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

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

Friends,

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

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


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

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

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

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

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

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The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

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

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

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


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

When we first see Agatha, we are told

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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“It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible” — Henry Tilney, from Austen’s Northanger Abbey


Stage 2: yesterday, Saturday, Dec 8th, tree brought home from nearby garden place (complete with stand), placed on credenza, and Izzy removing the last of the netting


Stage 2: Just the read and silver garland


Un arbre fini — it smells sweet as yet, fresh branches, it is still drinking the water in the stand

Friends and readers,

This is Izzy and my 6th winter solstice without Jim. This past Thursday (a balmy afternoon), I climbed down from our attic with Colin, our Christmas Penguin: I remember how Jim sang some version of this song when my neighbor gave Colin to me as a gift from Target when I told her I had seen him, and not been able to persuade Jim to buy him with the enthusiasm I felt:

— “Colin, the glittering penguin, had a very shiny sleigh, and if you ever saw him, you could even say he’s gay. All of the other penguins used to laugh and call him names; they never let poor Colin join in any penguin games … then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say, Colin with your sleigh so bright … won’t you lead our line tonight …. ” —

This year I first had him facing me and the pussycats in the sun-room; then I thought he is meant to be shared, so I put him before a window yesterday. I can’t put him outdoors because I fear someone will steal him. Would someone in this neighborhood do such a thing? yes. Years ago my next door neighbor’s partner, put out a full sled and reindeer and overnight he found it vanished. He was shocked. Also how cold poor Colin would be.

Last year I added a friend for him and my pussycats this silvery and white and greyish squirrel — if you could look close you see the little sparks which in life are silvery, shine out lightly and make the rest feel snowy. He sits by the tree.


Ian aka Snuffy, imitating Demelza’s word for her son from the Poldark books I call him “my lover” — when he hops on my lap, presses his body against my chest, his front legs (arms) around my head and rubs my head with his, what else is he doing?

Being without Jim doesn’t get any easier … how much living I’ve done in the last six years and how much I now feel I should have helped him to do …. how much experience we could have had together, how many possible memories we’ve lost — how much I should have to tell him of all this somehow interim time since. I like to think that had he lived I might have found these OLLIs and gotten him to go — he might’ve liked them. When we came into the money he was waiting for we would have traveled — he never saw Venice.

I am so just loving the Outlander films and even enjoyed listening to Drums of Autumn where in this fourth volume the homophobia, racism, and even egregious violence has dropped. Diana Gabaldon takes the humane sides each time: Jamie and Claire take refuge in America — of course upper class white style; but they will not own people and they do all they can to make friends with the native Americans. Davina Porter conveys how the narrator now often is Gabaldon herself somehow presenting her characters and then Claire again. But what I love is the central relationship. I watch the first season one-by-one at midnight whenever I am not too tired (I often am so have not gotten to where Claire tells Jamie where she came from) and twice a week each of the episodes of this fourth season. I do love how they ended up in a log cabin alone together — however improbable. Last night the last scene was of them love-making, he bathing her in a hip bath covered with a white cloth first. I know to me it’s a substitute for Jim and my relationship in dreams.


Caitriona Balfe as Claire last night — of course it’s her I identity with, her conception of this character — that involved me with these films and books from the first — she was nominated for a Golden Globe once again so someone besides myself recognizes how deeply appealing she is as this character

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Pissarro, Seine: From a Louvre bridge: Ships in Snow

I don’t find the season of winter depressing. (What is happening in our public worlds is another matter.) To me it has a beauty of its own, but this year I find I am less able to cope with the cold than ever before. The chill air seemed to lace itself into my skin and bones and I shiver and hurry back in to escape the bitterness of the air. So what is better to share than one of Horace’s Odes about winter, I:X, which I found in a better translation than Dryden’s (though I still don’t like the antepenultimate and penultimate lines — why do men think women enjoy (!?) hiding from them, being elusive but that they mistake wariness and rejection for a come-on), but having just returned from a very happy time out with my friend, Panorea, at the Kennedy Center seeing a Nutcracker performance, and then going to a nearby unassuming Asian restaurant, quiet inside, one tree decorated, good food (I’ve been there before with Laura and Izzy and had the same eggplant and garlic sauce with brown rice chased down by Merlot), and with her much good companionable talk, Horace’s outlook is one I offer tonight against the dark:

See how Soracte stands glistening with snowfall,
and the labouring woods bend under the weight:
see how the mountain streams are frozen,
cased in the ice by the shuddering cold?
Drive away bitterness, and pile on the logs,
bury the hearthstones, and, with generous heart,
out of the four-year old Sabine jars,
O Thaliarchus, bring on the true wine.
Leave the rest to the gods: when they’ve stilled the winds
that struggle, far away, over raging seas,
you’ll see that neither the cypress trees
nor the old ash will be able to stir.

Don’t ask what tomorrow brings, call them your gain
whatever days Fortune gives, don’t spurn sweet love,
my child, and don’t you be neglectful
of the choir of love, or the dancing feet,
while life is still green, and your white-haired old age
is far away with all its moroseness. Now,
find the Campus again, and the squares,
soft whispers at night, at the hour agreed,
and the pleasing laugh that betrays her, the girl
who’s hiding away in the darkest corner,
and the pledge that’s retrieved from her arm,
or from a lightly resisting finger.

That is, as long as we don’t forget others not as lucky as we and try to help them somehow. I give money to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations working to improve the lot of everyone on earth using law, custom, humane principles. Poverty is utterly unnecessary in our world (it’s not just a distribution problem) is hard. so here is an accompanying image: a painting from 1959 by Peter Cook: Bitter Cold, Chapel Street …. the woman must put her clothes out in the street in hopes the wind will dry them. Frozen stiff. I have in my time hung clothes out on a line in very old dry weather. Consider the fortitude of the woman who did that.

And those inside. I know I don’t do enough by giving money to organizations working to change the economic order, to shore up what laws we have to protect against the deadly predatory class in power across this world.

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Achilles delivering Briseis to Agamemnon’s heralds; sentimental bas-relief by Antonio Canova, circa 1787–1790

I bought and actually hope to read Pat Baker’s much truer take in her Silence of the Girls which you can read about in this strong review by Patricia Storace (NYRB)

This past week was taken up by parties, luncheons for the two OLLIs at Mason and AU and one last class for my Enlightenment: At Risk course and the superb film course on morality, politics, and history in 10 soundly selected films. I can now share what we read and said in my Enlightenment course through four blogs I’ve written:

Voltaire’s Candide & Bernstein’s 20th century musical Candide:

On teaching Diderot’s La Religieuse & its 2 film adaptations, & Rameau’s Nephew &c

Samuel Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands, Scotland, & his other writing

Marie-Jeanne Phlipon Roland (1754-93): a great souled author of her own life

This week I shall write an essay for the Intelligencer about teaching the 18th century at the OLLIs (that includes Tom Jones).

For the film course I sincerely hope to write a few more blogs on these great and today perhaps forgotten films: since my last citation of the list I’ve seen Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth — I had forgotten how haunting that scene in the garage; the monstrousness and cruelty of wars is unforgettable in Stone’s film

I’ve gone on with Winston Graham whose suspense and spy novels between 1940 and 1943 impressed me as at their best anticipating LeCarre, reminiscent of Graham Greene and I add to No Exit (set in Prague the day Hitler’s armies invaded), Night Journey, the first version (1941, a very rare text, the 1966 one much inferior). And for my Anomaly essays (perhaps if I should live long a book) I have become enthusiastic over Frances Power Cobbe from her own writings (a novel told from the consciousness of a homeless beloved dog, The Confessions of a Lost Dog) and a superb study, Susan Hamilton’s Francis Power Cobbe & Victorian Feminism, and I am at least considering Anne Jameson from a biography by Clara Thomas, Love and Work Enough; I have read Jameson’s delightful Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada however many years ago.


Frances Power Cobbe with her dog, Hajjin (pilgrim), in a series of lectures dubbed “The abberation” (in Wales)

It is heartening how many serial dramas on TV today are feminist: I recently mentioned the 2018 Woman in White as strongly feminist when scripted by Fiona Seres and featuring Jessie Buckley as Marion Halscomb; add to this the 8 part film adaptation of the first novel of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (as it has come to be called), My Brilliant Friend: an Italian TV film by Antonio Costanza and (by email) Ferrante herself, it’s airing on HBO. This realization has brought to live much in the first novel I had not adequately responded to before. Don’t miss it. Told of it on https://groups.io/g/WomenWriters

Inadequate and at times snarky over intelligent girls as Emily Nussbaum’s review for the New Yorker is, she does provide background, a general summary and some good comments. I’ve been writing a summary and evaluation for every two episodes. On WomenWriters@groups.io, I have tirelessly maintained the earlier slender novels are better than this mainstream book but am now changing my mind; however you can’t understand this big mainstream unless you’ve read Days of Abandonment; The lost daughter, the nightmare on the beach (marketed absurdly as a child’d book) and know Ferrante is the translator Christa Wolf, she of Cassandra fame (a feminist take on the Iliad, deeply anti-war too). There is no sign Nussbaum has read the other books by Ferrante — for they are not about intellectuality but mother-daughter relationships, the macho male culture that suppresses and twists women, are nightmares of self-destruction (using dolls as one metaphor).

So setting all that aside, she does cover the series and says some interesting things. It is like a complex novel; it is the ‘faithful” type of adaptation. I did not realize from the two times I was able to watch the first hour that Costanza and Ferrante had picked from Little women just those passages where Jo reads aloud her book to Meg and family! I knew there was no such dialogue in the book — I looked and couldn’t find it at any rate. It’s about the two girls, about class-jumping, has wonderful dream-like sequences, goes into the ugly sexual aggressiveness of males in teenage years and how girls they don’t attack collude to despise those they do.

But there is so much more to say I was also disappointed — I feel she has not paid attention enough to episodes 5 (Shoes) and 6 (The island, aka Ischia)– nor the young men emerging (Nino, the highly intelligent young man; Pasquale, appealing coarser features projecting integrity and decency and Lila’s brother, Rino). Nussbamd (given her stance) neglects the central role of Lenu’s kind teacher in keeping her in school and the other women — the mothers who lives are so circumscribed and are angry or the women who puts up with male promiscuity because the man behaves better to them when around. The colors of the series at Ischia. I find so much in it reminds me of my experience of life in the southeast Bronx, circa 1950. Hour after hour there is some scene I’ve experienced — and not just reading Little Women.


Raffaella or Lila (Gaia Girace) and Lenu or Elena (Margherita Mazzucco)

By contrast, an excellent review by Alan Hollinghurst of A Very English Scandal: Class as central as sex and gender — the attempted and its motives reminded me of the actual murder in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Far too much sympathy was given to Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant with a granite face): I suppose because only in that way could the drama be made complex and interesting. My heart was on Norman Scott’s side (Ben Wishaw) much of the time — the speech that Norman Scott manages to make about his being one of those “thrown away” (according to Alan Hollinghurst not at all what Scott said — Scott went to pieces on the stand and cried) would fit the statement Scott made early on about his fixation over his National Insurance Card. Scott believes one needs an employer (in effect) to vouch for one’s “good character” in order to get another job or eventually collect one’s pension. We are even supposed to feel sorry for Thorpe’s best buddy (played by Alex Jennings) whom he betrays and humiliates through the lethal attorney (Adrian Scarborough just inimitable). The man sent to murder Scott murders his dog first (and then runs out of ammunition) Rinka, the dog, shot dead. Wishaw is first seen hugging a small beloved dog, Mrs Tish; last seen from afar, still alive


Ben Wishaw and the real Norman Scott – he kept loneliness at bay by caring for dogs

Oh, we got into quite a dialogue on translation on https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries with me as usual defending them as creative art on their own, occasionally better than the original text. But I’ve gone on too long already and said this all before. And it’s exhausting — when you can make no inroads into deeply entrenched prejudice — who wants to admit you didn’t read Tolstoy but rather reveled in Louise & Aylmer Maude, with a little help from Amy Mandelker, & (!) Elisabeth Guertik (I read Tolsoy in a wonderful English version with a French version underneath and the French was just superb)?  There’s a lot more at stake than these translators of course: copyright, intangible private property, centuries of thinking otherwise, a fetish I share of concentrating on an individual “behind” the book, amour-propre … I read translation studies  too you see.

How I wish I could listen to more than one novel at a time in my car: I am listening to the brilliant reading of Trollope’s extraordinarily strong novel, The Way We Live Now, as our group of friends on Trollope&Peers are now reading this novel.

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I am gaining weight now — my body more like a grandmother’s but it’s eat or conk out, and I cannot survive without my car. That’s partly why so few pictures of me: I am old and cannot face my face: dry looking, wrinkled, colorless in the photos, tired. I do exercise now 15 minutes a day in my sun-room, listening to Pete Seeger or Nanci Giffith radio (Pandora).

This week I hit a bad patch on the road, and two of the hubcabs on my tires went bouncing and flying high away, I got a flat, and a rim of one of the wheels is permanently somewhat bent. I phoned Toyota and when I saw they would do nothing, I walked a block and a half down and up a steep steep hill to a Midas where a kind man for some $500 replaces the tires, mended the bent as best he could, put on generic hubcabs and I was in business again. I have to spend — Izzy and I cannot survive without beautifully working computers attached to the Internet and all that takes. Comfortable rooms and our cats in good health. I’d adopt a dog if Izzy would agree (she won’t) — see my motto above.


A very intense Clarycat — who might not take kindly to another species of rival

Gentle reader, I hope you are doing something fulfilling during this cold and dark time; something you consider good work, keeping in touch with friends, staying well. Trying to make your surroundings pleasant to your eyes. Seek that contentment available to you. Keep loneliness at bay. I echo Garrison Keillor’s old three-part salute.

Ellen

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Richard Feynman: I share his metaphysical and pro-education outlook and assigned his books to classes for many years …

Friends,

This I wrote four days ago upon waking:

I looked out the window and saw such a pretty winter scene — the differently colored leaves (some withered, some not) scattered in the light green grass like decorations. I love these darker flowering bushes, the auburns, and browns, the chrysanthemums, bareness and configurations of the trees, the light blues and pinks in the sky. I find winter’s austerity beautiful.
And it’s another reason to stay alive.

This to someone who this morning objected to my analysing the Outlander films, one at a time each week as they are shown andp posting it onto a face-book Outlander non-censored page:

I’m with Richard Feynman: To me to know more about a thing only adds to its beauty and interest: I don’t see how it subtracts.  I taught a course in science from a humanities point of view for many years and used to read these passages aloud to my students — at three different times as they come from three different places:

To which I add Patricia Fargnoli (one of my favorite poets), a poem I’ve not posted here before:

The Room

The clock pressed the hours by,
frost blinded the windows.
The language beyond them disappeared
into ice.
If you sit in such a room you can forget.
The orange cat stretched out full-length
on the table and slept
the sleep of a careless one.
I lived there — or did not live¬ —
the future a cutoff thing,
the past not part of me anymore¬ —
smoke flying back from the train
on a Russian steppe
in an old complicated novel.
Gone, gone. Gone, gone. And goodbye.
In that standstill time, the cat and I
studied each other like mirrors —
his topaz inscrutable eyes.
I thought I was safe in the room.
The plow came to plow through the whiteness.
Because I was locked in my body
the frost climbed higher.
Because I was not safe
my arms wrapped around me.
One minute became the next¬ —
nothing shifted
except the cat
who jumped down and went to his bowl.
In the bookcase, the books leaned
to the right and glazed over.
The white Greek rugs and three bright watercolors
dulled to the gray of a wolf’s pelt.
The ice entered and shook the curtains.
Then it was time to move, however slightly

some action to break the frozen surface.
Still I did not move but the cat disappeared
into his hiding place between the boxes
under the bed.
I think of the people out in the world
moving around in their lives.
in/out, up/down, bending, standing,
wheels under them, the open skies.
How brave they all are.
In that room, I held fear
like the egg of a beast, about to break open.

and a favorite picture – by one of my favorite 20th century women artists:


Nell Blaine, Night Light Snow

Ellen

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My house, photographed from the right side

Funny, the things that cheer you up.

Without much thinking about it, to people walking by who bring up my renovation of my house or my newly made garden (usually to compliment me), I’ve been calling the house a “cottage.” It is probably too difficult and would not be socially acceptable to explain my aim was to make the appearance of my site in the world respectable. I’ve an idea it differs from other houses in my area … like Widmerpool’s jacket at the opening of Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

Well, a friend was over here the other day and said in reply to my unconscious characterization, that yes my house does look like a “cottage,” and then obviously trying to be tactful said the new garden, trees and flowers “soften” the effect, for now the house looks “less stark.” Then: “maybe you should get shutters on the windows.” I looked at her. “It would be more cozy,” she said. Today someone came over and offered to give me some sort of grass, to put on the two corners of the fence, one on each side. I told how another neighbor took back her sedge grass (turns out she was an Indian-giver) because she was not pleased with how I was behaving towards it with less than regular watering this summer. Then we turned to look at all the trees and plants, she said, congratulating me, also said something like the house is now not “so stark” and suggested “shutters.” So I remembered Austen about how the Dashwoods’ house “as a cottage was defective.” My house is regular, I’ve not even got shutters, much less green ones, no ivy, no hopes of honeysuckle at all. “As a cottage it is defective.”

I had told the woman neighbor whom I paid to do a garden plan when she asked me, What is your vision?” — stumped at such an unexpected pomposity (she really asked that) –, I paused and then came up with “I like clarity, simplicity, and symmetry.” Like a Pope couplet, explaining who Alexander Pope was. She looked at me as if I were mad. This is not what she expected me to say. What was she expecting? me to cite some super-expensive bushes? I don’t know the names of most plants, much less how much they cost one compared to another or rate on the scales of admiration.


Drenched by hose twice a day, my miniature magnolias begin to thrive

No I won’t add shutters. The way I put it to myself is it would cost money and would be a bother, is not easy to do. Besides which, the windows’ frameworks are utterly minimal and shutters would look absurd. Out of place. I would never have used that term stark for the house, and though now I half-see it, to me the house is plain, functional, simple, four walls on two squares, with two triangles, one on each square.

Would I do better to drop the word?

This is not coming out funny — the important inner point is I am no longer ashamed of my house, I know it does not have to look like a magazine image — but I did laugh when I thought of Austen. How ridiculous we all are.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. (Austen, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 6)

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Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel (2018 HBO Howards End, scripted Kenneth Lonergan, directed Hettie Macdonald)

The hardest thing about life as widow for me is to live without love. I can be cheerful from much that I do, feel buoyant, deeply satisfied by reading a great text (say Forster’s Howards End), watching and re-watching the two film adaptations (1990s, Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2018 Lonergan), but happy no.

I’ve discovered that Ian wants laptime and playtime every day. Yes. A new demand. He never used to. Ever since I can remember Clarycat has plumped herself on my lap and looked up to me with yearning eyes. She wants me to look down and make eye contact for hours. If I don’t look down, she puts a paw on my arm, or hand, nudges me with her whole body. When I give in, look down, she begins to lick my face thoroughly and nowadays I do look down and far more quickly and let her lick to her heart’s content. Such have I become because I lack love.

Now Ian aka Snuffy has taken to following me about about sometimes, wherever I am, and making little mews. I ask him, what do you want? but he can’t say. Over and over this interaction until today I have figured it out. From his new patterns of behavior. Periodically over the day, he comes over to the side of my chair, and puts a paw on my arm. Waits. I turn to him, look down and he waits for eye contact, and then jumps up. He will not allow me to pull him up, no he must jump up in his own right. Then he pressed his whole body against mine on the left side, with his head pressed to mine, facing backwards. He nudges my face with his cheek over and over, one paw winding around my neck. And there we sit, I stroke him, behind the ears, under the neck and he stretches, purring with a low growl. His tale moves back and forth, fat, full, on top of my keyboard. In effect we make love. He likes to do this around midnight too when I am sat here watching a movie or writing a blog.

Around 6:30 each evening when Izzy and I get together in the front of the house (dining room, kitchen) to do what’s necessary to finish off preparing supper (takes about a half-hour), there is Snuffy, looking expectant. What does he want? Without realizing this I had begun each night to play with a string with him. He began to remember this and now each night we must do it. He looks forward to it. Sometimes Clarycat joins in. Playtime.

As I type this tonight after having failed not stop myself suddenly falling asleep for over an hour it seems, and lost my reading glasses (hopelessly misplaced), so bought yet a fourth pair on the Net (cannot read without them), Clarycat is firmly ensconced in my lap, with Ian over on the library table in the cat bed seeming asleep. Their softly jingling bells silent.


One afternoon not long ago, the pair on the library table, he looking out the window …

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As a policy I find it counter-productive to go to the trouble of critiquing harshly any book or movie at length (in a separate blog), and as I often on this blog talk of my social time, especially my going to the OLLIs, conferences, out to plays and so on, and this story is more about the reaction of others to a book, than the book itself, so for the last third of this week’s diary, I’ll tell it here.


Jia Torentino writing smoothly in the New Yorker says the novel “instantly feels canonical, a world remarkably gorgeously permanently overrun by migrants ….

I read swiftly last week, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It’s one of these be-prized, widely-read recent best-sellers — just the kind that book clubs with discrimination choose to read as a group. When I read it alone, I thought it fairly good. Do you know it? a fable about refugee immigrants fleeing about the world, in each place at continual risk of horrifying senseless death from crazed bands of people locally or bombs from the air. Hamid uses magic realism so they keep exiting through magically appearing doors. Beginning perhaps in Pakistan, or Syria, Turkey, they move through (Mary Poppins like?) and find themselves first in a refugee camp on an island in the sea, then in London, then California ….

When I wrote briefly about the book on WomenWriters@groups.io (apologizing for bringing up a book by a male), I linked it into a book read and discussion we had had of Kamilla Shamsie’s Home Fire:

On my own, I saw the fluidity of the style, its grace, the occasional gnomic statement, the poignancy of some of what happens and is felt. But I was disappointed at the end. As the story carried on, to me the underlying archetype that was keeping all these zigzag moves, the improbable fantasies together was the intense relationship of Nadia and Saeed and I began to see parallels continual with the ancient Daphnis and Chloe story (by Longus) and so Paul et Virginie or Tristan and Isolde aesthetics. So I felt thwarted when they just gradually separated. Not that I had another ending in mind (as some say of say Mansfield Park or Little Women). Only the end I was fobbed off with didn’t work — had there been a political ending (as in Shamsie’s Home Fire, another Pakistani fable written in English to appeal to wealthy western audiences) I could have understood something, but Hamid to me just punted. He didn’t know what to do.

I realized then the real ending of the story is senseless death. They should have died like the couple in McEwan’s Atonement. Saeed just shot one day as he walks along, and Nadia beat to the death anyway despite her burka. Or from disease, from hunger. Now that would not have been a Daphnis & Chloe Or Tristan and Isolde ending: in both the lovers are either in bliss forever or they die together. What Hamid couldn’t face, and despite his false anti-Clarissa fable, McEwan could — senseless death, apart, absurd. Like so many in Candide. That’s the probable fate of this young couple and he hadn’t the heart or wit or stomach for it.

True, they never consummated, had full sexual intercourse. The rationale is he is religious. They are not married. I’ve read and know from personal experience, a woman’s inability to have full sexual intercourse even in marriage for years is not uncommon and most of the time when married they are forced. This turns up in literature again and again: one place is Byatt’s Possession: Ellen Ashe. It’s theorized Anne Radcliffe couldn’t let her husband “go all the way.” The burka was to keep men and all sex off. So I’m not sure of that. I also thought maybe we are to think she was inflicted by FGM. She is a Muslim, maybe her vagina has been destroyed. The book has this curious discretion: no soft core porn here 🙂 I didn’t laugh at him, I figured he had been kept innocent and was kind or sensitive if a bit dumb (like the male in Shamsie).

A member of WomenWriters@groups.io suggested we were to understand Nadia is lesbian. Nadia gets involved with a woman and I thought this a daughter-mother pattern, but then it didn’t go anywhere. Jim used to say I was hopelessly heteronormative. Maybe — like Henry James’s closet homosexuals, she is all the time and ever alone — except for Saeed, his father and one woman friend late in the book.

Then I attended a face-to-face talkative book club — and they talk about the book (not gossip about themselves).

While they are an intelligent group of women who know how to analyze a book, what the book allowed them to do was feel self-congratulations at their own positive attitudes towards immigration and refugees. The great moral a few kept saying was the book taught us we must move on, we must change with the demand for change. And they produced stories of older people who don’t change and they will be sorry for this soon …. It was a story we could all experienced, had experienced. They quoted a line from the book about how we are all immigrants in time. They implied they of course moved on.

Until then I had not realized how book shows a remarkable lack of anger in the protagonists, how all the character but one that we know live, how in fact the ending is benign, that this is a a providentially gentle book.

So after a while I brought up that the immigration or refuge stories were not the same as they had experienced, but was more like hispanic people coming to the US and being murdered (there was a grave of hundreds of people found in Texas a few years ago), that the whole thing was shot through with violence, terror, and while no one denied that, no one elaborated on that angle. I mentioned the detention camps around the US, the 1300 children now jailed. They seemed not to register that one at all. That part of this silence is they try not to discuss anything seen as taboo or partly controversial came out when I told of my friend saying the heroine was lesbian. I did this half-sceptically but they responded, oh yes, of course. They had seen that …

Then as one woman had been objecting to the magic realism (like her I do prefer straight realism), another commented (changing the subject), the doors are a deux ex machina, but I, persisting again, said yes when things are getting truly beyond endurance, a door opens and they escape. (Silently to myself I thought: in A Man for All Seasons when Robert Bolt’s More says “our natural business lies in escaping,” he means something else. Alas Bolt’s More does not want to escape — now I see everywhere in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies those not gone mad with religion do want to escape and most of the time try to only when it’s too late.) I then repeated how the book’s actual content is utter misery, abysmal poverty, deprivation, violence, they protested that that violence was not the purpose of the book. It didn’t need to be angry. It was about how people managed, how they functioned so well in these dire conditions.

One woman each time brings in research, sometimes from the New York Times book club discussions, or questions. This time she brought and read aloud from a biographical essay on Hamid. While he’s a Pakistani he also comes from a dizzingly privileged environment, seems to have hit every Ivy League college in the US or UK one can imagine (one parent a professor at one), when he went into business to pay his loans, he quickly rose to CEO, made just oodles more money. No wonder he writes the kind of distanced fable he does. Not Hamid’s fault these readers turned his story to one analogous with Fairfax housewives’ family pasts? They wanted analogies from long ago, say the Japanese in the US in the 1940s, not the Nazi state being set up by Trump.

My friend on WomenWriters (where as I said we had read as a group Kamilla Shamie’s Home Fire, whose story is far more genuinely about the plight and tragic and co-opted lives of immigrants) said that Hamid said he quit the CEO job because he realized he was joining the predators. She wrote: “I do think the title of Exit West gives away his politics. One could certainly object to his “tour” of refugee camps. Nothing too upsetting there. In a weird way, the novel almost ends up being a feel good piece — pretends to raise political awareness without making any demands on the reader. But it’s well written and sells. Hamid must be laughing” “All the way to the bank” I quipped. She then said it is even now being filmed.


Alice Bailly (1872-1938) A Concert Garden (1920)

But this time I didn’t laugh: it seems Helen Keller may be eliminated from school curricula across Texas, about which see my next Sylvia I blog.

Ellen

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Lake Windermere, the largest of the lakes (second is Ullswater, all others much smaller, meres, waters)

There is a comfort in the strength of love;
‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would break the heart … ” — Wordsworth, Michael

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve been back from the Lake District and Northumberland for two days now, and am re-settling in. I fulfilled a long-held wish thoroughly: for six days two tour guides, one from the area, Anne (with a strong Lancashire accent) and the other originally from London, Peter (so a sort of Cockney accent now laid over by several others), who was said to know a lot about local northern border history, took 20 Americans on two mini-buses for an average of 8 hours a day up, down, and all around the winding roads and many lakes of Cumbria. Immersion. Like last time, the first night we were asked each of us to tell why we had chosen to come to this area, and a little bit about who we are. I spoke (briefly) of my bad miscarriage in 1974 in the Lake District, which had led to Jim and I spending the five days we had planned to travel about in, in a small Kendal hospital, that I had come originally because it might be said 5 lines of Wordsworth’s Michael decided me in my line of life, English major, teacher of English literature, then literary scholar and college teacher, writer. I had come back alone because my husband died 5 years ago, but I was there with him in my spirit. I came to England after the first year every year since he died.


Otterburn Castle, where we stayed — the Internet access was dodgy, but my room was magnificent, large, with a landscape tapestry above my bed

That first night was indicative of an important aspect of the trip this time: it was a Road Scholar experience. I had not realized this so strongly last time. Last time had been 7 days at the Aigas House restoration ecology estate (2 days arduous traveling), in Inverness, and I sort of put down what happened to John Lister-Kaye, and his wife, Lady Lucy, with their hierarchical ways, and various interning science students as guides with deep interest in the area, its history, its culture, gardens, cookery, animals, the Scottish environment and history. Now I realize whatever they were individually, and the local culture, the program was shaped, inflected by the Road Scholar point of view, which is thus far educational touring. There are athletic programs, and (I was told) much more “commercial” ones with a large group of people, say a cruise. I thought people were friendly but last time had gotten to know only a few people’s names well, and little about them individually (one woman artist, a widow, working in New York City, and another never married woman who lives about five minutes from me especially); I just saw most of the people as types. This time it was some 11 days (again 2 day traveling ordeal), in three hotels (one in Manchester one night at airport), two places, Lake District in Cumbria, Lindeth Howe Country Hotel, Bowness, which had been Beatrice Potter’s country house mansion; Otterburn Castle, Northumberland, which had been a Peel Tower in the days of ferocious Reiver violence, then a 10th century castle (which is from the outside still what it looks like), renovated again and again, especially in Victorian and then later 20th century. The Aigas experience dominated by two people, all tourists in single large bus, with little free time, evenings occupied too (lectures, music one night); this time four different Road Scholar tour guides, evenings free, a full Sunday free day to do what I liked — I mostly sat in front of a real fire reading Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques. Free hours in several towns — I saw exhibits, and there were pre-paid lunches sometimes together, sometimes separately or formed into smaller groups: Keswick, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Jedburgh (Scotland), and Durham. This time by the end I knew everyone’s name, something of the history and character of each individual or couple; they became very vivid in my mind. I keep hearing one man’s pleasant voice.


The tapestry over my bed in Otterburn castle

One problem I’ve been having is I dream of them. Each night I find myself waking early and not realizing I am in my house in my own bed living my usual life in Alexandria, but coming out of a dream which is inhabited by these people, and for a few moments am so confused as I try to work out which hotel I’m in. Usually when I wake from a troubling or obsessive dream, I break “the spell,” and it stops or is transformed so that the material is being lived in by someone else and begins to fade. But today I had a brief nap in the afternoon (I am very tired) and found the same phenomenon occurring: I woke in confusion, got up and began to walk about, stressed, to see what was happening now, where I was, only to find that I am home after all, not surrounded by these others, but rather my two very loving cats:

Clarycat missed me badly: Izzy said Clary would not have anything to do with her, but remained in a kind of retreat, and until today Clary has been yowling at me (vocalizing) in a harsh tone, now she is simply all over me, all the time. Ian did sleep with Izzy, stay around her, and at first stayed with that pattern, but today he began to nudge me, rub me, stay close, playing, and making me alert to his companionable presence.


You see some of the group: the woman with white page boy hair facing us and other woman, helping her, is the fellow New Yorker, Barbara (same accent as me): Inside the Hermitage: a place of fierce cruelty. The story repeated is how Bothwell was badly wounded trying to arrest some murderous Reivers lords so Mary Queen of Scots rode here to see him. She didn’t stay long. Walter Scott included it in a couple of his historical romances …

I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, but would like briefly to name and describe them (using substitute first names) so as not to forget. It was a group of people very similar in type, age, profession, and marital status and income to last time: ages from mid-50s to later 80s, mostly retired, though some had jobs they could carry on with in older age or volunteered (teachers for example, writers).  Mostly pensions from years of working were enabling this. Both times I have been in all white groups but then my choice of literary writers and places would lead to that.

5 married couples in their sixties to mid-eighties. Larry and Lea (from Oklahoma, he wrote a poem for the last night, not very good, she boasted of how he was thinking all the time); Clarence and Sheila (from Alabama, not far from Asheville, North Carolina, where they attend an OLLI as students; he a retired mine owner, she with him had had 4 children, then discovered she was good at running non-profits, he went to Yale, she Vassar, living a charmed life, by virtue of wealth from his career, and a sale of property in Florida so that today they have a beautiful apartment in Tudor City, Manhattan too, conservative democrats); Bob and Cynthia (New York Jews from Rochester, he a practicing psychiatrist of the old school who really try to help people, humane brilliant witty man, interesting to talk to about human relationships, with daughter who was a White House correspondent but quit after Trump and wrote a book about a community destroyed after a corporation left, Janesville (Amy Goldstein), Paul Ryan’s home town); Sandi and Dave (from Florida, decades ago he traveled with a friend all over southeast Asia, he kept getting left behind, at one point locked into a dungeon like fort-castle, he was determined to do all as if he were 40, and not so forgetful, refusing one of the guide’s offer of his van instead of walking, she told a story of a previous miserable Road Scholar cruise tour; as in the previous trip here was a couple who were living in a late second marriage); Rick and Maggie (she originally from Australia wrote a wonderful Chaucerian parody with vignettes of all the people channeling different Canterbury Tale characters, which gave me the idea for the title to this blog; he helped me download my boarding pass from my cell phone in the 10th century castle renovated into a hotel, the hotel reception clerk helping; otherwise they go from holiday to holiday, from Broadway play to musical). All with children and grandchildren.

Four aging widows: me; Norah (from North Carolina, husband died at 40 but as alive in her mind today as he ever was, an environmentalist, she has written 7 books, gave the impression of countless articles, reviews, post-polio she called herself, but personally daring, at dinner an effectively sharp tongue when she wanted to); Suzanne (also North Carolina, Bavarde, social worker, psychologist, doing good work with groups trying to raise minimum wage, kindly easy going mostly silent lady with a cane, lucky to be alive after many operations, husband died 24 years ago next month); Sara (Cape Cod, widowed 3 months, in throes of trauma, ceaselessly talking, insistent). Two sisters, Ginny and Linda (from California, perhaps divorced, perhaps widowed, living near one another, lots of stories, one a teacher of disabled children, teacherly; the other living this seeming cheerful life, so good-humored, with children living these successful prestige lives of university, laboratory and business). One widower, Gary, turned out to be divorced years ago, brought up his children himself (Swedish by background, has traveled to every continent, so many countries, son lives in Germany and talked of how good life is there for him). All with children and some grandchildren.


Steve, one of the 20, at the Wallington House conservatory gardens

Single people. Two never married women living in mid-town Manhattan, Dorothy (successful academic art historian professor, interested in 12th century church architecture, lived much in Italy, worked for the Met); Barbara (high school teacher in English for 35 years, I liked her, we compared notes on British costume dramas, including Poldark, liberal democrat, Jewish her talk of nieces, nephews, brother she reminded me of Vivian). They told me of how in the last 10 days of August, the Met Opera puts up a huge screen in the Kennedy Center square and screen one a night each of the 10 HD operas for that year for free. Who knew? and other stories of delightful lectures, poetry reading (Jeremy Irons reading Eliot’s The wasteland at the 92nd Street Y. One single man, Steven (from Texas, MD, PhD, pathologist, retired has taken or is taking anywhere from 17 [to 34?] Road Scholar and Overseas adventures tours, highly intelligent man, vegetarian, up early in morning, walking away, something of a loner,thought grave by the others, prickly).

One conversation. How what we use as words matters. Somehow famine came up, and I said that famine is not the result of not enough food in an area; it’s that a group of people have precarious entitlement to the food that is there, and the amount of food goes down, becomes scarce and prices soar. Steve said, “yeah, it’s a distribution problem.”

Then two of the tour guides who were with us most of the time: Anne, “happily divorced” (from the Lake District, northern Lancashire accent, thoughtful of everyone, conscientious, a model of patience, good driver, knew a lot about the area’s culture and history and geology, botany, bogus and real history, very bright, as so many Brits accepted her lot and the world she finds herself in, loves to hike, bike); Peter, now living alone on a small island (from London originally, said to be an expert in history, he did know the fierce legends, about battles, lively and tactful, bubbling over if a man can bubble over, also conscientious and knew better than a GPS where everything is, except when he got tired).

Something like 10 people had Ph.Ds, several had been teachers in college or high school, a librarian, three physicians. People with professional certificates. Three business people.  A well-educated bunch of people (like last time). Comfortably well off but not above trying to save $200 say in the fare. A number had been on quite a number of Road Scholar tours.

I learned as much from being with these people as from being on the trip. I found myself remembering back to when I was 5 and asking myself where I was or how I related to all the different houses we visited, museums exhibits I saw, amid all these different eras and varying cultural groups (Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, French Normans, Reivers, modern English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish) who left their rubbish and precious things and writings and inventions, and made the world we are now living in a palimpsest (if we will only look) through whose relics, remains, and texts we see them. I am become versions of my central self after these 6 plus decades, first in New York City, then in England, and now in Alexandria.


Lady Mary Lowther (1738-1824), The Waterfall — from Stephon Hebron’s In the Line of Beauty: Early Views of the Lake District by Amateur Artists

Most days were sunny and very warm by noon, though I needed the fleece I bought for the trip by the later afternoon; it would rain now and again. The mini-bus going up and around in narrow twisty-lanes sometimes very close to a steep edge of a cliff made for excitement at Hardnut and other passes. I began to wear my training shoes towards the end.

So, gentle reader, now I have prepared us to tell of my latest pilgrimage on Ellen and Jim have a blog, two. It is crucial to understand that everything I saw and did was in the company of these people and the choices I made were limited and shaped by their presence. It is not true that when one visits a site de memoire what matters only is the history of place, its function as a symbol to a culture, but what is being done at the moment, how it is functioning today as what 20th and 21st century people do around it and as a result of the visit. I will now go on to describe the tour itself.

I did read away for a couple of hours a day every day while away, and (among other volumes) my remarks blog style on Gina May’s moving biography of Madame Roland, and her famous memoir, and Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home will be found on Austen reveries.

Ellen

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Izzy on the train

All the time they seemed to be skating in fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates — a dream of ice-skating during a hard frost, the Thames, Virginia Woolf, Orlando


Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Friends,

While last week’s account was the last about Milan and nearby environs, I have yet to speak of why we came when we did: the World’s Championship Ice-Skating contest was held from March 21st to 25th at a nearby (just outside the city proper) forum. My daughter Isobel is a devoted expert, blogger, fiction writer, evaluative fan of ice-skating. There are people who know as much as she does of the recent history of ice-skating, but I doubt you’d find anyone who knows more.

Starting Wednesday mid-morning when the tickets were handed out (no, you could not print out the tickets on any website, though you were advised to buy them well ahead), until late at night for the next four nights, and Sunday 2 to 5 for a gala performance (aired on TV), she absorbed herself in the ice-skating. She also went to a couple of early morning practices:

Laura and I joined her for three afternoons and the gala.

I could wish you had her to blog here as I’m sure she could and would describe all that happened and the many technical and other contexts with a knowledgeable critical eye. Here you may read her many blogs since Izzy gave up on her own Miss Izzy and stopped blogging there for Fan-Sided for several months, and now to where Laura moved her website from “I should have been a blogger” to Miss Izzy Ani & Izzy. I can’t.

There is also an underside, the realities of the life, the pressures, and the politics of ice-skating. What happens to ice-skaters mirrors what happens to ambition in sports in American and global life (as seen in media too) today.  I review a movie, which, if you at all interested in ice-skating as presently experienced in the US, you ought to see: I, Tonya: Tonya Harding, an ambitious working class girl (and many of those who go in for the championship and those who go are working to lower middle people) driven by the lack of wins because she was not playing the role of a sweet gentile middle class girl, either herself encouraged or was instigated by her violent desperate husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan) into directly attacking her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The husband and a thug friend tried to destroy one of Kerrigan’s knees. It was quickly found out who had done and became the scandal not only of the decade but perpetually of ice-skating itself.


A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

I can tell you something of the experience of watching ice-skating in the Milan stadium. We took a train from where we were staying some 8 stops to just outside the city. About half an hour’s journey after a 5-7 minute walk both ways. Here is what the place looks like from the outside:


Daytime from the side


Nightime from within looking out.

It looks innocuous enough but as one reporter who regularly goes to these mass events, the least of the stadium’s concerns were the human needs of the customers. There two toilets for thousands of women. Two. The lines were not as horrendous as you might imagine because I suppose most women did like me: held themselves in until they got home. Long lines were the order of the day and night. It took hours to collect our tickets. Huge crowds forced to move into five crowd and then thin lines, and all you needed was one person to have troubles on any given line.

Inside the forum you had to wait on three lines to get any food. A line to pay and get your tickets. A line to put in a ticket for whatever food or drink was available. Another line to collect your purchase. I was told this was because very few people were empowered to sell tickets because few were trusted with money. Why two lines and not one were then called for I know not. Maybe because food was so minimal, unvaried, and poor by the time you got it your spirit was cowed. You were not allowed to bring in food or drink. Three years ago I went with Izzy to a stadium in Boston also set up to prevent people bringing food: prices were exhorbitant and I didn’t recognize as food most of what was sold, but there was just one line and there was a large variety of food and drink. Most of the customers in Milan stadium played safe and bought water & simple chip snacks.

Inside the forum the seats were small, the steep incline of the stairs painful if you went up and down more than say twice. The ushers appeared not to know their own stadium and misdirected Izzy, Laura and I at least three times. It was not freezing cold as other ice-skating stadiums I’ve been to are, but it seemed to me the noisiest of all the stadiums I’ve ever been to. Constant loud music inbetween events, flashing commercials from a central turning box, strobe lights when a new turn in events was about to proceed. As if this wasn’t enough, they had hired a bellowing clown to demand of individuals in the crowd that they make spectacles of themselves, of groups to wave flags and clap and hammer the floor with their feet.

More than a decade ago, the first time I went to an ice-skating event at a stadium in DC, I was enchanted. It was not a competition, but a show, not televised. Each of the pairs or individuals performed as personalities; there were shared group sequences. There was no excess noise in the one intermission. Since then in DC no shows come anymore, and it is all fierce competition for places in line-ups for the next contest.

Our prize-obsessed culture has won out. Just about every event is a competition or contest, and the whole atmosphere of the event is intermixed with that of an ordeal. Each of the skaters has thrown their lives into this sport, and they have spent hugely (or their parents have) and it is crucial to win. Some of them fall away quickly; those who stay the course can become anorexic (if girls) or otherwise suffer the various ills that come from such a lifestyle. Their sexual orientation becomes a matter of speculation, and until recently gay men had to hide their sexuality. A figure like Michael Weiss did very well because he is so obviously stereotypically heterosexual white male.

In Milan stadium, after a given contestant’s routine was over, the contestant was led to sit before a replica of the Milan Cathedral waiting for their score: scores in ice-skating are subjective when it comes to decimal differences. most of them are trained not to show deep disappointment but now and then you would see it.

Do most of the people sitting there “tune out” what is going on about them? or does it excite them to feel they are in some celebrity aura? I know this celebrity aura is hard to resist, and when you are near someone thought so famous, and feel the way others about them, you yourself (I myself) act oddly. I once met a Prime Minister of the UK at a Trollope dinner: John Major. I found it hard not to try to impress him somehow in our talk and afterwards felt ashamed of myself.

In watching these young people, I found the earlier dancers (who were the less competent or less be-prized) sometimes more interesting. I wish some overt attention were paid to grace and lyrical beauty, but the way the scores are talked about are in terms of feats of physical derring-do or if the person defied physics in this or that way in how many times they twirled or jumped or in a pair stayed in dazzling sync while risking falling. Many hurt themselves on the ice.

During the Sunday gala I was impressed how a ballerina who was hired to do highjinks on a wire, was carried from the ice. I’ve seen announcers carried too. It’s hard to walk, and hard simply to skate, much less do the kinds of things these young people do. I keep saying young people because their career is usually over by their early 30s.

At Milan I found three hours my limit. The shows I’ve gone to with Izzy usually last two and one half hours with half an hour intermission. I went to one championship with her in Boston five years ago now and found I couldn’t last more than three hours either though the place was more comfortable. I couldn’t endure the noise, the flashing lights, and in the one case where we found ourselves the audience in a show that was televised — asked to sit utterly still, to clap here, to endure boredom there, to not mind all the cameras, I felt we were badly exploited.

People endure this because they have been taught that they don’t count, that it’s some how bad sportsmanship to complain of bad treatment. Attitudes like these are fostered by the celebrity culture and regarding some people as superior to others.

Most of the time I find individuals skating not as varied as the couple dancers and the athletic pairs, and enjoy the couples much more. Best of all are in shows when long-time trained performers know how to keep their individuality and yet be part of a group configuration. But if you watch carefully or take a photo and look later, you can appreciate individual feats & grace — though it’s hard to feel in the atmosphere of intense competition and in this particular case the discomfort of the Milan stadium.

Here is someone gliding:

Sometimes the camera captures gestures in dancers that in motion would be prettier:

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


Men

When they won, they were put into ritualized tableaux in princess or prince costumes:

One the elements of the experience that interested me was the difference between what we in the forum were experiencing and seeing, and what those watching broadcasts saw and experienced. It seems somehow to prefer the false to say ice-skating is more pleasurable (and much less expensive) in the comfort of your home watching TV or a digital computer screen, but I like to remember how thrilled I was in the early years as dancing, skating, athletics on the ice is hard. You won’t experience the same thrill that you do when you are there near the body that can fall or mess up and then doesn’t. Izzy is so invested in a number of individual skaters for her to see them is a kind of validation of herself, her dreams.

This gets me to the movie, I, Tonya. The actress who played the harridan mother of Tonya, La Vonya Fay Golden (Allison Janney) won a Golden Globe. I wish I could think the this prize did not reflect the misogynist pleasure of our world where people get a kick out of seeing a mother figure made into a cruel bitch. The mother is presented as the one who originally drove Tonya into becoming a competitive ice-skater. She is presented as deeply bitter because her husband (rightly) left her her; no berating is too far for this woman as she “coaches” her daughter; she also will do anything for money. At the close of the movie she accepts money from court authorities as she tries to trick her daughter into confessing she was the instigator of the crime while she has a tape going around her body.

The movie is darkly funny: part of the way it’s done is that the actors play the people being interviewed by a unseen reporter and there are continual flashbacks as the story in chronological order unfolds before us. This allows for many occasions for irony. We identify with the downtrodden working class Tonya, and she is not caricatured or condescended to nor the mother. But her husband is: he is presented as most Americans’ idea of someone trying hard to be a macho male and not quite succeeding because among other things he hasn’t got the competence to make enough money to support the role with the necessary paraphernalia: fine house, fancy car, “in” clothes. He has an idiotic sidekick who reminded me of Trump: continually lying, ceaselessly boasting, profoundly ignorant, he has the foggiest idea of how to to a deed and cover it up. It was apparently the sidekick’s continual re-parking of a car outside the event where the attack took place that provided the police with their first clues.


The scene where the police confront Tonya and her husband and coach

The value of the money is to expose the hidden injuries of class and the impoverishment of the American working and middle class. We see that in the mother’s life especially, in the dives these people eat in. As Helen O’Hara says, it was a trial by media, the very media which builds up celebrity. This is brought out. The acceptance of violence of American life is seen in Tonya’s relationship with her mother and then husband: they both beat her. The one half-humane relationship in the film is between Tonya and her trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), but from what I have been told by college students in colleges where I’ve taught, these people are bullies too.

By the end of the film you feel for Tonya while at the same time are left unsure how complicit she was in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She is presented as someone with decent impulses whose life and surroundings teach her to make bad choices (in her husband and leaving school) and drive her to rages like the others around her. The jury decision suggests that the jury was undecided how guilty she was but convinced her husband and the friend who literally attacked Kerrigan were criminal. Harding did not lose her ambition or her turning to physical competition for prize money: later in life she tried professional wrestling, and even became a celebrity boxer. She was made part of the sordid underbelly of movies: for example,a video of her having sex with her husband was released. She used this notoriety to keep afloat.

I suppose what makes the film a story for 2017 is she is not a victim heroine but someone part of a system that is fosters internal war in people’s psyches, which they then bring to their social experience. I recommend reading Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas for the full context for all this.


Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

It can all begin with innocent enough dreams of accomplishment, of pride, of achievement in the world’s eyes. I’ve been asked more than once if Izzy skates. She has, mostly for fun, and except for the one time I tried to skate with her by herself. I can think of five sequences in books and films where ice-skating is presented — H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia, the opening; Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the opening; John Gay’s early 18th century poem; Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London, where a central sequence is devoted to showing life on the ice in the midst of one of the intense frosts of the 18th century in England , and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where Levin and Kitty as ideal sweet lovers yearning for one another ice-skate together. In all these the moments are idyllic, a halycon hiatus, physically beautiful too. The fifth is in It’s a Wonderful Life where George’s brother falls on thin ice, and George risks his own life to rescue him. Deep heroism, self-sacrifice. It is somehow indicative of the human psyche that this sport is rarely presented with any reality to our eyes.

About two weeks before we went, Izzy took herself ice-skating (partly looking forward to our trip) and fell. When much younger, she did ice-skate regularly by herself. But I had to drive her and it was not that much fun by herself. Now she was kindly taken care of while there and came home limping. It was only a twisted ankle, and within a couple of days she had no pain. A couple of weeks after we came home, she went with her JCC social club ice-skating. She didn’t fall.

For her I believe the time was very good and she is planning to go to Nationals (as she calls them) the next time they come to Boston or perhaps the World’s at Montreal. She loves to blog about ice-skating, participates intensely in this world of ice-skating, knows the politics which she reports on too. The sport and her participation in it help give her life meaning. There are thousands of people like her; each time I’ve gone to an event I’ve been impressed by the variety of types of people who are there fully absorbed. I think they were not well treated in by the Milan stadium owners. Izzy used to put up lovely YouTubes on her old blog, and I would share some too — where she shows her gift for elegant concise writing and carrying much knowledge lightly — but the commercialization of YouTube has taken most of her hard-worked efforts down.


The famous Nathan Chen whom Izzy and I first saw as a 12 year old seeking a scholarship at a Michael Weiss run skating event in (remote) Maryland — what has his life been.

I liked how he made a point of dressing simply. I wondered if that was part of his way of dealing with the stress.

Miss Drake

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Closure

Friends,

More than two weeks since the festivities were over, and more than a week since I turned into a class member at the Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning for 4 weeks at Mason (and soon, very briefly, but 3 mornings worth) at AU. The above tree has been taken away, and bitterly cold spells keeping us in so that after weeks of pushing myself reading as much Virginia Woolf, Samuel Johnson and on biography as I could take I achieved the proposal and an outline and plan for the paper I’m working on: “Presences Among Us Imagining People: Modernism in [Samuel] Johnson and [Virginia] Woolf’s Biographical Art” — too long to quote here – and send it to the editor of the volume it’s intended for, whereupon it was approved. And there’ve been balmy afternoons, permitting a museum visit and afternoon walks,


Me at the National Gallery with


my friend, Panorea,

much reading, as in Roger Fry, whose Vision and Design taught me what was wrong with the Vermeer and His Contemporaries exhibit we saw on that day in the museum (when we also had that hellish experience of parking in today’s world):

I liked the paintings, and of course, especially Vermeer, who of course stood out, but of course one knew that would be so already. I saw two new Vermeers I’d seen before and some of his contemporaries’ paintings I’d only seen in reproductions were made far truer for me. But it was a disappointment. Why? it was organized by motifs, by what was shown, the literal content (musicians with women of dubious reputations, women writing letters &c) and I learned nothing new. It should and could have been organized by painter. I did see that several had one or two paintings as good as Vermeer and there were two Vermeer duds. I could get no sense of the vision or development or uniqueness of these others.

I’d been reading Roger Fry and while looking at these persuaded me his total dismissal of content, of imitation of reality, as unimportant won’t do, his insistence this is a medium that the artist expresses emotion through and we contemplate and enjoy from aesthetic criteria is accurate. I couldn’t do that because the exhibit was arranged only with literal content in mind. Outside the exhibit there were two expensive books filled with artistry of one or another of these people separately ; that means they could have organized the exhibit that way. Surely they know better too.


Amelie Beaury-Saurel, Dans Le Bleu (1895?) — one of the many artists and pictures I’ve never seen before

I did buy a book, an equally expensive one — under $40 — Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900, once I stop this doing of papers for others and get to my own projects I will return to blogging for women artists among other things.

Also in no particular order a few marvels of novels, literary criticism, and biography, and movies, of which I’ll describe just one: Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent:


On her own at last (Wendy Hiller as Deborah, Lady Slane)

Deborah, Lady Slane, is an 88 (!) year old heroine. At long last she is standing up — well sitting down mostly — for what she would like to do with her life, where she would like to live. Her husband dies — shall I say at long last again?– and she refuses to live with her children, or to travel from one to another but instead sets up her own apartment in Hampstead in a place she saw 30 years ago. I couldn’t quite believe that not only does no one want to cheat her but she comes across two elderly men who do all they can to cater to her — she meets these gentle non-materialistic noncompetitive people, giving her book a long central space for a long soliloquy in the middle of the book (very like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse) that just riveted me. How she was deprived of her deepest desire to paint; how no one of course wanted to deprive her, but neither could anyone take such a desire seriously. She must (they all thought) value her work as a mother (and especially of sons) infinitely more. She thinks about the anti-feminist point of view, and asks herself why is life as a mother not as valuable? why is producing a fine human being not as valuable as a work of art. The answer is the other person is apart from us and it’s us we want to embody in something beautiful or truthful or relevant that speaks to others.

It has funny passages such that I laughed aloud. Not a very common occurrence with me. Jokes in the dialogues between Deborah, our 88 year old heroine, and her beloved maid, Genou (played by Eileen Way, barely recognizable from her part as Aunt Agatha in the 1970s Poldark). As novel began, it resembled the humor of Patricia Duncker’s Miss Webster and Cherif, about an aging spinster to whose door comes a young African or black English young man and she takes him in as a handyman about the house. Very dangerous and Andrew Davies picked that up in his film adaptation of Barbara Howard’s Falling with Penelope Wilton as the older woman living alone who takes Michael Kitchen, as the seeming kindly alone older man, who becomes terrifyingly abusive. It’s probably skirting that which makes the delight of such books. The origins are ultimately the kind of thing we find in Mrs Miniver, or The Egg and I — or they participate in this fantasy.


Her unkempt garden

When Mr FitzGeorge, an equally elderly man who has kept an image of our heroine somewhere in his mind for many decades since the time when he saw her in India (despite hemmed in by family and children) and recognized a kindred spirit, when he I say comes to visit, and then he leaves her his vast collection of art objects, what does she do? Not leave it in legacies to her children (most of whom she dislikes — her spinster daughter so happy on her own at long last and unmarried son not so much), but give it to the state and charities. Everyone thinks this is throwing it away as the worst people may get their hands on it and what will they do with it.

The meaning the heroine’s mind wants is a final gesture contra mundi. She refuses to acknowledge that all this is valued for the money it will fetch, its status (who did it), its prestige – what Roger Fry said was true of why people valued what art they paid for. Then a visit from a great-granddaughter shows her that this one girl despite the photos which made her out to be an utter sell-out don’t represent her for real. Soothed by this thought but not regretting she didn’t leave this granddaughter anything she dies.

I love the way S-W’s mind just leaps on to the telling descriptive detail that so convinces and amuses — suddenly she lifts, John, her cat, John off the magazine she is pretending to read. Of course John was there, and of course he struggles when she attempts to make him look at something.

Ah me

Also the depth of feeling between a woman and her “maid” found in Jenny Diski’s Apology for the Woman Writing (a historical novel centering on Marie le Jars de Gournay, her maid and Montaigne), for the two live meaningfully because they are together, one serving the other, with the tragic close of the death of the rich one with the poor thrown out. Poor Genou. She will be kicked out and only if there is some kind of tiny legacy will she know any comfort after this. We get a quick picture of what her life was before becoming this 24 hour servant – one where she was 12th child, utterly mistreated. More than merely bitter-sweet.


With her faithful Genou (Eileen Way)

And I watched a deeply satisfying dream-like realization of it in a film with Wendy Hiller (1986, TV film) at the center this.

What does a diary do but mark time? I’m not the only one in this house who has changed in the last four years. I newly appreciated Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat That Walked By Himself” (a story that in another life Jim read aloud to me and Laura when Laura was around 9, sitting in front of a winter fire in the front room fireplace).


Snuffy in the morning near his cat tree and water bowl

My cat, Ian, now Snuffy has undergone a profound change. Four years ago when Jim died, Snuffy spent most days under the bed or hiding somewhere. He’d come out to sit on the top of chairs and watch us, seemingly for hours never moving. Each night after dinner when Jim and I would sit by the table drinking wine or coffee, he’d come onto Jim’s lap. Once in a long while, he’d come over to be petted by me. After much effort, when Laura spent four days and nights he, he began to play with her, follow her about and open up his body to her, sitting up straight, putting out paws, and looking at her longingly. But he remained wary and played from a corner of the room. He never asserted himself that I could see. Jim had forbidden him and Clarycat to come into my study during the day because once long ago Snuffy had eaten the wires to the computer and messed them all up. It took Jim hours to repair and replace.

Shortly before Jim grew sick, shortly after I retired, I rebelled against this regime and said they come into my room with me because they are old enough to know not to gnaw on wires when bored, lonely, tired, frustrated. (I am not sure of this and would not want to leave them in this house alone for days to try this out.) Gradually I was making better friends with them.


Togetherness

Well now four years have gone by, and I have let them become part of all my daily rhythms; they have their place in all that happens. He still hides out for a couple of hours a day, but when he’s finished this calming stint, he comes over to me, puts his paw out and nudges me gently and gets onto my lap. We have lap time. We also have chest and head time; he pushes his body against my chest, his head against mine, his tail waving away, and lets me hug him tight. We do this a couple of times a day. He follows me from room to room, sometimes getting out in front of me and then moving on in the expectation I will follow him, but turning to make sure and then alter his path if I do. He spends most of the rest of the day quite visible — running about, sitting in front of windows, hanging around me or ClaryCat — often making a nuisance of himself as he tries to mount her (she will spat at him after a while), wrestle with her, or lick her thoroughly all around. She cannot bully him the way she once did as she held fiercely in her mouth a toy. He remains wholly unimpressed nowadays. Night time he takes his place curled into my legs; Clarycat has lain nestled by the side of my body most nights for years. (This is how I slept with my dog, Llyr, and 40 years ago, with another cat, Tom I called him, the stray-feral I had to leave behind in Leeds.)


Clary waking one morning

Izzy’s door. This is a bone of contention and he is winning. He stands by her closed door for hours mewing. He used to make half-hearted attempts to get her to open it, but now he is persistent. We open it, and he goes in, but he wants out. He stands before the closed door on the other side. Goes over to Izzy, paw on her arm. He then stands in front of the door after she opens it. What he wants is a door ajar. And he is winning. I threatened to strangle him one day if she didn’t leave that door ajar. He will trot over to my chair and mew at me, and put his paw on me to get my attention. If I talk at him, it doesn’t help. Another day she threatened to go mad if he didn’t leave the room so she could write in peace. She says the room gets cold if it’s ajar, since he opens it farther to come in and farther to come out. I don’t like hearing her music. But he is winning. He wants access to us both at once. He feels securer. Access to her room where there are places he hides. As I type this this morning the door is ajar, he has pushed it and trotted into her room. Clarycat in front of my computer looking out the window with alertness.

Most striking of all is how he treats others coming to the house. Yes he will still run and hide when people come into the house. And most of the time not come out until they leave. He does not chase or pursue insects the way he once did, keeping at them and then somehow killing the poor things as they become exhausted or crippled, and then pushing them with his paw. He grows older I expect. Maybe wiser in the sense that there’s nothing practical here for him. He was never one for toys the way Clary is. Yet once in a while he will venture to show himself to people and have a look. But often time nowadays as someone comes down the path, he growls and loud. He shows his displeasure by going to the door and growling. Sometimes he prowls about guarding the space. We have never had a guest who brought in a pet.

Startlingly he solved the problem of Greymalkin. You may remember Greymalkin as this peremptory grey cat I thought was a feral or stray and was putting food out for when I discovered that she or he had an owner, a neglectful one who had left her or him there for two weeks with only a brief visit a day from his daughter to replenish food. I can do nothing for him or her because he or she is defined as property, “owned” by this man. That cat is still neglected and still comes round and meows quite loudly on my stoop for food and water — and attention. He or she wants to be petted, and I can see wants to come out of the cold and wet by immediate feeling; if I thought it wouldn’t cause trouble, and I’d let him or her come in. It’s been very cold, sometimes pouring ice when I see this poor cat come round. It would cause trouble for me, for what would happen if this cat ran under a chair or hid, as it has no bell as part of its collar the way mine do and it is “owned” by someone else. (Thus I experience how someone living near an enslaved person could be helpless to protect him or her).

Well, Snuffy does not feel this way. He apparently resents the cat coming to the stoop and eating food I gave him or he. Some “smart aleck” type person would say Snuffy is wise to this cat. When Snuffy sees this cat coming down the path, he leaps off my desk (he might be sitting between the back of my computer and the window over my desk), growling and spatting and runs to the door and makes loud noises. Poor Greymalkin flees in fright, leaping away like a kangaroo.

Snuffy’s basic wary nature is still there. I mention he needs hiding time. He will spend time opening drawers and then getting in and staying there. It is important that I don’t let him know I see him, which I do (he thinks if he cannot see me easily I cannot see him), for when he sees that I know where the place is, he finds a new place. Were he a human being would he be the less intelligent seeming, less senstive type, and (forbid the thought) vote conservatively. I feel sorry for Greymalkin, who is a neglected cat. He or she is a hard fat sturdy cat, but I feel the hard behavior is in imitation of his or her owner and if he or she had a kinder environment a nicer personality would develop eventually. Greymalkin does not expect to be treated with affection.

Clarycat is not quite the same as she was when Jim lived either. She was deeply attached to Jim, and grieved for days after his death. She knew he was dying and was distraught the two days he died. Caw-cawed and walked back and fourth in the corridor between the front part of the house and the bedroom where he lay. Then she sat squat down in his chair tight for days on end. Now she is attached to me. But not quite the way she was to Jim because he was a different personality.

She is my perpetual pal, murmurs and talks to me all the live-long day, my companion, ever there. She was attached to Jim, but not in this way. Snuffy is nowadays around my computer much of the time, but he does not make little murmurs in reply to my speech the way she does. He is not Loving or dependent in the way Clary is. He is a cat who walks by himself, she is not. She is also much more alert, picks up what’s happening around her, eager to join in once she deems it safe, pro-active, open to experience: as to Greymalkin, Clary was terribly curious but would just watch from the window. Jim would not permit the endless interventions she imposes. He would have her in his lap and engage in eye-contact time for a while; he’d play with her, letting her cat-bite him gently; then that would be that. I don’t play; I’m not playful with people either; most games bore me. She has just now lost her little grey mouse toy; it’s disappeared. She probably took it somewhere I can’see and for a time, it’s gone. She does walk by herself in the manner that Kipling suggests: she negotiates. In return (she is aware) for good treatment, she sits by my radiator, drinks what I give her, but as for killing (another aspect of the negotiations in Kipling’s story; the cat agrees to seek out and kill certain yet smaller animals) that’s out in this house.

What is the refrain of Kipling’s story: “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come …. And he went back through the Wet Wild Woods, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone. And he never told anybody” (This is much resented by the Man and the Dog.)


Emma Lowstadt-Chadwick, Beach Parasol (portrait of Amanda Sidwall, 1880) — another from Women Artists of Paris

Miss Drake


Mary Poppins’ Cat: and some considerable sorrow for Garrison Keillor, with troubles over taxes, Yahoo groups, and (sigh) once again travel in the NB and PS comments

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