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A New Yorker cartoon from the 1930s (subject: skyscrapers)

Usually I tell of what I did once I succeed in parking. Now my subject is Parking itself

Friends,

On Wednesday I went with my friend, Panorea, to the National Gallery in DC to see the Christmas blockbuster show, Vermeer and his Contemporaries. I will write about that separately. I thought this time instead of telling about the show or lecture or whatever event it is I went to upon succeeding in getting there and/or parking, I would tell the framing that characterizes almost all I do: parking the car. Yes, I hardly ever go anywhere without having to park my car near where I am going to be or near the Metro. Surely, you will say you sometimes take a bus or a cab. Rarely. I drive mostly and alone most of the time — listening to unabridged texts of books read aloud to me on CDs or MP3s.


A typical choice for me

Wednesday was not exception — though I had a friend next to me.

Lately I’ve been taking a chance and parking my car on a block where after 3 hours I could be ticketed knowing that I will not be back within the three hour limit. But I had noticed directly across the street from the King Street Metro stop a garage entrance over which there was a new sign: Public Parking. I had just read a story in The Post where we are told the flagrantly injust justice department is now allowing police and DMVs and local authorities to hike up parking fines, and then if they are not paid promptly enough, add fines. I determined I would not scoff-law the way I often succeed but park in that new parking garage.

Little did I know the sign was a lie. Why I never thought before about the large number of people who must work in the enormous building across the street from said Metro station I know not. Nor the altogether hundreds of people who work in the many other similar huge tall (prison-like) cement buildings (with rows of windows) near by. There used to be a huge railway yard on the other side of Duke Street and it is now filled with soulless apartment houses nearby further on. What was there in the 19th century?


Parking for the 90%

Well where do these people park? in labyrinthine caverns everywhich way under roofs in danger of collapsing. That’s where. As I drove in, I saw signs saying one or other of the vast areas were pre-assigned to people in the building. I saw signs for prices for monthly, weekly, all day parking. I felt something was awry and wished I could get out. But I had promised my friend and worried she would think me mad if I said “I do not like this (Sam I am).” So I said to the attendant, “Is this a public parking place or do you have to work here to park here?” Somewhat to my dismay he could not speak English very well, but grinned and seemed to indicate, yes you can park here, and waved me on. I got out of my car to ask again, and someone came over and said I had to go down to the fourth level and then someone would show me where.

I should say that for 3 years now I have parked in one of these caverns under a tall building but as a “Schwabb private client.” Ahem. As I drove in, an attendant would come right over, take my key and near the entrance in group of designated spaces park my car. The ticket I had punched for coming in, would be validated by a stamp and I could punch it in going out and pay nothing. I had never looked about me. Now I had to.


What more characteristic of modern life — this one offers automated parking!

Everywhere cars parked every which way. The lanes weaving in and out. Pillars which from my parking in a not such a bad garage under the OLLI at AU building in DC I knew endangered the side of my car as the spaces are hardly big enough. Worst of all I saw spots where several pillars were put up all together with what looked like maskin (spelling?) tape. Panorea wondered if they were to to prevent the ceiling from one level from caving to the next. She was joking, she said. Of course it’d hold. Ha! Criss-cross I went until an attendant came over and indicated (none of them spoke English well) he would show me where to park. I asked, “Was there any room?” “Of course,” he grinned. I didn’t like it. The sign lied; only a tiny proportion was public parking at the deepest level – some concession to the city? I had to give a man I somehow didn’t trust to be there when I got back my car key to leave the car there. Car keys nowadays are these tiny computers which cost $400 to replace. I hate them — as what if I lose it, and then have to get a new one. Why consumers put up with this I know not. I was told when I bought my first Prius in 2013 this was the kind of key used for years. I realized that was and my old key (made at a key maker) was old-fashioned but I did not know one had no choice.

Had I been alone I would have driven out and gone home or gone to the blocks where I usually park and take a chance. I hesitated looking at him. He asked me if we would be back before 7. Before 7! we’d be back before 4. (It was 11 o’clock.) Well I managed to park the poor car without bruising it. Then we had to walk up. No elevators until one floor before ground. Lanes going everywhich way. Panorea was watching so as to find our way back.

I tried to dismiss my worry from my mind and probably did, mostly.

But when we got back 5 hours later, I felt anxiety as we approached that garage door with its lie about Public Parking. The garage was much emptier. Panorea did guide us back, except forgetting one of the stairways which I found. Whew. Once we were on the fourth floor in the correct area, I saw the same man and he called out to me from across the cavern and waved. I should have trusted him. He remembered me as I had made such a fuss, been so reluctant to leave my key with him. Then he had trouble finding it in the box nearby. Luckily the car was near the box. I began my NYC persona: “Are you going to have to tell me you have lost my key? is this what is happening here?” He took each key out on his board and began trying it on the car. I asked, “What would I have to pay?” he looked upset. Finally one lit up the car doors and so it was the right one in his hand. Panorea said he was a Muslim man and scared of losing his job from the way I was behaving. So I felt bad. He was in charge of the whole of the fourth level. Poor man. There all day and maybe other nights. Sitting on a metal folding chair.


Many scenes in that remarkable serial drama, Breaking Bad, occur in space just like this

Well, we slowly drove up from the fourth to the ground floor. It was not easy finding exit signs and sometimes we were going down or across, but finally it seemed to me, we were at the same entrance we had come in. “How much?” I said, glaring but relieved. $18.00! For 6 hours. Not so bad, but had it been $40 I would have paid to get out of there. Then I drive up and over a kind of mount and find I am not where I had been, but two blocks down from where we had come in. Under these huge buildings are vast connected garages.

Next time when I know there is no place to park (no garage, no grounds) and I have to take the Metro I’ll take my chance and street-park it.

Welcome to the world of the 21st century. When Jim and I took Izzy with us to London when she was about 9, she was far more impressed with the London underground, all the escalators, elevators, corridors, trains, than any tower of “crown jewels” or museum. I thought she was correct. Far more impressive and important. I did remember coming out how the last number of times Jim and I came to NYC by car we had to give the car over to valet parking and I was aware the attendants were doing it because only they could stack the cars efficiently enough. I saw elevators moving stacked cars up and down.


Another New Yorker cartoon — recent

So on that Wednesday the important lesson I learned was to wake up to the vast undergrounds of parking all over Northern Virginia and all vast cities with tall and big buildings. And I want to say I’ve been leaving this aspect of all these trips of mine out. The problem of where to park my car? I’m much better at parking against sidewalks between cars than I am in these lanes. The OLLI at Mason has a large enough parking lot on the grounds for everyone there at any given time to park. But at AU, Kennedy Center and other places I’m confronted with these many leveled garages. Wolf Trap is out-of-doors but immense and it can take over an hour to get out to the highway. And it’s dark and I can’t see well. This is not a small thing and figures in on my thinking when I decide to go anywhere.

Context, said John Berger.

Miss Drake

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My cottage home this bitterly cold windy snowy morning. I’m glad I own it. Glad I live here, how it looks inside, filled with books and many beloved things, memories, with my cats (another order of being). Warm, lit. That my daughter has evolved it into her home too.

Gentle reader, have you considered how museums have become community centers — they really have. The Met in NYC and the National Galleries in DC and London function that. Crowded with people. I realized this for the first time when I read an unkind passing statement — but insightful — a few years ago by Suzy McKee Charnas in her Vampire Tapestry where the vampire stalks museums because they are a place where the public is not excluded most of the time and lonely sensitive souls are to be found on off days. She put it in a way that made me dislike her — but then it was her nasty vampire being so scornful. I reacted the way I did because I am one of these people who found herself by going to a museum – and theater too. A Future Learn course I took online showed that museums are well aware of this function, or they took it on as a way of getting funding.

So this winter solstice we again went to a museum. I’m not sure they will not become a more all-embracing community center than movie-houses as these movie-houses are bought up by monopolies and become increasing experiences of coercion for someone else’s profit. It’s also true that while theaters build a niche group of people who come expecting the same kind of experience, different plays attract different audiences, and a theater after all can play but one play at a time. For Christmas and Boxing Day and again New Year’s Eve, Izzy and I found ourselves in the midst of crowds of people like ourselves participating in this said-to-be communal holiday in two different movie-houses, one of them at a mall; in a museum; and then a vast theater house, the Kennedy Center, which had no less than 5 entertainments going with sold-out auditoriums. I’ll move from the most enjoyable to the less so, so gentle reader if you feel this is going on too long … I wind the reverie to a close with music, ice-skating, and chequered hope.


Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past

I’ve known the Kennedy Center is a community place for a long time now. One summer they hosted original Sondheim productions all summer plus movies of older ones, and various related shows and by the last week, the place was so relaxed with people making music everywhere. Everyone is comfortable there partly because they are part of the same economic and cultural group and feel the others will not shoot them down. If you have the price of the ticket, it’s a good place nowadays. Not Trump’s America. Izzy and I went to the theater lab where I saw The Gabriels last year and this past December Liv Ullman’s Private Confessions. The two and one half-hour performance was titled Twisted Dickens as performed by a group called The Second City, a comedy club and playhouse group of artists who do improv, sing, dance, act, write. Very creative group. Their story-line was a hilarious and serious too parody/enactment of key moments with key characters in A Christmas Carol. The real defense of this story is that it continues to provide a living relevant framework for our modern feelings and experiences. In this case a reworking of many Christmas motifs and familiar re-tellings and moments from other popular movies and shows or icons. Each actor played about ten roles. My favorite moments included two appearances of the distraught George Bailey (the actor personated Jimmy Stewart from It’s A Wonderful Life), snow in his hair, trying to explain about Mr Potter and Uncle Billy and the $8000; he is last seen seeking “Clarence!” Clarence!”; the young woman who did a very funny Tiny Tim; the actor who was the audience member complaining, the actress-singer who was slick witty Dolly Parton with an elegant cigarette. A poor suffering governess. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Present (the actress playing Dolly Parton in a sexy cocktail dress) were got up unexpectedly, but the Yet to Come figure was swathed in black (from the 1951 Alistair Sim film).


Charlie Brown dialogue

Many modern references. One character is seen coming home, picking a bill and finding it’s from Comcast double charging him because they sent the bill late. That got a wide laugh — so my experience of having this happen to me three times (!) and each time hours on the phone, getting enraged is common. John Lescaut stayed with the single character of Scrooge and now and again there were clear references to Trump such as the horror everyone feels when they think he might tweet. Blessedly he never does during the performance. Characters are often desolated. There was a disquieting five minute debate by Charlie Brown characters on whether Christianity should be brought up: the thrust was we must not leave Jesus out (really) but also include Muslims and Jews. There are more than 3 religions in the world. Written by Peter Swinn and Bobby Mort, directed by Frank Caeti, starring beyond Lescaut Carisa Barreca, Aaron Bliden, Anne Bowles, Paul Jurewicz, Eric M Messner, Tia Shearer. I noticed audience members were dressed in all sorts of ways, and here and there a person alone.

We went downstairs in one of several packed elevators to see and hear the ball begin but did not stay. I would have loved to dance the way we used to when Jim was there. Still I wanted to see it again and remember. The last time we were there was 5 years ago with Jim: Elvis has left the building!. We then drove home and I watched my last Christmas movie for this year: Love Actually. For the sake of Laura Linney’s performance, Emma Thompson on a lobster in the Christmas pageant, Hugh Grant’s fantastic silent dancing, and Bill Nighy’s impeccable parody of a rock hit, Christmas is All Around Us (which is no longer on the Net so I can show only


the opening of the movie …

On Boxing Day, Izzy and I kept up the custom we began with Jim in the mid-1990s of going to a museum. Most years there are block-buster shows in the most famous ones: this year was no different: it was Vermeer and his contemporaries at the National Gallery. We had decided to try another museum — Washington DC is a city chock-a-block with museums — and since I’ve started to go to some through the Smithsonian programs, I felt we ought to try another. We went to the National Portrait Gallery. We had not been together ever.

We wandered around the vast place (it’s really two museums, one for portraits and the other “about America”) I again went through the Sylvia Plath exhibit to give Izzy a chance to see it; we looked at American art of the 19th century, historical pictures (which we talked about as Izzy knows a lot about American history), Matthew Brady’s photographs from the civil war — there the point made in part was how much of war-life was sitting and sleeping and living in a state of waiting; and then the horrific deaths in vast conflagrations. The National Gallery is never as mobbed at the Metropolitan Museum on Sundays or holidays, but still far more hectic in feel than this Portrait Gallery and we enjoyed this place because it was much quieter. Less people vying to see. The cafe was outside, and they had two large shops, one just books.


One of the less familiar images

Oddly one might say (were one naive) the one encompassing truthful exhibit they had was not advertised: on the second floor tucked up in a large corridor and corner with a couple of rooms was an exhibit about Marlene Dietrich: her life, her career, her art, many photographs, some famous, iconic, some I’d never seen before. It was honest: we see her bourgeois family, a photo of her looking somehow wrong in a picturesque conventional girl’s dress. I did not know how she married a wealthy man early on, and importantly a film professional; how heavy she was originally, that she trained as a violinist, grew up in the thick of the Weimar era, or anything about a daughter who meant a great deal to her (but is nonetheless bitter) from that marriage. It seems she was more of a transvestite than I thought: dressed as a man far more often than I realized. In her phases of female or feminine sexuality, there is more variety than one realizes too: she could be conventional as well as startlingly beyond what’s acceptance, funny as well as gypsy melodramatic.

She was at first a cinema hit but when the studios put her in films for a more general American audience, the films flopped. She returned to Europe. There were hand-written letters by her: she had many lovers, sometimes several at a time, among them Erich Maria Remarque and Edith Piaf. She became expensive to hire you are told — so in Touch of Evil (late Orson Wells) she is the charismatic presence but it’s a rare later appearance. She traveled around (presumably for much much less) during War World Two entertaining troops. There was a TV with clips from many movies and her life to: one of her throwing chairs at a young Jimmy Stewart in Destry Rides Again. In the 1970s she moved to Paris, bought an apartment and basically lived out a quarter of a century in seclusion (hardly ever left the flat). There were audios where one could hear her husky voice. Downstairs in the bookshop a very fat book about her by her daughter, Maria Riva, by no means balanced in approach.


Another: aboard a luxury cruiser

It is a shame or loss that this exhibit is kept half-hidden. We were handed for free a seven page essay in a pamphlet plus photographs from the exhibit. Her life, what we were seeing, explanations of the photos. She was an important individual of the 20th century and belongs in this Portrait Gallery museum, but not hidden away.


Here’s the corridor in case you happen on it

The National Portrait Gallery had advertised (among a couple others, all large, much blander) as the Christmas exhibit (though the word is never used as it is not yet publicly acknowledged how many people spend the Christmas day out of the house), The Faces of Battle, on US soldiers’ experience of war since 9/11. Said to be poignant. It was a long corridor of photographs and in separate rooms, photographs, paintings, instalments, films made by artists who had acted as reporters and accompanied troops in Iraq, Arghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries where the US is openly at war. John Keegan’s book as alluded to and there was a sense in which you were shown what contemporary war is like: bombing and guerilla actions as well as interactions with civilians. The concentration was on the faces of these men and women, many now dead. They looked variously exhausted, stiff with trauma, glum and steadfastly enduring what they had to (stoic), carrying a lot on their backs, dirty.

Jun 29, 2009 – Kandahar, Afghanistan – Out of breath, US Army Spc. Larry Bowen age 26, sits shellshocked in a ditch next to his machine gun after a frontal assault on an insurgent position in close quarter fighting during an operation that lasted over several days in the Taliban stronghold of Siah Choy in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
(Credit Image: © Louie Palu/ZUMA Press)

One room had pictures of the rooms of those who were all now dead. Very revealing — many were clearly of young men who had wanted to come there as some glorifying images showed. Sexy pictures. Flags. They were no longer naive in the photos. Agons in some of the photos. Some moving pictures showed the absurdity of some of the practices done. One problem was, What were they doing there not mentioned. There were many references to the bombs or guns that had killed them when they were going out on duty — but not what that duty was. We are told these men were blown up entering a private house but what were they doing entering that house? what was their purpose? Where was their rage as they killed? They came to inflict to seek out and destroy and if necessary kill others, do terrible damage to a groups of people the US gov’t and/or its allies and its donors want incinerated. Had the exhibit had twice as many rooms and shown the horrors inflicted on the Afghans, Iraqis and where the US is there by virtue of its money, supportive planes and boats, and arms it might have brought out the full horror of what this has been about — since 1947.


Reading — not quite the faces of battle

As to our usual movie and meal out in an Asian restaurant on Christmas day, Izzy and I are very fortunate to live near four movie-houses which are semi-art places or not controlled by the AMC distribution ownership of movie-houses corporate monopoly. All four are stand-alone theaters — not inside a mall. Two in DC. There a fifth complex of such places in Bethesda (American Film Institute is the movie-house name, nearby is a playhouse and near that a concert hall) but it is very far for us to go. Unfortunately, the two in Virginia are now practicing the ceaseless feed of clips or films between the “feature” (i.e., the one you paid to go see), but they are in much better taste, not so loud, and do not go on for so long and so endurable (occasionally interesting). One of these, Angelica Mosaic Theater was playing I, Tonya (click for excellent review), Christmas day.


Margot Robbie in a narrative segment

It’s a film very much worth going to see. Vivid, direct and combined documentary motifs (the actors faced us on chairs talking to us) with storytelling – at its best it recalled Cathy Come Home (not often enough) and was about class and violence, competitive aspiration and family life and malls too in America. How badly educated we are becoming; Tonya’s problem was she couldn’t present herself as fake genteel, as upper middle class virgin. She didn’t have the money to hire costume-makers. Her mother worked as a waitress, left by her husband early on; a cruel treacherous woman; all Tonya ever learnt was through bullying or harsh denigration. Her husband came from the same punitive milieu. So they broke directly through a crucial taboo in sports and directly assaulted the competition. The pre-feature film was about an artist in Eastern Europe, and the whole building of the theater, which has a cafe, is large and so one does not feel packed in. We enjoyed ourselves because we could relax. I figured out a way to drive to this theater using the streets; Izzy helped make sure that we didn’t lose our sense of geography as to where the parking garage was in relationship to the movie-house.

We then went to a Chinese restaurant we’ve gone to each Christmas since Jim died — we had gone with him there only twice. It’s small, inexpensive, with good food. No pretension. Usually it is so busy and it won’t take reservations for two. But if you get there at 4 as we did, there are far fewer people and we were served quickly. Isobel is is deeply engaged by ice-skating, blogs on it, studies it, we are going to Milan this March to see the a World Championship week of ice-skating so we talked of the movie in the context of her knowledge of the sport and its history.

Perhaps the less said on 70% of movie-theaters today, all AMC owned where the experience is more of a herd of exploited units in atmospheres of anomie created by discomfort, noise, the awful neon lights, techniques to make everyone competitive, where the theater itself sports as advertisements and trailers clips of high violence, torture, killing and coerced sex. But I feel I should not leave out the other movie we saw and this context. No fun to be had in such a place — the people you see on the lines to get tickets, in the theater space have determined faces (I had almost said slightly grimaced), which is why increasingly people prefer to shop online and watch movies via streaming online and DVDs. To go to such theaters and such malls is to voluntarily go to the equivalent of an airport; the movie-house auditoriums are transforming themselves into caste-ridden (assigned seats will soon become differentially priced) airplanes where you are forced into experiences you don’t want.


Streep and an actor playing a friend-reporter associate – you can see the emphasis on their upper class ways

I like to as truthful as I dare in this autobiographical blog and one’s awareness of the existence of such places influences how one feels nowadays about movie-going and its context, hence its penumbra of significance. That the Kennedy Center and the museums are still good places is why the particular exhibits or shows can speak to the individual who goes of civility, of assumed values of kindness, courtesy, companionship. We made the mistake of seeing Stephen Spielberg’s The Post in such an AMC theater and mall on the day before New Year’s Eve. You can read my review and a linked one (scroll down) in my original political Sylvia blog. I need to see the film again.

I wish for all my readers a good year to come where we all weather somehow whatever economic social and political damage is thrown at us all. Among Trump’s very first acts was to cut the food stamp program, to slash at the agricultural department. He didn’t tweet or boast about that.


Randall Enos: repeal, replace …. yes that’s the bipartisan (fool!) Obama — no it’s not a post-racist world Dorothy

I drove a friend to a CVS last night. It was in the dark and I couldn’t drive much better than she. She needed her allergy medicine, a nose spray and pills. The price of the nose-spray was $213.00. Suddenly up $175 dollars. She had had to change medical plans because of Trumpcare hitting her early. We left without her getting that needed stuff. “Reform” nowadays means changing the rules to let people die, take all opportunity for good education from them, unprotected from debt collectors (college students’ attempt to get help from the Education department are stacked up and shelved) — that’s the reverse definition that began with Bush fils. Trump reforms to allow predators to do what they wish. Until Trump is impeached, we are stuck in a hope mode: hoping no nuclear war, knowing that we are regarded by the Republicans the way they regard the colonialized exploited people outside the US borders: with utter indifference to our welfare, so much possible collateral damage on their way to become yet more obscenely rich. Let us hope we survive with our lives and friends’ (I include family in that word) lives and comforts and work and homes we cherish intact.

The last three days have been dangerously cold — dangerous for the large population of homeless people in the US. Temperatures well below freezing, high winds, snow. I took the photo of my house this morning. I was thinking maybe I ought to begin to sign Ellen at long last, but I think I’ll keep the slight distance and original framing of the blog (meant to be far more comic than it has turned out) this pseudonym provides.

No sensible cat would go out to rub itself against a snowman. I was equally mad (as in mad cats and human staff go out in the midday freeze) as I forged forth kitchen ladder-chair in hand to take colored lights off and out of intertwine in the outside tree yesterday afternoon. This Kliban cat is from this first week’s calendar desk-diary. I had thick gloves on too, and my pussycats, Clary and Snuffy, watched from the inside warmth by the window.

Miss Drake

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Photo taken by Izzy from the 2nd tier of the opera house at Kennedy Center (where we were seeing An American in Paris)

Where does Christmas occur? for those who dream. First we must define what we mean by this word. It does not occur in the events we experience outwardly but the feeling in an individual heart that gave rise to a willingness to go to them and (if you are very lucky) a good feeling while you are there and just after.


An American in Paris: Gene Kelly hero (MeGee Maddox as Jerry Mulligan) and French ballerina heroine (Allison Walsh as Lise Dassine)

Yesterday (Saturday) Laura came over around 11 and she and I and Izzy proceeded to the Kennedy Center to see An American in Paris. As a story it has great problems: a re-make of a 1951 movie clearly devised to showcase Gene Kelly’s extraordinary presence, dancing, it suffers from the Hays Code so the males are emasculated and females child-like.

We were bored by the first tame act but somehow momentum was built, it emerged one of the three males absurdly in love with the heroine is homosexual (Henri Bauel played by Ben Michael), the second more than physically disabled, probably Aspergers (Adam Hochberg played by Matthew Scott), the heroine herself a Jew whose parents were murdered by the Vichy-Hitler regimes, and the grand moneyed lady had a brain (Milo Davenport played by Kirsten Scott), and they all began to dance these entrancing absorbing numbers with a large troop of dancers. Meanwhile Gerswin’s music took over the brain. The great hall was beautifully decorated, the terrace so pleasant by the water.

Then we had little trouble getting to a very good Asian restaurant where Laura’s husband joined us, we had Peking duck and exchanged gifts. Drinks. Good talk. Hugs when bidding adieu.


Marley’s ghost visiting Scrooge (Alistair Sim)

The night before (Friday) I’d watched the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim. We are observing Christmas on Trollope and his Contemporaries by reading Dickens’s tale for two weeks and then Margaret Olphant’s Beleaguered City (another profound ghost story). I’d finished Staves 1 and 2; my reaction I felt I had read these lines hundreds of times before. I haven’t. It must be that bits are quoted so frequently. The air is filled with phantoms. One “cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below upon a door-step.” Sim is wonderful at irony and sarcasm and succeeds in undercutting somehow perfectly the emotionalism of the film. He makes fun of the ghosts at first; he produces wry comments; he is shy over his new found joy. While the first ghost’s journey is fully done, and the second graphically vivid, the third is scanted and the lesson too self-centered: Scrooge fears he will die, a desire for love is re-awakened, and pity.

Still I found myself crying suddenly and strongly suddenly at moments of great power from Alistair Sim’s performance (his face is so mobile, his eyes) in the context of an older aesthetic of civility, kindliness, humaneness.

As ever I paid attention to last part when he sees the older Alice in the workhouse: I used to have a fantasy I would go to homeless shelters where they do lunch on Christmas day when I was alone but I’ve discovered in DC at any rate, you have to register online to do that, tell about yourself (I suppose that makes sense but the form is intrusive, seeking to know my status) and now this year pay $50 — with nothing on the website telling what the $50 is used for.


Jimmy Stewart as suicidal George Bailey

And then last night (back to Saturday) I dosed myself further with the 1945 It’s a Wonderful Life. I was again moved and entered into the fiction. Like Alistair Sim, Jimmy Stewart’s deeply emotional and distraught presence was essential; he was supported by a cast which was allowed (more than the British actors) to have their intense moments of near suicide, several famous names: Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence, the angel who wants his wings and speaks over-voice, Lionel Barrymore as Mr Potter (Scrooge as capitalist); over-voice was important, Donna Reed as the wife and Gloria Grahame as the promiscuous woman.

Living in the Trumpian American that has been created by 50 years of propaganda (since 1947 — the severe control to prevent anything cooperative, socialistic in the least begins with the McCarthy era) and is now triumphing I saw something I had not before: before I concentrated on the fallacious nature of the bargain: George Bailey is made to experience the world as if he had never lived and all else the same happening the same way. The way the film is discussed is it teaches us that each individual matters.

Now I saw the overarching larger story: what is shown is when the Building and Loan association is not there to give reasonable loans, gradually the town’s life is destroyed under the cruel infliction and imposition of Potter’s ruthless high rates of interest, low paying jobs, no social services. Not only is there no lovely set of houses for the average person. The center of town is given over to drink and whoring and violence, and people behave angrily and suspiciously because it’s each person for him or herself in this capitalist environment. The movie shows us not only the results of this tax code in a few years but how it came to be: the mindset engendered by 50 years of propaganda and insufficient social services and destruction of union. I’m not exaggerating.


Scrooge stopped short by death (Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come)

So as opposed to the Christmas Carol, which is about an individual, George Bailey’s life and choices are about a whole society his behavior and norms fostered. Unjust economic arrangements are central again and again. Capra said he got many letters of people upset that Mr Potter is allowed to get away with stealing the $8000 which Uncle Billy misplaced. The fable shows that George doesn’t erase ruthless capitalism, he ameliorated it. I was impressed by how much better everyone behaved to one another when all were doing better and/or well.

We might ask what should a good Christmas story or movie have? Anthony Trollope argued it should exemplify charity. Of Trollope’s Christmas stories my favorite is The Widow’s Mite. I recommend it, and ask if you think the moral is the one I conclude Trollope turns the old parable into. When giving it matters not if the gift takes anything from the giver, what matters is to give something needed to the person given the gift. He reveals the self-centered fallacy at the heart of the fable. See what you and if you agree with me.

The idea of a miracle is more to the forefront in both A Christmas Carol and It’s a wonderful life. Both have ghosts; Clarence does not look so different from the ghost of Christmas past. The 20th century fable has other people seeing Clarence.


Henry Travers as Clarence explaining himself to George

Capra’s movie also uses the of two realms of time going on at the same time and since George’s nightmare doesn’t last it’s a fantasy, but it does use the time-traveling trope with its improbabilities and deeply structured “what if” idea — in Outlander the heroine, Claire, again and again fights against history and fails to stop happening whatever was destined or already happened. I was happy to notice something else not emphasized enough: it is Mary who saves the day. While George is off with Clarence, she calls Uncle billy, finds out what happened and she goes off to individuals and customers and everyone asking for help. George’s happiness in life is also attributed to their relationship.

A parallel incident in Winston Graham’s 1977 The Angry Tide: there is a run on the bank engineered by the ruthless capitalist banker, George Warleggan. So instead of paying the miners the salary Ross had been gathering for them from profit, Demelza ostentatiously puts it in the attacked bank, and, this explained, the miners accept the way the people of Bedford Falls do — for a while. A week later Ross comes home and with his high status, maleness, abnd good will engineers a consortium of banks to overcome Warleggan. But the idea of the people helping the man who was providing a good life against the establishments’ wishes is in both books. This latter is not a miracle though and thus not a Christmas story?

Ghosts. Traditionally Christmas stories use ghosts, and I have been reading Tyler Tichelaar’s exploration of real ghosts testified to in the history of Marquette, Upper Michigan (Haunted Marquette), spiritual mediums, haunted institutions, people to whom great cruelty was done. Appropriately or serendipitiously, Victorian Studies for December published something highly unusual: a funny scholarly article, Victorian Studies, 50:2 (Winter 2007):

Aviva Briefel in “Freaks of Furniture” writes about critical appraisals in magazines and periodicals of the popularity of ghost stories and séances. It seems that people were worried lest readers and the public become afraid of their furniture. And indeed Briefel quotes articles and letters ordinary people wrote about their fear of a piece of furniture; that some chair or bureau or lamp was not to be trusted to sit there unmoved. Things were behaving badly in some Victorian households. How spectral displays of objects got in the way of servants doing their jobs. Tables were particularly aggressive. Photography had begun to be used by spiritual mediums – Tyler’s book records some uses of this – the light in the center of the photo which seem inexplicable. This was seen by some as “excess energy” we could put to better use. Of course some is direct parody: Punch published a directive telling prospective customers they need to “carefully source” their stuff before buying it. Scrutinize it, find out its history, how it had behaved in previous houses …

Of course it’s skeptical but it also shows how this belief in ghosts and presences was pervasive. In my case I have never seen any furniture or other object in any house I’ve lived in act up, much less in similar ways. When I was very young and lived with my father’s sister (my aunt) and her children, these children did play mean tricks and once the trick was aimed at me. I was terrified and they didn’t reveal this trick until my aunt came home and discovered of course what was occurring. Because of such experiences (there were a couple of such) when I read of tricks played on some specific young person in a family — say in Smollett or Burney or more recently Waugh or Anthony Powell — I am not amused.

There are powerful ghost stories from the 1930s — I could cite them if anyone is interested, where the event is a mean trick. The person is fooled, but then what happens towards the end is suddenly the trick is real, and some real revenant punished someone hard. One of these was called “It,” and the idea of the story was to reveal to the reader that these games with an “It” in the center are left-over scapegoating rituals. Sometimes I’m glad I was an only child. These Christmas stories can turn mean.

But there is another sine qua non, a very different kind of Christmas event to hallucinatory movies, riveting musicals, transformative stories: the Christmas pantomime and music hall antics in taverns and theaters. These connect to traditional plays (as in the medieval Second Shepherd’s). A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful have very comic moments. Clarence is oddly hilarious.


Albert Coia and Tracey Stephens (Miss Florrie Ford)

Today at 3 Izzy and I re-found Metro-stage. A flyer had come onto my stoop about a month ago: once again Catherine Flyte, impresario, was staging Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush, this time in Alexandria City. I phoned, reserved with a credit card, took down the address, and trusted to my garmin to get us there. We were getting nervous as the garmin kept disagreeing with our paper map but as we drove up, both of us said, Oh, we’ve been here before — with Dad. I felt happy that Izzy remembered so well a moving play we saw here years ago, Sea Marks with Michael Toleydo and Catherine Flyte as an aging fisherman and lonely woman finding love again. I have a still from it on my wall today.

Jim and I used to go here justthe two of us occasionally for rarely-done plays too: we saw Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. It’s a small theater-auditorium in a plain small building at the end of a residential block of attached houses, very suitable for intimate plays — and shows. They had only the one piano.

Then we looked at our program and there was the unique Albert Coia, still alive and doing Mr Bertie Ramsbottom, and routines like “The Night I appeared as Macbeth:” he didn’t get the laughter over how he had missed Bill’s [Shakespeare] being ill, much less dead, that he should have. No one can do British music hall the way he does — or Catherine Flyte as the aging Fairy (“Nobody Loves a Fairy”) and the schoolmistress putting on play with young children. Izzy said it was 1994 that Laura interned at the British embassy and we saw a genuine full Christmas pantomime: “Little Red Riding Hood,” complete with two dames, and then in 2001 that we saw this show with Toleydo himself as Chairman. He made me laugh that time until I almost couldn’t stop.

This time Brian O’Connor was Chairman. I again found parts of routines hilarious that around me other people were made uncomfortable by (some of the numbers are very salacious: “Spotted Dick” and “Me Little Yo-Yo” for male performers and “Please Don’t Touch Me Plums” for women). To some in the audience this was like Gilbert and Sullivan to the audience I was in 4 weeks ago: another culture. Still it draws people wherever it plays.


This is not the one we saw but a version of it I found at YouTube

Well there was “Champagne Charlie is my name,” “The Road to Mandalay or Come into the Garden Maud” mashed into “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God” (a man speaks Kipling like lines and behind him is a woman whose arms do much work about his body), other routines (“Christmas in the Trenches”), altogether some 30 songs, in bits, as choruses, with audience singing along or in competition, continual moan-and-groan puns, questions and answers, interruptions, repetitions, a soprano (Katherine Riddle as Miss Daisy May), a wonderfully resonant baritone (Bob McDonald), sad songs (“In the Bleak Midwinter”), gay (“Let’s All Go Down the Strand”) and longing — many from World War One: “It’s a long way from Tipperary.” Christmas crackers were pulled. This iteration has been very favorably reviewed and it was (alas) the last performance for this year.

So another outward manifestation of Christmas is (to quote the reviewer) is “soothing the soul” by “spending a couple of hours laughing in the dark at silly jokes and stomping to give your approval.” Something cathartic.


Again this is not from the Gershwin production we saw, but is Judy Garland singing on the radio one of the songs we heard (“Not for me”)

When we were at the Old Bush and Bull and Izzy was singing sitting next to me I heard her beautiful soprano voice so clearly and knew it was superior to anyone else’s in the row; and when we returned from the Asian place after Kennedy Center she had such a relaxed tone in her voice, it sounded so harmonious and easy for a moment. She has had Christmas happen to her this year.

Miss Drake

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Winter again


Wintry walk — in a Maryland park

Grey trunks

Leafless limbs shiv’ring
At sharp winter’s blast; beneath:
Roots clasp cold comfort.
— Tony Lee

Each year time out of mind communities of people have framed winter’s first phase with festivities where light and gay color, preferably green, play a central role. In college (1960s a Queens College, CUNY) I read and as a central text of the first half of British literature (1990s at George Mason) I taught the wonderfully marvelous medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, accompanied by much explication where we were told why red was the other favored color, but I’ve forgotten now (it has to do with blood, berries, mistletoe, legends). Still, without knowing why but because it was there and caught our eyes Izzy and I must’ve bought in the past three years (since we’ve been putting up a tree again) a glittery red garland. It’s in such good shape. (Some of our ornaments go back to before Izzy was born, most at least 6 years old. We have far more than we can put on our nowadays tiny trees). It was the final wrap round this year’s decorating:

Each year for some 15 years I’ve also taken down from the attic my pottery penguin dressed for snow sports, whom I named Colin. At night when I plug him in, he too glitters:

This year I bought him a small friend, to sit by said tree too, a silvery squirrel: funnily, my male cat Ian likes to sit next to this squirrel. It is clearly a harmless presence. She is as yet nameless.

We have bought token but wanted presents to exchange with Laura and Rob six days from now (when we are all to go to the Kennedy Center to see An American in Paris, and after eat out somewhere nice), and tomorrow I’ll send out what paper cards I have to exchange, and many more electronic. We added a new (we hope fun) ritual to our usual Jewish Christmas (Izzy and I go to a movie and then eat out Asian food on the 25th, with the next Boxing Day spent at a museum): on Christmas eve’s afternoon an English Christmas pantomime we found happens each year in Bear and Bush tavern style in a small Alexandria City theater. Jim enjoyed these so (we managed over the years to find three, twice in DC and once at the English embassy), especially the music hall routines that usually accompany them.


Our miniature Maple outside in front — dusk, close-up (this year I had an outside socket installed)

I seem to have forgotten to mention that about three weeks ago I made my way to an evening of Gilbert and Sullivan at the Hirshhorn museum — a Smithsonian event where a professor accompanied about 2 hours of brilliantly chosen clips from films of great productions, interspersed by a local Georgetown theater group (college students) who each spring do a full G&S production. It was great fun, a full auditorium, but I realize that most of the people there had not seen much G&S where I have seen so many — from my years living with Jim. It ended on one of my favorites, which was one most of the people in the audience seemed not to know, from the ending of The Yeoman of the Guard, “I have a song to sing O”. Jim said at the time the sad ending of the play and this song were unusual for G&S.

It brings to mind a song I was led to listen to today, which I’ll close on.

I was coming to the end of the 9th Poldark novel, The Miller’s Dance, where Clowance Poldark, of the Napoleonic era heroines (the year 1812) seems about to self-destruct by knowingly marrying a man she knows to be violent, a liar, possessive, unreasonable, and yet is drawn to — reminding me of what Chaucer and Shakespeare say about the love of Troilus and Cressida that they drink down the poison as it answers some need in their veins (an enthralling drug). She is at an assembly ball and Valentine (a twisted soul himself, whom she thinks is her cousin but is her half-brother) calls for “The Miller’s Dance.” The characters do not know this dance as it seems to be an older one, and we are told it begins with long resonant strings, “creating a deep echoing note such as is heard before a Scottish reel.

Gradually the dance emerges as couples follow a caller and dance round a solitary man kneeling on a sheaf of corn. In the song variant written probably by Graham, the figure counts “his corn and taxes the sun,” but when it comes to money, all vanishes and at the word “gone,” the couples must change partners. Whoever remains in the middle partnerless is pelted by what comes to hand (cake, ribbons, nuts, candied food). In this civilized time all is a “noisy lark but the heavy beat of the music and its peculiarly melancholy rhythm” has an effect of “old Cornish tunes, building an emotion by its endless repetition and conjuring up superstitions and practices which could not so easily survive the night.” The narrator wonders if the “sacrificial centre” had once upon a time “been stoned.” (The archaic basis of the story and motifs of Sir Gawain and his Green Knight is similarly atavistic — someone bewitched, someone beheaded.)

Clowance enjoys the wild dancing and exchanges, half-reeling with exhaustion, until it comes to her this music had “been communicating something to her which had been taken out of her psychic self … ” For her the miller is this man she is trying to break off from, “an unshriven spirit,” “vigorous, brash fascinating … hair, muscle, sinew … ready to fight … to demand what he thought to be his,charming, dominating, ruthless …”

I went about to find the source, and got back as far as a Chesire folk song, found copied out in a manuscript traced to John Dryden, later resurfacing as reworked by Isaac Bickerstaffe in the 18th century from a man and his sons, to be about a deeply reclusive distrustful man, to a re-incarnation in 1973 by Sondheim as “The Miller’s Son” (A little Night Music, an adaptation of Bergman’s movie, Smiles of a Summer Night.

The song quoted in the novel is a fictionalized version of all these others, made to fit the story and characters. As danced in the novel by these 18th century characters it would be closer to the YouTube rendition of the 18th century dance, but I think the layering here includes and comes to refer primarily to that erotic Miller’s Son. It’s not summer in the novel but later November into winter.

What purports the nomination of this song: the price of having chosen a version of that miller’s son. This is my fifth winter without him.

Miss Drake


Oh tree oh little tree

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A photo of me giving a paper on Ann Radcliffe (taken by Jim)

Friends and readers,

Tonight I have reason to celebrate: with the extraordinary computer expertise of an old friend, Mike Powe, whose wedding Jim and I attended, and who knew Jim, my website is healthy again. Free of all “bad code,” “five unwanted files” (what they were referred to throughout this demoralizing incident). “Clean” as they say. Unless I misunderstand, I am now also voluntarily part of Google Search Console, which monitors sites and will in future let me know if anything seems to be going wrong (preventive measures). My IT people came through and my computer is similarly free of any “compromise” (this is the language these people talked in), back-ups working beautifully, movies fine.

During this time I learned that Izzy is still using the website for her original and fan-fiction (the front page itself has not been updated since her teen years), so it is not only what Jim built (so deeply cherished by me) and contains about 20 years of my scholarship, reading and writing with others on the Net, but developed projects of all sorts, the result of blogging, watching mini-series, going off on tangents from experiences with others teaching and digital, but still a on-going creation for Izzyher blogging interests include ice-skating (she knows as much as any person alive about the sport and art), tennis, and some TV mini-series too; she is a musician, sings and composes.

For a time she was writing on Fan-Sided: Culturess professionally (the pay was abysmal for her for the amount of time these blogs took, but she did reach a wider audience and wrote on Austen too) because Laura was there, and stopped writing on her older blog, We Need More Fruit, which is now linked into the website and contains years of superb postings on ice-skating, movies, travel experiences, books she’s read.


“For there is nothing lost, that may not be found: Charlotte Smith in Austen’s Autumnal Persuasion (today this essay was published by Sarah Emsley as one of two previews of a coming series of blog-essays)

For myself aware of the fragility of my minimal knowledge of web-development, I’ve branched out to publish elsewhere, both conventionally and here on the Web, especially academia.edu and these wordpress blogs. I put this year’s reading and film watching on Ellen and Jim tonight as the books and films that affected me and I recommend most are of more general application than in previous years. Home from teaching for a couple of months, I’ve returned to book projects (Winston Graham and the Poldark world), fitting in studying French and Italian and Renaissance women, and women artists and poets once again. I will be back to Trollope as this spring I will be teaching He Knew He Was Right, we are on Trollope and his Contemporaries @yahoo about to read The American Senator once again.

Miss Drake

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Susan Herbert, After Pissarro, Girl with a Stick

Dear friends and readers,

It’s time for end of year blogs. What else is the function of birthdays, anniversaries, each Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s — but to prompt us, will we nill we, to look back, to this time last year, and tonight I’m wondering why I have cried so little since Jim died. Such moments — and usually I’ve not gone on to keen — have occurred surprisingly rarely for me. Yes I know it’s the sensible thing. “Would it help?” asked Mark Rylance inimitably, stealing the whole movie, last January. But we act irrationally a good deal, and this week events piled up to the point I began to wonder why I cry so little. Perhaps I exhausted myself at age 14 to 15, my time of enduring traumatic sexual harassment and humiliation I’ve never gotten over. I’d sit or lie down and cry for hours, whole afternoons; one day in the high school I couldn’t cease crying so was taken to the student infirmary where the kindly nurse said, “go ahead, dear.” Better than the English nurses when I was 27 and had a spectacular miscarriage in a Keswick hospital: they looked at me with intense disapproval. I was upsetting the other patients who “could hear.” My recollection is that since those 2 years I’ve been more or less dry-eyed. I did keen on and off for a few days when I first realize Jim was really dying and soon, of liver cancer, but slow motion, low-grade tearing distress, and (to be candid) finding this was openly not appreciated, stopped.

So what happened this week? I’m not referring to Trump’s crowning success of a tax bill the other night — though it will hurt me and mine at first in small ways and gradually a lot, like most others in this now wretched society. (Tonight McMasters declared we were even in danger of war with North Korea, quite seriously — will Trump and his military agents start dropping nuclear bombs, do you think? he and his republican rump have shown no conscience; he regards the death of millions as nothing important to him, or he doesn’t regard this possibility at all.) Closer to me personally is the newly public admission that sexual harassment is pervasive in all aspects of US life; there I might take that as a relief. For decades I thought I was unusual; either super-sensitive or socially incompetent or somehow attracting abrasive male bullies who smelt victim. Would that I could believe this “outing” of well-known men was going to change the behavior of men. But these are topics on my intendedly political Sylvia blog.

No this week I should have cried because hostway.com, the people Jim set up an account in cyberspace for the website he built for me so painstakingly, will do nothing to help me scan and get rid of “five unwanted files” in the file zilla space discovered by a google sweep last week; these may be a virus though they are not spreading, and google now attaches warnings to my site. They were willing to restore earlier versions of the site, and it may be that in a few days the warnings will go off because the “unwanted files” are no longer there. I can’t tell. The technicians were able to tell me there were these files, and they seem to know where they are, and doubtless could get rid of them, but they won’t. This is for the original web developed. I tell he is dead, and they say “I’m sorry for your loss,” and repeat their mantra. My IT guys are finally failing me. They did check my computer and found no virus but again only these “five unwanted files” (which may come from malware) and quarantined and deleted them from everywhere — the file zilla represents cyberspace on hostway. But they refused to do a scan and get rid of the five in the file zilla. They know nothing about web development. I don’t believe that for a moment. So it may be in five or six days if the warning doesn’t go away I have to 1) hire a web-developer whose competence and trustworthiness I cannot judge (I have ascertained there are such people I can hire even to do a small website); or 2) take down the website, unpublish all I put there, back to Emily Dickinson style, and this will hurt Izzy too as she has put much on the website from her URL (fiction, poetry); 3) leave it as it is. Probably in 4-5 days I will take step 1. I’ve been surprisingly cheerful and only lost 3 nights sleep. I began sleeping 3 hours again 2 nights ago.

The IT guys also don’t answer me quickly any more. I have asked them to explain another nagging kind of warning and 24 hours have gone by and no answer. Since there are three people I must assume they didn’t all die. This message said “consult the computer manufacturer” and these IT guys are part of the computer package I bought when I bought this professional computer in February 2014.

The Yahoo listserv are acting erratically and one I moderate (Women Writer through the Ages) stopped working altogether for about 4-5 days. A week before all images across the system vanished; a few days later they came back. The group site page itself disappeared on and off for 3 days. The Yahoo management takes its cue from Trump and Company behavior: utter indifference to anyone hurt in any way or using their software. Not once was there the least notification or explanation. You have not been able to get an individual to help you on Yahoo for months now. I did stumble on groups.io; this is a new site run by Mark Fletcher who invented the original ONElist, turned it into egroups and then sold it to yahoo. He’s had a change of heart and has opened a new groups forum, which he and others claim will replicate all one has on a yahoo site, and work in closely similar ways. I just have to jump ship as moderator to save and take our communities to this other space: I took the first step (somehow or other) and now I just have to give up being moderator and put in my place transfer@groups.io. If I could convey to you, how scary this to me. I don’t understand technology or cyberspace but I must do it soon. Two of my yahoo groups have real friends on them, they are real communities, one of readers (Trollope is the focus for every other book or movie), and one of progressive feminist friends who are genuine readers too.


Charlotte Smith, drawing by George Romney (1792)

As if that’s not enough, my Charlotte Smith paper (“The Global Charlotte Smith: women and migrancy in Ethelinde and The Emigrants) was rejected absurdly thoroughly by the editors of the volume, leaders of that Charlotte Smith conference I went to in fall 2016. I had an idea they’d dislike my politics and the paper — but it is dispiriting and discouraging because I spent 3 months on it better given over to William Graham or something genuinely fulfilling and productive. What they wanted was half of the paper theoretical disquisition on some aspect of post-colonialism and the other half close reading of tiny passages to ferret out a demonstration of this disquisition. I am putting the paper on academia.edu and leave it to my reader to see if it is a good paper showing that Charlotte Smith wrote from an original post-colonial point of view, with a feminist slant from early on in her career to the close of it. See also (if you are interested) the wider paper: A peculiar kind of women’s text: Ethelinde and The Emigrants as Post-colonial texts” The experience is salutary and sobering. I’m now 71 (see below) tired of banging my head against such walls and took the opportunity to bow out of promises to do two other similar papers on women’s whose work I do love. I can’t write to the fashion. Maybe I don’t cry because I feel relieved of three headaches — especially in the Smith case a demand I use a particular edition or version of the Chicago Manual of Style, together with embedded footnotes. Beyond me.

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


From 1995 BBC Persuasion (scripted Nick Dear); the characters on the beach at Lyme, November

By no means all rejection. I’m delighted my essay, “For there is nothing lost, that may be found:” Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, will be put up on Sarah Emsley’s lovely blog in another week. Autumnal. Just about finished my review of Devoney Looser’s The Making of JA, and will see the last of it by Monday until it’s published. The second class I was teaching (“Booker Prize Marketplace Niche”) came to an end this week, and I was applauded, and got a lovely card, present and I know succeeded with them. I will be teaching two courses in the spring, “The Later [Virginia] Woolf” and “Sexual and Marital Politics in Trollope” (He Knew He Was Right, together with “Journey to Panama”). I’ve returned to Winston Graham and finished at long last The Stranger from the Sea and began The Miller’s Dance (the 8th and 9th Poldark novels) and find them to be truly interesting, quietly appealing historical fiction, and carry on with my third of a paper (so I don’t do 2/3s, and I don’t worry myself about Chicago Manuals) on Woolf and Samuel Johnson as biographers. I will write separate blogs on this soon, but I have loved Frances Spalding’s biography of Roger Fry — the man’s pictures and aesthetic ideals do my heart good. I actually registered for a coming NeMLA conference in Pittsburgh, reserved a hotel room for 3 nights in April 2018, and have someone to drive to Pittsburgh with! I’ll give a paper on close reading a few of Virginia Woolf’s highly original short biographical essays (just 10-12 minutes). Laura came over here last Saturday and with her help, she, Izzy and I rented an apartment in Milan for 10 days and nights in March 2015 in Milan (it looks very comfortable and is not far from the Ice-skating World Championship venue) and bought a flight using Air France. So we three will try Italy again — we went with Jim in 1994 to Rome for 4 weeks.


Interior Autumn, The artist’s wife (Albert Andre)

No reason to cry there. Nor over my birthday. This week another birthday rolled around: my 71st. Knowing how lonely I have felt during these holiday times, I made provision, and I went with a good kind friend to see a film, Victoria and Abdul, a strange if beautifully acted and filmed movie of Queen Victoria’s infatuation in her old age with a young Muslim man, and we had tea and good talk together in the afternoon. Hardly time to come home and I went out with Izzy and Laura to the Olive Garden (once again) for dinner and drinks. On face-book many kind people, many of whom I actually know and/or have met off-FB wished me a good birthday; cards and a phone call with my aunt. I was drained by the end and collapsed into two episodes of Outlander (shoverdosing is the fancy word) where I was lured by the loving of Claire and Jamie, which, along with another poem by Patricia Fargnoli, soothed me into the oblivion of 4 hours sleep. I am also listening to Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, and while it tries my patience and is occasionally ugly in its political-social prejudices (especially against homosexuality), there are passages of love-talk and love-making between the hero and heroine (with whom I have now thoroughly bonded) that make my soul soar with memories. This from Woolf’s Orlando on sleep and dreams:

happiness … dreams which splinter the whole and tear us asunder and wound us and split us apart in the night when we would sleep; but sleep, sleep so deep that all shapes are ground to dust of infinite softness water of dimness inscrutable, and there, folded, shrouded … like a moth, prone let us lie on the sand at the bottom of sleep … (Chapter Six, p 216,
ed, Maria DiBattista, Harvest book)

A wonderful luncheon on Friday with the other OLLI teachers at AU. I mention this because one of us is apparently a composer of Broadway type music and expert on Broadway musicals. He gave a lecture on songs for older characters in American musicals, which while usually not paid attention to in advertisements or the storytelling are often central to the meaning of the musical — as in “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel. The older character (in their fifites at least) gives supportive advise, talks wisdom,shares the grief he or she has known. Then he played some marvelous clips. This after another of 10 film classes altogether over the term (the 8th), on Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. A significant moving (angering — I was angry with him) film, and fascinating talk and context offered. I came home aroused and saddened. It seemed to me most people there had partners and someone to come home to. Yet I would not be participating in this place had I not been widowed and in such need.

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


Clarycat and her toy grey mouse ….

The photo (just above) shows my beloved Clarycat’s face lit by a flashlight; it was only way I could get enough into her catbed in my room so you could see how she was sleeping on top of her small toy grey mouse. A true tale I’ve been recording over on face-book for a couple of weeks now. I will spare you the diary and just offer the evidence-based deduction: my Clarycat not only remembers and plans, she behaves symbolically. So too probably Ian or SnuffyCat but I have seen only the memory and planning and action, but not the use of a symbol. Clarycat has a favorite toy if keeping it by her side is any measure: a small grey mouse, a stuff toy. I’ve mentioned this before. What happens is when I am not in an area I usually am in, she keeps taking it out of her catbed and putting it there. Say I come home after being out for some 5-6 hours, I will the mouse under my desk, or by my chair in front of my computer, or at the threshold of the our workroom (where my cats reside a great deal of the time too). I put it back in the cat bed lest it get lost. I wake in the morning and it’s again near my bed or by the threshold of the bedroom. I put it back. During the day if I go into another room or am not paying attention to her, Clarycat puts the mouse in these three places or by the front door. Sometimes I’ve thought she behaves in cat bed as if it were her doll, other times she is reminding me of her existence. Putting a charm near me. She wants to remind me of her. Or maybe it stands for me when I am not there.

This is so persistent that I asked people on face-book what they thought she was about. People offered the idea that cats bring their kill to you to show off, but she knows it’s not a kill, and she doesn’t bring it to me, but puts it where I was when I am not there or absorbed in reading or writing or eating or watching TV or reading in another room. One person said “it’s her baby and she wants you to keep a watch over it. My girlfriend had a dog that when it came in heat it would take a certain toy and snuggle it to her breast and carry it around in her mouth. Only did this when in heat.” Diana: “Marshy carefully guards a little hoard of old catnip mice. They’re very important to her.” Patricia: “Rusty-Griffin hides her stuffed mice under the couch, … all in a little nest of them.” Miranda: “Our little neutered female cat used to steal black woolly socks and mother them … husband felt cruel repossessing them for work.” Was it a substitute for when I got back? Pat asked. I’ve concluded that’s closest.


Ian or Snuffy plays with this toy mouse too

Why this is symbolic: cats do hide in catbeds, and other places, but these are real literal places, and do not stand for anything beyond what they are literally. Clarycat is treating an object in ways that she is not reacting to it literally but as a symbol for something. The way we use objects or sounds/letters to speak. The closest I’ve seen Ian aka Snuffy cat (as in Snuffle-up-a-gus)come to this use of something as a symbol is when he fishes in my handbags to find and pull out my gloves and then try to trot away with them. I need my gloves when the air is chilly outside … To him my glove stands for me. It literally smells from me. I’ve seen him leave a glove in my shoe. He shows affection by nudging his head against mine; he comes into my lap and presses his whole body against my chest, his head against mine. He meows a lot nowadays. So does Clarycat. When she awakens suddenly and I’m not there, she wails. He continues to detest and protest against all closed doors. Like him with my blove, Clarycat will put her little grey mouse in my shoe. What she doesn’t do is bring it back to the catbed. I do that so that she doesn’t displace it or put it somewhere where it gets kicked behind or under something and become lost.

Two more November species interaction: It’s autumn and until today when the “lawn” crew came by and vaccumed up the leaves, my lawn was covered in them, and they made their way by wind to the stoop and by the front door. Clarycat goes after these, haunts them. When they come in through the front door, she puts them into her mouth and chews them. I remembered how when she first manifested this behavior as a young kitten, Jim said we should re-name her Marianne. Those who live through Austen’s novels will instantly recall Elinor’s acid remark to Marianne that it is “not every one who has your passion for dead leaves.” So Clarycat is a Percy Bysshe Shelley romantic? Jim would try to take these leaves from her lest she barf. After a while she realized he was the enemy of her chewing dead leaves and would run off with them if he happened to come near when she was mouthing one, and she’d secret them somewhere. Tonight she and I have played this comic act. I told Izzy just about the leaves and she smiled. She didn’t need the explanation of the quotation at all. Just now Clary is moving the grey mouse toy to under my desk, near my feet. Sometimes I find it on my desk.

On the morning we turned back the clocks: we people adjust to what we see symbolically. So the clocks are turned back and I got up in the light. 6:30 in the morning the sky was a light grey blue. And I had an extra hour. Meanwhile my sleep patterns were disturbed for a few days until I re-adjusted. Now the cats do not seem to grasp this symbolism, so they are not cheered by the light as I have been.


John Atkinson Grimshaw (once again), of Yorshire: Ghyllbeck in autumn-winter

It’s now early December, 2018. I may lose that website. I do have backup files in my computer which should stay there. I was in over my head. Jim meant well; he didn’t want me to leave my writing in notebooks and shoeboxes. But he made no provision for death, especially early quick death (he died 6 months after diagnosis). He was ever determined to do things his way on his own; had he hired a web developer to do what was wanted, then needed and kept paying, I could have carried on. But at the time he started (1998), there was very little on the Internet of this individual type ….

So I’m again facing a second great loss. I almost lost all my data when my old computer died suddenly a week after I totaled my car in December 2013. Laura helped me out of that by enlisting a friend who saved the data, and then by introducing me to EJO solutions who have until now enabled me to function on the computer for listservs, blogs, emails, browsers. With the coming loss of Net Neutrality who knows what may ensue. It is a war of the few deeply wealthy and powerful in the US against 90% of the people.

I’ve return to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States to better understand how this comes about. I’m up to Chapter Six how an elite conservative group enlisted enough white males against the British to win a war against the elites of Britain and write a constitution on their own behalf that functioned with a veneer of democracy and was underwritten paternalism to select loyal groups of white men. In my next blog I’ll tell about my reading this year and in yet a third on the end of a another year without Jim about some significant moviesI’ve re-seen and seen for the first time.

Miss Drake

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Victoria Crowe (b. 1945), November Windows, Reflecting

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world” — Virginia Woolf

Friends and readers

As many know who might be reading this blog, this third Thursday of November brings the annual US Thanksgiving day. Like Christmas is a Winter Solstice festival, so this is an autumnal day for memories. We are urged to get together with other people to remember what happened this year that was good, something that meant a lot to us. I can’t meet either demand tonight for myself. The bar is too high. Some good things happened, nothing spectacularly bad.


Laura at a press conference for a Downton Abbey exhibit in New York City, with Joanne Froggartf (Anna Bates)

I can say that my older daughter had become a paid freelance entertainer blogger last year here on the Net where she created and made a great success out of an entertainment blog, Fan-Sided, and is very pleased this year to be regular (in effect staff) writer for WETA, specialty British mini-series. You see her above with a central actress in the once stupendously popular Downton Abbey; Laura had told Froggartt that her mother especially bonded with the character of Anna, and Froggartt was generous enough to insist on sending a photograph of herself with my daughter. Izzy carried on being a successful librarian. They are now blogging together (Ani & Izzy). Those who read this blog regularly know how I spent the year.

I’m in contact with a friend I made at Road Scholar in the Highlands this summer; if I can get up the courage (I know how to do this one), I may go to NYC for three days during December through February (that’s the window of opportunity) to see said exhibit on Downton Abbey, go to a Trollope lecture, play on or off Broadway and then home. Two more photos Laura took:


Leslie Nicol (Mrs Patmore) and Sophia McShera (Daisy) with on-site actors as cooks


The set for the bedroom

Happily this week our local quasi-art movie-house has three (!) decent movies so tomorrow I’ll go with my friend, Vivian to see a film by a film-maker whose work I enjoy very much, Agnes Vara’s Faces Places, on Thursday Izzy and I will make a roast chicken (more than the two of us can eat) and go again to see the latest Jane Goodall documentary, Jane. I used to show these to my writing class in Natural science and tech, and Saturday night, weather permitting or not, Vivian and I bought tickets to go to our first ghost tour in Alexandria. Neither of us have ever done one before. The third is Abdul and Victoria, which I hope will be there next week as I shall go with another friend, Panorea, after which we’ll do lunch. I’ve bought the book.

I am somewhat relieved that teaching is coming to an end for this semester next week, and I’ve just about finished two Austen papers for publication, one (seasonally enough) “For there is nothing lost, that may be found, Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s [autumnal] Persuasion” (to be linked in when it appears), in which I quote from Smith’s

Sonnet 32: To Melancholy

Written on the banks of the Arun, October 1785
When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil,
And the grey mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
Thro’ the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale:
For at such hours the shadowy phantom pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet’s eye;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail!
Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity’s own Otway I methinks could meet,
And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!
O Melancholy! — such thy magic power,
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
And soothe the pensive visionary mind!
— by Charlotte Smith


The beach at Lyme (1995 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)


Anne is “minded” to accept Wentworth — Sally Hawkins — how I loved her Maudie, near my favorite actress at this point (2007 ITV Persuasion Simon Burke)

Three reports from the recent AGM: Post-Austen matters (Gillian Dow, Whit Stillman); Fervency (Devoney Looser, Sanditon, Susan Allen Ford); Among Janeites (Sandy Lerner et aliae)

I can look forward now to throwing myself into my part of a paper on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Johnson as biographers, and at long last moving again on my book project on Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels (in case you forgot). I like autumn; after all, autumn is the (as it were) continual season in Leeds, England, where Jim and I met, married and lived the first two very happy years of our lives together, a place and atmosphere idealized repeatedly by Alan Bennet’s favorite painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93)

A November afternoon in Leeds (1881?).

My cats will be more talkative than in the next couple of months than me (they talk a lot nowadays), at any rate make more sound — my talk being of the writing kind. And I thought I’d begin this time with a second poem, this anticipating the season to come, by Patricia Fargnoli (from her volume Harrowed, which I’ve been reading nightly)

Winter Grace

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.


Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Angelica Garnett (his daughter)

I’ve been reading a marvelous biography by Frances Spalding, Roger Fry: Art and Life, alongside Virginia Woolf’s equally (but differently) profound Roger Fry, a biography. I like his landscapes very much, but also his thoughts on art as explicated by both women. Orlando is (I think) more profound, as (dare I say it), Richard Holmes’s book on Samuel Johnson’s Life of Savage, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, if not as passionately alive with a life, more profound with true insight. I will end on a few of these:

For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing … Memory is her seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one …

Your only safety, your salvation is

Obscurity … dark, ample and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffussion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful … being like a wave which returns to the deep body of the sea; thinking how obscurity rids the mind of the irk of envy and spite … allowing the giving and taking without thanks … (Orlando, Chapter 2, pp 56-77)

From Spalding’s Fry: “each of those things is accepted as a symbol of a particular social status. [Most people like art which bestows status on them, will go only to art and lectures where someone’s prestige is asserted.] I say their contemplation can give no one pleasure …” In contrast: “Here nothing is for effect, no heightening of emotion, no underlining .. an even, impartial, contemplation of what is essential — of the meaning which lies quite apart from the associated ideas and the use and wont of the things of life” (209, 175)


David Tutwiler, American Railroad Art

In Johnson’s hands, biography became a rival to the novel. It began to pose the largest, imaginative questions. How well can we learn from someone else’s struggles about the conditions of our own; what do the intimate circumstances of one particular life tell us about about human nature in general … the long journey of research and writing, somewhere behind them walk the companionable figures of these two eighteenth century presences, talking and arguing through a labyrinth of dark night streets, trying to find a recognisable human truth together … if my book’s title strikes some curious chord in the reader’s mind, it came to me on such a night in the small, deserted public garden that now stands behind St John’s Gate in the City, when a light winter rain was falling like a mist round the lamps. The echo you hear, of course, is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Richard Holmes, the final page).

Perhaps the problem with Woolf’s biography of Fry is he’s not an alter ego (why it feels so distant), while Vita Sackville-West, about whom and whose house Orlando swirls, could be, or is. Virginia is Orlando too. Latest book: Vita & Virginia: the work and friendship of V. Sackville West & Virginia Woolf. I have now joined the Virginia Woolf Listserv attached to the International Virginia Woolf Society. I’ve belonged since 2003, and when I went to MLA meetings, went to every one of their sessions, and once to one of their parties.


Tilda Swinton as Orlando in just one of many incarnations

One coming loss: my Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo keeps going awry so no messages may sent or received. There is no one and no where to ask for help. The sites offered take me round and round or offer only boilerplate explanations. I need to move or invite to move the few people still there elsewhere. If not, and this software equipment continues to function badly, I’ll lose some friendships. I hope it does not come to this. I know I’ll return to reading more book of Renaissance women as that is one area few people seem to want to join in on that I know. The very first adult books I ever read were dark brown tomes of the lives of Margaret of Navarre and Jeanne d’Albret. A book on one of TBR piles is Francoise Kermina’s life of her, La Mere passionee d’Henri IV — Kermina wrote the best life I ever read of Madame Roland. Another is Enzo Striano’s Il Resto de Niente, a life of Eleonora Pimental de Fonseca, hung during a revolution in Naples, 1798 (her death concludes Sontag’s Volcano Lover. And study my French and Italian. Nothing is more deeply engaging than going back and forth with women’s poetry. I try hard not to be isolated but if I find I am, I’ll turn back to where I began. I don’t want to kill myself.

My Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall lectures/discussions with my OLLI class at American University are going very well and they make me want to return to good biographies and literary studies of such women and the Renaissance too.

This comment by MacFarquhar on why Mantel is drawn to historical fiction might interest some

MacFarquhar on Hilary Mantel and historical fiction: What sort of person writes fiction about the past? It is helpful to be acquainted with violence, because the past is violent. It is necessary to know that the people who live there are not the same as people now. It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts … The writer’s relationship with a historical character is in some ways less intimate than with a fictional one: the historical character is elusive and far away, so there is more distance between them. But there is also more equality between them, and more longing; when he dies, real mourning is possible.

I cannot bring Jim back, I cannot reach him. Perhaps through writing fiction, biography one does. A ghostliness; there is a real feeling of the author and heroine beating death in Outlander when she returns to Scotland; and, while there, when the novel switches to the present and characters go look at the graves of those the heroine is with in the 18th century; it has this eerie feel.. Other titles by Mantel are Beyond Black (“Black Book” a subtitle for one of Gabaldon’s chapters) and Giving up the Ghost and I’ve learned Mantel’s first popular books were macabre gothics. Winston Graham’s short stories are ghostly chilling gothics.


Dead Nettle Fairies of Winter by Ciceley Mary Barker — thanks to Camille-Sixtine who has again vanished from face-book

I need to read, to listen to Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. When I’m with aka reading Gaskell, I feel I’m with a friend.

Miss Drake

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