He had spent most of his life as a fireman.

We stopped off in a small fishing village for lunch (cheese pasty and tea) — Mevagissey, it was low tide:

The afternoon was spent in a huge garden owned by the Tremayne family for the last 400 years. Tim Smit who was the moving force in the creation of the Eden project, which I saw with my friends, has been instrumental in convert the park back from its 20th century role as a place for apartments to a farm, a Victorian/Edwardian garden, with memorials to different groups of people living in Cornwall

It was tiring as it was very warm that afternoon and the gardens have steep hills. Finally we came upon a shop where there was a choice of four films, one of them told the history of the changes in the landscape.


Here is our group again at Heligan


A formal garden

I love glimpsing birds and animals in their habitats:

Some of the landscapes was thick and wild with flowers, bushes, trees

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Cheesewring

Sunday (May 19) another deeply satisfying experience: our trip into and through Bodmin Moor. We visited circles of ancient stones called the Hurlers, at the top of the hill a formation of rock called “the Cheesewring.” The place had a feel of mystery in the sense that 6000 years ago people thought to put these markers up, and attached them to visions and finding basic needs, like water


While we were there we saw another smaller group of people engaged in an ancient ritual

The afternoon of this day included frustrating and disappointing moments. We were taken to see too much in a small space, and one of the places we were invited to explore was a tiny place, hot, where a slapstick situation comedy on PBS is filmed. We were told we were be seeing things from far (out of a bus window) which were in fact way out of sight.

So we stopped at Jamaica Inn, — it is an interesting place, first building there in the 17th century, and the one which survives makes ends meet and a profit as a restaurant, bar, bakery, from tourist relics, and its museum.


Jamaica Inn outside


How Jamaica Inn survives


Inside

We drove around 15 minutes to eat at Boscastle, and ostensibly to explore the harbor and town. I was there last time with my friends, so I have explored it; good thing as we didn’t have enough time to do so


Boscastle from below and on the edge – we were walking to the harbor, once a major one used for ships


A picturesque shop

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Photo of Boscastle taken from a distance upon a hill

Then we drove past Tintagel (not seeing it) and into Port Isaac: a tiny town, which has received a modicum of renown and more tourists looking to find what they seen for years on their televisions. All of these villages are under pressure from neoliberal EU and gov’t policies and also the realities of climate change (there was a serious flood in 2004) and what we were seeing were the people’s attempt to find new ways to make money (not easy) and improve on the older ones (that they are doing). Tourism has become a chief “industry.”

We passed by Lemon Street in one of the towns on the way back to the hotel that night: it is “very pretty” as the Beatles said, lovely Georgian buildings in limestone.

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Sign welcoming us

It was on Monday (May 20) we went to Fowey and I asked myself if they had saved up this last series of journeys for the last day; they were so consistently fun and interesting. It is a steep narrow city just off a river and bay. Most of the people live in modern apartments and older houses on the shallow hills above; the wealthier live in the picturesque houses near the water.


An older mansion


Fowey Church

First we took a long leisurely ferry ride while a young man from the area told us of its long history as we sailed along Cornish shores (see photo at the head of this blog).


Upriver — a manufacturing plant

Fowey has several of blocks of houses, a residential population with not so-well heeled people in apartment houses further from the shore. We had a good meal at a King George III Cornish pub, and then I went back to the bookstore I had last bought a book in 4 years ago.

I am glad to say it looks as thriving as ever: this time I bought a recent good literary biography of Daphne DuMaurier. The bookshop specialized in items by authors who write about Cornwall or are thought of as Cornish. I saw what looked like a good book of poems about Betjeman but it was so slender and thirty pounds. It is a serious bookshop and hard to sustain. So prices are high but DuMaurier is well known, this was a paperback so only 9 pounds 90 pence.

As a side comment: it was very disappointing but not unexpected to discover that in the case say of DuMaurier, bookstores stocked not only her novels and biographies but studies of her, essays, books about subjects her books cover; in the case of Winston Graham, all they had was the first seven Poldark novels and nothing else, no other book by or on him. Instead there was usually a shrine to Aidan Turner. This suggests to me he has not yet broken through to be a respected author whose life and work people are interested in.

Just before we left we happened upon another hotel in the town, a renovated ex-mansion called Manor Hall where the owner once loved Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows and inside were pictures and playful statues taken from the stories of Toad, Rat and so on. This was Jim’s favorite book as a boy; he would quote lines from it (“nothing” so wonderful as “messing around in boats”).


Manor Hall

Another journey took us to Charlestown because it has a quai which is used to photograph ships leaving port in Poldark. While the harbor is beautiful and quiet, and we came upon a beach nearby where people were sun-bathing and trying to swim, the truly interesting experience was in the shipwreck museum; the entry fee quite modest:

It was filled with detailed information about what seemed hundreds of shipwrecks with focus on a few a century: how dangerous it is to live by and on the sea was brought home to us; all the different technologies over the centuries; poignant human interest stories as well as war, politics, piracy (privateering) — very somber some of it.

By contrast, to see a small exhibit on the quai about the Poldark filming the people wanted 11£ so I didn’t go in.

I felt I had a far more telling experience in Charlestown quite by chance than in any of the bookstores or other modern encounters all trip. I saw a little dog rescued by someone working in a nearby restaurant. The poor creature fell down the wall into the water on the quai and her master was feebly trying to send a ring with rope (absurd) to the dog down the wall. It was his fault the dog fell: it should have been on a leash or not that close. The man could have run around the wall and through a sort of concrete gangplank and rescued the dog. He was just not truly engaged with the dog’s fate. Well, a girl in a waitress outfit runs out, jumps in (she risked herself banging against the wall so she jumped far to keep from the wall and yet she had to land in the narrow amount of water), swims to the dog; people on a boat not far suddenly appear and come over to rescue her and said dog. They have a blanket. I was irritated to have to hear heartless remarks like “in some countries animals are treated better than people” (where? pray tell) or Stephen critiquing that she risked her life. Hers was the best act I have seen on this trip.

That evening we had our last true meal together — the meal in the airport hotel has usually been hasty; closure is provided by the last night in wherever the trip has taken place. There was an attempt to say goodbye and a few of us talked of what was our favorite experiences. I cited the Hurlers; in response Peter Maxted said he liked being there too, but preferably in the bleak winter when snow is on the ground.

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Wells Cathedral altar — photo taken by another woman in the group (all others were taken by Stephen)

Our last day and as in the previous three trips, the drive back to the airport is leisurely so that you can visit and see places on the way. We went through Glastonbury where Jim and I had stopped with Laura and Isabel so long ago (2005) and really explored the ruins of the abbey, the town — again it would have been frustrating just to be told about it as we swung by. We drove similarly through Bath and I had to listen to the guide who knew little of the 18th century town, had a very distorted view of Austen. Somehow it did not look as beautiful as when Jim and I and Izzy spent a full week there. We were going through the traffic-crowded streets of course – but I did see Queen Square and a few other streets recognizable to me once again.

The best part of the day was the long time — two hours at Wells Cathedral. Stephen and I did manage to squeeze in a very good tour of the cathedral by a sweet learning old man; we saw the click chime the hour, participated in listening to a prayer (humane, decent). Jim and I had gone to Wells repeatedly to shop in its excellent modern supermarket when we stayed at Lympton in a Clock Tower so I could attend a Trollope conference in Exeter, but when we went to the town we did not go as tourists but people living there and stayed in the modern part. This time I saw the old narrow streets, the fifteenth century pub, the ancient church, its close and square, a beautiful pub (but there was no time to eat – we did not want what had happened at Boscastle to happen here).


The cathedral front


The choir


One of the sets of windows taken down during World War Two and put in a cave until the war was over …


The gatehouse into the close


The close and gardens

Walking through the winding older streets back to the bus (which would take us to the airport hotel) I felt sad to remember the literary festivals I’ve seen (in Chichester) and heard about, which in the last two decades take place in older provincial cities like this (say Hay-on-Wye). How I wish I were still part of this older culture with Jim.

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I am trying to remember that last meal at the airport hotel, but it is gone from me. The guide again did not want to facilitate any last ceremonies & the day had been tiring, so most people went up to bed early. Many had to get to the airport early the next morning to make their plane on time.

In writing this blog I found we had gone to so many places in a short time, and Stephen taken so many photos, and what was worth listening to (the talks about the mines, about Wells, on the Fowey ferry) I couldn’t take notes on. It was all walking or moving about. So I’ve had to leave the information in the form of all the guidebooks and xeroxes and colorful maps the guides gave us out. So you’ll have just to believe me that for myself in the last two days I have returned to my project on “Winston Graham, Poldark and Cornwall” in the context of other analogous historical fiction and film, and find that indeed my sense of the geography and realities of Cornwall is much improved. I am understanding a lot more of what Halliday in his superb History of Cornwall has to tell me. I was listening to Demelza today while I drove in my car and rereading Warleggan for about an hour and could picture so much more accurately characters’ comings and goings. Picking up DuMaurier’s King’s General and I can see I would read it with precise visual appreciation of places that I couldn’t before.

So in my feeble ever inadequate (half-crippled) way I did do some research towards my mythical, dreamed of, yearned for book, A Matter of Genre.

Ellen

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I am pretending to hold up a neolithic stone monument said to be 6000 years old (Bodmin Moor)

It’s said to have fallen down around 1805, and that a very early team of archaeologists put the four plinths back as well as the capstone with whatever hoisting equipment available at the time. This “Lanyon quoit” is in West Penwith. On Face-book one kind friend joked: “Thank goodness you were there to keep it from falling!,” to which I replied: “Ellen to the rescue, handbag and scarf notwithstanding.” You can’t see my face: I find myself recalling Cassandra’s portrait of Austen where you can’t see hers.


Arguably lighthouses may be taken as a symbol of Cornwall — there are many to be seen, working away still at different levels of technology.

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote last time, this trip was for me a return to Cornwall, and I have to admit it was something of a disappointment. The last time I went I saw more. Perhaps this time was too short, but a couple of afternoons were (to me) wasted trying to get (however cursorily) to famous tourist sites (Jamaica Inn) that we didn’t stay in long enough (Boscastle was worth seeing had we had the time), some of which we saw from afar (St Michael’s Mount) or barely at all (Tintagel was out of sight from the bus). A couple were chosen for a couple of hours (!) because a TV show had been filmed there (Port Isaac for Doc Martin, Charlestown for Poldark).

I also felt one of the guides (a young woman) either knew nothing or gave distorted views of history; the other, Peter Maxted, who has written a remarkably concise and clear topographical environmentalist book on Cornwall (The Natural Beauty of Cornwall), was drenched in knowledge of the place, but seemed unwilling to talk much; you would ask a question, and he would say he was saving that up for later on, and then sometimes seem to forget anyway. Ask about the Cornish language, and he would produce words of Cornish slang, not what family the language belonged to, any sense of its relationship to other languages, any history or geography.

What the trip did was give me a larger picture of Cornwall as a county and I came away having placed much that I saw last time and what we did see this time geographically in relationship to one another. This time I participated in and was alert to how we were going to this place from to that, and kept my eye on the map, which I had not been able to do last time at all. We kept driving in and out of Truro and I got a sense of how it’s central to the economy or geography of the county.  I think I should not go again except if I can get up the courage, time and proper permissions to investigate the Winston Graham archive in the Royal College of Cornwall. I had the (for me) sense of thwarted experience of several times seeing signs to the place but never seeing it. I can imagine better what this research library and community center looks like is about the gain there.

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So what did I see? The first afternoon after arriving in London, Tuesday (May 14) we took a walk in Kensington; the hotel, the Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt is right near the Victoria and Albert museum, the Albert Hall, St James and Hyde Parks.


The Victoria monument

I did feel that sense of coming back to where once I had a feeling of home as it was the place that Jim emerged from. As in the other 5 times now I have come to the UK since Jim has been gone from me (6 years now) so I felt inarticulately gladdened to be back where I met him and the happiness I have known began. I’ve spent my life reading writing about studying British lit so I didn’t ask to see much, just to be there. I wasn’t asking much that first day, just relieved to be back. Relieved is the odd word.


Albert Hall — Jim and I and Izzy too were once inside to hear a concert (a day of severe heat) and I never saw it clearly from the outside or understood where it is — now I do


From the beautiful flower gardens of Kensington

I was told if I were to ignore coming back to meet the group, I could try a bus to Windsor Castle, but I was tired and assumed I should return on time. In the event the young woman guide was actually unwilling to facilitate people introducing themselves to one another.

Once we got into Cornwall, I was again aware of how one is never far from the sea, and how central the sea has been to Cornish culture. Last time I took a train around the edge of Cornwall and found myself looking down steep cliffs of rocks and swaying forests, clambering once I got there on large stones by the sea; this time we took several ferries and wherever we were the sea was at our backs, through the window, near the terrace, making for a cool wet breeze


Falmouth Bay seen in the evening


Often unromantic — a working boat during the day

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Wednesday (May 15) was the long trip by bus to Cornwall. As on previous trips, we used this time to see places of real interest on the way. I’ve seen Exeter before: Jim and I stayed in a clock tower in Lympton to go to a Trollope conference, but we did not go to the older parts. This time I did, and explored more: there are two Waterstone bookstores in the town. I bought a pretty copy of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse from a young man who had read the book; just by Exeter there is a statue of the Anglican divine Hooker whose works I once read in (oh so many years ago). We were in time for a tour of the remarkable cathedral.


The nave


The windows survived the English civil war and the bombing in World War Two

I was sort of with a friend, Stephen, who I had met on the Lake District tour. (I roomed with someone else, an 82 year old woman, very hard of hearing, a retired nurse, a sweet well-meaning person.) Stephen is a vegetarian and drinks no liquor (bad for the liver! — he is a retired physician too) so we found a very good vegetarian cafe (told about it by one of the guides) and I had a savory vegetarian tart, he a dish of potatoes and a vegetable looking soup, and both camomile tea.


Stephen in Falmouth

The hotel was as fine as the photos suggested; the room I shared looked out over the bay; there is a good bar, and the food was well-cooked.


My corner of said room — I added heavy blankets — I caught a cold while there

Thursday (May 16) we explored Falmouth in the morning: it has a long history as an important harbour, maritime center for shipping & commerce.


Our guide Peter in front of the church of Charles the “Martyr” it’s called; Falmouth was strongly royalist in the civil war and its aftermath.


A lovely ancient mansion still kept up


Residential houses — posh


A chain store on the streets


Falmouth art gallery

We then took a boat trip


The ferry pier

to St Mawes, a fishing village, where we explored one of the two fortified castles that guard the entrance to the bay

We then individually or with a friend had the choice to stay in Mawes (a small village), take the ferry back and go to the maritime museum or Pendennis Castle. Stephen and I chose a snack meal (again pasty and tea) and climbed up the other hill to Pendennis castle. I’ve looked at pictures of this place so often; the interest comes from how long it has been in use as a military site: rooms showed its used from the time of Henry VII through two world wars, in the second of which it was a training place for soldiers crossing the channel on D-Day.


Pendennis seen from afar


World War one cannons and guns

Julian Barnes’s The History of the World In 10 and one-half chapters contains ironic satire of touring group like the ones I’ve been in and I have to report just about all are murdered by the terrorism of state gov’ts and crazed impoverished people combined. I read this book at the bar overlooking the gardens surrounding the hotel one evening. I was aware that when the young woman guide did talk it was ever to tell us of some battle, some war that began or ended here or there.

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Friday (May 17) was a second good day. We set off down south to Lands’ End, and on the way stopped at neolithic sites, one at length, an iron age Village, Chyauster, where the Romano-British people living there had “courtyard houses” of stone, quarried tin carried and shipped it to Europe from the bay, practicing at the same time an agricultural way of life. I found just as interesting that the village “disappeared” suddenly in the 3rd century (see just below) but was known to be there by the local people over the centuries and there is evidence to suggest that in the 18th the methodists, ejected from the hierarchical Anglican churches (controlled by landlords) came up to use the sites again as temple/churches. This guide was slick and found it amusing to keep saying how little the archeaologists know: I asked about the intervening period between the 18th century and today: when did scientific digging begin again, what was it like here just before this began, but got no answer. I hope to discover this in the informative-looking guidebook we received after we paid:


A Chyauster mansion ….

Face-book diary entry: I anachronistically wondered if one of the smaller areas was the nursery. Dating from the first century AD, it was one in a community of people involved in trading with Romans for mining natural resources. Abandoned in the 3 rd century, but people in the area knew this settlement had been there, and in the 18th century, Wesley and/or other Methodists came; ejected from Anglican churches as utterly disruptive, subversive of the order which put aristocrats and their appt clergy in power. There were also there these long hole tunnels: with Bars cross-crossed in front. I thought to myself if the Romans saw these first no wonder they thought the Celts were Barbarians. This village and its rooms are said to be Celtic, after being influenced by the Romans.

There were some touching scenes of mother and baby ponies:

We then drove to the southernmost edge of Cornwall and wandered close to the shore, walking about and taking photos from afar too:


Sennen Cove, Land’s End

I believe it was this day that we then drove to the Old Sussex Inn and had delicious fish and chips — an enormous plateful


Old Success Inn

In the afternoon another fascinating experience: we went to the Levant and Greevor mines and a guide provided an almost two hour talk as he walked us through a landscape by the sea, dotted with some remnants of ancient machinery, imagining for us the stages of mining, and then taking us into the mine a small way and out again through the steps of treating the extracted ore

His accent was to me lyrical and the final stage of walking back up to where a shop and the bus was consisted of his recital of a folk story in verse — he was a Bard.

It was late in the afternoon that we saw St Michael’s Mount from a distance. We got off the bus close enough so people could take photos. The irony is that if you give a group of tourists a chance to take a photo, they seem not to care that much that they didn’t go into the place. Last time we spent a long afternoon climbing up, finding out what was there, reading all we could find about the place, such as it’s still in private hands, and the family lives in the back below in very luxurious quarters.

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I saw many lighthouses, too many to remember where: Cornwall has ever been subject to invasion, and without computer technology to detect rocks, its shores dangerous

I didn’t take many notes but have brought home good guidebooks sold at the different sites. If the Road Scholar guides were unwilling to be too informative (so strange), they did give out xeroxed descriptions and history of the streets and houses and shops and larger buildings we saw, and I brought all this home with me. I read Peter’s book in the evening and took it with me on the bus, looking at passages, reading, skimming as we drove through here or there.

I did the right thing to go on this particular tour as a prelude to summer. Although I have signed up for a number of courses (some a few weeks, a class in films by Hitchcock, some across the summer, reading Dr Zhivago, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Darkness at Noon, some just one day (archeaological digs in Fairfax, the history of the English language, a Bastille day at AU OLLI for seeing two French films, one Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Catherine Deneuve), some two (on Greene’s Quiet American) beyond the two I’ll be teaching (Booker Prize, short and short-listed and The Enlightenment at Risk?).

As in the past I expect to have many long days alone with my pussycats and hope this summer to read books I’ve longed to read and not gotten to (some only tangentially related to projects). I will not be engulfed by some paper for a conference or my Graham project — I tell myself.

I can no longer drive at night, and as of tomorrow there will be no Metro (good public transportation) close by for ordinary people like me. We are told to take a bus:

so I’ll go but once to the Smithsonian (I’ll try for a single long day on Country Houses in the UK). I did buy one set of opera tickets for Wolf Trap in the afternoon for Izzy and I (a 17th century Gluck and Ariadne auf Naxos), a friend has promised to come with me to Swann Lake for one evening (fingers cross, but if she doesn’t come through Izzy and I will go there and back by bus). I have some biographical books on women writers to write reviews or blogs about.

I shall not forget my reading about the non-anomaly, women living without men from the 16th through 20th centuries.


Combe is Lundy


I am half-way through Jamaica Inn now, which novel has nothing to do with swash-buckling romance (or Hitchcock’s film)

The summer is already hot and will be long. I am exercising early each morning or some 15 minutes and walking for 20 minutes in the later afternoon. So I’ll see if I can finish reading the second half of Graham’s career and quite a number of novels set in Cornwall as well as finish Halliday’s History of Cornwall. Now the Cornwall books should all make much more sense to me.

When I first joined the group that Tuesday, I found myself having vivid dreams about the people in the previous group: I could see their faces and the faces of the guides so clearly and in the mornings I realized I had been reliving the previous trip to the Lake District and Border of England in dreams each night. Now come home I have been dreaming of this Cornwall trip, the places we went rather than most of the people (there was one very kindly intelligent couple, Bob and Sue, their names, living in Maine, she a retired librarian, he a retired art teacher who now does art in his studio) and only in the last two nights did I wake in the night without thinking I am still on the room in Falmouth. So the confusion, and out-of-reach-of-consciousness distress is passing and I’m beginning to eat and sleep with my usual patterns again. The truth is a shorter trip is easier for me to come back from.

I have often thought the purpose of going away is to make oneself appreciate home (sleep away camp makes sensitive children glad to be home again). Clarycat was meowing at me on and off for a full two hours when I first came back. How dare you go off? and where were you? Then she cuddled into my lap or kept walking on it and around me as I dithered about settling in again.


Clarycat gingerly jumping from library table to the chair near my laptop, careful not to make all the books fall

I assure you, gentle reader, that it is still very hard work to remain alive and sane.

Adrienne Rich: Song

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns’ first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

But in the same way that it hurts to be reminded how separate I am from every other being on the planet, it is freeing to be reminded that I’m the only one that gets to live my life. I’m free to handle situations the way I want. I’m free to grieve over the changes in my life–even more free to grow from them. I’m free to decide what’s good enough for me, what I want, and what I’m willing to do to get there — from Diving into the Wreck …

My next diary entry will be the second half or conclusion of this trip.


Boscastle Harbour — a far shot of its harbor

Ellen

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The Falmouth Hotel

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

Friends,

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

On her completing her Thirty-fifth Year

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thus I conclude on my two beloved cat companions.

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


Clarycat

I so love my Clarycat.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Ellen

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by Vanessa Bell (I do not know who this is she paints -click on the image to make it  much larger)

Because there’s nothing better than good wine come along.

“Cutters cover,” she said. What an extraordinary phrase, how disrespectful. It was said in a class on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running …. ” by a self-described retired family therapist. I looked over at her from the other side of the room. I had been talking of Risa, the one female character, an African-American woman working in a tiny restaurant as sole cook and dish-washer, comes into work in a dress or skirt that shows how she has cut up her legs. We are not told how, or with what? razor? knife? or what the patterns. I had (I hoped) tried explain that Risa was “practicing self-harm” in order to protect herself, carving out private space in public by doing something which would put other people off. Asserting some autonomy, some self-ownership inside this space, from which she cooked and served others too (including a man who appears to be unable to speak more than one demand over and over). You can make fun: the liberating path of self-abuse, anyone? I also Risa said was a Victorian heroine when the class teacher declared Risa is an “angel.” Shades of Esther Summerson. I talked of self-negation as offering peace.

But then I made the same mistake as I did in the first class where I had talked of self-negation as a way to find some space, escape pressure, and find yourself, by offering the concrete example of anorexia. This for a third time now diverted minds who had not taken in what I said, and a woman was speaking suddenly about her daughter once anorexic but “now all cured.” She began to assert herself over what I was saying about anorexia as an example of misunderstood self-harm as someone who knew nothing of anorexia, so I interrupted with “I was anorexic for five years, weighed 78 pounds.” That stopped her for some seconds, but then she had the floor because I had interrupted her. I rejoined talking of Pazzoli’s study of the family context and a comment one is never cured. I wanted to say “how comforting for you to think she’s all ‘cured.'” But I knew that would be too aggressive.

Then the first woman went back to talking of “cutters” and how Risa doesn’t “cover.” I still don’t know why that was so important: it was as if she wanted to exclude Risa. In a previous class, she said of another black woman character, Beatrice in Wilson The Piano Lesson, a widow, who will not sell her piano as it is an important relic from her past with her murdered husband, “she’s frozen” — she’s not working it out. Working what out? No she’s not frozen, she’s profoundly alive and feelingful.

There’s a limit to how much I want to say about myself in this class. On that last go-round I had said I’m a widow myself; I have to preserve my emotional safety so I said nothing about my personal knowledge of self-harm practices.

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Life has moved on since the last time I wrote. We are coming to the end of spring term and soon (all too soon) I will be gone for altogether 8 days on a Road Scholar trip to Cornwall. Alas it does interfere with two last classes at OLLI at AU and one party-luncheon I like to go to. I won’t go away in mid-May again. But I’ve my two summer courses to teach all set (OLLI at Mason, “The Enlightenment: At Risk?” again, and at OLLI at AU a new version of Booker Prize books, this time short and short listed, for a four week course).

I’ve had a sort of break-through: kind emails from people in my Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? class made suggestions for me on what I could teach in future, and one citing Ivy Compton-Burnett (impossible, I can’t read her as cold and her format of strict dramatic dialogue too flat for me) made me remember mid-20th century novelists and poets I used to teach as I was just then reading (for my Graham project) Grahame Greene’s brilliantly nihilistic Ministry of Fear and now I think to do a course pairing Graham Greene’s Heart of the Matter with Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, two profound novels covering civil, colonialist wars, the profound sorrows of 20th century life and two novellas by them, his Monsignor Quixote (I used to teach this wonderfully ironic text of debate regularly) with her A Time Away (travel book dreaming Rome). I must move beyond the 18th and 19th centuries to material I can teach, love and (who knows or I hope with) appeal to others. (Two other possible authors are George Orwell and Lillian Hellman as a pair, say Homage to Catalonia and Scoundrel Time — such a class would be far more politically pointed).

I’ve had some good experiences outside these places (e.g., Poldark at the Smithsonian, a Jane Austen study day, 4 very high level papers I must write up soon), been out a couple of times for lunch with good people, friends. I did try to persuade Izzy to go with me on Tuesday nights to Gadsby Tavern where they actually do Longways 18th century style country dancing but she does not want it, and my eyes are bad at night driving. I was told about it at that Jane Austen Study day. This morning I’ve decided to try to go myself. We’ll eat early; it’s not far, I know the roads well, it will be light going. The thing is I like to dance, it’s not that far away (in Old Town, so 5 minutes by car and then I park), not attached to a religious group (wow, how unusual), for free, anyone can come (I don’t need to know anyone!). If the people are too young, or I’m uncomfortable in any way, I can just leave early and not go again. If it’s fun, I could try again. Nothing to lose. I’ve never been inside Gadsby’s Tavern.

A friend suggested going to Politics and Prose and seeing if I could teach there — a wonderful bookstore still (buying a good book in my local area has become as difficult as it was in the suburbs of NYC in the 1950s — not only is medicine affected by monopolies). I have enough on my plate, DC far away, tempting as it sounded. I’d be paid … The thing is I am “into” these two places and would not be able to make time to teach a third. I’ve have to give up one and even for money that’s hard for me. It’s so hard to integrate even as far as I’ve managed. But I’ll look. I could try to take a course if it’s not at night. To begin with. My friend is taking a course on Hannah Arendt and he had a Penguin edition of her books that impressed me; he talked of a course where they would read 3 short Diderot texts! where would you find that? I will look on the website and see if I can fit a course in. It needs to be during the day. I need to practice getting there. Finally I need to learn to park. Not impossible obstacles.

I am already reading too many books, articles, sheer texts, watching too many movies, posting too much at one time – loving much of what I get to, but not enough time to finish and write, to get through enough at a time on a single topic thoroughly.

So I asked myself earlier to day, I have to make up my mind what I want to do with my life, and then immediately said to myself, wait, you are 72. Isn’t it a bit late to be deciding. Maybe I should rather give over and stop hoping to produce a book and not worry if I am insufficiently focused …


Nonetheless, trying to fit this in: what happened to American cultural groups who came back to live in London (enslaved people often did manage to free themselves in the higgedy-piggledy of life) — she is a superb writer. I learned about it in a course said to be on British perspective on American revolution ….

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I have had good news: my liver is declared “free of hepitatis C” after a thorough ultrasound. I had been getting impatient not drinking any alcohol, no pills or powder to help against constipation and begun to give in and drink a small glass of wine now and then, and relieve myself once a week.


My favorite along with Shiraz

I have learned something new from my experience: why wine has been around for thousands of years. As I’ve written (too often, but a new reader can land here & people need more to be reminded than informed &c&c), I was diagnosed with hepitatis C four months ago now, and have been taking a pill a day for over 2 and 1/2 (8 days to go) which is costing the US taxpayer (you my friends) $38,000. Yes that’s the obscene egregious ransom for epclusa (it’s called). It makes me headachy, tired, my bones ache, I sleep deeply, but Epclusa seems to have worked — it’s said to have a cure rate of 97%. My doctor said that’s why it costs to much. “Not it’s not,” I said; they do it because they can charge that and no one in congress makes a move to stop them” (well generally several democrats are saying they will institute a single payer system and maybe that will stop this stinging robbery and deprivation of those who are not hooked into some good insurance plan). He made a mild protest but did not speak any more of why the pills cost so much. He did though agree with me that what most Americans seem to drink — if 4 rows of “juice” and “drinks” in a typical supermarket tell us anything.

I have been trying for nearly 3 months to find a substitute for wine beyond coffee, tea, water. What I have discovered is on sale in the US supermarkets of various types is carbonated chemically- flavored highly sugared water, sometimes flavored with concentrate so the manufacturer can call the liquid inside some of the metal cans and plastic bottles “juice.”

Who could drink such crap? Not me. I have found about 5 or 6 real juices in bottles: tomato, prune, pineapple, grapefruit, pear (nectar it’s called). Each made by one manufacturer. I can’t drink prune juice with supper. I have discovered how detestable is coca-cola, and the sodas with carcinogenic sweeteners are sickening. So I returned to wine sops (bread dipped in wine and sucked) as if this were the 18th century for the later afternoon. I have no teeth and can’t do any harder fruit, only soft cheese, soft butter pound cake, soft butter cookies. My doctor told me there are people when told they can eat oranges or some other real citrous fruit but must stay away from the supermarket “juices” can’t understand it. They don’t realize they are not drinking juice from their “juicy-juice” bottles.

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One of the rooms in the bnb Laura rented

Not much of a diary entry, my friend. As spring arrived, I found I missed the perpetual close companionship I had with Jim — looking around and seeing so many who seem to have this in some form or other. I find I crave just that and there is no substitute for its loss.

Izzy and I did not do anything in particular — we hardly ever do for most holidays (Winter solstice holiday days and evenings have been the exception). When Jim was alive in late spring he’d drive us to some vast extent of land, once a plantation, where fox-hunting clubs hold point-to-point races while the foxes breed. They hold elite gatherings in fancy tents drinking champagne and having elegant or American-style hot-dog picnics. The hoi polloi can come in by another gate, for $10 a car and have picnics on the lower ground near the race track. Everyone can bet. Everyone can buy souvenirs in the place where peddlers sell wares of all sorts.

But Laura came over and we planned a new trip: the three of us go to Northern France, we rented a bnb that is just about on the beach of Calais for late August early September, bought the plane tickets so it’s a done deal. We plan to have “stretchings” (Laura calls it) and have day trips (using chunnel) to London, Paris, and the environs here. Jim and I were here and I know it’s Proust countryside too. Izzy is more cheerful than I have seen her in a long time, positively buoyant. I will probably have photos as Laura is very good at taking photos. I took down old CD French lessons and going through them once again.

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Strictly keeping myself to citing just one and one I’ve not cited before or for a long time: Just now most meaningful to me is Ann Goldstein’s translation of Elena Ferrante’s Those who leave and those who stay. I’m that riveted that I bought it in Italian and hope to begin reading the Italian with the English beneath as a crib as soon as my Italian text arrives. I carry on moving through the films of Andrew Davies and having wept and marveled at his Bleak House, am up to his Dr Zhivago.


Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) mourned over, rock by Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin)

Ellen

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My Macbook Pro apple laptop, bought as a present for me in February 2012, my friend since Jim died ….

There is no doubt in my mind I could not be living the life I do without constant recourse to some technology — says she as she types away on her PC computer into a wordpress blog screen. To say nothing of my car, which I could not begin to go to the places I do without, there’s still being alive in the first place. I’d have died at 27, or 32, or 37, or maybe facing a coming death now but for the technologies of 20th and now 21st century medicine.

Why this subject this week particularly? Attend.


Lady Monk’s ball (1974 Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, Cora and Burgo Susan Hampshire and Barry Justice …)

I had a sort of success for me. Yesterday for the first time ever I did a mild form of power point presentation. I brought my MacBook pro laptop into class. That is rare for me: I hardly ever take this precious computer out of the house. It was bought for me by Jim; he was the one who operated it for the first couple of years; it is my fall-back computer for each time my PC dies or won’t work for whatever reason. A friend, the man I’ve gone out on a couple of sort of dates, offered to help me practice — the first time anyone ever practiced with me. People have shown me — quickly — how to use the word program for writing (the principle is the top is a ribbon you can change) or how to use a program to do real power-point with slides, but always very quickly, impatiently and then the person leaves. (Jim wouldn’t practice with me either. He’d do it for me but not practice and evolve a method where I could do it myself, which is what happened this past Saturday afternoon.) I practiced for 2 to 3 hours with this kind man offering advice.

And then yesterday I did it. The Tech guy of course made the image from my computer appear on a big screen. On my MacBook pro I have a DVD player which allows me to the screen full size and then small and when it’s small there is a line with a dot of dot I can move with my cursor to get to just the scene on a DVD set, which as a scene section as part of its top pages. So for the first time I talked for a while and then showed a scene, and then talked again. I had typed out my talk — as I cannot speak ex tempore with no written lecture.

It appeared to have been a great success. It was the old 1970s Pallisers I was showing and discussing about which I’ve written so much. The CYFH? class at the OLLI at AU. Took the whole hour.

Today I am exhausted from this experience because I had to go out too after the session to a mall, to meet Izzy, to go to an Apple store so one of the young adults could within less than a minute unfreeze my apple cell phone which had been frozen for two days, with me unable to un-freeze it. So I was gone from home many hours, which I usually find an experience I must calm down from anyway. And I had been a bit worried over the morning hours as I waited to try.

I don’t think I’ll be doing this in papers at conferences as I’d have to have the confidence the Tech people at the conference could transfer the image from my Macbook pro to the large screen the way the tech staff at OLLI at AU did. I won’t do it that often at the OLLI at AU. But I did do it and was able to present some of my understanding of films by using film in a public place for the first time for about an hour. Once more at the end of term for the second half of CYFH? as realized in the 1970s film adaptation.

I will have put it here in my diary blog this weekend to remember.

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Not all is so capable of clarification and improvement. This is a description of my PC computer set-up and that of my TV:


Some of wires on side of laptop and behind three comcast boxes which attach our computers and TV to internet

I know that on the left side of my (see picture above) Macbook pro apple laptop on what was Jim’s desk in my workroom or study are three (I think) rectangular holes and in one of them I put the wire that I use to connect the laptop to electricity. I don’t trust to wifi. I don’t know what the other two holes are for. On the right side is a slit into which I can put DVDs and CDs. I have great trouble using the CDs because I’ve done it so little so I am still not used to what to click on. Next to said laptop are two very essential Comcast boxes; these have a pattern of lights which must be on and tell what is working. When comcast comes, the men come first to these two boxes. They too have wires which go down in a maze to a strip. The laptop is most of the time attached to this strip.

The TV in my front or living room is so complicated in the sense that it has attached to it a multi-region DVD player and a cable box — both black. The cable box (a rectangle) sits on the DVD player and the DVD player sits on the stereo. The stereo sits on the piece of furniture — a sort of hutch affair, a kind of display case in which I can keep books. Just under the stereo is an area I have a record player in.


some of wires behind TV, multi-regional dvd player, cable box, stereo &c&c

Next to these is the TV, black, wide-ish. There are three thick wires leading from the TV (also black and with hardly any buttons on it, nothing you can push) down behind the piece of furniture the TV sits on to the socket in a single long strip of sockets; these are in a maze of wires I don’t understand, three of these wires come from the cable box and have different color plugs, green, red, yellow and there is a black wire too with flat black plug on the other side of the box; from the pioneer multi-region player there are three thick wires, one is white, another black, and there is a third. All these wires travel down to the socket, which is not quite on the ground. I live worrying lest anything upset all these wires.

Several times now since Jim died workman from Comcast (the TV and Internet Cable company I pay $225.00 a month to) have come and fixed or rearranged these wires. Laura was the person who originally set up the TV and put the multiplayer in. Just before Jim died. Jim and I had an old TV with a cable box with the most minimal service but he had succumbed to buying internet from Comcast by that time so there were plugs for the Internet there well before he died. Every once in a while the player or the cable box fall off the stereo. Thus far they have not become detached and they have not broken. the problem is the cats sit on top of the cable box to keep warm in winter and on cool days inside the house. They mostly walk off gingerly but when they leap they can upset the arrangement. They rarely leap as it’s a bit of a distance to the floor. Instead they walk on the furniture behind the TV and come out the other side where there is a piano and then they walk across the piano, jump down to the stool or pass through a now open window to my sunroom.

There are wires leading from the stereo. The stereo is attached to two standing speakers on either side of the furniture piece. One works and the other does. I have two phones which don’t work, one in the living room and one kitchen. I have two more, one in my room and one in Izzy’s which do work. They have all the same number and I pay Verizon for these landlines. They are plugged into strips. I have not yet gotten verizon to come here to check out the non-working ones. I think they are not responsible Laura set this up too.


Just one of the mazes of wires leading from PC screen, computer, printer, radio set up

There are mazes of wires attaching the PC I am typing it, to a printer and down to a strip on the ground. This is the desk I work at. The PC sits on my desk, next to it is a tower affair, thin wood with a few high shelvs. On one sides the computer box itself, on the second my printer, and on the third a large radio affair, with CD player. Very old fashioned, it has spaces for audiocasettes and is plugged in. It is fro these three boxes and from the computer screen that the mazes of wires come and are tied together to stretch down to the floor and said strip, with plugs leading to sockets in the wall.

I still have not unplugged Jim’s computer on his desk because I worry that the wires I think are for his computer are for something else.

It is nerve-wracking and anxiety-producing to have to live and depend on so much I have no understanding of. It is no wonder the cats are not allowed in my workroom unless I am there with them.

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A still from Wiseman’s hospital: his films analyze the human processes behind and in institutions and show us how much our experience emerges from the context of social life shaped by these institutions, from hospitals to courts, to parks to libraries

Last: how many times have I been in hospital. Let me  account for some of the times.

Age 9 my tonsils and adenoids taken out, I hemorrhage and end up in hospital; I run like crazy up the stairs when I see they are going to put me out wit the horrible ether the doctor had used, but they catch me, force me down and I can’t struggle against them and am put out again. I wake and the hospital will not keep me overnight as my father has no insurance. They will not listen to his offers of $200 the next morning upon the banks opening up. So a cab is called and I am literally put on sidewalk in wheelchair and my father puts me in a cab and we go home. Now I wonder how he felt as this operation had happened because my moronic mother nagged him and insisted — you got a gold star on your record for this in school it was said (probably untrue).

Age 15 I try to kill myself by taking a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of coca-cola. Give myself a terrible headache, piercing ringing throughout my aching skull, and end up in hospital for the night. Father with me again. We leave next morning, having said very little. The hospital people leave me be.

Age 22 Jim takes me to Leeds City hospital (Yorkshire) because I sit on a chair and cry endlessly. They say I am having a nervous collapse or breakdown. I spend a week there.

Age 27 I end up in a Kendal hospital (Lake District, UK) with a miscarriage that turns into an abortion to save my life. I have a D&C and I don’t know what else to stop all persistent bleeding. I am in hospital for four days.

Age 31 I spend 6 days in Beth Israel hospital in NYC after giving birth to Laura by a C-section. I bled very heavily but  was found by an alert nurse before I began to hemorrhage. Transfused. Jim gives blood to pay for this: he is type O positive (typical of the UK, western Europe), I am type A positive (typical of eastern Europe, Slavish background).

Age 33 I have hernia in my colon, hemorrhage, come near death (go to hospital way late) but saved by nurse in Jefferson hospital; spend a month in Alexandria hospital. Have colonoscopy, benign tumor found and removed. Go home badly shaken.

Age 37 I spend a week in Fairfax hospital after giving birth to Isobel by a C-Section. Again a hemorrhage, very bad one, come near death, get some kind of substance they give nervous horses, and then completely transfused. Told never get pregnant again.

Age 43 I spend 6 days in Metropolitan Hospital in NYC after nearly being killed by car – woman under valium puts foot on gas instead of brake. My leg broken, put in cast. Miserable impoverished place with not enough of anything. I read Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, brought me by my father who says Trollope is “very wise.” Most women around me deny speaking English. I like the book very much. Basically I take care of myself until deemed fit to leave.

Frederick Wiseman’s movie, Hospital, filmed in Metropolitan accurate and honest; doctors and nurses doing their best in a hospital criminally underfunded because most patients are indigent — have no insurance, no money. Mostly hispanic and black people.

Now a Kaiser patient from time to time I end up in Tysons Corner Kaiser emergency room but go in time (my faux heart attack 6 months after Jim died) and after a while the staff figures out how to help me (they have records about me) and I go home next day.

I could detail Jim’s times in hospital: age 15 with broken arm, in England, and then when he developed Cancer, an ordeal of an 11 hour operation, 5 days in hospital and then home but after that never well again and in and out of Tysons Corner or Virginia Medical Center until all hope lost and he dies slowly at home in bed with hospice staff visiting.

Izzy once in hospital age 2 when doctor built her a good finger and un-webbed her hand. Laura in hospital at age 33 to have one of her ovaries removed: she would not go to the doctor until she had hospital insurance and left a problem for months and months get much worse and this was the result.

There we are. All I can quickly recall tonight. Medicine not that limited after all. I am now through almost all 3 bottles of obscenely expensive pills to cure hepitatis C so ten years from now I will not die in hospital from an operation on my liver.

That I blog to have an imagined friend, myself, is not a new insight. Fanny Burney addresses herself in her earliest diaries (Dear Nobody ….). I loved to read her diary when I was 17.

Ellen

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From inside the parasol of petals


Bird watching

Dear friends,

What I remember best from last weekend were the traffic jams, the three hours on Saturday it took Izzy and I to get to and from the Folger, in order to attend (10 minutes late because we had a helluva time finding parking and finally getting into a tiny spot) the spring Folger concert. I am relieved to be able to say it was worth it once again: an oasis of Elizabeth song and instrumentals: they had a Renaissance Band, Piffaro, using all sorts of older instruments (including bagpipes), a soprano with a achingly beautiful voice (harmony itself, and projected many moods. It’s the lack of commercialism, of hoop-la, no microphones, the quietude that is so appealing. The exhibit was about food and chefs, and it was salutary to see the perspective was one centered on the people who worked hard to produce a variety of yummy foods, and got very little of what they grew, picked, cooked, preserved, wrote about in recipe books.

Izzy was not deterred, for on Sunday she braved the crowded Metro and walked herself and her trusty cell phone to the tidal basin, and above are two of her photos; below two more


From a distance


With people

I stayed home and fretted over my garden; after paying Rosemont too much and monthly payments, they still cannot be bothered to start coming again, so finally I fired them — and within a minute got an email of them thanking me for my business (relieved to be relieved of it), and phoned my faithful Mr Sotha. The next day his crew came, cleaned up the grounds, mowed, mulched. He must’ve been taken aback when after years of coming here, I began to hire someone new: that was only because I couldn’t figure out what plants to buy or where. The Rosemont people took my neighbor’s ridiculously expensive “plan” for me (meaning to put it into execution) and just bought the flowering bushes, and did make a start. Now Mr Sotha will be back to care for my garden bi-monthly once again, with the difference I am asking him to do the gardening too. He didn’t mind. After much effort (two trips, finding a young man who helped us skip a very long line in Home Depot and put the tree in the car for us), Izzy and I brought home a new tree, my gay neighbor had the strength to pull it out of said car and put it near where Mr Sotha had left the mulch, I phoned, and within a couple of hours, this is the result:


New baby tree

Nothing of course as yet to the pink magnolia tree which hangs from my other neighbor’s house into my garden near my workroom


I never knew what it was — I called it a pink tulip tree until someone told me there is no such thing

I was twice to the Folger, for on Thursday I went again, to a special event for members: at 6:30 pm, they screened Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, and then we had a genuinely intelligent discussion of the play and how it was made into a movie, plus how it fits into Shakespeare’s other plays of violent politically ambitious men: it is unusual in not having a figure of integrity (or attempted integrity, say Brutus) or sanity and humor (say Hal against Hotspur) or wit and humanity (Anthony against Octavius) to match the man of blood and insane militarism. I did say one of the courses I’m attending is one on Lear and the Tempest (the AU OLLI).


Both of these for the colors on the waters and in the sky

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play

I use Shakespeare’s deeply felt poetry as a widow’s poem … Another long-term scholarly friend’s husband died during these weeks, and I spent some time with her.

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

I have had another of my desolating losses: this time a long-time Internet friend; again I was wholly unprepared for her decision to drop me, so did not pick up on her attempts to pick a quarrel nor read the subtext of her comments on how much she needed tranquillity after her trip (I had thought she wanted me to write to her) and solitude, but finally I did realize she had developed a granular dislike of me — or thinks I’m a kind of fool who wants to hear from her or others they are like me.  Nonsense nor do I want to be like her (she’s a religious person) or have what she has. I can’t and don’t recognize names of prestigious schools (nor care about them in my life as just beyond me) so when I showed I did not remember that she had gone to one as an undergraduate, she was annoyed. Maybe she thought “see I pay no attention  to her.” I am tired or her condescension to me (I’m now endlessly having to apologize when I have said nothing wrong or untrue or have been misunderstood quite quickly, with sudden hard slaps). Of her narrow definitions of various states of mind or conditions that don’t of course touch her. It may be she saw that she had no interest for real in a project towards publication I had proposed — very unlikely we’d get anyone to publish a book of essays by us. So there is nothing to be gained from me. She has no interest in these group readings together or the discussions, especially when no one appears to see her points. It was a bad sign that when she’d come to this part of the US she never tried to visit me, not so much as mentioned this as a possibility.

This kind of loss happens every couple of years for me. Recently I read an essay which suggested this kind of behavior is common, and in a book by Liz Pryor this is the way women typically end friendships! Maybe.  When the woman does write a frank good-bye it is often harsh, and the actuating motive seems often to be the one is tired of the other person or the other person is not optimistic enough for them or just does not realize she is an irritant. Gets the leaver down.

Yet oddly enough I am down to one friend locally (meaning someone to go out with and visit) and yet am not eager to spend time with her as I know we are not really suited. Nor a man I have now dated a few times — others might see the occasions as date-like.  I have yet to keep that promise to myself and live on myself, my books and writing and projects, and distant friends, continual rounds of pleasant acquaintances when the OLLIs are in session. You’d think I’d learn. I did feel rotten, and bleak, dark spirited for a few days, but growing inured by time, remind myself I am freer, no need to spend quality time writing real letters which I now know were unwanted. I talked with another much longer on-line friend (who I have met in person three times now) about this and that helped.  Let it go said he.  Carry on.  As time passes I find maybe I will now know the relief of silence and not being put in the position of misunderstanding while it’s she who is the narrow dogmatist (is that the word).

I ask myself, what would be the crushing blow? I’ve had one: Jim’s death, from which there is no genuine recovery as to have that I’d have had to live my life utterly differently. Another would be if Izzy were decide to move. I must not depend on anyone so will try to find an inexpensive time away for myself in August using Road Scholar.

So back to my Graham book project (which is coming along, as I’ve now hit on a better Dashiell Hammett kind of book by him, though with another creepy title: Fortune is a Woman). Here I watched for the first time with real interest the famous Maltese Falcon, and observed the sardonic humor of Bogart & weird hilarity over death in Peter Lorre, and was astonished at the way no one talks of how repeatedly the weepy sentimentally gushing women in these turn out to be cold-blooded promiscuous liars and how they are humiliated and punished.


Bogart as the sardonic witty Spade


That’s an imagined image of Louisa May Alcott

I’ll alternate my Anomaly project with other books by women, other studies, and just subjects that are taking my interest (Henry VII from Shadow of the Tower, I’ve gotten a superb book, Thomas Penn’s Winter King and watched his equally astute hour-long Prime video twice). I’m working up a blog on American women writers of the 19th century seeking to create serious art, live independently from another fine book Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality.


Penn and the death mask of the actual Henry VII


as performed with quiet brilliance by James Maxwell — here he talks to the young boy Lambert Simnel, relieved to be made a servant in the kitchen; he does not like being king “so very much” after all. “Like me perhaps?” the king inquires.

Mornings I’m joining in more with discussions of the Poldark and Outlander books on face-book pages. This summer I’ll take an excursion into two biographies of Vittoria Colonna and write a serious review and make a good blog of it. Another old friend, Italian, now living on the island of Ischia suddenly wrote to say how this had come about and remarked too: “the Castello Aragonese has undergone some extensive renovations and restorations in the last decade or so. It now hosts cinema viewings during the Ischia Film Festival, has two restaurants each with a spectacular view, a hotel converted from a monastery, two museums one of art work another of medeval torture devices, and new walkways and gardens. Many can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16T6Do7XXsQ&t=130s. Had I world enough and time and could bear the loneliness, I’d stay home re-teach myself to read Italian and read all Ferrante in the original (I am near through her The Story of a New Name). I shall have to look at Road Scholar and see if they have a tour which includes Ischia.

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

Perhaps worth remarking: my essay, “Teaching 18th century texts to retired adults in Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning” has been published in the latest Intelligencer (an 18th century newsletter periodical for EC/ASECS) and this morning as I prepared the first of two sets of notes/lectures to teach Can You Forgive Her? with, it has struck me I have 29 people in one class and 31 in the other. Most come, most do the reading. Many participate and talk about the book. At least a few do read the essays I occasionally send out by attachment (like Levine’s “‘Can You Forgive Him?’ & the myth of realism,” and Henry’s “Rushing into Eternity:” Finance, Suicide [and murder] in Victorian novels [especially Trollope’s]. I find this remarkable — people between ages 60 and 85 mostly. I doubt they are coming for me. Worth noting on behalf of Trollope?


Clarycat and Ian in my sunroom: I have decided I love this almost furniture-less room, just one comfortable chair for me, two tables and a rocking chair with pretty blankets and pillow for the kitties — otherwise an assortment of what counts and what is needed …

Izzy and I and our cats carry on our home lives together too. I like to watch them so alertly looking out the window. She works on a new song.

Ellen

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Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/Mrs Birling/Alice Grey — the “vicious sick” heroines of Winston Graham’s suspense novels, often use several names too, but here we learn why

I watched Aisling Walsh’s rewrite of Priestley’s wonderful An Inspector Calls (2015) late one night week, and when I’ve renewed my attachment to underated because communist and no snob J.B. Priestley will write a separate blog on his Angel Pavement, Good Companions, and once again that the way to rescue thrillers is to turn them inside out and pay attention to the trauma and make of the central woman victim, the heroine

Back home again, and trying to resettle in ….

Dear Friends,

Ian pussycat was just having a good dream. He woke in his nearby cat bed, murmured and jumped over here, and came into my lap and then hurriedly pushed his body against mine, his face after my arms, chest, nudging away, his paws on either side of my neck. When I came home Saturday, Clarycat came trotting over, and back to lick me thoroughly. Glad I was back.

I arrived home late Saturday evening, and since then have been first working on my teaching Can You Forgive Her?, and now today begun to pick up my projects of study and towards books and/or papers and blogs amid my teaching and going to courses for the next few weeks.

On the trips to the ASECS hotel in Denver, Colorado and back: uneventful — one plane delayed going home, but my last so that I didn’t miss the next as there was no next. My bag made it with me to Denver and back. I want to report one new (or new to me) development on Southwest. A overt courtesy, an attempt at least to voice that these conditions in which we travel are dreadful, and even attempts to improve them where it didn’t cost Southwest anything.

So the airport space very small with not enough seats for everyone in the plane to sit near the hangar and plane while waiting; the chairs in the plane are as tiny (maybe tinier); the space between the two rows of seats so narrow only one person can walk through standing forwards at a time, the use even there of “business” seats — some seats in front not yet sold but on the spot for another hundred or so you could sit in one of them. Not that they looked bigger only you got to get on first. But questions answered politely and quickly and as if the person cared about your problem; when you got aboard, jokes like “sit anywhere folks it’s just like church;” free snacks (very small and little choice of snack, but plenty of juice, coffee, tea, sodas), wifi when it works. Instead of (as I’ve seen) jeering at people or doing whatever necessary to stop people lining up to go to the bathroom, cajoling remarks which took into account that this “made the aisles hard to pass,” or you can if you (see this) put your coat or jacket or whatever cloth thing under your feet, keep this with you because the overhead cabinets are needed for rolling baggage. As if we were all in this together folks and it was some mysterious power giving us these conditions, and they too (which is partly true) were “in it with us.”

I told a woman sitting next to me how in the African-American museum I noticed the chairs so much larger and two sets of seats facing one another and water-fountains and toilets made available to “coloureds” in railroad cars where they were segregated from people with European genetic heritage, and she produced a list of improvements for the conditions we were in and said how wonderful and inspiring it was to see how people were so polite and patient, but without ever acknowledging this was a choice on the part of southwest. I said you could take this quiescent behavior very differently; this was a choice and for profit and (as I now know this) that plane that killed 157 people in Ethiopia and the one in October was missing a “safety” feature made optional (costing $8000) and had in both cases, it been there the people would have lived. There was an acknowledgement in her face but all she said was she had not been to that museum as yet.

All four cab drivers immigrants: two Ethiopian men, one Mexican, with stories of their own hard-working lives, children, grandchildren, and countries.


What I could see from a high window —  I don’t go anywhere usually outside the hotel hardly when I go on trips to conferences unless there is a group tour or someone invites me along or says let’s go to X. Why? I fear getting lost. I become highly anxious when I don’t recognize where I am. New streets confuse me. I read signs wrongly, choose wrongly. I fear I won’t be able to get back. There is no getting round this. What’s why trips themselves are an ordeal. I must not step out of the planned rout.

Central downtown Denver where the hotel was cold and dreary, many impersonal buildings. A nearby public park filled with homeless people. I did twice get up to the 38th floor and could see the city from wide windows and the snow-covered mountain tops encircling. Wide flat beige-colored plains like those of New Mexico where Jim and I attended another ASECS, only these had factories and some industries. A big city with its own mid-west cultural life glimpsed from cab, hotel window, and talk I overheard. I am learning how to do these conferences at long last, becoming inured to the impersonal lonely room when I stay in one, as I managed this time, only to late at night, three at most. Food as usual very bad, scarce, expensive, but I stocked up at a Starbucks, and just ate very sparingly at the reception, luncheon, & dinner I attended. My ipad worked so I could reach friends on the Net, and I renewed a couple of friendships briefly and many acquaintanceships. I received a resounding applause when I finished reading my paper: I had worked hard on it, and the two sessions of “factual fictions” I was involved with (the other I was supposedly chairing) went over very well. Lots of good talk. On the conference sessions themselves, meaning their matter I mean to make a brief blog, but here I’ll say a wondrous keynote lecture on two unknown 18th century women painters did not get enough time! and I acquired a new good edition of Charlotte Smith’s poetry published by Broadview so it has excellent notes and contemporary and recent commentary

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


Another OLLI: Vanderbilt

My essay on my experiences at the OLLIs at Mason and AU will be published soon in the 18th century newletter-journal, The Intelligencer

March into May provides much for me to go out for at both OLLIs, I have two lovely events at the Folger coming up (one evening, an HD screening of a magnificent production of Shakespeare and then a lecture, and one Saturday Folger concert), one Smithsonian lecture (on the Poldark serial drama) and the tasks of daily (tidy up, eating during the day, wash up after dinner, shopping, taking cleaning in) and monthly or yearly life (bills, coping with taxes and investments), the cats to keep company (sometimes I feel I am keeping them company, helping them to be active not the other way round), Izzy to be with for a time each evening. Once again the Trollope fiction (Can You Forgive Her?) just about teaches itself, the people in both classes have so much to say, and my proposal of Phineas Finn accepted for the fall in both places:

Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, the Irish Member (Palliser 2)

We continue our journey through Trollope’s 6 Palliser novels over several terms. The 2nd Palliser differs from the first (CYFH?) in making central stories from how politics works from inside Parliamentary circles to outside in society & elsewhere. Phineas Finn dramatizes fights over crucial transformations in law & electorate politics that occurred in the mid-19th century UK, and also belongs to Trollope’s Anglo-Irish fiction because it adds to its recurring characters, & English landscapes, Ireland as a place, Irish characters & issues. Trollope again examines sexual and marital conflicts & produces extraordinary psychological portraiture in socially complex situations. We’ll watch clips from the segments of the 1970s film adaptation that realize this second book. There is no need to have read CYFH? Recommended edition: Trollope, Phineas Finn, ed S Dentieth. Oxford 2011. ISBN 978-0199581436

Teaching Can You Forgive Her? in two places, one class four sessions behind the other, reading two sets of 10 chapters and listening to Simon Vance reading it aloud wherever I’m getting to know the book by heart.

I’m taking a film noir course (have watched M for real for the first time, and next week we’ll have The Maltese Falcon and the man does provide insightful informative 20 minute lectures), a course on the American revolution from the British point of view, a Shakespeare Lear/Tempest pairing and August Wilson. The continual insecurity, you cannot know you will be alive two hours from now, the prison systems, the re-enslavement, until recently and once again the prevention of money-making, accumulation. The effect on a people of being treated as inferior. I wish I could convey how stunningly effective and to me utterly new riveting, instructive (I find I knew little of what black people have gone through) poetic these plays: a new desire, a new set of texts to somehow get to are Afro-ones, African-American, African-British, African-Carribean, these are all deeply linked by the way whites around the world have oppressed, victimized, rendered anguished these brave people who somehow come through (some of them) to develop and enjoy life as a gift. I have also at long last understood Toni Morrison in one of her essays on Wilson.

The latest has been The Piano Lesson, a filmed version of which I watched and listened to online at YouTube:

Gentle reader, take the time to watch it. I feel inadequate as a white to comment on it but found myself for the first time in a long time finding American literature deeply absorbing and expressing realities of life that matter. I love the soaring introspective passages all of his plays seem to be filled with. I want to read and see more of Baldwin, I’m into Caryl Phillips, and tell myself I’m going to read more Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith.

Rita Dove: Canary

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

Audre Lord: A litany for survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Recently as a result of my Anomaly project, I’ve been wanting to know far more than I do about American woman writers: they do seem to have lived independent lives earlier than their British counterparts. Also as a result of courses at OLLI more about American history in the 18th century than I do.  Often the lectures can be too simple (even for someone like me who knows a little but not much), but what’s implied fascinates me. I know so little of the realities on the ground in the era.

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Storia del nuovo cognome – a central sequence occurs on Ischia

For myself here now tonight, other nights, up in bed betimes, I think of another older woman alone moved in next door: this block has not changed that much after all; older women living alone in the smaller houses still common after 39 years. Of friends and acquaintances: a dear friend’s husband has died the same kind of grueling ordeal death Jim did and she suffered it alongside him; both in their early sixties, she now in the first throes of grief. I made a fourth highly intelligent male friend (I talk in those social space provided at OLLI), remarkable guy, but he told me he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago; as yet it has not shown up much, but his wife also severely disabled, no children, what will they do when he weakens? My one friend, Panorea,  I sse regularly outside these group organizations, recovering from her dreadful operation, but still in pain and it’s very hard for her to move (no lifting, bending, twisting her body)

I made a date with David to go to his house where he has promised to help me learn to use laptop in front of others to play clips from DVDs; today I go to financial advisor in the intense hope he will help me change my withholding: show me how to do it, what to do, help me understand what sum I should withhold. My hepitatis C has disappeared from my blood so medicine working. At ASECS I told my story to a couple of people and they told me worse horror stories: a woman with a child with cancer, may be cut off from his medicine next week; people dying, going without medicine they need. The US society arrangements have become one of the worst in the so-called developed world. Roads just pitted with holes is a symbol of this.

I carry on my Andrew Davies marathon: I finished Little Dorrit, but Bleak House seemed to overwhelm me tonight so must try again. Midnight I read Outlander (Novel 1) and try to remember love-making. An article in The Women’s Review of Books on a recent anthology of erotic poems by women shows me that Gabaldon is far discreeter than these younger and older women poets today and I again prefer her: centrally a love story, by which gradually he makes her part of him, for me enough intimate sexual gestures, images, feelings to identify with. And I’m four-fifths through Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name and Lila and Lenu continue to express not ideas analogous to those I’ve thought when younger, but those I actually had. Ellen in Italian.


Since Levy’s Small Island filmed one of my favorite black actresses, Naomie Harris OBE by Elizabeth II

So I’ve begun to blog again, I do this, gentle reader, so as to keep myself up until 1 o’clock. I can sleep at most 6 hours a night, more usually 4-5 and this guarantees I will not be up at 3-4 to have bad thoughts unless I take a sleeping pill …. And to talk to the world and put my thoughts together to remember them. It’s a form of being alive, of making my life more vivid to me, of living it, and reaching a few people.  And I so enjoy writing.

Ellen

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