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Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.

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It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.

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Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).

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My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.

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I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’

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I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.

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He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.

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A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth

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So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

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Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake

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You can’t be forever blessed ….

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is undeniably here now (I went swimming in our Alexandria Community Center this afternoon), and I’ve kept up my usual busy schedule, trying to join in where I can. It seems to me I’m in yet a new phase of grief or living without Jim. Time is a tube I move through, some strange fantasy place, the time as this tunnel of space all around me, that itself has a floor that I keep moving on like some amusement park walkway. I wonder where I am on this road as I carry on. How far I’ve gotten. How far to go. It is continuous and feels slow during the day and yet the days, weeks, months now whizz by. No one to put the burden of being alive off on, no letting go, sharing it, but by myself to keep it up. For me being alone is tiring.

The lone widow. Vedovo parlando. Companionless. Above the women in Calendar Girls (one of my favorite movies, among the first I ever bought a DVD for): the movie shows us their individual stories and most of them are alone when we meet them (prophetic): that’s why the WI means so much. Divorced, separated, with a daughter, a few with husbands with whom there is little companionship. In the gym where I go, at OLLI, the women outnumber the men 4 to 1. (True, the manifestation of gender is skewed as many men don’t join such groups.)

Since I last wrote this way, I’ve been to Wolf Trap twice more after I so enjoyed Garrison Keillor’s last Prairie Home Companion show. I heard — barely saw — Jackson Browne with my neighbor-friend, Sybille. With her I buy lawn tickets and when we start from home, we have to leave too late to get a spot on the lawn near enough to see the show. I did buy a picnic supper for the first time in my life, and am glad to say it went over well with her (I managed to buy what she liked, a kind of pasta salad with artichokes in it, zucchini grilled, melon and other fresh fruits, white wine). The star singer was Jackson Browne. I recognized some of his music from the 1960s, beautifully played and sung, though it brought back no specific memories. These older and some new and latest songs testify to his having a humane outlook; he was biting over the monster Trump. But neither he or his band were varied enough to entertain or hold an audience for two hours; I thought he made the mistake of telling a story of how people fall asleep at his concerts or after the break don’t come back. It was a chilly night, and while, luckily for me, I had brought a sweater, my friend hadn’t, so we left early — and instead of an hour and more wait to get out of the park, it took five minutes (although we were not the only people leaving early).

I’m going again with her this coming Wednesday to (I hope) see as well as hear Bob Dylan. We decided to meet at the park so we can get there much earlier to be part of the lawn where we may see him and the stage.

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Paul Simon and his band Monday night

With another friend who doesn’t mind spending more to sit inside the structure I saw and heard Paul Simon. I again succeeded with the second picnic supper I bought: she really appreciated all I tried to do (I bought a slightly less elegant sort of meal, and brought ginger ale and bread) and enjoyed herself I could see. I could get tickets we could afford only at the back and at the top, but we could see the stage clearly. Vivian pronounced them “very good seats,” and said she liked how we saw the stage immediately. I put one of his older songs (above) which he sang recently at an award ceremony; he ended his concert with that. And I was thrilled and moved as I seemed for a moment to be transported back each time he sang one of his and Garfunkel’s famous tunes. Jim and I were among the enormous crowd in the 1970s when he and Garfunkel sang in Central Park.

Yet I have to admit his new music is remarkable, it’s of this decade, edgy, menacing, filled with tunes and folk songs from Africa and other non-European cultures. A couple of members of his band played solo with strange-sounding instruments as well as the usual guitars and cellos — it was intensely rhythmic, alive. The band was compelling to listen to. Some of his new lyrics are timely-bitter: in one he gets locked out of his own concert, and cannot get back in because he lacks a magnetized wristband. He can be so comforting but this night rather than the anguish of existence as he and his partner once did, he brought out what troubles us in reality.

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I will go all around the mulberry bush with the orange and silver lines when I can reach them instead of my usual blue and yellow lines

I have one more lecture at the Smithsonian for this summer: an all day, 4 part marathon (so to speak) on the Beatles. Wish me luck that I get there. I should as although starting this Tuesday, the two trains which go into DC from where I live will stop at a Virginia stop, and passengers must get out, go downstairs, and take a shuttle bus to a stop far away, just outside DC, and then resume travel again. It may take me more than as hour rather than the usual half hour to get to the Smithsonian, but given it’s an all day event it’s still worth it.

But I won’t be going to the Capital Fringe Festival this year as just about all the programs are an hour long and some might take me as long as two hours to get too. Four hours travel for an hour event which might not be that good would be an ordeal. Maybe it’s just as well since last summer and especially the first after Jim died I forced myself to go well outside my comfort zone to find places. Maybe I was proving to myself I could carry on living the life I did with him in part. I have yet to learn what parts of that life I want and can enjoy and what parts are too much for me — that I don’t enjoy them without him, or maybe (as it sometimes feels) at all.

Self, self, self. What I should be saying is this disgrace, that a major city in the US has an subway system which has become dangerous because no money has been put into it for upkeep shows just what “inequality” is about. The 1 to 10% pay no or little taxes and live with every luxury. I’m told I should take alternative routes. An Uber cab would be $70 into DC. I don’t have a chauffeur. And Mr Trump promises to cut billions more from corporate and wealthy tax-payers. Paul Ryan’s great agenda for which he endorses Trump? he means to destroy Obamacare, Medicare, erase Medicaid, and smash social security to bits.

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Sergeant’s portrait of Stevenson stalking across the room, Fanny lying on the sofa wrapped in an extravagant outfit, between then an open door, a stairway, a dog at the threshold

I did manage to get to a marvelous lecture on Robert Louis Stevenson though. It took four trains and getting a little lost at one point, and two trains back, but they came quickly and travel time was still less than the length of the lecture. It was by Stephen Arata, chair of the University of Virginia English department, and chief editor of a complete edition of Stevenson slowly coming out. When they finish it will be 39-40 volumes. I don’t know if I can convey it: I took copious notes.

Stevenson is just so much more than the famous boys’ novels and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; he’s a writer of exceptional versatility and range, a virtuoso style, just under the surface acerbic, uncanny, unsettling, himself an intense spectral creature whose life was one long illness (he seemed to come near death so many times – he coughed blood all his life), yet he lived vibrantly in Edinburgh, across Scotland, London, France, the western US, and at the last the South Sea Islands. Arata talked of his travel writing, essays, remarkable stories of moral ambiguity, dark, letters, and in finally post-colonial condemnations of the way native people were treated. Of course his wife, Fanny Van de Griff Osbourne was part of the nearly 3 hours; her first husband alcoholic, violent; their affair in France, his crossing in steerage in an emigrant ship and train. Her son by her first husband became close to Stevenson in later life. He had illuminating photos of Vailima (the vast mansion he had built for himself and family). In the question section he talked of Stevenson’s relationship with other Scottish writers (including some words of praise for Oliphant’s Beleaguered City)

Stevenson’s texts hold a special meaning for me. My father would read aloud books he longed for me to like — because he liked or respected them. Among these were Stevenson’s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night.” And when my father died I said over his grave the poem Stevenson had engraved on his

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me: 5
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

We had the second film for the film club: LeCarre’s Our Kind of Traitor, which I’ll re-see Monday (see Anthony Lane or Manohila Dargis). One could could read it as LeCarre for Brexit. We are in the vile world of the super-luxurious 1% making these global deals whose billions of dollars are (in a speech by Damien Lewis as our moral spy) the product of of millions of people’s blood and misery. It has not been understood but then neither was A Most Wanted Man.

Teaching is an important resource — I now recognize many of the people in the class. Many have been with me for more than 2 courses now. I find I have to refer to the 1st three Barsetshire novels (spring 2015) and Framley Parsonage (last summer) as we move through The Small House at Allington.

Small victories: I’ve begun going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday once again. A thriving place. I’m now buying only free-range chickens and pork, and I buy from a stand of a local Maryland farm. I buy peaches, tomatoes, and find English cheese too (imported). Lettuce. I find in the supermarket that nowadays there are vew few fruit juice drinks. Much seems to be chemically flavored carbonated water with blended flavors; it tastes metallic. So I bought myself a six-pack of genuine pineapple from Amazon; I can find in Whole Foods Ocean Spray real grapefruit juice. I mix them together in a glass, put in ice and voila, something I can recognize as juice and drink, not over-sweet.

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The cover of the CD cassette case for David Case’s reading of War and Peace

Days I read away; nights I watch movies. I have now gone through the 20 episode War and Peace by Jack Pulman, and the 6 episode War and Peace by Andrew Davies, and have begun listening to the novel as translated by Constance Garnett and read aloud so well by David Case. In two weeks we are on Trollope19thCStudies going to begin a long-time slow reading of War and Peace, with people invited to read biographies, criticism, watch movies. I mean even to write a blog advertising this to see if we can get other people to join us (for the first time in a long time I’ll do this).

I started to listen to this ahead of time: my text will be the Maude translation as revised by Mandelker and the new Oxford text/edition I have is unbeatable. Not just maps, but wonderful notes which bring home to me how much the novel is also sheerly history and how truly intertwined with history the story and characters are. It’s remarkably intricate. By reading the notes in the new Oxford you can a history of the period focused out of 1805 — the allegiances, the alliances. The focus is Napoleon in the notes as he is the pestilential mover here — reacted by utterly self involved inadequate people. The great man of the book, the General who does all he can to avoid killing and destruction, Kutusov, is as yet just mentioned in passing (Frank Middlemas was superb in the part).

I wish Case were reading aloud one of the other translations than Garnett: as I listen and them maybe compare I discover she is often general, or doesn’t name a character where Maude/Mandelker does. The latter text is more precise; it’s as if Garnett did not expect the reader to pay close attention to the history, to really take the novel to be part history. But I do love Case’s way of reading, his voice. I don’t feel so very alone because I can listen to DVDs in my car. The person reading the book meant for me to hear him or her. For a very long time I’ve used DVDs of great books read aloud this way (also good ones), even when Jim was alive. It has filled my world with presence. How perceptive Penelope Fitzgerald was when she names her book about the BBC radio Human Voices.

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Morag Hood as Natasha takes us through her long growing up into when she’s a woman: she is unbearably moving at Andrei’s dying scenes (W&P 1972)

Still as I’m listening to this previous text, I find it’s all in English. I peeked at Maude and some of the text is in the original French (with translations into English at the bottom). It’s such a different experience and differently valuable. For now I’m comparing the novel to the films. I find that Tolstoy’s text is so much harder, so much less sentimentalized than either Pullman or Davies (very humane, adding kindly touches, making the characters so much more loving) and so much more there than Bondarchuk — from Anna Pavlova Sherer, the maid of honor to the Empress whose party begins the novel — a cunningly political woman, a fixer in social life, to say (importantly) Andrei Bolkonsky. The latter in all the film is made so much nicer, kindly really; we never know why he is so depressed quite. Davies’ hints that his wife, Lisa is so dumb and boring but not that Andre is just killed inwardly by this arranged marriage. He is so bitter and she is so desperate: she is characterized/compared to desperate frantic poignant animals; he is so bored, he is so frustrated, he hates the social life he finds he must go through. Tolstoy brings out how arranged marriages ignore the reality of marriage itself really so sharply this way. It is probably not acceptable to bring out this level of reality in a marriage in films: it makes this reader remember all the repressions one must practice, all one must give up to remain at peace in a marriage. I had to do that too.

I writhe with tears, my face suffused as James Norton as Andrei dies slowly in Davies’s film. I’ve watched it four times.

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Andrei (James Norton) and his sister, Marya (Jessie Buckley) (W&P, 2015)

I’d like to go to a beach but have no one to go with. This is a place swallowed up by developers except for the parks set up in the early 20th century. So to go to a beach one must drive a full day and stay in a cottage – say Maryland, say way out in West Virginia, Delaware. I have to remember that except when we were in New York City and went to Jones Beach (a pretty place) on Tuesday or Thursday morning, setting out at 8:30, taking our dog Llyr who loved to play near the water and was allowed on one beach, one beach we found a long time ago in Rhode Island, once in Quebec, most of our attempts at beach-going were a misery. I have little tolerance for tourist traps. He had this super light skin and was in danger of burning so on a beach he’d lather up and sit under an umbrella covered with towels. He would go in the water briefly and rush back to the umbrella.

We did try some six times: we drove all the way to Maine twice, once to Mount Desert Island, telling Izzy we were following one of her novels where a characters’ family who live in Princeton, New Jersey, go to Mount Desert Island (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing). We enjoyed that first time because the island was so quiet; we heard the loons. We three went twice to Vermont to stay in a Landmark trust house and we swam in a lake twice that week. We enjoyed best again the first time. The last time Jim and I went to the beach with both daughters once again, it turned out such a misery (I can’t tell how this came about, why), that he came down with excruciating pain in his upper thigh, and insisted on himself driving us home on the third day.

At first we hated the heat in Virginia and DC intensely — it is often ten degrees higher than NYC. How I envy the British whose weather I look at daily too. Gradually we accustomed ourselves, but we escaped to England a number of times once we had the money because there we could enjoy walking in the middle of the day, exploring landscapes, the beaches. otherwise went on long drives to plays in the Berkshires each day almost. Once to rent a house near Glimmerglass and that went well. Him, Izzy and me. We saw all four operas and we took long walks. The year he was so sick, he had planned a four day excursion to New York State near Glimmerglass, booked for a room in a pretty hotel, with tickets for 2 operas and 1 concert. We would have been gone 4 days. By the time that August rolled round he was deadly ill and there was no way he could make it, much less enjoy anything at all.

I have read half-way through Elena Ferrante’s La Figlia oscura (The Lost Daughter), Italian in one hand and English underneath as a crib. I just tonight realized it’s about a woman who goes to the beach alone one summer alone. She left her husband a number of years ago, and while she had two of her daughters with her at first (and acted abjectly before them, allowing them to use her as a doll — oh that makes me cringe, I’d never), they moved back with their father. A third has estranged herself altogether. But the novel itself is about her time on this beach, watching a family, and in her flat marking papers and grading for a course she had just finished teaching, and reading for her next course and dreaming, thinking, feeling. I’ve not yet finished. She steals the cherished doll of one of the children on the beach and has just been found out. The picture on the cover is the back of a doll with her dress opened at the top — like a patient in a hospital.

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Charlotte Rampling, Sous la Sable (her husband just goes missing)

The whole of the painful focus has been on her past, on the cruelties and stupidities and also occasional kindnesses of the life she sees before her. But now I think maybe Ferrante should have focused on that beach time itself, the stillness of the air, the water, the courage to be there and then in that room. That’s what Jenny Diski might have done. Ferrante’s novella just misses greatness because it’s not on the past in the present.

Most of my time I’m here alone in my small room with computers, my good friends on the Net and my loving, playful, patient cats nearby — to keep me imagined company. I re-watch Calendar Girls (whence my new header) and Miramax films (Remains of the Day this week) very late at night. I find it so stressful to go to a new place or in a new way I’ve not been to or done before. This does not get any better. I drove to DC yesterday (Thursday), a trial run to see if I could do it, and became so nervous I took a turn I should not have and got a ticket from a police officer. Very distressing. A warning to myself not to panic and also take the Metro when I can or don’t go. Thus no Fringe Festival. No beach without a friend.

I should not forget before I seem too much to lament my lot: in 1916 on July 1st, something like 60,000 people were killed at the battle of the Somme. How could this happen? how human beings behave like this? How account for time and change from then, these years since, the horror of that day repeated in little endlessly. Have I said both War and Peace films I’ve been watching are deeply anti-war?

The sounds of silence …
But we’re all right …

Miss Drake

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I learned on Anibundel’s blog that this is National Cat day, and I’ve picked out the exquisitely satiric “Henry 2, Paw de Deux,” which also helps us to remember and miss the film critic, Ebert

For film and cat lovers.  A few questions.

Miss Drake

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Samba and Alice (Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourgh– at one point in an all night cafe he asks her how she comes to be with a guy like him at this cafe at 3 in the morning (Samba, 2015, directors Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledono, from the novel by Delphin Coulin scripted Muriel Coulin)

Dear friends and readers,

It takes awhile for experiences to sink in, at least for me. And awhile to cope. After I had the mortification at the Mason library (this many years ago) of having some bully librarian take away books I had carefully culled and tell me I had no right to take books out (my adjunct card was not good enough in those days because you had to be teaching a course at the time you took books out or have a salary stub, and adjuncts got paid so rarely) I didn’t return for 2 years and then only with a letter from the composition chief.

I saw the film Samba yesterday afternoon and it’s taken until this morning and much thought and revision of this blog for me to see that Samba and Alice are very touching figures telling more truths about human relationships in romance than is usually told. Samba’s uncle who has a rough tongue says to him suddenly, “Why are you going out with that depressive,” and Samba does not reply but we know that precisely because she has this open wound and depths, Samba finds comfort with her. And the story line gradually shows us why she is understandably right to feel the way she does — and we see other stories of other characters similarly emerge.

Julian Barnes in his Levels of Self does omit this deep aspect of bonding, though he comes to the source of the grief of loss of a beloved, a partner, a friend, even a pet. It’s loss of depth, a deep relationship of confiding and giving and taking, that’s what is sought, and not found. Reading Eric Ives’s biography of Anne Boleyn (about which I’ll blog eventually) and re-watching Wolf Hall this week (after finishing the book), I realize that there is a hole at the center of that movie and the book too: we are not told enough about Henry and Anne’s relationship; they are kept from us, especially as the marriage deteriorated and how he came to loathe her so; we extrapolate, but do not see. Samba and Alice may be new icons of romantic relationships …

This blog explores some of these ideas and these two texts: Samba and Levels of Life.

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Today I found myself in yet another recent movie where the whole ambiance of the story and setting is that of a vast world where all individuals we see at least are living desperately unattached lives, whose jobs are either to make others go away (with no job, no prospects, and complete indifference as to how these others are to survive) or are themselves taking any employment that comes their way, no matter how menial, dangerous, absurd, imprisoning:

Samba, billed as a French comedy and it did have some comic moments, and at the conclusion, Samba, our hero decides to stay in France illegally (as he cannot get a legal status), cadging what kitchen jobs in super-expensive restaurants he can manage; and Alice, our heroine, a deeply and understandably depressed young woman, looks cheerful as she faces a group of guarded-faced men in an interview across a characterless table. It is understood they are living together now (he having miraculously escaped drowning fleeing from brutal police) in her tiny flat, and he having put his uncle whose drek-laden of living quarters the old man had been generously sharing with his nephew (despite his corrosive berating of his nephew), having put his uncle, I say, on a bus bound for an airplane back to Senegal (not a safe or prosperous place it is understood). The film has the extraordinarily visceral quality recent French films achieve. When our hero and his friend are washing windows from a great height on a scaffold I felt my stomach turn and my legs weaken the way they do when I am at a great height.

L’Intrepido, I’ll Dream of You, Manglehorn; the “other” choice is of biopics where a celebrity of some sort (or his or her estate) is making oodles of money exposing a drug addiction where moralizing voyeurism is the expected common reaction. No wonder Mr Holmes is a relief and remains in movie theaters doing very well.

Gainsbourg wears her hair and holds her face and chooses clothes so reminiscent of Jane Birkin her mother, for a moment I thought it was Birkin again — Jim loved her music and did find her attractive too, so many years ago. As a pair, she and Sy gave me some insight into the 2015 Poldark: Horsfield writes other contemporary mini-series and she has created a couple analogous to this one, he wild, she abject, clinging to one another against the indifference and disconnection.

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The Maypole — Phiz’s first illustration for Barnaby Rudge, the ancient mansion-tavern it begins with (click to enlarge and you will see how beautiful this illustration is)

Beyond Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, I’ve embarked on Katharine Shevelow’s For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Proection Industry — her thesis is that it was when animals became companions to people, used and seen that way, the protection organizations became effective; and two more books for sheer pleasure and/or curiosity and because my two beloved companions read and liked them. Both were read by the two men who used to provide understanding, validation, fun, support in my life and have died. Both are by authors these men really liked. I’ve started my father’s copy of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens: I want to know more about the riots of the 1780s in England and how Dickens saw them, how he represented them. It’s a historical fiction too; an interest of mine. The other is Julian Barnes’s Something to Declare: Essays on France, and first up was an essay on Richard Cobb as a person, scholar of French culture and the revolution, writer, also someone Jim liked to read enormously. I have not been able to talk to my father weekly for some 26 years now, but I will read a text he liked so in the copy he owned; and ditto for Essays on France.

D 90582-01  Julian Patrick Barnes and Pat Kavanagh. Obligatory Credit - CAMERA PRESS /  Jillian Edelstein. SPECIAL PRICE APPLIES - CONSULT CAMERA PRESS OR ITS LOCAL AGENT. Writer Julian Patrick Barnes and his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh, who died on 20/10/2008. They are pictured here in 1991.  Use of this image is subject to legal restrictions. Please refer to picturelibrary@npg.org.uk  www.npg.org.uk/picturelibrary picturelibrary@npg.org.uk  www.npg.org.uk/picturelibrary Picture Library National Portrait Gallery St Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE +44 (0)20 7312 2473/4/5/6 MW18180

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I’ve come to Barnes through another book, his Levels of Life, whose last third not about the death and dying of Kavanagh, not about cancer, not much about their lives together for 29 years (some of which will doubtless be part of Something to Declare) is one of the finest statements about what is lost to the person whose beloved partner of many years has died, the grating nature of the refusal to comprehend and recognize the validity of such grief remaining, the inexorable reality. The first two thirds are relevant: they prepare for the last third. Ballooning: it’s life seen from the risk of death from the heights and how people behave so oddly over it (making it an upper class picnic as long as they can); and then “On the level,” how people can’t level with on another; and finally “loss of depth.” Yes that’s it. When I lost (that verb drives one wild) my father I lost one part of my depth forever. When I lost Jim, I lost all the rest. When I came across that subheading I knew Barnes had landed on the upheaval’s crack. Deep self.

Julian Barnes knows how to write in simple declarative sentences using the old nouns and verbs.

He begins (much paraphrase and quotation intermingled with my POV): “you put together two people who have not been put together before, and they become and experience something greater than each or the sum of both together.” “The world divides into those who have known love and those who haven’t; those who have endured grief and those who haven’t”. How bad we are at dealing with death; you may think you are prepared, but you are not, and do not know what it is “until the moment” of dying comes. “Only the old words will do: sorrow, sadness, heartbreak …” How a widowed poet friend described “the denial by the living of whose who have died.” The dead do not exist, did not exist, taboos and silences imposed. “Grief sorts out and realigns those around the griefstruck: friends are tested, pass and fail.” “How naive to assume those closest” in age or circumstances to understand. Some of the griefstruck are angry, even with the person who died; it feels like a betrayal, abandonment, with others for letting it happen. Who cares about anything in the world anymore if “the world wouldn’t, couldn’t save him?”

The “bright voice” asking you ‘what have you been up to?’,” proposing the sorts of things you used to do with your husband/wife. “Grief-trudges.” They tell you to get a dog, a cat. You don’t know how you appear to others.

He writes:

I do not believe I shall ever see her again. Never see, hear, touch, embrace, listen to, laugh with, never again wait for her footstep, smile at the sound of an opening door, fit her body into mine, mine into hers. Nor do I believe we shall meet in some de-materialized form … dead is dead … Some of this self-directed: look what I have lost, how my life has been diminished but it is more, much more, and has been from the beginning about her: look what she has lost, how that she has lost life.

Yes for me all STUGs have come when I’ve stood in front of some splendor and realized he cannot know this ever again, or now.

“The question of suicide, I love how he puts it: I will give it x months, or x years (up to a maximum of two) and then if I cannot live without her … ,” then the preferred methods gone over.

I experience all this:

I wanted very strongly and exactly, the opposite: to stay at home, in the spaces she had created and where she still, in my imagination, moved …

You have to prepare yourself for returning home and him not there. “On the scale of loss, this is nothing” doesn’t work. I too remember the first and few times I was away for a few days, or he. I too “read obituaries and check how long the subject was married, how old when died, envy those who had more time.”

“Many things fail to kill us but weaken us forever. Ask anyone who deals with the victims of torture.” “Grief reconfigures time, its length, its texture, its function.” How one day means no more than the next. For me one task completed yields no satisfaction or sense of accomplishment that matters. A new carte de tendre. “Grief is vertical, mourning horizontal.”

New one-off pain to come, unexpected. Braving going to a place. Escaping to your seat. He felt opera’s heartbreak exhilaratingly; Orfeo ed Eurydice — ah yes, for me that line, what shall I do without my beloved?

Then there are the funny things people say without realizing how funny. The use of the verb loss. I’m sorry you lost your husband. Mislaid him, did I?

Remembering sharply the last things he or she did, this and that. The last meal. Jim starved himself to death because life had become unendurable and no one would help him to die but himself. No one would release him. So his last meal was as the liver cancer set in.

Barnes says he knows Pat once existed and so talks to her continually. I cannot — no, that would break me. I cannot look at Jim’s letters because the tone of them used to send such joy to my heart, make me feel it was good to be alive when a voice like his spoke that to me.

The memoir weakens when he brings in the concept of “grief-work” and (oh dear) success in mourning; though mercifully he never uses the word “process”; nonetheless, when he goes to the trouble of denying getting over it, and then says one cannot hurry grief, he has given in.

He does keep questioning this:

Dr Johnson well understood the ‘tormenting and harassing want’ of grief … An attempt to preserve life in a state of neutrality and indifference is unreasonable and vain. If by excluding joy we could shut out grief, the scheme would deserve very serious attention.’ But it doesn’t.’ Work and time mitigate grief: “Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away.'”

He goes down in dreams, goes down in memories. I cannot. It does hurt as much as it is worth but somehow this doesn’t come; I cannot bear it. I would crack. “If it didn’t matter it wouldn’t matter.” He dreams of her. I don’t that I know of (dream of him) or rarely, and then I feel so anxious.

He ends on loneliness: there’s not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. He tries for German words, quotes C.S. Lewis for “‘inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what.'” In grief for a beloved, it’s not loneliness but “the absence of a very specific person.” Now unbidden: “If I cannot hack it without her, I will hack at myself instead.” He says suicide is out because only through him does her existence have reach and feltness. It’s telling that for some of his books he used a pseudonym which included her last name as his.

Crabbe’s great line as Peter Grimes: “I live alone. The habit grows.” But marked for life, after madness, not spectacular solitude, not martyrdom, just loneliness.

I must forgive him for closing with the beat up: “an unexpected breeze has sprung and we are in movement again. But where are we being taken? … Or, if the wind is northerly, then, perhaps, with luck, to France.”

I feel moment of cheerfulness, even buoyancy where I say to myself, now if he were alive, all this we are doing, I am feeling, would be good. Now I’m seeing Barnes understands it takes a while to sink in. It took him a number of years to get to the point of writing this book.

And thus I turn to Barnes’s Something to Declare, which my beloved read. Or so I think. Jim did like some travel books very much. Patrick Leigh-Fermor a great favorite. He talked of Mani, how I should read it.

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From Mani

There is a real self apart from social life. Deep self is what is released when I dance. Proust has some very good words on this “private self” (as opposed to the “drawing room self”). From the point of view of Jungian/Freudian. whatever label you want to call innate qualities, passions, ways of reacting and responding universal, below manners, codes what’s allowed, what’s encouraged, discouraged, what developed, what forbidden. People use these to manipulate one another. Deep self is Leigh-Fermor’s traveling self; so too Jenny Diski’s whose agon has been before us since September 2014. This is where the grieving self resides. As I think about grief and how people respond to loss, yes there may be many people who seem not to have depths of thought or feeling and they think, act, even feel cant, who obey conventions unexaminedly but my view is they are out of touch with this deeper self though because they are out of touch they may not be less able to cope with how this deep private self actuates them.

Sylvia

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My friend, Sophie and I last week at Cinema Art Theater where we saw Gemma Bovery

Dear friends and readers,

Stumbling along is an accurate characterization of my life this summer in my 2nd year as a widow. In the UK people used to say they were “muddling through,” but that implied a goal to somewhere, which I’ve not got. My attachment to all but a very few things I do and few friends is artificially sustained so I may remain absorbed (reading, writing, watching movies) or active (out to see and participate in events, with friends and acquaintances, mostly the latter) simply because if I let go, I fear I will not know what to hold onto, and what then? If anyone objects to my frank characterization of myself as a widow, which is what I am seen as well as relate as, I ask them why: it’s no longer acceptable to object to people characterizing themselves as GLBT, or disabled, or depressed, or simply on their own in whatever way. So why is the designation widow kept so sotto voce?

A high point, a good evening out with a friend, Sybilla, my neighbor across the street who is a widow of four years, her husband died at age 67 of pancreatic cancer. I got the tickets, she drove us to Wolf Trap. Both brought picnic baskets to share with one another. We were too late to have our picnic in the first area beyond the roofed theater, but we managed to see and hear directly and intimately enough by walking into the area just after the theater and sitting on the stone quarter-size wall. John Fogerty had been Sybilla’s choice but I immediately recognized, the songs, the voice. He’s extraordinary; he gave enormously. He had with him a remarkable band of musicians. He told of his family, had his grown son wit him; the son also plays the guitar very well. His wife in the audience. What a light show, videos, fires …. sparkling balls. The crowd became alive with the music, people standing, swaying, dancing in their seats.

Many years ago:

It was not just nostalgia, but there were new numbers, contemporary ones. I haven’t been to anything like this in years or even before. He just never stopped singing and playing with and without his band. He did not stop for an intermission and was still going apparently strong as most people began to leave. He meant to do that, to make us remember him playing his heart out and entertaining us with all his might and soul and body …

Had also enjoyed a lunch date with a scholar friend (decent meal at Darlington House in DC) and planned for a coming panel at EC/ASECS: Forging Connections among Women. I’m loving Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountain, Essays on Superstitions and Memoirs of an American Lady. Like me she reaches out to friends by her writing.

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Jacob Lawrence, from his Migration of the Negro (at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC)

I probably ought to write separate blogs about two museum exhibits I saw, except that while recommending them if they come near you, I found them disappointing so I cannot say that you should go out of your way for these. At the Philips, with another friend, Vivian, I saw a room full of small abstract-kind of paintings by Jacob Lawrence called “The Struggle.” These were a pendant to his Migration series: the pictures show the inception, origination of the US was in violence, and it specifically used and excluded from citizen rights to right, slaves, women, non-property owners.

Struggle Series No. 1

There are too few was the problem. Lawrence’s unforgettable Migration series makes the effect it does because of the plenitude of pictures. For all the efforts of local Washingtonian media to speak well of the Philips (and they do host remarkable lectures and readings of plays and poetry), their permanent collection is singularly uninspiring and small. Their cafe remains awful because they are perpetually understaffed — I feel for the staff working there who look so nervous.

With Sophie, Yvette and Sophie’s partner, I went to the Caillebotte exhibition at the National Gallery. It was oddly disappointing. Not because there were too few (5 rooms of paintings from a scarcely believable number of places disparate geographically so this was a major effort of cooperation and curator negotiation) but that they were not accounted for in an insightful way by the curator. The obvious was said (that we look at from a rich person’s window, that he painted family and friends, still lifes meant to make us think about how we treat animals, and landscapes very much in the mode of Monet). They were generally thematically group (as here are river landscapes, here the city seen from this window, here ordinary people going about their business). The exhibit led with “scrapers:”

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It included superbly beautiful design work:

Boulevard Des Italiens Painting by Gustave Caillebotte; Boulevard Des Italiens Art Print for sale
Boulevard Des Italiens

There was nothing on the technique, on how Caillbebott differed from other impressionists — considerably. He uses lines heavily, and is impressionist rather with water and rain. Sometimes Caillebotte seemed to anticipate pointillism; there were Manet-like street scenes. I was impressed by how expressionless his people were. He does include animals in a sad state on the street — so perhaps someone should write about his capturing the vulnerable stray again and again:

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On Le Pont de l’Europe long since gone to his or her grave

For the first time Yvette and I ate at the elegant 2nd floor cafe — we’ve been going to this museum for 30 years and never tried it before. My friend’s partner apparently would have hated the “plebian” cafe downstairs. The food was dolled up bits of meat, potatoes and vegetables, almost unrecognizable, overdone salad dressing on wilted stuff, undrinkable tea (with no milk) — at probably a horrendous price. This is to tell you if you go there, don’t be fooled. Get yourself something edible downstairs at 1/4 the price in 1/10th the time.

I’ve bought myself 5 tickets to plays at the Capitol Fringe Festival and hope to find the places and see some Shakespeare (A Winter’s Tale), his contemporary Middleton, and a drama about women’s roles working during WW1. I had my worst experiences of STUGs (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief) last summer as I realized the joy of going to these events was with Jim. Sophie is coming to one of them with me and three are easy to get to this time. So it’ll just be one that might be hard — at Gallaudet College (perhaps a long walk from the Metro), a Thomas Middleton play somewhat abridged and adapted. I’ll tell about these plays here.

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Ippolito Nievo, The Confessions of an Italian (Italian text).

Framley Parsonage is doing well at the OLLI at Mason (I’ll blog separately on some Australian books and films my post-colonial project have led me to): I work away at my projects. I read and post with and to others on my listservs (Ippolito Nievo’s Confesssions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall on which I will write when we’ve done), not to omit blogging on the new Poldark mini-series, women artists, and Bernie Sanders.

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I’m beginning to see my way in teaching Fielding’s Tom Jones, starting to reread it slowly once again (there I had a recording I realize was appalling as the reader worked hard to make the text into a comic romp which it is anything but) and see the usefulness and depths of perspective and information in approaching it the way I did the Poldark books, by going into the real history of injustice, law, custom, the era’s revolutions. I still love the 1997 Tom Jones mini-series movie though I now know it utterly misrepresents the tone and attitude of Fielding who remains behind a mask of double-turned intricate ironies.

Low points include the Dance Fusion Workshop becoming hard to get into. The instructor has decreed only 15 since we have to go down to the Dance Studio (more fun if you are there, immersion with a mirror) and there are about 40 women who came regularly. I find I have to phone on Sunday morning around 8 am at the latest to be included in the Tuesday session at 8:30 am. A small thing it will be said, but I need to get out each day and be among people. So I re-joined the Chinquapin Alexandria Community Center about 6 minutes away from me where there’s a pool and I’ve begun swimming 5-6 laps (very slowly and I’m collapsing by the end of the 6th) to swim a few later afternoons each week. In this 90+ degree heat (I don’t look at the humidity) the water is refreshing and between 4 and 5 there are no camps, no people home from work.

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So it’s not that the old pleasures aren’t still strong for me: I’m just revelling in listening as I drive in my car to a brilliantly alive reading of Mantel’s Wolf Hall by Simon Slater (unabridged). The text is extraordinary. But all around me so hollow feeling, my existence so impoverished, hopes I once entertained for the future for both of us gone. The worded-truth is:

I can no longer convey how not okay it is that my beloved friend and companion and lover of a lifetime died so young, in such an agony and I have to carry on without any meaning, any deep companionship or understanding, any validation of how I see the world and relate to it. Yes time and new experiences change the nature of people’s grief and sense of loss, the meaning of what happened: the acute anxiety has subsided; but my sense of justifable anger at how he was treated, at how I now realize cancer is not discussed has hardened as I see more from my new knowledge. I’ll never forget what I witness and it will shape my conduct towards doctors and the medical establishment — all those cold hard people taking our, his money — ever after. My feelings are now turned into more clear awareness he’ll never be back. I can’t conjure up a ghostly presence (I’m not the type, the sky is the sky, nothing on another side of silence) and my memories are not pictorial or very physical. there are physical remnants in my arms, hands, central body. If I had been younger and could build a new or other life, it might have been different, but I cannot. I would not want to have been younger for that would have destroyed him earlier. Now the feelings as transformed and by new realizations become unspeakable as they go deeper and deeper, seep into my veins.

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Clarycat stayed snuggled up to him until very near his death — late September 2013

Miss Drake

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Ian last month

Dear friends and readers,

I want to record a theft that I witnessed and put a stop to last week and, having seen it, I was on the alert for to stop again. I will also connect many people’s love for their pussycats with today’s world via Manglehorn’s Fanny (movie directed by David Gordon Green, screenplay Paul Logan, featuring Al Pacino).

For at least thee years now I’ve been suffering chilblains on the skin of my hands. This is the 18th century word for a condition where your blood doesn’t circulate efficiently and if you experience sudden heat or cold, your skin turns red, burns, feel itchy and no cream seems to be able to soothe it. I first noticed it in supermarkets in the summer where the air-conditioning is fierce. I now take with me when I go out a pair of thin wool gloves because I’ve learned the best way to deal with this condition is to not let it happen. It’s worse when it’s a matter of burning cold, but I’ve suffered from chilblains in sudden heat. I’ve had people look at me strangely, but I explain and tell them they should look at Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg’s hands. She is never without white cotton gloves. I don’t know where she gets her beautifully thin lacey pairs; I’ve not been able to duplicate it on the Net. The only thin gloves I can find are the sort used in hospitals, throw-away gloves that don’t warm you. And thin wool gloves are not everywhere either.

I’m now on at least my third pair of such gloves. I often lose gloves but in this case what happened was I found now and again when I went into my handbag, there’d be only one thin woollen glove. The other had gone missing. I blamed myself but now I feel that at least some of the time the culprit was my ginger tabby, Ian.

Last week I happened to turn around and witness Ian on the floor of my study patiently pulling at a piece of leather that forms a kind of tie to the zipper of my handbag. He had discovered what I know to be true: the leather stips facilitates pulling the zipper open. He pulled and pulled until he had the handbag about 1/3 of the way open. Then he put his paw in, rummaged about, and managed to lift one of my gloves. Next thing he has it in his mouth and is trotting away with it! I headed him off at the door, and plucked it back. I put the two gloves in a drawer in my bedroom bureau.

But I have to use them, and each time I go out remember to put the gloves there. I usually do because I also have to remember (nowadays) to take my cell phone (unplug it from the wire where it is continually being re-charged). But I’m not so good at remembering to take the gloves and cell phone out again.

Two days ago, there he was at it again. This time he had pulled the handbag opened, secured the glove and all I saw was him trotting away. Again I thwarted him. Tonight I know there were no gloves in the purse, but I saw him nonetheless with the purse one-third open fishing.

What to do? Put the handbag high up somewhere? he can climb high. Reason with him? He doesn’t speak English. About a year and a half ago my lower partial denture went missing from the supper table. I didn’t think I had dropped it. To replace it cost me $1600. Now I know for sure who took it. It’s probably behind one of my 43 bookcases.

He mews at me on and off during the day in an effort to get my attention, to say something to me, to get me to play with him, or hug, and I usually talk back before leaving the room. He knows I’m talking to him and will follow me about. He likes to climb very high on the bookshelves — believing I surmise he is out of sight. (When he was a kitten, he’d hide 2/3s of his body under a stool under the impression he was invisble that way — my little Snuffle-upagus). I have to take a broom to get him to come down and then while leaping he can break something if he hits it — like a glass. Nowadays when he comes into a room, he often murmurs and meows softly to let Yvette and I know he’s there. He will jump up on my lap and press his body stretched out against my chest, and put his head next to head, rubbing. He brushes up against my legs when I’m eating, tries to climb on my lap during breakfast and after supper if Yvette and I sit there talking. He will re-discover, as if it were new, an old spot; and then inhabit it obsessively for a few days — these past few days he re-found his grey cat pad in the front room and has been staying in it for hours.

Caroline remarked that if I didn’t have a video of him persisting at my purse, it was almost as if it didn’t happen. She has her cat on a video slowing opening a cat-proof container and taking out food to eat. Who says cats don’t execute plans? don’t remember the past? they do when it’s repetitive and people are creatures of routine.

Face-book by one of its algorithms sends me photos from years ago I put on face-book. This week it was one of ClaryCat that Jim took five years ago. She is two:

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The photo was taken by Jim close-up and brought back memories. Chris Hedges’s is over-the-top and he is blaming technology when the way technology is used is a reflection of a deeper malaise of skewed values and social structures: The Lonely American.

The bowl of varied fruit, the different wines, the treats in tupperware, another world, a previous life over now. For Yvett not such a happy time that year — she had finished graduate school and seemed unable to get a job of any kind. I now love & understand Clarycat and Ian more than I did then. How close she came to me. How in character is that pose I now realize. In the mornings when I wake she is snuggled up to me; most of the day she’s not five feet from, often a lot closer. She never disappears for several hours the way Ian does. She does still hold on fiercely to her favorite toys, and will hiss and growl at him if he tries to take one away she is playing with at the time.

I believe for a long time afterward both were affected by Jim’s death. Upset by the long dying over 4 days and then when he so totally disappeared. When I take them to the Vet, it takes Ian several days to trust us again.

Sometimes I hear one or the other of them crying in another room — or they are making a complaint-like sound. I get very upset when I hear that and rush over to see what’s happening. If it’s nothing or they can’t stand that Yvette has her door closed, I tell them “don’t cry! I can’t bear it!”

When you allow yourself to get into an intimate relationship with your pet, you identify with other like animals. This Sunday the film club was disappointing: for the first time the Cinema Art Theater owner picked the film — it seemed. It is one he means to show in the theater anyway! I thought the idea was to show us films we would otherwise not see chosen by Gary Arnold, a Washington Post film critic-reviewer. On top of that it was awful: Manglehorn, well-acted by Al Pacino (now 75) but a senseless movie where we were to believe he behaved indifferently to everyone because he could not get over the loss of a girlfriend to whom he was writing letters for years; all sent back by the post-office. He is implicitly criticized for telling hard stories of death when he goes to group meetings. What is wrong with him is the feel of the other average people there. What they talk about we are not told. The ending was sudden reform (“redemptive”) because he begins to go out with Holly Hunter who is so dismayed by him. Her view is he needs to work at being a 12 before she will open again.

The reality was a depiction of a depressed man who does not understand himself; who is deeply disappointed by a shallow son who seems to spend his life pressuring others meanly in order to make money off of them; whose wife left him (we are not how that came about). It is another one of these films where we see such lonely people; a distraught man half-mad in a bank; a vile noisy brothel where in fact people are desperate, hideous neon lights, people dressed in the ugliest of ways; everyone alone with memory objects. The film-makers offered no understanding of the deeper human realities and misbegotten society they were visualizing and dramatizing.

The film features a cat called Fanny, a long hair white cat who I worried very anxiously about. This depiction was the best thing in the film. Manglehorn pays for an expensive operation to remove a key she swallows by mistake and seemed to have affection for her and nothing else. But I didn’t trust him; he’d leave the house without checking to see that she was not caught in a closet. We did see her hide in closets the way Ian does. He’d take her out on walks where there was no leash keeping her securely attached to him:

manglehornandcat

Or he’d put her on a branch near where he was sitting, or sit high on a branch with her in his arms, looking like they were going to tumble down.

I noticed this particular cat was picked because her face was probably seen by the people who made the film as grumpy (a factor in her genes probably). Since the unexamined acceptability of cat pictures and messages have flooded the Internet, it is more acceptable for even men to love cats, and this is the second recent movie where a man’s close relationship to a cat was the only element in the film that was believable or absorbing, the only comfort in sight. The cat’s affectionate nature has not been perverted by the false structures around her. She is oblivious to them because they are absurdly irrelevant to her basic (eat, sleep, play) and emotional needs.

Jim used to say that most social experience in the US nowadays is dysfunctional. The dismaying isolation seen in Manglehorn is depicted from an upper class older woman’s point of view in I’ll Dream of You, from a working class Milan man’s in L’Intrepido.

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man
but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

My two cats are my last companions before I go to sleep. In the morning Clarycat is there and soon she is nudging her head at me, licking me. Ian comes to greet me from elsewhere, somewhere else on the bed, in the short cat-tree near my bed (with a green pillow), from one of the cat pads around the house, from where Jim used to sit. He puts his paws out as hands to me. She does too.

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Jim and Ian, September 2013

Miss Drake

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Takasi Shimura as Watanabe (Ikiru)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been for months it seems writing about a subgenre of novels I called “grief memoirs,” some are ostensibly non-fiction and may be in verse (Donald Hall’s Without), others novels (Toibin’s Nora Webster), memoir’s (Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking), sermon disguised as science (Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die). I have bought myself an art history book, T. J. Clark’s The Sight of Death, which I found focuses on precisely a couple of Poussin’s paintings that Jim loved so, and will come back to that another time. For now I add movies, one 24 hours after the first viewing has worn off seems to me as meaningful and beautiful too (deep, true, subtle, complex and complicated emotions) as any list of best prose or poetry books you can find.

The trouble with hyperbole is when you want to single out something you can be at a loss for words. After I watched Ikiru by Kurosawa last night (Yvette told me about it over supper last week) I was at a loss for words to find adequate expression. Maybe unforgettable, maybe so direct with true emotions which in life we are taught by experience and our own need to guard ourselves from showing or even feeling, we hardly ever acknowledge openly and yet are in such need of — for ourselves, to help others, to be with, and to experience from others. I had never heard of Ikiru though I had seen (years ago with Jim in a tiny movie-house in Leeds, for 12 and 6) Rashomon. So here’s wikipedia for the vanilla version (it lacks stills), and Ebert, headed with the justly famous moment of the man at the close of the film on a swing.

The story: Kanji Watanabe, an old man who has spent 30 years in a dull office where work is meaningless, and promotions come by staying put and doing nothing that displeases those above you, discovers he has stomach cancer and less than a year to live, probably 6 months. This is 1952 and there is no treatment at all in Japan. He is not given the dignity of truth: told he has a mild ulcer and must try to eat as long as he can, but he has had a conversation with someone who told him just the same words from a doctor means you are dying of stomach cancer. Already he can’t eat much, vomits most of what he takes in. Shimura is a powerful actor; he is unashamed to put the most vulnerable abject emotions on his face: in his eyes come and go the terror of death, but since no one in the doctor’s office will admit he’s dying, and he cannot bring himself to tell the cold son, he has no one to express himself to.

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Watanabe has spent 30 years in an office where nothing is done and any one trying to get help is given the runaround. Like Dickens’s Nobody’s fault – now not to get anything done. he has this intense revulsion and for several nights goes about with two young people, a man who is a novelist and has compassion for him when he tells the man he is dying of stomach cancer, a young girl who he is driven to tell as she tires of him and grows frightened. He tells her he has spent these long nights with her because her youth and intense aliveness makes him feel alive again, younger (Jim used to say that’s why older men left their wives for younger women). She calls him creepy. He is creepy looking. now unshaven, desperate, deeply hungry in his soul.

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The nights are awful: hugely overcrowded places where people are in an endless circle of useless (meaningless) activities, all smiling and seeming to enact pleasure. Horrible nightmares really, but the old man tries to enjoy himself — his old hat is destroyed by a passing car and the young man helps him buy a snazzy one. At home his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law has become cold; they resent him, they want his money when he dies; they leap to the worst conclusions: that he is after the young girl sexually; that he is suddenly becoming a layabout; he is disgracing them the son says. He should stick to the job and do what’s wanted.

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He remembers things as he is going about at the clubs and in the night streets — seeing couples, seeing groups of people. In a flashback, wee see him and his son in a car with his parents — they are driving to or from his wife’s funeral. She died very young. All crowded in. The feel so impersonal because there is a driver in front too. He remembers intensely happy moments as in later years alone he watched his son achieve this or that. He remembers his son making gestures of love to him. Oh it is just heart-breaking.

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Well, when the young girl says she has had enough he remembers — finally — a group of women who had come to beg for having a huge cesspool near where they live fixed, and then if possible build a playground. We cut to his funeral where a Deputy Mayor and high functionaries are with his son and daughter-in-law. The DM is angry because people are saying the old man built the playground; he did not.

As these people talk, the women come in who he helped, and they cry and put incense in front of the Watanabe’s picture. As they sit there for a couple of hours and then are replaced by close co-workers, the story of how the playground came to be is told in flasbacks. The co-workers include a few people who have intelligence and hearts and under the influence of lots of liquor they realize the old man was transformed all at once, put together memories and realize he was dying of stomach cancer.

KurIkiruReview

In the flashbacks we see that as a minor Chief Something-or-other he can and does sign for this project to be done, but to get it done requires terrific terrible patience, bowed over before so many mean hostile irritated selfish people — really it’s all about selfishness, how selfish we all learn to be.

Scene after scene of him bent over begging, of people — restaurant owners infuriated because they want the space for their profit-making establishment (doubtless another of the rooms crowded with people supposed to be enjoying themselves), whom he lurches past.

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He is endlessly hunched over, whether walking the streets at night with the two companions, with his office workers begging for playground or with his son (a huge newspaper dividing them) or daughter-in-law, resentment itself.

It’s a parable. Alas it’s improbable that he would have gotten so many people to agree and act just to get rid of him. This is where we are in the improbable. By his open vulnerabilty he gets everyone to act to make him go away. We see him on the site. But Kurosawa has forestalled our objections.

Several times in the film he or others is nearly run over by cars and/or huge trucks as in one of the site scenes.

The workers getting ever drunker remember seeing the old man on a swing looking happy one night in the rain with the playground all around him — that is the moment of the miraculous serenity. When the co-workers are talking and one denies the old man had stomach cancer, says he is putting together a story that didn’t happen that way, it was by chance it was achieved, for other practical reasons it was done, because the DM had an election, another worker looks at him. He doesn’t believe this: the old man was an inane fool. The worker says if that is so, there is nothing but this dark place (as life, for life). The worker begins to cry. So if we rule out Kurosawa’s story, we are left bottomlessly bereft.

As all who have seen the film recall we switch to the old man swinging on the swing. It is night and raining. Kurosawa manages this shimmering beauty in the texture of what we are seeing. The old man sings a brief slow melancholy ballad which he had gotten one of the musicians on the nights he went out to play: life is brief, it urges you to enjoy it while you are young. My favorite of the many stills taken from this scene is one where we see the old man from the side, swinging, singing.

From what he sees at the funeral the son gradually realizes that he misunderstood totally, especially (the film continually does this, provides a mean motive for what is happening) as when he gets home, his wife finds the old man left him and her his whole pension. One of his grief feelings is clearly from his now being left with irretrievable remorse. He cannot undo the life they led.

He is intensely hurt his father never told him he had stomach cancer. But everything all around them pushed the old man to tell only the two semi-strangers at night in moments of sudden anguish, and the girl does not react well. The character who reacts best over the whole film to this news is the young man the first night, this novelist who can’t get his novels published, who looks poor and awful and who we at first fear will cheat the old man, but does not.

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It is he who helped the old man buy himself the new hat. That hat all battered is in the son’s hands as the film ceases. This is, ladies and gentlemen, an affirmative film.

Someone in the group at the funeral asserts he has seen Watanabe walking on the bridge over the playground, wandering among the children. We see them in the office and the co-worker who cried sees another group of people in need of help come in and at first stands up to try to do something for them. But no one stands with him. He soon sits down.

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How long will the playground last? who will mend it when things break? these children will grow into the adults we saw late at night wandering wildly.

The film’s last image is of a man in shadows standing on the bridge looking down: is it the co-worker who cried? Watanabe’s ghost? if so, this is a a redemptive ghost moment: most tales come out of the irretrievability of a life’s experience. But it’s not clear what we see.

A larger perspective: the film shows Japan after WW2: the devastation of the bombing from the Allies, dreadful before the atom bombs hit.

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I felt I ought to write a novel about some of things I carry on thinking to myself and feeling since Jim died but when I once tried it came out so raw (and grim) I had to stop. What is astonishing is the control in the film which makes the surface cool and produces these capabilities of human hearts in the midst of a society desolate of uncorrupted structures for people to relate to one another too, instead with structures which reinforce the worst feelings of materialism and superficial gaiety.

Maybe in Wolf Hall there are in it, due to Rylance’s presence, tone, face, moments of deep gravitas, projections of still true emotion, that reach near what flowers in Ikiru.

Last night I dreamt of Jim, it was disturbing because the dream was he was back but with the cancer. Probably I was longing to have him back with me on any terms. Yes I can survive — I have conversations with people where I gather I am expected to have “gotten over what happened” by now. That is, by those who have never had such a loss or have never felt life at its core. Those who have know better.

Sylvia

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