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Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category


Camille Pissarro, Quai Malaquais, morning sun in autumn (1903)

The first of this type, a diary, sort of, in more than a month — they become harder to write as the pandemic proceeds without let — and now climate break with climate caused horrifying fires and orange unbreathable air (California, Oregon) — and nothing is done (only militia sent to turn peaceful protests into murder & then mayhem), as there is no EPA any more for real, no leadership on the people’s behalf. Trapped in a pandemic cycle

Dear friends and readers,

I begin with a happy story or temporarily good ending (most stories can be given a happy ending by shutting down the curtain at a given moment where there is contentment) and I trust this to continually to turn out well (well hope very hard): about my young African-American friend, Monica, just Izzy’s age, whom I’ve spoken of here has quit her job at the Safeway. I congratulated her two weeks ago now — and rejoiced with and for her.

She told me I was the only person besides her mother to congratulate her. She has been for several years now working 7 days a week: 5 full ones in an office for the DC Corrections Department (or Bureau), and 2 2/3s day in the local Giant. Everyone else seems to have been puzzled: why would anyone give up any job? The idea she might want real time to herself is not found among the people she is surrounded by: she told me she plans to use some of it to add further credits to her degree so she may promoted again (she has a BA) and now that her daughter (in Fairfax country schools) will be learning remotely 4 days a week, coming in for a 5th only every other week, she can now have time and energy to help the daughter on weekends. She won’t be too drained. She did tell me that day she had not yet told her husband, but yesterday in an email (we have now turned to emails to stay in contact), she said he accepted it, and now two weekends have gone by says he likes this very much. She keeps her good weekday job that has not been eliminated at all, and worked in the office at first 5 days and now 2 one week and 3 the other during this whole time of the pandemic thus far — with masks, a shield, washing her hands. Her department registered a complaint and threatened to go to court to get their conditions improved in June. And she bought a house for herself and family this past June too.

It does take considerable courage for her to have done this. Thus far she is relaxing and reading books.

I miss seeing her on weekends. I looked forward to our precious 5-7 minutes each Saturday or Sunday morning. But as when I used not to see her there on a Saturday and would tell myself, good she has the day off (though during this pandemic worried a bit), I know how much better this is. She should be doing something else with her weekend time. So many other things better to do. I have pictures of her but feel uncomfortable sharing them – I have just sent one of Thao on line here (if anyone has noticed or remembers).
But I thought I would tell this one story of a 36 year old African-American young woman. She was a student in two of my classes and used to come to my office to talk over papers. She has the one child by her husband, a girl. Very good in math she tells me. Her mother and brother live together and not far away from her. I talk of her in Fraught Times (scroll down)


Pierre Bonnard — Girl Writing

And a comic: even my old stand-by prune juice has been spoilt. This is not the pandemic, but the stretch of monopolies. Amazon does not truly believe in this product and wants to make more money, to bring more customers, and destroys what was there for the steady customer. It is about preposterous amounts of money allowed to mount in the hands of single individuals; ultimately a product of a failed state that has been brought about, and that has brought us this continuing mass death pandemic. Herd immunity == death. No individual should ever be permitted to control the vast sums Bezos does now.

For some 60 years every morning I could I drank a glass of Sunsweet Prune Juice. Amazon bought the product and now there are three versions. A very thick with pulp, undrinkable; a thin version, much less calories, sickening and doesn’t do the trick; the one I drank is not manufactured to the same consistency throughout. So I have had to switch to a gourmet product, R. W Knudsen, but like the version I once drank, it is inconsistent in texture towards the bottom of the bottle. Yuk.

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

Into the Beautiful —
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away —
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy —
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon —
The Dusk drew earlier in —
The Morning foreign shone —
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone —
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
— saith Emily Dickinson

But the way in which I experience autumn for some years now has been a change of routines far more than a change in the weather. And this year there was for me very little experience of summer — indoors away from the fierce heat of the suburbs. I regretted not going to Ireland for 14 days (soft weather), not getting to the beach the way we did last autumn, Izzy, Laura and I, at Calais. I noted changes in my garden, changes in my schedules — teaching one place then the other, the Bloomsbury group, courses in one place (White American art in 19th century Italy, contemporaries documentary movies). Mornings are now dark until near 7, evenings are dark by 8, the fierce heat retreats so that only by later morning until later afternoon is the air truly hot, more rain, softer-colored skies, red berries on the bushes in my garden.


One of my two magnolia trees bloomed very late indeed; the other remained bare, withered sort of ….

The felt changes start next week: I’ll have a schedule of teaching two times, and following/taking no less than three other classes during many of the weeks, not to omit virtual conferences, meetings with friends who belong to the same groups I do (not all organized around reading). I’ve got to get at least one of my two reviews written and on the editor’s desktop. It was this way before Jim died — not since I lived in New York City as a girl was it the cool weather, leaves turning colors and hurricanes that announced autumn. The difference: now I’m experiencing all this through zoom technology in cyberspace.

The course I teach: Phineas Redux (Palliser 4); the ones I take at the two OLLIs: Kipling, and post-colonialist writing (Naipaul, Conrad); Sondheim’s music and lyrics; Emily Dickinso and women poets she influenced; the ones at Politics & Prose: New Suns — fantastical and science fiction stories by people of color round the globe; A Literary Tour of France (I’ll mention specifically one of the four books, Final Transgression by Harriet Welty Rochefort (set in occupied France); the early novels of Toni Morrison. Conferences: JASNA (on the juvenilia, no need to exclude anyone, no absurd spending with nothing to do as sessions take less than a quarter of their usual meeting times0, EC/ASECS, NEMLA (very sophisticated MLA modern sessions). Friends on zooms: an Aspergers group; for poetry by women, Washington Area Print Group. Listservs, e.g., on Trollope & his Contemporaries (just now Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale and then Trollope’s Three Clerks); the London Trollope Society for reading Trollope’s novels, just now The Macdermots of Ballycloran (an astounding first book for Trollope; I’m to give the first summary-evalation-synopsis the first week

Fitting in nowhere but my work on Anne Finch, I’m half-way through a marvelously interesting well-written book by Claudia Thomas, Alexander Pope and His Eighteenth Century Women Readers; I honestly hope to write a blog. Mary Lou Kohfeldt’s Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance, as an offshoot of reading Trollope’s Anglo-Irish Macdermots. Lamorna Ash’s Dark, Salt, Clear, of life in a Cornish Fishing town. Just wonderful evocation of the place (I’ve not given up entirely on Poldark and historical romance/fiction). Getting towards the end: Nina Auerbach’s Haunted Heiress on DuMaurier. I cannot be reading too many good books by women.

Izzy is also still (pray she continues with her salary) working as a librarian at the Pentagon by remote — via two computers and nowadays zooms too (she has a webcam, mic) and phoning in. The pandemic is by no means going away any time soon by which I mean thousands of people are still sickening and many dying or left maimed from COVID19. Sensible truthful public doctors (Fauci) suggest not until at least 2021 (late in 2021) will these new patterns of behavior come to something of an end. I doubt we’ll change back wholly: theaters, museums and libraries as places to visit, sports events may thrive truly and have the impact meant only in person, but much office work, shopping can be done cheaply and efficiently via interconnected computers.

I now read TLS regularly. This past week an article about fascism in the US by Sarah Churchwell, partly in response to filming of Roth’s Plot Against America. This details our history with large groups of people apparently who want to make or keep the US a fascist white supremacist society. From the way Churchwell describes people as interpreting all these “dog whistles” shows I have no idea how Trump’s lies truly play with the people determined to vote for him and see him win.

See also an article about a new “official” book of UK history that lies, omits and distorts what happened imperialistically, from the standpoint of wars, social and economic injustices: by Frank Trentmann. It is mandatory text to study to become a UK citizen. Alas behind a paywall.

I have been reading Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, which I strongly recommend. She is teaching me much, tearing away the veil through which I was seeing events, and tellings me many events in literal detail, which I either did not know or had not put together of what has been going on in the Trump administration.

A vote for Trump is a vote for a fascist (corporations in charge, militarist in all its doings, far right in all values) white supremacist dictatorship (Gessen’s term of autocracy in the US context functions as a euphemism), and a vote for Biden is a vote for a representative oligarchy with democratic and pro-social ameliorations. The glue of the first (Trump dictatorship) is money galore for those who join and punishment/elimination of all who are people of color, all women who want any rights, hatred & resentment. The glue of the second (what Biden hopes to head) is an egalitarian ideal social & economic protection & self-interest, peace, order, law, justice and happiness prime goals. His use of language, the barrage of continual lies; the use of utterly absurd ridiculous statements presented as what we must engage in, the hyperbole of hatefulness combined with bullying is what newspapers have not learnt to deal with – nor other politicians. You cannot not engage but there is nothing to engage with that makes sense and is not burlesquing previously seemingly democratic ethical behaviors.

Of course the above all shaped by the reality: thousands of US people continue to die each week the miserable death of COVID19.

As of yesterday, 9/11/2020, over 193,000 people in the US have died of coronavirus since March. It is said this is an under-estimated number. As of yesterday, 9/11/2020 a new book estimates from the wars the US instigated, sustained, keeps going ever since 37 million people have been displaced (are refugees). Millions are now unemployed, on the verge of eviction and the US congress, strangled by the Republicans who do not want to give a cent of taxpayers’ money to them votes no help at all. Trump beginning his termination of social security, medicare and yes the public post office. Every week the police murder more black people egregiously as if to let all US people know this is within their right and they are determined to continue murdering black people. This is where we are at.

Trump is still forcing people to send their children to schools through his tyrant Republican governors. A story in the Washington Post tells of how the governor has forced people to send their children to school, then succeeded in pressuring local authorities to hide the statistics on how many children are getting sick. Is this what people want: a party that is for sickness and death and silencing.

Nonetheless I asserted and put on FB for Labor Day: Emma Lazarus, the whole poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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


Doran Goodwin as Emma after she has managed to quit Mr Elton in the mortifying scene in the carriage, Christmas time (1972, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

For the now long late evenings I’ve re-embarked on the Austen movie canon, with the aim of watching them all across the next months. I started with the 1972 BBC Emma, which I recalled as so good (if costumes are dated, and some decorums are long gone), because of its rare consistent use of ironic comedy; then the 1971 BBC Sense & Sensibility (also scripted by Denis Constantduros and I’m into the 1971 BBC Persuasion (Julian Michell). I did not start with the 1939/40 MGM Pride and Prejudice (as the unsubtle screwball comedy treatment Austen so often gets in cinema, the next the 1996 Clueless, and then 2002 Bride and Prejudice). I’m surprised how well these three hold up and vow to write blogs on these movies on Austen Reveries. An Autumnal resolution.


Joanna David as Elinor writing her mother from London, they need to return (1971, BBC, scripted Denis Constantduros)

They do have the depth of emotion that are required and also the comedy — in the 1971 S&S, Patricia Rutledge is the most brilliant Mrs Jenkins I’ve ever seen and Fiona Walk the same for Mrs Elton. What unites them is a real faithfulness to the literal as well as the true thematic emphases of Austen’s books — when in the 1971 Persuasion Wentworth (Bryan Marshall (who now I think of it played Rochester in a similarly early and very good Jane Eyre) arrives and the two actors silently interact — they are very strong presence and then the film opens out — so to speak. Out in the landscapes and gardens of some southern parts of England. The script is enough to convey the original tone and feel of the book, and it even gets better when they go perhaps to Lyme itself (they seem to on the cobb), lots of filming of the waters, the sky …


Or Anne Elliot holding on, exhausting herself with the strain of keeping up the old self-control, immersed in beautiful landscape (1971 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)

Or maybe I should do it by type: watch all the Persuasions in a row, all the NAS — the problem would be there have been so many P&Ps, S&Ss, and now Emmas (with the last cinema travesty returning to screwball burlesque, with a coda of absurdly sexualized soppy romance). I could, you know.

Very much belatedly, two nights ago now (into older movies and all that) I finally watched Four Weddings and A Funeral (a famous super-popular movie, said to have made Hugh Grant’s career). It is enjoyable, entertaining, enough is told about each character to involve us — though not much. The characters consequently seemed a very privileged set of people — no jobs in sight.

I could see that it anticipates Love Actually, which may nowadays be a Christmas classic (a movie people watch Christmas time). Wikipedia showed it was replicated in Notting Hill – overdone I’d say (I watched another night) with shameless fawning over a celebrity — Julia Roberts. I am reading Anne Enright’s Actress, in part an ironic study of what is meant by celebrity: a non-existent hollow private life (if one at all), and you hold your audience by astute holding slowing down of your letting go (such is acting) at intuitive archetypal moments for the character type the audience takes you to represent. Richard Curtis the author of all of them.

The movie is really just made up of 4 weddings and a funeral. As the new one begins, or just before the interim time is conjured up (only very occasionally a flashback). I felt disappointed at the ending. I expected something more unusual — it was just a love story after all, with all the couples who had not had weddings as yet shown married. The most unusual thing – the most worthwhile moment — was the death of Simon Callow’s character, gay man and his Scottish partner’s relationship to him. The most moving moment that reading of Auden’s poem — the way it was read by the Scots actor made me wish I had known it when Jim died.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
— W H Auden

Jim liked Auden’s poetry and his criticism very much — I have a complete poems, a travel book, the translated Norse (Icelandic) sagas, books of criticism. But this morning looking the poem up on the Internet I find it’s claimed the poem began life as a burlesque, as mockery. So that evening I took down or out from the crowded shelf space where “Auden” resides and looked into this. And found the poem to be an inexplicable passionate outburst.

Callow is said to have come out at the time of the distribution of the film; he has a major role in a number of Merchant-Ivory productions, the first two seasons of Outlander. A versatile man he often also writes for the LRB, wonderful essays.

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


A quilt Laura’s best friend made for her (during pandemic, natch): to commemorate her present large patient brother cat, Drake, with one of the two new kittens, Maxx, and the cats who have passed on (Kira, Mitzi, Andromeda – i.e., Ani)

The pandemic has affected my faithful feline friends — and other people’s pets too, where they are all staying home together: nowadays if Ian has gotten into the habit of crying for me in another room. I am working away in my study/workroom (whatever you want to call my nest of comforts and lair) and I hear: Meow! In a howling like tone, or plaintive. I cannot resist getting up and walking about finding him (of course it’s him) standing there waiting for me. He turns and trots away expecting me to follow. I do, pick him, cuddle and bring him back to said lair while telling him he has nothing whatever to cry about. I have noticed if I go out for a time – am seen to be planning to, the cats begin to look anxious. They are not eager for this. They get out of said room and watch me to the door. They are in short no longer accustomed to long hours of my absence (much less Izzy’s, she has become a fixture)

Well Malcolm Brabant on PBS Reports had a delightful but ambivalent segment on PBS last night where he tells of how the pandemic is affecting British dogs. It seems they are coming (according to one vet) “emotionally disordered.” (See how a medical definition tells us more about the definer than the subject). They are openly experiencing (in large numbers it seems) “separation anxiety” when their “best friends” go out even briefly.

Worse yet they want to sleep in the bed with said friends and they are persistent. People give in. Worser to buy a dog now costs a helluva lot. Even rescue dogs. Then worser and worser: dognappers. In the 19th century kidnapping a dog and holding the wealthy person’s pet for ransom was even common. It happened (famously to those who read) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Flush. Francis Power Cobbe wrote a dog story told by the dog where he was kidnapped and ransomed. The argument then and was is of course: “don’t pay it, it only spreads the crime.” But what if it is your dog. Brabant showed us only elderly lady with her beloved dog back on her lap.

A cat is not just an autistic dog. I am more loathe to leave my two than I used to be and as to boarding them somewhere, it hurts me to remember I would do that to them — they took that large cage by a strange window as fearful liminality.

A poem by Stevie Smith, a fable with a cat at the center:

The Galloping Cat:

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
One day when I was
Galloping about doing good, I saw
A Figure in the path; I said
Get off! (Be-
cause
I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good)
But he did not move, instead
He raised his hand as if
To land me a cuff
So I made to dodge so as to
Prevent him bringing it orf,
Un-for-tune-ately I slid
On a banana skin
Some Ass had left instead
Of putting it in the bin. So
His hand caught me on the cheek
I tried
To lay his arm open from wrist to elbow
With my sharp teeth
Because I am
A cat that likes to gallop about doing good.
Would you believe it?
He wasn’t there
My teeth met nothing but air,
But a Voice said: Poor Cat
(Meaning me) and a soft stroke
Came on me head
Since when
I have been bald
I regard myself as
A martyr to doing good.
Also I heard a swoosh,
As of wings, and saw
A halo shining at the height of
Mrs Gubbins’s backyard fence,
So I thought: What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Such as having an arm to be bitten off
All the same I
Intend to go on being
A cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good
So
Now with my bald head I go,
Chopping the untidy flowers down, to and fro,
An’ scooping up the grass to show
Underneath
The cinder path of wrath
Ha ha ha ha, ho,
Angels aren’t the only ones who do not know
What’s what and that
Galloping about doing good
Is a full-time job
That needs
An experienced eye of earthly
Sharpness, worth I dare say
(if you’ll forgive a personal note)
A good deal more
Than all that skyey stuff
Of angels that make so bold as
To pity a cat like me that
Gallops about doing good.


Clarycat on my lap

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

And I watched another pandemic shaped Metropolitan Opera concert yesterday afternoon: Joyce DiDonato, a mezzo soprano, her reportoire far more older Baroque than I realized, and I admit I did not enjoy the songs the way I did Jonas Kaufmann and Renee Fleming (traditional tenor and soprano), until she moved into more popular songs, but then I woke up (as it were) elevated suddenly by her Shenandoah (“I love to see you), the corny, yet irresistible “When you Walk through a storm.” I like the simple black dress with wide pants, no jewels, no shoes even, the small orchestra with harpsichord and piano. She lives in Barcelona, but the concert came from an industrial center in Germany, as the only safe place just now with an appropriate hall and not a hot spot for this virus. They had had to move the venue three times to find it.

So tonight I end on her is her cabaret song (you must first listen to the end of a German art song). Jim loved to listen to French cabaret — this from Piaf, La Vie en Rose, which I had not realized, taken in somehow is about a kind of experience of absolute love I knew, here her version finding life so beautiful while you are in the arms of your beloved. As I listened I thought of all the years with him, how I would lift my arms to him when he came to bed

This was a second concert that counseled hope and courage (like Renee Fleming’s).

People talk of going to live in another country, in Europe, in Central America (which one would you trust to?), flee somehow, but rare is the person who becomes refugee except when there is no alternative but death and destruction; they will stay and endure and eek out an existence. Or would Jim try to flee, try to de-accession and move the books once more, this time back back to the UK, see if he could get for me (and daughters) a right of residence? I don’t know. He was deterred after retirement when he realized we would have to pay 40% more taxes from our income. But were he here I would not be as frightened. I do believe we need a landslide win for Biden to get rid of Trumpism. I donate money; I tried to join in on a phone bank campaign but no one would show me to do this digitally, which is what is required — to show faces?  I don’t know.  But how can it be that millions will vote for tyranny, continued lies, destitution all around. I wonder if Masha Gessen will tell me. Gentle reader, can you?

Ellen

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Last Sunday at Trader’s Joe, two clerks gifted me with two bouquets of flowers


Clarycat in the morning sunshine that day

I have discovered why we all love cats: they are autistic dogs.

Dear friends and readers,

I’m not sure why but I know I experienced the last two weeks as very rough. What stands out in my memory is how late Sunday suddenly the TVs would not work, and when I called Comcast there was no real explanation and an hour after getting up on Monday (Aug 3rd) the internet was cut off. Even the phone worked feeble as the modem was gone. People say “all’s well that ends well, and after getting on the phone 8:02 am (I was told I could get someone on the phone by 8:00 am) and paying immediately the usual monthly mammoth amount (though I had sent it off in a check Friday) I got the service of four very courteous young tech men, one of them on the phone with me the entire time (he called it conferencing), and one very courteous accountant female. By 8:50 am or so all was back, working right, Izzy had started her usual job, and I had been told that all my checks had arrived:  I not only didn’t owe money but I should not (said courteous female) start automatic payment until the Friday check arrived. She advised early September.

I’m not naive. I was promised a tech visiting on Tuesday and he never came — because they knew there was no need. I didn’t expect anyone to come for real. It would have helped if someone had apologized, but I expect that’s too much candor for any company to offer nowadays. . The explanation in full is on my political blog: Trump has (as all in the US by this time know) successfully sabotaged and undermined the post office (our only hope is not permanently). What probably happened was the previous check was a tad late (it takes only a day for the machine to click that in). So I am going to change the habits of a lifetime and starting next week gradually pay all my bills online, automatically giving out my routing number to each company.

While it took all day for me to calm down some, and another day before I could sleep without a sleeping pill, I must admit that this is probably in time and experience little suffering in comparison to millions of Americans during this pandemic. I cannot pinpoint another traumatic incident over these past weeks. Indeed good things happened. I was much praised for my teaching and two proposals I put in were accepted.

For Winter 2021, OLLI at Mason, as long as it is online — 4 weeks


The 2017 Howards End

Two Novels of Longing in an Age of Wild Imperialism

The class will read as a diptych of contrast & comparison, EM Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We were Orphans (2000). The first examines class, race, colonialism, family, sex & property relationships from an “empire’s center” (London, the home counties), the second, these same elements from its periphery (Shanghai). The core center of both is the human needs of their characters: friendship, love, stability, beauty, meaning. We can ask how a novel of manners, (love & marriage & class stories), then a detective, picaro violent adventure (thrills abroad&c) bring to us comparable ideas about how to live, survive in the “post-colonial worlds” we live in today. There are two marvelous movies for Howard’s End (Merchant-Ivory 1990s and Lonergan 2017) and (it’s not often realized) The White Countess (Merchant-Ivory 2002) is a free brilliant adaptation (script by Ishiguro) of When We Were Orphans.  (An alternative selection if I should do this in summer:  Ruth Prawer  Jhabvala’s A Backward Place (1965), set in Delhi it delineates lives of ex-patriates and Indian friends (where periphery is center and narrator female  & British originally).


Early book cover

For Spring 2021, both OLLI at Mason and OLLI at AU, online probably 8/10 weeks

20th Century Women’s Political Novels

In this course we will travel across 20th century wars, politics, and social life through the lens of four masterpieces of fiction & memoir: Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929), a story of an Anglo-Irish family during the 1920s civil wars; Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune (1960), a story of the fascist take-over of Rumania in 1939; Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time (1975), Hellman’s experience of the McCarthy era, 1950s USA, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), which dramatizes African-American experiences of life in early to mid-century America. We will learn about the authors, times & places; ask what is particularly the woman’s perspective; and how what we learn relates to earlier and our own era. There are excellent film adaptations of Bowen’s novel (with Fiona Shaw, and Michael Gambon in major roles) and the whole of Manning’s Balkan trilogy (The Great Fortune is Novel 1). We may also discuss the WW2 film, The Watch on the Rhine, whose origin is Hellman’s play (movie scripted by Dashiell Hammet)


Laurie Simmons, Woman in Bathroom practicing home maintenance (photographic artist, probably later 1970s).

I successfully colored my hair by myself for the first time in nearly half a century (I was 24 last time): using a kit I bought online with Laura’s advice, I made it a very pretty soft blonde-brown. It’s real improvement. I don’t mind the hair longer as mine won’t grow past my shoulders (the ends keep breaking off).


Later 18th century illustration of the picturesque from Batey’s book

You may remember how I failed to get to a conference on Jane Austen and the Arts a few years ago now (wow, say three years) after I had worked hard on a paper I was calling “Ekphrasis in Austen’s Novels” (a bad sign that title). I had not realized quite how far the town it was held in was on the edge of Canada. I had to learn I would have to take two planes, two cabs, or drive 11 hours, or accept some hellish train ride & 2 cabs for nearly 2 days. It was a disaster to have to admit to the conference organizer I couldn’t do it. Well now I have been given the book that emerged from that conference to review, Art and Artefacts in Jane Austen, ed. Anna Battigelli. I am certainly all prepared to evaluate. I found my two excellent blogs on these matters (far better than the paper I was laboring on) as a first step: one on Mavis Batey’s JA and Landscape (from which one of the pictures is taken) and Ekphrastic patterns in Austen. So I will be “with them” after all if only in print and communing through writing and reading (not bad).

But I almost feel like Francis Poldark who, having failed to kill himself by shooting himself in the head, is asked by Dwight Enys (Richard Morant), how he could have thought of such a thing when he has so much to feel good about, says, with sardonic irony (Clive Francis was pitch perfect), “oh don’t break my heart with joy …. ” — for the subliminal worry, upset, sense of the world on edge for very good reasons, has been very bad — and justifiably.

I’d have to be obtuse, heartless, and believe I cannot get directly hit again, not to be aware of how rough these three weeks have been and felt it too: over 155,000 deaths in the US since February, millions about to run out of unemployment checks, to get eviction notices, and Trump’s solution is to try to cut the payroll taxes on working people’s checks so 10 years (or less) from now someone can say social security is out of money, and the only security left from FDR’s era will vanish. I feel sick if I think on these things too much.

I ask myself, are there are other countries without a decent functioning post-office. Perhaps. Which ones? some miserable dictatorship? this is what Trump & the Republicans have brought the whole of the US to. What next? social security of course.


From 1975 BBC Jeremy Poldark: scene at Truro

I don’t sleep well either and am very grateful for Izzy’s continued presence and sane sensible scheduling of herself; I told onto my sanity by keeping to my routines — I know have for projects I work on – now two reviews (the other for the new standard edition of Anne Finch, and I do some wonderfully interesting reading as far as I am concerned, no matter that ony a very few in the world would understand my deep interest in translation in the 18th century, how women read Pope, what plays they put on when they were rich aristocrats in their great halls …), reading Trollope’s La Vendee and about the counter-revolution in France with others on the Trollope&Peers list, I carry on with lifelong singlewomen and the historical romance.

The grimmest essay I’ve read in a long time doesn’t bear too much thinking on: the writer, Susan Moser Stuard calls it “Single by Law and Custom: what it’s about the hundreds of years where enslaved singlewomen were everywhere and badly exploited in all sorts of ways, and how they hardly ever speak in the records and are mostly erased. You see they were not permitted to marry; any children they were impregnated with were automatically enslaved. The content of what people who were free and by law said about owning these women, and what they forced these women to do all the waking hours of their lives is so repugnant. I wondered when did this form of enslavement end — Stuard keeps saying how convenient enslaved women are, how their children by law were in their condition (automatically enslaved – this is come across in Morrison’s Beloved).

We might say it has not ended because of trafficking with women as victims as real and in some parts of the globe even common – but they are not chattel slaves, it’s illegal and they are not regarded as subhuman by law.

Today I returned (so to speak) to Cornwall, Winston Graham and Daphne DuMaurier: Nina Auerbach brings Graham’s misogynistic modern suspense books into a perspective that makes them understandable through reading of DuMaurier’s embodiment of men murdering women. Evenings very slowly now through A French Village, with the companion books, I am seeing how much I missed or failed to understand (one poignant moment, a disabled man who cleans the schools is wrongly “thrown” to the Nazis as a thief), the witty stimulating Andrew Marr on sleuths, spies, sorceries. I visited a friend of mine yesterday, she lives alone, divorced, 74 (to my 73) and we watched the whole of Amanda Vickery’s At Home: in Georgian England. I wrote about her, her books on 18th century women, and this one documentary here:


The rich three hours are based on extensive reading in contemporary letters and biographies in library and private archives

Since writing this I’ve come to think I am being unfair — or not praising her work and documentary as strongly as I should. She is signalling more than strong feminism: she is deeply humane but is making a mainstream “sensible” appeal to. One important theme in the last third of the hours is how important our space is to us, control of it, how we make our homes reflections of ourselves, self-respect and the meaning we want to give life embodied all around us. How women were often very deprived of this if they were spinsters or left alone without an income as a widow — or spent their lives as a servant. Both genders if they become very poor — or old and ailing and without funds. So the problem we face today when we grow old, alone and not well off, is the same the 18th century person did — she is talking to us about us as much as the era. She does not omit a visit to Chawton cottage and look at Jane Austen’s tiny frail writing desk.

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One last flowering bush for August

So what can I share with you to go off and enjoy next thing? I recommend (if there’s still time) watching the second Met Saturday afternoon concert: Renee Fleming was just spectacularly beautiful in voice, exquisitely perfect in emotional performance; she provided her own humane sensible talk inbetween.  I even loved her clothes — a gilded kind of pelisse coat over her an elegant  varied blue-color dress. She has a voice with a distinct appealing timbre — as, had Pavarotti, but as a woman no one emphasizes or even brings it up.

Song after song well chosen; some favorites from operas, but others not that well-known songs that fit her voice – and the occasion. She kept in mind this terrible pandemic and all that has been happening outside her sphere. Perhaps fault maybe found with two brief films about her life, but they were not over the top-hagiographic and it was interesting seeing what she looked like in her twenties and began her career. She had dark hair.

I am torn whether to share her singing Il mio babbino (Gianni Schicchi) or Somewhere over the rainbow by Harold Arlen, who, if you didn’t know, wrote hundreds of songs you are familiar with, and was blacklisted and hounded in the 1950s for his socialist beliefs. I cried several times and the re-arranged Arlen song was one of the moments, but it’s not a problem as I can’t find a YouTube for either from this particular performance. This is four years ago in Berlin:

And for International Cat day (today! — or maybe it was yesterday): “The Cat Came Back” from a old Muppet show: very funny, adorable cat, but determination of “owner” to get rid of the cat (a bomb) makes last fantasy much less comfortable:

The Cat (Le chat) by Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903) as translated by Norman Shapiro. It seems to be very difficult to post a pdf to wordpress or face-book either in the new style postings or the old. So, thanks to Michelle Cusack, I hope I am sharing this wonderful poem this way; click on the URL below and when you see “next” click again, and you will come to The Cat. https://tinyurl.com/y3k5sj6v

Here are the first few stanzas Englished so you know you are in the right place:

I know why Baudelaire fancied the cat,
Struck by the sphinx-like magic of his being;
Thanks to the wheedling charm, the luster, that
Darts in long jets from his lynx-like eyes, all seeing.
I know why Baudelaire fancied the cat.

Women’s, dove’s, serpent’s, monkey’s lissome stance
Back arched, he sprawls, and shuns heavy caress,
And when the fur cloaks his fleshly elegance,
Plastic his beauty’s velvet loveliness:
Women’s, dove’s serpent’s, monkey’s lissome stance …

In the half-light’s muted oblivion —
Rumbling ennui like spell-cast pall — he brings
Gently, to the alone and lonely one,
The soothing balm of mystic utterings,
In the half-light’s muted oblivion.

By turns doleful and gay, sleepy and spry,
This soul of my secluded digs will loll–
Table to highboy, chair to hearth, low, high–
Sparing the objects of his folderol,
By turns doleful and gay, sleepy and spry …

On the desk, ink-stained, as he whisks, a-strut,
Light as a breath, his tail flails left and right,
Over the papers strewn, books open, shut
Grazing my beacon-thoughts, casting their light
On the desk, ink-stained, as he whisks, a strut …

[Read the two more pages below; it’s as felicitous in the original French which is in the book too, only you must click away to come to the the back of the book. I don’t know if there is a name for this specific kind of stanza: first line repeats in fifth of each stanza and lines rhyme ababa. Also in the French.


Judith Moore Cheney’s Cat in the Round

And for this with a heart for a poor loving dog, Paul Auster’s Mr Bones, from his inimitable story of a dog’s life (scroll down), Timbuktu

I finished this book wishing I could have been there (which is what you are supposed to feel with a novel) to love him with the final kind good heroine, Polly, trapped herself and yet insofar as her coerced thwarted life permitted caring for the the compassionate dog in need himself.

Tonight Mr Bones stands for a world of human beings who deserve so much better from and for everyone.

Ellen

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Seascapes — Sara Sitting (I am not sure about this title or artist but very much like the image)

On morning early this week (Sunday) I remembered when in the mid-1970s Jim and I lived on Seaman Avenue in Manhattan (200th street, below the Cloisters hill) we would summer time on Tuesday and Thursday take our dog, Llyr, and drive to Jones Beach in the morning. There was a beach where dogs were allowed. We’d bring coffee & croissants for ourselves, water and biscuits for Llyr. We’d go in the water, stay close to shore (no life guards). Those were happy mornings long ago … I thought of this as I saw my neighbors, two married gay guys taking their dog to a nearby private pool …. the difference between now and then — includes then it was public beach, now it’s an expensive private pool. I did long to get out of the house, go to where the horizon stretches out and stand by the world’s waters — thus the above image by Sitting

On another I woke remembering a dream Laura outlined at the end of our time with Izzy in Calais last summer: upon retirement, she’d buy a second house for her and Izzy in Florida or some warm place, & they’d live there winters; and the present house I occupy summers — though now I’m thinking it’d be a bit hot here. They could sell my library and go to Vermont. I ahd found the idea of them together when I am gone comforting. I would not worry so about Izzy and feel better about Laura having a good companion

My image for this was Beatrice Potter’s Two Rabbits because Jim as a boy read the Potter books and even into his old age would suddenly quote from a scene or refer to Jemima Puddleduck or wry Potter characters

Last The comet. I am told there is a comet in the sky just now. One night around 10 pm Izzy and I took our binoculars and went for a walk around — that’s when the sky is dark where I live. We didn’t spot the comet — I don’t know what to look for. But we did see a sky filled with stars. Not strong as light pollution is too pervasive but we did see a sky just twinkling with many little lights. And a couple of stronger ones too. A comet apparently looks like a moving star ….

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been almost three weeks now and I’ve made no entry because during mid-day I’ve been busy (driving myself to work on my Anne Finch review, immersed in the true wonders, good values and texts by and about the Bloomsbury group), and at night so tired, watching A French Village (up to season 6 now — what an education about real life politics during war), and as usual often melancholy, depressed, so worried about this endlessly spinning out calamity (COVID19, the devastation of unemployment deliberately spread by Republican-Trump policies) and how it might affect Izzy and I. But I do have a topic to share and performers to recommend: my education in the context of the US educational system generally speaking, and (among others) the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Douglas.

Last week was the time OLLI at AU runs its “July Shorts:” these are courses which last just one week, and take place anywhere from 3 to all 5 days, about 90+ minutes each meeting. (They do the same kind of thing in February each year.) I could not myself teach such a course, and even going to them when it means driving there can be too much of a burden. Last week it was just sitting in front of my computer three times to participate in a four time course on the American education system (or some such title) so I registered and zoomed in. The two men leading the discussions, lecturing presented excellent material: good information, thoughtful commentary, genuine explanations for phenomena. I had to miss the fourth, because it took place in precisely the same time as each week I once a week give a course at OLLI at Mason on the Bloomsbury group: 90 minutes on the status of teachers K-12 (low, 80% female and white still) and the history and developments in chartered schools. While I trust my every instinct to distrust privately funded (you must pay as a parent to some extent) this is a means to destroy public education, to turn desperately needed good education into profit-making ventures (like medicine), and to pull in taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to support turning schools into places with a false appeal of supposed choice and exclusionary policies — while I am distrustful I would have liked to hear an unbiased account.


A Community high school

Their over-riding theme was the need to make the system far more equal for everyone; as presently conducted the way US education works, its effect, is to increase the inequalities or (to be more frank) set up inequalities among children from day one, reinforce class, money and other social disadvantages. To produce badly or uneducated children whose whole outlook is shaped by narrow ill-informed prejudices. This is achieved (it’s wanted) by a mechanism or reality which lies at the core of all US inequality and social ignorance: residential localism. All education in the US is controlled locally, by localities; the schools are funded locally (by a town or at most city), with some controls placed on what they can and should teach and how they must behave by state laws. The state provides funds too, as does the federal gov’t (8 to 15% depending on how poor the district is, so the poorer get 15% or close to that, and the richer 8% or close to that). Any change in this is fiercely fought. As with the delivery of medical services in the US, the whole thing is endlessly fragmented, done differently in different states, with endless pockets of people in effect isolated from others — even nearby. This is exacerbated by he complete divorce between K-12 and post-secondary or higher education. The two groups run on different tracks, and both are (as a result) somewhat hostile to one another due to caricatures.

The public picture of schools in the US is distorted and falsifying — especially in the post-secondary area where education is suddenly expected (by many Americans) to directly lead to or produce jobs. It does not. Parents and students are paying for a certificate in an area of knowledge; nothing more is (literally) contracted for. The picture the public has as de rigueur or common is a four year college aspiring to at least look like Harvard, small private campus college, or state-supported be-prized institution measured by the US News and World Report. Only 17-18% of young US adults go to a four year college. 80% of young adults are enrolled in some form of publicly-funded post-secondary education, many of which are community colleges, which are weak on needed vocational training and apprenticeships. The fancy internships for upper middle professions are found in the 4 year institutions (and pay nothing). The average student is 27 and the majority are female, perhaps married, with one child. She is looking to “better herself” in the commercial marketplace. As to elite schools that are written about so much (this is the public media pretending that the small middle class is pervasive) less than 2% go to colleges like Harvard, Stanford — and where my younger daughter went, Sweet Briar (she had what was called a complete scholarship so it cost each term about what George Mason did for my younger daughter six years before).


This is a private and charter school — all white

K-12: 11% of children to teenagers are in private schools, of which 9-10% are religious schools, aka schools run by overtly religious groups (or in the south where there is more than a pretense a Christian academy for whites — these sprung up after Brown v Board of Education). The children of upper class and middling parents are taught self-esteem, self-assertiveness, how to cope with others and negotiate your way through life, to be pro-active for individual initiative at home; they have books at home to read; by keeping them away from the rest of the population, you leave that rest to become unexamined obedient instruments of capitalist enterprises — with the emphasis on obedience to group norms and acceptance of punitive measures to keep them that way. They are not to expect “perks” like art classes, music, shop, Advanced Placement (with better paid teachers) where they might learn what are their particular gifts.

The way the game is kept this way is fragmentation — the same thing is done in the area of US medicine (and now we see how US medicine is delivered is horrifyingly inadequate if there is any question of truly serious illness in the population). Those in the richer districts do not want to share their money with others. Most married Americans with children chose where they live in accordance with the schools available in the area. There is a tremendous gap between governance (those who govern, school boards) and anything to transform achievement gaps. No comprehensive school services across many districts (like social workers, nurses)

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Duncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street

All this for four days and watching what the 40 or so people in the class looked like as they listen, what they said made me remember my own experience. In fact my education enabled me to escape a stultifying working class background, and today still (even after Jim’s death 8 years now) live a life of the mind immersed in high culture in a comfortable house with books and nowadays computers. I am not altogether an anomaly because between the years 1946 and 1970 other trends and left-overs from the FDR era mitigated some inequalities, plus the way to be promoted and thought well of is through academic style tests where your ability to cope with language and math (symbols) are tested, your ability to memorize and what you have read and studied made the groundwork of the tests. On all these I did spectacularly well — as did Jim. Jim got 800 on both GREs to enter graduate school; I got 800 on the English and 798 on the math, at which he quipped: “Ellen was always weak in math.”

I know one of my prides is this education of mine: that I have a Ph.D. is central to my ability to hold up my head. I know how I was relieved to go to grade school to escape my parents’ house with their continual fierce fighting and the tensions and miseries of poverty and anger and frustration. It was a mecca. I know that once I got into my senior year in high school and throughout high school, college, even graduate school, I loved going to classes. In talking on FB of what colleges cannot do to set themselves up to teach students kept socially distant I remembered how for a year at Leeds University (for which I won a scholarship, my year of study abroad where I met Jim) I was given a tutor one-on-one. We met once a week to talk and together study Chaucer and medieval English and French romance. How scared I was at first of the professor; how young she was with a silver urn. I read so carefully each week. I also had wider tutorials with 4 students to a lecturer. Then Izzy at Sweet Briar had similar experiences.

But I also know what I didn’t learn. As I sat in a public school in the southeast Bronx where the majority of students were African-American or hispanic, I was put into a tiny group with “real books” to read – sometimes I was a group of one. The others were reading workbooks, Dick and Jane; I was reading books like Mary Poppins. I spent some of the day making posters. But I learned no manners, my accent stayed thoroughly southeast Bronx, I never took in groups of attitudes I encountered for the first time at age 10/11 when my parents moved to Kew Gardens. Ever after I was something of an outsider. There I was in groups of children with abilities like myself only I was behind in math and science — and no one took the time to teach me fractions, long division, how to do percentages. I still stumble and only my test taking ability, memorization, and ability to work out what a paragraph wanted got me though the Regents. We did have Regents in NY state so the high schools were forced to have teachers who did spend each year covering the curriculum for say chemistry or European (called World) history.


Another Duncan Grant — this time of Vanessa Bell painting, David (Bunny) Garnett reading, studying

Jim went to a “public school” in the UK — these are private schools for the elite — as a day boy in a different colored shirt (to show he was there without paying) because he did so well on the 11 plus, it was called. But he was merged with upper class boys from age 11 to 18 and that enabled him to know how to negotiate and cope in a managerial position, at conferences, he understood expectations. He had a silvery pure prose — from years of learning Latin and translating back and forth from Latin to English. He hated his school at times – he was caned five times and still had the welts on his hands when he was in his 50s. Like me in a different way an outsider, his politics he said were philosophical anarchy. He was deeply sceptical of all professions of ideology.

College came to me because I was living in NYC where it was basically for free. I had to come up with $25 a term. I got in through the night school. Never took an SAT exam, but within the first term, got all As and so switched to daytime college. Jim’s fees were paid for by the state — the Clement Atlee reforms were still in place. I know now how odd it is for me to be proud since I never went to a name school, cannot tell of knowing this or that person, but my expectations were so low to start with, and it’s what your expectations are as you start out that you measure yourself.

I did hold out. I refused to sell myself – I would not spend my life in a 8 hour a day 5 day a week job to make a higher salary. I was able to do that by being married to Jim and accepting that we would live on less, have less things people admire in our house, or clothes, prestige house. And it is chancy but then had I spent my life working at what bored or irritated or embarrassed or was trouble for me I would not be any safer as to money. To be truly safe you must be very rich in ways Jim and I (he with his gov’t job where he was promoted based on his intellectual abilities) never came near. And we spent what we had, I still do what is coming in, to enjoy life as we went along. We did do traveling as I have done since without him. I shall miss going to the UK if this pandemic makes it impossible for me to return to Europe safely. I was comfortable in the Scottish culture and norms; each time I returned to England I felt such cheer to think this is where he was born, where he became what he was. He valued me for what my education had made of me or what I had done with it to make myself what I was and am when we met at Leeds and throughout our lives together.

I did grow irritated at the course because when I would speak I could see that what I had to say was not wanted. Many of the people wanted to pretend they were for equality more than they were and they wanted to remain upbeat and talk of hopeful changes. One of the two leaders twice told a story of a teacher making a home visit and how the hispanic family all came out dressed just for her. I had a home visit when I was putting Izzy in the pre-school: the two women I learned later wrote up a very hostile description of me and my house (all the books offended). It seems Jim and I were at fault for my daughter’s disability. Others kept talking of how important success outside school, in businesses, was — in ways that showed they had no idea this is the kind of thing that cannot be taught. It is social cunning imbibed from your family habitat. I told a little of my experience in a southeast Bronx public school – it was not appreciated because it was downbeat. One was to be constructive. Large abstract pessimism is good, not local true-to-life anedote which exemplifies stubborn real obstacles.

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So this piece of genuine autobiography in the context of a course I just took has taken me time to write and space to do it in. So I shall save for next time some of the wonderful books I’ve read these past 3 weeks, movies, art works looked at, music listened to, Laura’s kittens, and end on music and comedy. Now just onto experiences I’ve had I would not ever have been able to without so much coming online — ingenious people determined to reach everyone at home, to socialize, to make money in their professions.

This past Saturday I took a chance and paid $20 to listen to Jonas Kauffman in concert from the Met. At first I shuddered at the hype introduction, over-dressed woman, and began to fear this would be glittering commercial phony-ness, but bear with the opening 8 minutes, and they leave you alone to listen and watch. An hour and 20 minutes of moving magnificient songs from this handsome and extraordinarily talented actor-singer. Sometimes he was in an old (Baroque?) Bavarian church, and sometimes it was clips from him in costume in a opera. I just love his “Pourquoi me reveiller?” I learned to like and to appreciate and love opera through my 45 years with Jim. The songs sung made me remember our relationship

And then Hannah Gadsby. I have joined online an aspergers group I could never have reached, am attending regularly and making a few acquaintance friends I look forward to seeing again. We talk about things I have trouble with and am given good advice. How to stop interrupting people at the wrong time when I am just trying to join in. What I’m doing wrong? — I am not recognizing their flow of talk and its origins and understanding where it will subside. They meet once a month to discuss a book or movie or person who is known to be autistic or writes about the condition.

It was 10 at night and I had been thinking somehow that I had not laughed in a long time. This is probably untrue. Only I couldn’t remember any true exhilaration either — well only inward exhilaration. I had promised for a coming Zoom session to watch Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedienne “out”as autistic and lesbian. I did laugh and she made me feel better. On Netflix: I’d say I laughed more during Nanette because she did startle me, but the second,Douglas, with her dog as its center, was brilliant. I gathered from both “autism is seeing what no one else has noticed” and autistic people because we are different and vulnerable are more patient, tolerant, accepting of other people in all their variety Here is a clip from Douglas:

What awoke me to a certain cheer was my thought a way to understand her is: :if I can stand life on these terms, amid these cruel and inane absurdities, so can you.” Douglas contains one of the most brilliant exposures of quite what we are looking out in some of these fossilized religious devotional pictures. Hardly anyone really looks at them.

Then I read into a new humane Guide to Aspergers Syndrome by Tony Attwood arguing strongly the label should not be dropped. It is a different quality of disability but nonetheless disability. Nanette closes with her re-telling how she was attacked at a bus station.


Izzy’s new chair

While we are on this subject: this past Sunday Izzy and I managed to find a store Jim used to take me to to buy decent well made furniture — wood mostly. Izzy badly needs a new chair and I could use a small table in the kitchen. What a time we had! Very nervous trying to remember the name of the place and then the street. All I could think was chair store and Edsall Avenue. Well google and mapquest finally turned up a photo of the place that I recognized. I find things out by pictures. So, armed with 2 printed out mapquests, and Izzy programming Waze (then plugged into i-something or other, after which we turn off Godsford Park music and voila there is that lady’s voice), we made it. We have figured out how to put Waze to sleep (not to quit it, that’s not possible apparently)

I did get confused coming back and was nervous the whole time. My mind continually slightly flustered. I had not been out in the car to a new place in quite a while — I cannot find the category for this in Attwood’s book — it is probably under movement in space but there is nothing specific. I have hunted in the book. But Izzy bought a pretty ivory colored wood chair. She looks so comfortable in it. Here is her latest song:

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I never was able to find the place near us where there is testing for COVID19. I did discover that in the Alexandria there are places where you can be tested nearly for free, several cost starting $50, and many many more $150 – $300. Nuts. Why do some cost $300 — luxurious surroundings? But why try for anything labelled $150-$300? I have to find the place too. Of course Kaiser will test us but we must have symptoms to be eligible. She is to go into to work at the library this coming Thursday and may start going in once a week. She has fashion masks, santizer, and I have ordered a face shield for her.

Have I mentioned this time yet that I believe unqualified uncontrolled predatory capitalism everywhere in our lives in the US is at the core of the failed society of the US we are now experiencing — one result of this is thousands and thousands of deaths because we have no central govt that wants to do anything but exploit and abuse us. So another result of the miserable state of education across the US today and I end where I began this diary entry blog.

Ellen

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A cat face-mask made for me by a person in one of my classes

Friends and readers,

Before telling you of a small achievement I managed week ago, and about our lives over the last half-month, I had a question for all who come to this blog — it was not rhetorical. I wanted an answer:

In the US we are now into well over a hundred thousands deaths in the US from COVID19 and each day the numbers of infected, very sick, and dying or maimed people increase. We don’t have to live with this — sickening & dying by the thousands? Going in and out of lock-down, so people lose their jobs once again, with far less savings to carry them through. There is a way to contain and to suppress the coronavirus. Everyone across the US who is willing be, can be tested and then if positive, all contacts traced, and everyone testing positive put in quarantine. Keep doing that for 2-3 months and the virus is contained and suppressed. The US has the billions to spend. Even if some people refused, or some communities refused to test and trace and quarantine, enough would and could be argued into this, to make a big difference. It would be enough to start to contain even if not suppress the virus. Why does no one propose this? why do reporters not ask any of the people they interview this, including Trump — and repeatedly.

Gentle reader, this was answered for me on FB, look on my timeline for the conversation: in brief, too many people & whole groups of delusional ignorant people in the US would refuse; these are joined by large enough groups of people who will not pay any iota of tax for anyone that they don’t have to, and finally an insufficient identification of many groups of people in the US with differently ethnic and racial groups as a community. The leadership we have reflects and exploits this dire situation. So, having let the first lock-down go by with doing nothing, and now this open up and acceleration, we would have to lock-down first and then begin the testing, tracing &c. It is possible that Biden could get a majority of people in some areas of the country to cooperate and we could try to control and suppress the virus in those areas of the US. 39% of US people voted for McGovern, for Mondale, it’s a stable size body of people but scattered and rendered powerless in comparison to their numbers when it comes to any general scheme. Greed, hatred & fear, ignorance encouraged, gentle reader, at the heart of it all: the exploiters and exploited may outnumber and certainly outvote and nullify the 39% I speak of.

I have told you the main news and the response of many local, state, and federal gov’t — inertia because even if some places are closing down bars, restaurants and other large gathering places, the rest of the public world remains open. And testing is not general and continual. Here in Virgina Izzy & I looked into testing, & we discovered Kaiser will not do unless we are having symptoms, and that even if they did (or other public places offering this), they are not tracing our contacts and not attempting to quarantine. So it’s useless except that we know we are not infected and can with more confidence see other people who might have been tested and know they are not infected.

This is so important that (as in my last diary entry) I must lead with it, and make it the context, the framework, the insistent atmosphere of all we do in life — wherever we go (few places) and whoever we see (hardly anyone and from far away). We do make contact online – I through email, FB, twitter, lists, zoom session; Izzy has had two phone conversations, one with a young man she met online and the other with Thao


Statue of Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, in Gough Square in London

Another insistent context is the exposure of the constant killing of black people by whites and by police in the US, and one specific reaction as a way of making visible that black people are demanding that they be treated as equal human beings the taking down of racist symbols, of statues put there to intimidate, and the removal of names meant to insult them. Statues are emotional sites and we do pay attention to them; they have an importance as do names. They are asking at a minimum, that the police be reined in so they can live, and also hoping to gain more traction to live better with more progressive policies that include or are aimed at their well being. So Johnson’s cat is a symbol of kindness and loving companionship between a man and his pet cat From Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he showed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature … I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed [admittedly selective quotation.

So I want here to say how I see we are doing & why we are doing it when we take down statues, for as I was with all the people who demonstrated, protested, and yes those who were violent and screamed and raged, so I am with them in taking down these statues of military men especially everywhere: we are doing this as I understand this by taking into consider what specifically the statue is of (who depicted), how it is functioning in the communities it is set among, and of course if it is intended to cause or to threaten harm to people around them, which includes an understanding of who put the statue up, when, for what purpose, what it is supposed to signify. Is it intended as an insult, racial trolling (as when in Alexandria, Va, where I live once segregated wretched looking schools where only African-Americans went were named after ferocious killing Confederate generals), to intimidate. Lee in Virginia. To celebrate enslaving, killing, turning a people into suppliants. Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History, NYC.

We need to notice to how many statues are militarist, pro-war, “great” men on horses with guns high up on pedestals. I’m for taking all such statues down wherever they have occurred and stopping all manufacture of any more.

I looked to see if I could find a good depiction (clear, accurate, appealing) of a cat by Hogarth (Johnson’s friend, also 18th century) but alas I could find none: he did draw, engrave, print, & sell a 4 part narrative series called The Four Stages of Cruelty where he showed tormenting, torturing being cruel to animals functions as a prelude, replacement or as part of cruelty by those people who are cruel to other people. I cannot bear to look.

I do feel for Hodge as a statue out in all kinds of weathers. I imagine him sometimes holding himself together when he is cold or wet. Nearby him is a bench. Many people do not appear to notice he is sitting on one of Johnson’s books; this one probably intended to be one volume of Johnson’s dictionary. My cat sits on my books, my computer, sits by me in and around my chair, lays all over me when I am in bed. You can see a depiction of the oysters Johnson would go out early in the morning to buy for Hodge.

So there is the world this unhappy fourth of July

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Izzy on Father’s Day

To ourselves (Izzy and I), the London Society Trollope zoom group I was participating in finished Framley Parsonage and started The Last Chronicle of Barset, and I was asked to give a thirty–minute talk on the Last Chronicle out of the blog I had written on the novel when I finished it with my groups.io friends. Well, the talk (a thirty minute paper) I gave seemed to go over very well. Here is what you need to know and here the YouTube video (yes I am too low, but for next time I have bought a bolster cushion and will be seated a bit further off):

Further to this, I started the second round of teaching my course The Bloomsbury novel, and am having a bit of trouble because the etiquette over on the OLLI at Mason online has encouraged an attitude towards the experience which assumes that most people will appear as black boxes with their names, that the way to be together is for all to be muted except the one person who is talking (and when he or she stops, they re-mute themselves. I find this so counterproductive, if the goal really is to have a classroom experience online. I today wrote the class the first of the two weekly letters I usually write my classes, and in it urged them to behave otherwise.

I’d like to ask all the people in the class who are able to (have some form of webcam), to make yourself visible. I think one thing that gets in the way of discussion in a zoom setting, are black boxes with people’s names (or some other label) in the middle on them. I can’t get to know or remember people this way. If I am differing from what you’ve heard or been told, well I think and feel differently about this. I asked for a meeting style, and kept the numbers down so that we could have a version of a class meeting online and people participate actively. I admit I probably let too many people in as there are two screens of people, but I’ll struggle to look at both if in general people are visible and respond by raising hands.

Don’t forget to use the chat, which we have in this meeting version of zoom. I go a bit further and say when we come to discussion parts of the time together, after you’ve unmuted yourself, it’s fine to stay un-muted. I do. If you have a problem with noise, that’s another thing but if you have no such problems, it will enable a flow of conversation instead of long pauses while someone finds or makes their un-mute mechanism work.


ClaryCat on Father’s Day

Some funny experiences: my cats and I have grown very close and we reciprocate now through talk and just realized mutual feelings, gestures, sounds.

So what happens now is when I have to keep Clarycat out for the 80-90 minutes when I’m teacher online. ClaryCat the girl does not like this one little bit. As the 85-90 minutes wear on, she becomes more insistently vocal, and begins to scratch and push at the door. She is unaware of how fragilely the latch is nailed into the door-frame, and if she did thrust, she might pull the latch out. I open my door upon clicking “leave meeting,” and in she rushes. And then she proceeds to scold me. She circles me and comes in front of and squats down and meows very insistently. If I walk around and keep going she follows, circles and squats again. Meow meow meow! Or she stays by me, meowing. She is just not having any of this. After a while, she calms down. And now we are back in my room together, she in her very comfortable (soft round knobby surface) cat-bed near my desk. I am paying the bills so she & I can stay in this space together (most of the time) for (I hope) a long time to come.

Most of the time when I go out I put my cats outside my workroom lest they get entangled in wires or bored and do something untoward. And they know the signs for this. I get up, take my handbag, the phone, sweater on my shoulder, somehow look “getting ready.” Turning off my computer is an especially grievous (to both cats) sign. My violent-purple LLBean suitcase in my room leads to all sorts of behaviors showing their anxiety.
Well today I noticed a new signal alerts them. I put on my face mask. Toute de suite ClaryCat was rising, murmuring against this, but, knowing what was about to happen inevitable, jumping down from my desk and trotting to the door. I find this so sweet. When I return most of the time she comes to the door and turns with me towards the door of my workroom expecting me to open it, which I do. Then in we go.

Izzy is all set up with her new PC, wifi, webcam, mic, speakers, the lot. She carries on teleworking from home, and has been told she need not start coming in because she hasn’t a car, and perhaps someone has a conscience about the Metro as a petri dish. She says she also told them she has a 73 year old mother. She reads and watches all sorts of programs — TV and Internet series (many seem to be on-line conversations between people); she practices singing.

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For Father’s Day — when these commemorations began I don’t know. I hope they are not an invention of holiday card companies. Still my awareness made me remember my father who was born 1921 (July) and died 1989 (December) and my husband born 1948 (October) and died 2013 (October). My father would instantly have recognized the profound danger Trump represents, the evil he is, and predicted he would win. When he died, we were no longer living on the terms of understanding we once had, and that gets in the way of my saying I miss him. I miss what we once had. For Jim it’s not even yesterday. He would have wanted to return to the UK, but Teresa May had put paid to my having any change for permanent residency as his wife.

I took a photo of three of my flowering bushes in commemoration. The dark pink re-flowered, the yellow and white are new ones my mowing-gardening man planted for me (I forgot to tell him to plant perennials so I’m not sure they have any chance of coming up next year). I put them here in remembrance. My father did not at first have sympathy with Jim and I buying this house (“what a shithouse!” — we were at first renters and it was in bad condition, or we could not have afforded it), but he had begun to see why we liked the house, and a couple of years later during the day on a couple-of-days visit with us, he said, “It’s beginning to look like Seaman Avenue [our long-time apartment in NYC up under the Cloisters[, to which Jim replied, “These things take time, Willie.” Jim would not have been surprised to see what I’ve made of my sun-room [the enclosed porch he could never make up his mind to agree to, lest it cost too much — without him there, I was able to hire a man who did not have a license and he built it much less expensively than the building industry’s codes would have allowed]. But he would have liked its comfort, sunshine, and lack of any pretensions.

Jim was born in Hampshire, grew up in Southampton, I met him in Leeds when I was there for a year as a transfer student from Queens College, CUNY, NYC. When he died, I wrote this obituary for him. Clarycat was much attached to him, grieved for him for days, she sat in his chair for over a month …


Jim with our dog Llyr, 1972, in an apartment on 76th Street

I am at the same time reading on, more books, looking at more art, thinking more and just loving the thought, art, world of these circles of people. Just now finally coming to the end of Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting and feeling so sad it’s coming to an end. Since I have so much to read, that is not a common feeling with me. I am, for example, moving at a snail’s pace, in order to be able to critique the new standard edition of Anne Finch, to expose its narrow-minded careerist (morally and aesthetically dumb) agenda. I join in on zooms among small groups of friends, or for a particular topic (Jane Austen). And watch movies, among which the most important and best is the 7 season series, A French Village. I’ve mentioned this one before and will end on it tonight.

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The Parade through Villeneuve November 11th

It is important: here’s why. And I’ve written about the first two seasons. I’m now nearing the end of the fourth.

Season 3: The Gestapo has entered the village, and Jews are being rounded up and they are told they are to be put on a train for Paris. Then rumor has it they will be taken to Poland. They are being treated horribly, cruelly, starved, humiliated, three have now killed themselves.

What is extraordinary is that the film-maker has set up the situation based on the idea that nearly all the Jews and all the French, collaborators and not, have no idea these people are going to be sent to their death. I’m not sure all the Germans know, some do. What is being conveyed is that the idea they are being sent to be killed never enters the minds of most of them – because it is so extraordinary. It is such an outrageous horrific unthinkable thing to do – until we are after it’s done — in 1946 and all see what happened. By showing how such wretched treatment of them still does not evoke in most minds what could be the aim here. they are told they can take only one small suitcase. It’s strange but they don’t think about this beyond that maybe there is no room or the suitcase inconveniences their masters.

Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets. The point of her books (including A Train in Winter) is to vindicate the Resistance from 70 years of denial from the right, trivializing them and turning them into “thugs” or naive simpletons. A French Village party keeps that perspective up, and partly vindicates or explains how decent people came to collaborate. By the end of season 3, Judith de Morhange emerges as a woman collaborator: she just can’t conceive that what is about to happen is extermination. Dr Larcher, on the other hand, is beginning to see that there is no compromising with these people, alas only beginning.

The slow creep still goes on. I was struck by one moment where Marchetti (whose conscience bothers him) asks Servier if he can get a letter to his wife’s mother. Servier looks astonished and puts him off. Marchetti asks for an address. Servier’s face turns to stone. In that moment my guess is we are supposed to see that Servier knows these people have been sent to their death or are dead and had not realized Marchetti didn’t know. Or if he knows Marchetti didn’t know, did not realize how such a question would be “natural.” Marchetti says he doesn’t why a natural letter and address is not available. He seems not to guess – the truth and horror of this is as yet so unthinkable.

It is not unthinkable today. Were trains to come in and take black people, we would all immediately think extermination.OTOH, the US population has not risen against Trump when he broke all laws and intentions of immigration and separated parents from children and began to throw all the people in privately run prisons. Trump’s new rule for hospitals tells all medical people you need not treat LGTBQ people.

I wonder if in 1942-43 there were the same kinds of murders of Jews everywhere — they are profoundly unsafe wherever they are in the world of the series. The point is made that gradually the very worst people are rising to key positions (as with Trump) and now the mayor is someone prepared to slaughter anyone he doesn’t like — anyone called a Resistance person, communist, whatever.

No Jew is safe anywhere from anyone. This reminds me of what black people repeatedly said during the protests, demonstrations & riots: they can’t leave their houses without being afraid some small incident will cost them their lives. Indeed Taylor was murdered in her house – not the first. I keep my eye on how many disabled people police murder with impunity.


A brilliant actor plays the sadistic Nazi officer, Muller

Great ironies at the end. Marie’s photo in the paper and Schwartz runs over it with his latest girlfriend. It is beginning to penetrate though except in the scene where Muller gloats over how he kills groups of Jews and can get individuals about to be killed to dig the mass graves to Hortense Larcher, it is not explicit – -to penetrate individuals the people sent away on the train “will never come back” i.e., are being killed somehow. But that this is a strategy, a plan for all Jews is beyond comprehension

Some very ugly portraits of women. Much to my astonishment Hortense, Dr Larcher’s wife, prefers the sadistic Nazi Muller to her husband — this after he was prepared to torture her and wounded her arm. Schwartz’s wife tells him she loves savagery — I take this to be a slur on all woman’s sexuality and something brutal men want to believe, but the program has Hortense as another prime example. So too Marie with her affection for Schwartz: while he is not altogether devoid of any principle, he is profoundly untrustworthy and un-principled as a principle.


A Jewish young woman, Rita, refuses to accept Marchetti’s deportation of her mother (some might), flees him but is (we learn) re-captured

Women are presented as irrational: Beriot’s wife, Lucienne, loves him now because he has learned some physical technique and we watch her pray; she is against the Resistance. Marie is the most competent of the resisters — and a prostitute whose name I didn’t catch (what an old myth here). The two Larchers are now our emerging our heroes, together with DeKevern and Beriot.

The old lie about the Nazi-Soviet pact is worked tirelessly to condemn communists as if every minute of their conduct is controlled by it. There are superb books about occupied France reviewed in the New York Review of Books: it was the communists and socials who resisted the Nazis and fascists, and who the allies were determined to throw off once their use was over — for they had supported fascism itself as a bulwark against socialism and communism for years. The article does ample justice to twists and turns and details. Who Resisted the Nazis.


Three in the Resistance group

As I come near the end of the fourth season I was moved to compare A French Village to Renoir’s famed Grand Illusion (as I saw that for another course where the sentimental teacher conceded how Renoir idealized and mourned the death of an older aristocratic world — where aristocrats transcend mere local wars …..

Not only is Grand Illusion too kind, and too idealistic (especially about individuals confronting one another), with the women and captors sentimentalized (like when food is offered to prisoners so politely), but Renoir believes in this film that people in general will hold out, be brave against the threat of death, he does not begin to comprehend what people in general will accept, do without thinking of cruel consequences, how communities will dissolve. A French Village is sincere in its depiction of the hardness of people and how they seek first to protect and second to place themselves. He does not come near to understanding or dramatizing how weak bodies are.

I do think the depiction of some of the women in A French Village is unfair: two especially who are shown to be drawn to cruel men they know will turn on them and do. Two of them do push back: one flees her lover once she discovers he deported her mother (and everyone now knows to death), and the other tries to kill herself by hanging. The third is kicked out by her sadistic Nazi officer lover. I did wonder to what extent women collaborated with Nazi men, collaborators and police and military for protection. They are show as active in the Resistance the way the men are (in Grand Illusion they are only sentimental lovers or prostitute-like)

Grand Illusion is itself filled with naive illusion.


Beating, hideous food, torture a matter of course in A French Village (not seen anywhere in Grand Illusion)

This may be too much of a detail for anyone who has seen the series to remember. The fourth season culminates in Antoine pulling off a spectacular stunt, which both unnerves the Nazi-Vichy regime and inspirits the townspeople — & the Resistance fighters who pull it of: Antoine and his training soldiers. The Nazi attempt to force young men into enslaved labor in Germany has backfired for a number of local village young men have fled to the wood to join the Resistance under an emerging new leader, Antoine. They stage a parade across the village bridge (see above still), hold a ritual ceremony for (and on) November 11th for WW1, where the French (let’s recall) were on the winning side, play La Marseillaise, sing & dance. For not very long. To do it at all is astonishing — which to me at first seemed a senseless stunt but which when it succeeded did have meaning and added strength to the Resistance when the Nazi regime was unable to hunt the men out. Perhaps this is improbable, but I suspect some real incident lies behind this story

They had to have trucks, guns to some extent, but most of all cut off communications — cut off phone lines, radios, telegraph and get the occupying force out of the village. They do this – our focus is the two women who disable the radio – Lucienne and the new singing teacher, a Resistance person and it turns out lesbian. But quickly Muller (no fool) realizes a phone call which directed the occupying force to hurry to the next village was a key moment. I cannot remember who made the call. Was it dramatized? Or was this the sort of thing mystery-detective stories often do – I am to infer from what people said who did it? This is so frustrating. I will give this series that I feel I should have been able to infer (or saw ti) because generally speaking they do not go at lightening speed and everything is developed coherently with explanations emerging as we go along. I asked but no one remembered who made the phone call? I suppose I could re-watch the two (or maybe three) episodes to try to catch it … I do have the time ….


At the Window, an early 20th century painting whose title and painter I do not know

Ellen

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

Friends,

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

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

Here is YouTube of Thaw reciting the last lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frits Thaulow, Stream in Spring (1901)

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

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


Gallery it’s called

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938), Without Roofs

Dear friends and readers,

While I was going to amuse you with my stories of my experience as a participant in zoom experiences this past week and the one before (I have on my Macbook Pro managed to download Zoom and access its webcam and microphone — who knew they were there?), and tell you of how I have volunteered to teach an online class this summer, and also what it’s been like “sheltering at home” for fear of a virus that kills young as well as old, and mention personal worries over savings and investment accounts, I saw today (as is so common) on face-book one of these posts where people put pristine, set-up camera ready fancy meals as a symbol of their experience of life in the pandemic just now — it was a gourmet meal, not the first of such pictures in the last two weeks on FB. This trope bothered me more than usual

In context, I thought of a young woman I’ve known for years who I saw today for the scant five or so minutes I ever get with her weekly at a nearby Safeway. She’s an ex-student of mine, now aged 36, just Izzy’s age, and was at TC Williams High School when Izzy was there. (Laura went there too only she was threee years ahead of them in grade.) Monica was in two of my classes at Mason, and I see her weekly because Izzy and I shop on weekends, mornings, at that supermarket. We manage to talk a little. Weekdays she has a job in an office, in a DC prison. So she works seven days a week.

Recently she and her husband (they are recently married) bought a house. I should say she is African-American, very intelligent, very capable and her job situation is the (I am sure) direct result of being African-American and (I think) heavy. I know she is capable of a far better job and ought to be doing work more to her abilities. She looked exhausted and stressed today. She is working full-time in that office because she has not been declared non-essential so if she takes off she will not be paid. The prison population is beginning to have people sick with COVID-19. The medical staff is of course inadequate, four people in the offices have become sick with COVID19, and one has died. She has a daughter, age eight, and the daughter is home so Monica’s mother comes over to help the child read and do some studying, homework. But Monica’s mother works in a retirement home — she can’t take off or will not be paid — and she is needed. But she is at risk — she is not young either — though at least 20 years younger than me. She comes to Monica’s house risking infecting the people there. I have met Monica’s mother once. I used to look much younger than she. I don’t have good photos of them. But Monica is not infrequently on my mind.

Both my biological daughters are working from home, getting paid (Laura is in fact getting more work than she can handle because the world seems to have come online), both doing jobs commensurate with their abilities & educations. Another young woman, also 36 (Izzy is 36), Vietnamese Canadian, Thao her name, not that long ago married, I do regard as a third daughter has Ph.D in psychology, she is working from home, paid — so too Jeff, her husband who however as a physician goes in too. No fear of not getting paid for him. Thao was at Mason and took 3 classes with me; we spent one summer in close proximity. I’ve spoken of her before here, put her photo on this blog. Since this quarantine and spread of a serious disease, we have had face-time, talking to another (all three, Izzy, Thao and I) through ipads and cell phones, and I have seen Thao and Jeff sitting next to one another, two computers in a row, two computer tables … by a large window.

Having told this story on my three listservs, because we have been discussing the sharp class and gender divisions in Italy in the 1950s (and probably still) as dramatized on a HBO series, My Brilliant Friend, Season Two, or The Story of a New Name, the second of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet novels — how what opportunities, what kind of person you become, the experiences you can have are pre-determined by where and to whom you were born, and your gender — a friend, Diane, put on the list a letter and URL to another blog called Corona Crimes and I want to to share that with you.

Dear Friends,

Please check out and share my new blog, Corona Crimes. In it I am documenting the omissions, greed, incompetencies, and acts of callousness and cruelty that have enabled and are enabling this epidemic to become so bad when it could have been prevented, leading to the loss of thousands of lives, especially among the most vulnerable and marginalized in society (the frail elderly, inmates, refugees/immigrants, those in poverty. This includes actions/neglect by all levels of government, corporations and other powerful people/groups who profit off or contribute to the misery of this historical period. As this administration daily tries to change its versions of past events and moves toward a dictatorship-like deletion of the truth I think it’s important to have a central place to record and witness to the truth of what is happening, which grows more precious daily. The blog is very basic at present as I am new to this, but I am hoping to include interviews, reporting, maybe video and audio. I am open to suggestions on subject matter, so forward me news stories or other sources of information. Please help me spread the word about this blog.

In order to also celebrate the stories of heroism and selflessness big and small coming out of this pandemic, in a few days I will be launching another blog dedicated to people sacrificing for and helping others. I would welcome leads for that blog as well. Please read and share!

Peace and love,
Andrea

Enough said for this evening. More on this angle can be found in my Sylvia I blog.

Ellen

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


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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


How I dream of her and him too at night …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outside Izzy’s window


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

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


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

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

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

Ellen

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Saturday, January 4, 2020, the last day — the beautiful old reading room

In the reading room of the New York Public Library
All sorts of souls were bent over silence reading the past,
Of the present, or maybe it was the future, persons
Devoted to silence and the flowering of the imagination,
When all of a sudden I saw my love,
She was a faun with light steps and brilliant eye
And she came walking among the tables and the rows of persons.

Straight from the forest, to the center of New York,
And nobody noticed, or raised an eyelash . . .

The people of this world pay no attention to the fauns
Whether of this world or of another, but there she was …

Everybody was in the splendour of [her] imagination,
Nobody paid any attention to this splendour
Appearing in the New York Public Library,
Their eyes were on China, India, Arabia, or the Balearies,
While my faun was walking among the tables and eyes
Inventing their world of life, invisible and light,
In silence and sweet temper, loving the world.

— Richard Eberhart, lines from “Reading Room, The New York Public Library”

Friends and readers,

The first important event of this new year for me and others who have inhabited and done research in the Folger Library — as well perhaps as those who regularly go to the plays, concerts, and poetry readings in the Folger Theater — is the closing of the building for two years for various renovation projects — in and outside the building. On one of the listservs I’m still on that is productively active, EMW-L (Early Modern Women), one of the scholars remarked “if ever there was magic in modern scholarly space, it was there.” I felt that, and used to stay on the side of the desk you see photographed, the old side; another much more modern space, much more brightly lit, light weigh desk areas, with many plugs and outlets for PC computers, laptops, ipads, cell phones, never beckoned to me. All of us who wrote in agreed “it was very sad” — because although we know the library will open again, it will not be for some time, we’ll miss it, and have to go elsewhere, and because when they open again, they will renovate the look of that old room out of existence.

I chose Eberhart’s poem because I don’t know of an equivalent for the Folger; I first came across it when I was doing research at the New York Public Library for my dissertation, reading (as I recall) rare 18th century novels by women, with my own “shelf” tucked away with books kept for me, and “my own” carrel desk, mine as long as I got back to it within a week. The trouble was — for my memory’s sake — the research for that dissertation didn’t last that long, maybe two years. I have been going to the Folger, since the early 1990s and although I stopped going regularly about 15 years ago (in a way alas), for some 15 years before that it was a very familiar place indeed. I did my projects in Italian Renaissance poetry translation, the biographies I wrote, the texts I produced for Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara, and Anne Finch there. I did research in Trollope: yes his books of Jacobean drama are there, and a book on his annotations in them. My last project but one was the autobiographical writings of Anne Murray Lady Halkett. My last two weeks ago, a long full day reading what’s left of Catherine Clive’s letters towards a book review I’m doing, plus now planned blogs and some developing study of 18th century comedies, mostly of the more sentimental kind, as well as burlesque after-pieces. I can think of nothing I like to do better.

It’s not wholly closed as yet: Izzy and I have another theater play there, The Merry Wives, I have an HD screening of The Winter’s Tale (Kenneth Branagh as Leontes, Judi Dench Paulina). But then we will be bereft for two years. I hope whatever they do will take no longer than that. I imagine the staff also hopes for as short a time as possible – they don’t want to lose their general public either.


At opening of 1999 BBC film of The Clandestine Marriage, Fanny ((Natasha Little) and Lovewell (Paul Nicholls) marrying in Fleetwell prison, then half-way through talking aside privately in the sunny landscape

I could tell you about less gratifying things I’ve done over the last week than two evenings of full-length movie watching & study. The first, coming out of the research project: after reading carefully through a splendid Broadview edition of George Colman and David’s Garrick’s The Clandestine Marriage, followed by Catherine Clive’s The Rehearsal, or Bayes in Petticoats, finally watched the 1999 BBC version, director Christopher Miles, of Colman and Garrick’s Clandestine Marriage. Maybe I’m in a weak state but they managed to touch my heart. I felt my eyes shining with happiness for the benign kindness at the end. This one was believable. The play itself had been (in the 18th century mode) ironic and rough-house, everyone blatantly mercenary, innately selfish and would doubtless soon return to being so again. The joy was an erotic bless, in terms of an immediate future (the play historically speaking is defying the 1753 Marriage Act as the couple marries in Fleetwood prison) and our heroine is pregnant; beautiful landscape, music effective, acting very well done. Stellar cast, especially Natasha Little as the convincingly sweet innocent Fanny, Nigel Hawthorne (getting very old), Timothy Spall, Tom Hollander (early in his career). Paul Nicholls as Lovewell drop dead handsome. Trevor Bentham screenplay:


Nigel Hawthorne as the lecherous aging but finally benign Lord Ogleby, Joan Collins taking the Catherine Clive domineering older woman role, Mrs Heidelberg

I could find nothing in print on it (George Mason database), though articles on the 1753 Marriage act and its relationship to such plays. Tom Hollander in the Sir John Melvile part trying to pick which daughter he wants!

I believed in the ending because I knew something like this joy once — and after a life time of “digging in” together here is no substitute for my husband. I find many activities I enjoy and I throw myself into these — mostly reading books and writing projects that find fulfillment on the Net; also nowadays watching and re-watching, thus studying film, and then writing them film sometimes. I have not been able to sustain any close friendship locally — maybe one at a time. And as I age I deal less well with stress. OTOH, I’m getting better in some ways — more self-reliant and pragmatic in feel and slowly accepting my lot in ways I had not before. I want to watch again, read more and write a blog-essay. One cannot have too many holds on [what] happiness [comes our way] (saith Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey).


New York versus Los Angeles

The other directly related, a kind of modern contrast, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, also nearly 3 hours. I did not realize it has finished its movie-house release (functioned as an ad?) and is now on Netflix. I was very aware it’s by a man and felt as I watched that it was done very much from Charlie’s point of view (Adam Driver). That conceded, nonetheless (to be candid) to me it seemed at the end to be about a divorce that need not have happened. That this wife (Scarlet Johansson’s best performance, brilliant) put her husband through hell for no good reason but that she wanted out of the marriage situation. She just didn’t want this way of life any more. Nor the hardness of the city environment in NYC. Ever so much more comfortable in her LA rich person’s house. It was about a young woman who prefers to be single and live with her female relatives, to control her situation. I thought the depiction of the lawyer (Laura Dern) showed one of the most bitch-y women on screen, this utter hypocrite performative horror – a caricature but Dern carried it off — to be truthful more convincingly than she did the stereotypical Marmee of the (mostly very good) latest Little Women. The wife did not in the least give the husband any hint of what was to come, who she was for real. Real problem is no husband would be that abject and acquiescent and the ending would be bitter.

The two Sondheim songs at the end summed up the movie in much the way I have only in the softened mode of an acceptable commodity movie. Watch her song (all frivolity, escape, all about boundaries around her) and then his, “Being Alive”.

This too became involved in my subconscious dream life. I dreamed of Jim that night; it was a dream where there were other people, and I no longer remember the story. But there he was facing a long wall length window; I went over to him so rapidly and we hugged so strongly. The dream placed him in this weird atmosphere, I’d like to call it luminous except that is to elevate the sense of light as poetic when it was more like metal from some artificial light fixture. When I woke, at first I was still under the influence of this memory, and then of course I realized it was a dream, he is dead and is never coming back. I woke feeling cheered and looked about but then I realized I had had this dream and the morning was very bleak. A widow of four years told me today she used to have three presences in her life, three effective souls, him, him-and-her acting as one, and then her. Well said, yes. I was me, some of my acts were me-and-him, and some of what I lived intently through was him.  She feels like a knife has shorn off half her body.

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Closure of Christmas happened a few days before this movie-watching and read — on Monday, Twelfth Night — we put our tree out.

My last Christmas movie, John Huston’s The Dead, out of Joyce’s story, I watched on the Sunday. Here’s the Economist explaining why “The Dead” is a miraculous movie. I accompany it with Niall Williams’s contextual essay, “Is anyone happy anyway?” to the latter the answer is of course many people are or say and think they are, and the world has ever been filled with people who don’t appreciate small things.

We then had our first full winter storm, heavy damp white flakes covered the world lightly, then melted away from all but the grass. Coming home, Izzy took pictures, out of our dining room window and of Ian taking his first look from the side of her computer.

Two of us finished Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter this week on WomenWriters@groups.io (talk about a woman finding meaning in a man at the end; another destroyed by her mother); and three will go on for Toni Morrison, Margaret Drabble and then the Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. Would you believe we are reading Trollope’s Lord Palmerston on Trollope&Peers, soon to begin The Last Chronicle of Barset. I’ve begun another riveting novel by Oliphant: A Country Gentleman and his Family; the title doesn’t begin to suggest how the book centers on a brilliant but domineering male who with his refusal to compromise has lost an academic career, a widowed mother stifled and yearning for liberty, a widowed sister-in-law whose lout of a husband, betrayer, incompetent has died of an accident (she manages to tell us how he had affairs) — all set in this utterly real environment, moving slowly with naturalistic speech, inner intensities. I carry on listening to the immensely emotional deeply felt Night and Day (Woolf), how I love her heroines, the only ones I now realize who have come alive for me in her novels (Katharine Hilbury and Mary Datchett) and even more Juliet Stevenson for reading it aloud so wonderfully well and Julia Briggs for her notes. I find myself hurt for Wool when I read Katherine Mansfield’s strictures upon this book: it’s like someone has sneered at your soul for not coming up to her petty goals; although the comparison is unfair, since “Bliss” is a short story, it is in comparison mere gimmick. Woolf has poured heart and soul into Night and Day, she is genuinely exploring issues of young women trying to invent and live fulfilled lives, broaching all kinds of serious issues for the two male protagonists too.

And this week winter courses began. On Tuesday afternoon I went to the first session of the course I’m taking in World War II books — we were to have read Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune, the first of 6 novels now known as the Balkan and Levant trilogies.

I’m also re-watching another (more forgotten) masterpiece, the 1987 BBC Fortunes of War (Alan Plater scripted, James Cellan Jones, directed — he recently died), with its haunting music and superb cast. Book and film chilling and closely relevant to what is happening in the US, both those in power at different levels, and how people (civilians) in reaction are behaving. This first novel takes place in Rumania in 1939 to 1940 — we see the beginnings of the extermination machine going public. The novel ends with the fall of Paris, before which we have effective allusions to Dunkirk. It is seen out of the lens of an implicit private unhappiness of Harriet Pringle, the heroine-surrogate, though importantly unlike the author, Harriet has no job, no profession or occupation of her own, so her husband Guy Pringle’s tendency to forget she’s there for long periods (he a part surrogate for Reggie Smith who ran parts of the BBC eventually very effectively) is far felt directly than (cumulative in life). That Manning was Anglo-Irish is also important; she wrote novels set in Ireland and Palestine. She is just terrific in evoking atmosphere — I feel how cold it was in Rumania in 1939-40 in winter (probably still is) as I read the book.


The movie begins with the dark landscape of Rumania and the train, Guy and Harriet (Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, then newly weds) Pringle already facing from one another ….

One delicious part is that the British colony put on a production of Troilus and Cressida, rather brilliantly Manning brings out how what is in Shakespeare’s play tells us about political behavior in 1939 — good as it is (as literary criticism to bring out the real qualities of a text), David’s book overlooks the significance of 1970. The first book of The Balkan Trilogy is written in 1970 and is also about that era — historical fiction has many resonances. You could do far worse in seeking a relevant text to what is happening today in the US gov’t (a small gang or junta of people around Trump running an erratic gangster gov’t) than Shakespeare’s T&C — I’ve seen it twice as well as read it.

As to the first two hours at Politics & Prose course: it has the faults of another course they gave a while back on WW1 books. The explanaton for the war is utterly top down, and they accept the consensus narratives of today. They did have very particular information about Rumania I did not know at all. But unfortunately, the two women took the point of view that Manning’s fiction is not truly superior: we are reading it because it’s so accurate in what it shows and she has some terrific gifts for narrative and characters and dialogues. Women denigrating other women. One of the women is older and herself dogmatic and they are forthright when they don’t approve of sex lives — and just apply modern ideas at times and also notions of conventional marriage. They blamed Guy, the hero, for taking Harriet to Rumania. What could he be thinking of? What. Also did not like Manning, couldn’t sympathize with her. I did speak against these pronouncement.

Manning is much better than the way they framed her: there is a vision at the core of these books commensurate with having a single heroine lens: an ironic presentation of the unbound nature of individuals within cultural milieus, and how helpless they are against such powerful juntas with vast armies and fearful bigotry to back them up.

They didn’t even like Deirdre David’s marvelously intelligent (if aggressive) literary biography to all. I am especially fond of women biographers writing superbly about women writers. Manning was good friends with Stevie Smith, whose poems of friendship are unbeatable:

The pleasures of friendship are exquisite,
How pleasant to go to a friend on a visit!
I go to my friend, we walk on the grass
And the hours and moments like minutes pass.

I was told on a Face-book where I told a little of all this (a Fine Literature group page) to read Bowen’s The Heat of the Day: I have taught it a couple of times. Unfortunately, she was probably a fascist (a spy perhaps) and this shapes some of the presentation of the hero, but it’s an effective book. Also Henry Green; he’s often cited as very good; the one time I tried he seemed so affected but I should try again.

I’d love to go off on a WW2 women’s memoirs reading bout: from Marguerite Duras to Iris Origo to Naomi Mitchison, Women enduring war and making what is on the ground about them livable. Historical fiction by women in this era is also about WW2.

I live in worlds of older women: today I saw Gertwig’s Little Women for the second time in a movie-theater auditorium where every single seat was taken, most by women and most of them older; most of the people in this P&P class are women. I had lunch with three friends, two of us widows, one divorced twice.  Where have all the men gone by 70? They don’t form groups easily.

I have bought tickets for myself and my friend, Panorea, to go to the In-series, La Cabaret de Carmen (raw power, anyone?) next Saturday afternoon. I’ve seen Carmen done from Juan’s point of view (Roberto Alagna).

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To end with, I was looking for something this morning, I scarce knew what, but I realized I had found it when I read Patricia Fargnoli’s “Old Woman Dreams.” I have three of her selections, but found this one in my The Widow’s Handbook (anthology of poetry), ed. J Lapidus and LMenn, under “Memories, Ghosts and Dreams.” It begins:

He came to her finally in his torn jeans and soft
tan jacket, came from feeding the horses,
their sweat still on his palms,
came redolent of hay, honey from his hives —
Solomon’s Song on his lips.
Came with the old scar on his cheek where
she left the chaste imprint of a kiss.
Younger, impossibly younger,
He told her what she wanted to hear.
But only in dream, night, the color of his black hair.

Around him, her arms wound like his branches,
his eyes were a garden she ached to lie down in.
They met in a wind-rush, and what she remembers
is a craving to follow where he was leading.
Also the impression of dissolving
against the astonishment of his chest.
Her desire seems to have its own life and will not be
expelled o matter how often she tries to banish it.

Somehow an old woman feels all this. Is it so odd?
She’s heard a dream embodies a message
from the totem spirit, like the fox
who emerges in flame from the forests
and goes to hide in the morning hours.

She is nowadays my favorite poet; and here is “A note PF’s work” by Ilya Kaminsky:

Someone asked me if I read 24 hours a day. No, said I.

I go for walks myself.

Another year.


Laura spotted this post-card perfect photo on twitter the afternoon of the storm

Ellen

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The first snow fall this year was what Izzy tweeted on twitter as she stood at the bottom of where Cloverway hits Janneys Lane & waited for her bus this past Wednesday morning


On the way home that night, as usual she stood a block away from the Metro under a wooden shelter just off busy King Street and glimpsed the full moon for this December

… there dwelt the realities of the appearances which figure in our world; so direct, powerful, and unimpeded were her sensations there, compared with those called forth in actual life. There dwelt the things one might have felt, had there been cause; the perfect happiness of which here we taste the fragment; the beauty seen here in flying glimpses only. No doubt much of the furniture of this world was drawn directly from the past, and even from the England of the Elizabethan age. However the embellishment of this imaginary world might change, two qualities were constant in it. It was a place where feelings were liberated from the constraint which the real world puts upon them; and the process of awakening was always marked by resignation and a kind of stoical acceptance of facts — from Night and Day, Virginia Woolf, Chapter 11, supposed to be Katharine Hilbury, heroine remembering her dreams but can also be read as what one experiences in poetry).

Friends and readers.

Starting this past Monday we’ve had an almost continuous rain all week, the air dank, though not as raw and bone-chilling as it used to be in Leeds, England (when I lived there 48-50 years ago now), too cold for me. I can’t seem to warm up the way I once did, and remain shiver-y for hours. But there was a break on Thursday; the sun came out and I was able to string my two miniature magnolia trees with colored lights. As usual, something that would take someone else 10 minutes, takes me 2 hours — I had to go to the supermarket to get a second working indoor/outdoor cord, and then discovered it was too short, so up the attic again to bring down the supposed non-working one but I found it did as an intermediary.

The rain also stopped for much of Wednesday evening, well rained less that night before, so for a second time I drove myself to City Hall, with the aim of speaking to the board of transit because they were threatening to eliminate a bus that goes through my area — the only one close by which can take us to and from the Metro. For the first time ever in 40 years of living in Alexandria, see Another Two Weeks Have Slipped By (scroll down to “new experience”).

I did not mention last time there’s been a second issue affecting my neighborhood. The city council has re-drawn the lines on the roads everywhere, including a very busy intersection by the highway (near huge buildings called Southern Towers), with 4 straight lanes going through in two ways, 4 feeder lanes from the highway, a footbridge — with the supposed aim of making the roads safe for these imagined bike-riders and slowing everyone down. They sure have slowed all the cars down: coming home on a given road took 10 minutes, now it’s 40. They are lying about the bikes; “special interests” are said to be behind this neighborhood-wide excruciatingly engineered traffic jam: wealthy people in big houses who give big campaign contributions are said to find buses noisy, traffic unpleasant and want to drive people to stop using cars, stop the very people who live her from “driving through.” That issue was part of last time’s meeting, and after all the talk and a couple of hundred people showing up, the board voted 4 to 3 to keep the new lanes. So I said to myself, maybe trying to stop these people from taking our bus is hopeless but I must at least try. My conscience would not let me stay home.

The meeting room was much smaller, far fewer people there and I got to speak. Here’s coherent typed-out (edited) version of my first public speech in this kind of setting ever (probably my last):

Good evening. My name is Ellen Moody, and I have lived at 308 Cloverway Drive since 1984. I am here to speak on behalf of daughter, Isobel, 36, who lives with me, and myself, to urge that we among many others use and need the AT2 service along Janneys Lane regularly for daily tasks.

My daughter has taken the AT2 bus most mornings and evenings 5 times a week to get to the Metro to get to her job as a librarian at the Pentagon for some 6 years now. She is autistic level 2 and cannot and will never drive a car. She is proud of her job, needs it for self-support and independence. The AT8 which has been said to be a substitute runs along Duke Street, and stops at a multi-lane maze of streets, feeder-lanes; last week, as Lisa said, a pedestrian was badly injured using a cross-walk. This is not unusual; I’ve seen some spectacular accidents there. My daughter can lose her poise, become nervous in crowds and among fast-moving objects. I am here to ask you not to take from her and other disabled people in our community this safe access to the Metro and public transportation around the region. Across the street from me is another mother and adult child; he is disabled.

I am 73, a widow and use and need the bus too. I still work, part-time, but my jobs are in places where it would take far too long or it is impossible to find public transportation to. I am a retired lecturer in English at George Mason university and American University, and now teach at these places in the Oscher Institute programs. But I do use the bus a great deal: when I need not get someplace at a specific time and go to DC or elsewhere by Metro I use the bus. There’s no free parking around there (little paid parking) and I cannot afford to take a cab regularly. There are many retired and older people like myself around my blocks who cannot walk to the Metro (it’s too hilly)

I have observed time and time again the bus in the morning and evenings is crowded. I do not know where the seeming low figure of 95 people using that bus a day comes from, but it seems to have been taken during summer when the Metro stop at King Street was not available to us (another hardship). People who work at the hospital, people who attend the Theological Seminary use that bus. I see people waiting during the day 5 days a week too, and if there are few on Saturday/Sunday it’s because the bus comes so rarely.

Finally, this board is supposed to represent a majority of your constituency. Insofar as I can tell from speaking to others, a community listserv I’m on that many people use, a majority of people in my neighborhood need & want that bus to stay. We pay our taxes, and have given you the responsibility to maintain and keep our needed social services up for us.

Thank you for listening to me. I know I sound narcissistic and have made few statements from larger perspectives but I thought telling a particular real story about two not atypical people in the community could help preserve our bus.

Before I got up, a very personable friendly man introduced himself (one of the elected city council) and told me that the hand-written copy of the above I meant to say last time had been put in the record. So these elected people pay attention even if they don’t necessarily represent the constituency. Other people talked in more general terms: how we all understand new built-up areas in the city need a bus, how public transportation costs, but why eliminate a needed one because there are now other needed buses.

The good news is for now we have a reprieve. This super-power group of people will not take away the bus for the next two years, but we are warned that they will monitor our numbers and so it’s up to us to take that bus (or else?). While I’m on politics, permit me to mention that the Tories under Boris Johnson won a large majority in parliament: to read my and others’ thoughts as well as some essays on matter, click here.

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Mozart on the floor, Salieri (Iago-like) prowling about behind him

My one remarkable experience — this was a mostly very quiet week and a half, at home mostly in the silence — was to have seen Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, featuring the brilliant Ian Merrill Peakes as Salieri (we saw him last year as Macbeth in a formidable absorbing production of William Davenant’s Macbeth. The role demands astonishing acting: McKellen won awards for it, F. Murray Abramson in the movie, which I’ve never seen (I know, I know, I’m 30 years behind the times). Mozart is also a marvelous part and Justin Adams, a young DC actor enacted the role beautifully. The language is as intense, complicated and suggestive as any work by a poetic genius. Themes were so moving: that you write mediocre stuff, that you are not appreciated, the power of rank, status, the stupidity of audiences who don’t understand the fine art they are seeing, become offended stupidly, and just an endless delightful (somehow) exploration of one man’s personality to its core, of fire with hatred and obsessions, with all sorts of amusing quirks, witty, dare I say Shakespearean. The women all do have small roles; several just silent. Yvonne Paretsky did very well with her part as Mozart’s wife but however speaking and central for Mozart, in the play she is a limited role. I vaguely remember Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, which Jim and I saw in London so many years ago was a male-dominated play too.

The production was also a treat for anyone interested in or who loves 18th century art the way I do. The costumes, the repeated playing of Mozart’s music, all sorts of furniture, food, nuances, manners — it was this I also so enjoyed in the Davenant Shakespeare Improved production. Izzy and I came at the end of run or I’d have hurried to write a more complete review and put it on Ellen and Jim Blog to urge all in our DC area to go see this production before it closed. The movie by Milos Formanchanges the experience profoundly and yet goes over the same material.


I find this cover with No 15 Cheyne Walk where the Woolfs lived so appealing

For the rest — time home — I am reveling in listening to Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day read aloud by Juliet Stevenson. Once the reader gets past the opening deadly scene of Katharine pouring tea for her mother and mother’s friends (meant to be excruciating), it’s a superb novel, funny, I laugh aloud (not something I often do). What I am riveted by is the central characters care about what I care about: books, the problem of writing a biography, poetry. Mary Datchett is a single woman living alone who goes to an office as a volunteer in a suffragist society every day – her irritating work-mates, how progress is so much making out forms, phoning and pressuring people, nuanced & nagging relationships. Mary holds meetings in her house where papers on subjects like metaphor in Elizabethan poetry are read. Soaring sections where poetry is valued as providing the kind of life, thoughts, existence possibilities we long for, but never have, mocked by the world — as is Mary Datchett’s office building where there are floors of people working away at good causes (for no or little money), spending hours with dim people in a good cause. I’ve spent hours, about three years of my life a long time ago, 5 days a week in an office. It’s a much darker book than people out, pessimistic about people’s ability to know one another, much less love someone else except as a willed illusion.

Night and Day has many Austen-like passages: Katherine Hilbury’s mother is an excruciating innocent, like Miss Bates in a way, and she wears on my nerves a bit too much. Who could spend hours in the company of this imbecile talk. But I recognize what Woolf is doing as akin to what Austen did — except Austen does show us real cruelty; Woolf’s N&D is too kind to the characters; they are too well-meaning to one another. The book is a companion to Voyage Out: here we are in our every day world (in London city), a comedy, there we went to into colonial savage-world dreams and death. I bought a Penguin edition (above) with a fine introduction by Julia Briggs (I loved and learned so much from her Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, which reads like analytical prefaces to the novels, one by one in depth.)

See Mina Loy on the important question of whether you risk losing your individuality and selfhood if you give yourself a man …. her Song to Joannes

I’m reading at the same time Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, both in the French and (using it as a crib but also back-and-forth) James Kirby’s translation, together with Hazel Rowley’s biographical Tête-à-tête (mostly centered on Beauvoir, but she tells much about Sartre’s personality, life, looks I never knew), and Carol Ascher’s in-depth study of Beauvoir through humane and psychological analyzing of her books. These book make a kind of companion work of genius, for the theme of all is a young woman seeking to find herself. Beauvoir’s incomparably richer, truer to life, fuller, because so much longer (it’s the first of five volumes) and not hampered by having to have a novelistic story and character, much less plot-design. The patterns are the living life and development of Beauvoir’s mind and feelings. I am so caught by her tone: deep-feeling, earnest and sincere; as she works slowly through each phase of her existence I find myself thinking of parallels or contrasts in my life. Two books that meant much to her: Little Women and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. She is Jo and then she is Maggie: she she goes through the novel making analogies with herself as she goes the way I do hers. Beauvoir’s temperament does remind me of Eliot. She wept over Maggie’s fate. I threw the book across the room in a rage against Eliot herself for immolating her heroine and making the heroine die loving the hateful brother. I wanted her to hate him, stab him to the heart and stand rejoicing over his grave. Both 19th century novels by writers in English. I hope to write a blog adequate to this book – and hope to go on to read Prime of Life and Force of Circumstances (Volumes 2 & 3, which I find I own copies of).


Did you know a young Emily Watson played Maggie Tulliver in the 1997 BBC Mill on the Floss – I have it here somewhere in my house and must re-see; Emily Watson now one of my many favorite actresses; I like to think Beauvoir would have bonded with this actress too

My third community daily conversation and reading project is almost over: I’ve now read Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, Aspects of the Novel and almost finished Maurice. Maurice a sine qua non in the Forster canon. I even opened up and read the first chapter of the new standard biography of Vittoria Colonna — I was both so disappointed in the lack of inner life found but eager to find out what is the life consensus scholarship written lucidly turns up, but must save these and my Winston Graham, Margaret Oliphant, and 18th century actress studies for separate blogs

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I end on a Caturday entry:
Punch cartoon — a middle-aged woman with her family — as in The Durrells in Corfu (which I continue to console myself through) somehow. All these animals are her friends and family. Even the turtle. So my Clarycat and Ian.

Ellen

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Monet’s Path Through Forest, Snow Effect (1870) — what lovely shades of red against whites, greys, blues, black lines can do …


Paul Gauguin, Mimi and her Cat (1890)

Gentle reader,

Monet’s winter scene, is very pretty, no? A friend on face-book said to see it lightened his morning, another described it with delight in her tone: “And it looks just like someone would today, with a backpack & bag & maybe carrying a chainsaw to cut wood.” I have made it my header picture for my face-book time-line for winter. The second, Gauguin’s, I put on face-book the day after I was 73 (Nov 30th) to thank the whopping 40 Internet, FB and other friends (people I have met in the flesh too, and also on listservs) who wished me a good day. I’m not above feeling better for such support. I was alone most of the day — as I am them majority of most days since Jim died — and I believe that some of the people (however prompted by automatic software from FB) meant well: several added a thoughtful line to me. I wrote:

I want to thank everyone who yesterday made my day easier to get through. It was a peaceful, more or less a repeat of Thursday, which was more or less a repeat of Wednesday … once term is over (and they are shorter at these Oscher Institutes) I become a homebody again. You all really helped me stay cheerful. I felt surrounded by friends.

I will say this, despite the merits of good (recognizable) food, I have found that rest (sleeping the night for a minimum of 5-6 hours in a row) is more important in maintaining sane life — I should have said staying alive, having the will and strength to carry on, than food.

I got perceptive comments from others on Mimi and Her Cat:

I love the way he shows how a cat may lift as it is petted … Thanks, a new one for me. Lovely painting which was new to me as well … An unusual posture between child and cat. The animal seems so content. I could not imagine life without our cats.

I replied: I usually dislike Gauguin’s paintings: “native” women naked to their waists, with dull looks in their eyes. This is a rare one that for me shows he had genius: it’s reproduced in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, a book which combines a history of human attitudes towards cats with what we find in pictures of them.

Then another friend (also from a time long ago when I was on Arthurnet) said: “It reminds me of Vuillard in spirit.” and my liking of this image (I haven’t forgotten it since I saw it in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, and wrote: “Yes — I agree. Very good. Look at the arched feet. You’ve helped me understand why I liked this picture. I like Vuillard – I have a book filled with images of his pictures — from an exhibit I went to at the National Gallery, here in DC. I used to have one of Vuillard’s murals for one of my blogs — suitably cropped and lengthened out. Here that is before re-fitted:


Place Vintimille

People have asked me why I sometimes reprint utterances people write to me on these blogs: because I value them, think them worth saving, am grateful to people who speak to me as friends and want to remember what they said so I can re-find and re-live them. One of the purposes of a diary, is to live more intensely, with more awareness, adequately through writing, not to forget what has been.

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This is another of those hard times for me as a widow. The first week of October each year (which contain the day Jim and I met, the days and nights we first made love (no we did not buy it ready made), the day we married, the day he lost consciousness forever and the day he died). Christmas day a third — I have never been able to rid myself, expunge, gauge out this yearning for happiness and belief in it as occurring on Christmas day I was somehow inspired to feel as a child, despite some 65 years of disillusion and even wretched bitterness. New Year’s, the fourth. All in later autumn, early winter.

All these promote retrospective, memories, some good, happy now and again, most mixed with and a few almost all pain. I remember the year 2000 when Jim took Izzy and I to Paris during Christmas week and New Year’s. What a relief, to escape what I used to feel than as this imposition on us, an implicit demand we do likewise. On Christmas day many stores, restaurants, theaters are opened in Paris, the general atmosphere lively, gay, usual, light, none of this intensity the American holidays conjure up. Recently I quoted to someone, Johnson’s saying of “Nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment,” and to my astonishment, the person looked puzzled. “What could that mean? why?” she asked. Could she be that naive? That inattentive to all that is going round her on occasions made fraught by such expectations that cannot be met because of the baggage, history or past, and connections we all carry round with those we have known long and been involved with.

From this Thanksgiving morning:

I am driven from my study today. Izzy listening to the commercial-laden (imbricated?) Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (it started at 9 am!) in the next room: it is so noisy, made so deliberately continually loud, with continual accompanying high and low grade noise, shouting presented as singing (can you imagine “Jingle Bells” made rapid fire, speeded up?), with rhythmic accompaniments, I cannot shut it out. So must read in sun-room this morning — all the way in the front of the house. Nothing can be heard but a cat’s yowl from the back. The room faces east so what there is of sun streams in. One of my companions (advised by a friend) is John Mullan’s What matters in Jane Austen? and it’s not bad. An essay, “Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside” relevant to her and Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. Turns out it is risky in Austen, but also exhilarating. Mullan has the trick of continually interweaving, quoting Austen … (Later in the day)

I am finding myself not sadder than I was, but more aware of how nothing can replace Jim. Yes the grief of loss fades, we (or I) see we can survive without our best friend, life companion; we grow calm, and gradually get used to absence, to (in my case) being alone most of the time. This week two fine spirits died, both of whom Jim respected, enjoyed their work: Clive James and Jonathan Miller: I commemorated them, their lives, their work on my Sylvia I blog, to which I add James’s Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.

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So what can I record happened over the last two weeks or that I am looking forward to or doing differently.

The look of my face has changed. My new denture fits me (as my previous one did not) and narrowly holds tight (with the help of a little denture glue) on what’s left of my narrow upper gum. I can eat more things now as the upper denture slams down on the lower (teeth!). But what has also happened (and has been mentioned by others to me who get up close) is “You [I] look different.” They decline to say if I look better. Probably I look worse by conventional standards. My face falls in more, my once high cheekbones now utterly vanished, my face just narrower from where cheekbones once were downward. But I notice too that I no longer look like my mother. Since I rather disliked her (to put this mildly) and when I had to look at her face in mine it could be demoralizing, not to say corrosively ironic (to me). It’s not too much to say I’d be filled with helpless anger, frustration. I was stamped with what I wanted to forget. My mother was responsible for my first marriage. I’ve not told you that as yet. Yes, she engineered it and then hid what happened from my father who went mad with fear, anguish, grief for that week. She meant to estrange us permanently; she didn’t succeed in that but she did part us as I never returned to live with them again.

Well now for the first time ever I see I do like like my father too — or did. People used to say when I would say I look like my mother, there is your father too, your eyes are his, and especially the expression. Well now that my forehead comes out and the upper face, yes, I see him there. I see a family resemblance with one of my male cousins (whom Jim used to say from a photo Jim saw of this cousin looked like my father). What a relief …

So there is a qualification to be made to Johnson’s:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

For one of the Caturdays that passed:

This week I’ve been reading 18th century plays, about the astonishing but unenviable lives of Catherine Clive and Susannah Arne Cibber, and came upon Fielding’s Author’s Farce (mocking other productions, genres, authors &c) which concludes with an epilogue spoken by the actress as a cat. Luckless, our author in the farce, to show he does not value aid offered him by 4 different volunteering poets says “I’ll have the epilogue spoken by a cat.” The text suggests there was a real cat on stage. She or he came on and said “mew, mew.” Luckless is all encouragement but then a female player comes on and chases poor puss off: “Fie, Mr Luckless, what/Can you be doing with that filthy cat?” Upon which the cat exits. The actress (addressed as madam) and Luckless proceed to argue over whether a cat can “Speak an epilogue!” It can be only a “dumb show.” In the midst of this onto the stage “Enter Cat as a woman.” I have now been told in the revision of 1734 the epilogue by a cat was removed. So it’s the first one by an actress other than Clive who turns to the audience more or less in defense of cats, with some demurs, comparisons of wives with cats, and funny rhymes:

Puss would be seen where madam lately sat
And every Lady Townley be a cat.

She ends by suggesting many a husband would prefer to find a cat “purring by your side” in bed than a wife.


Clarycat watching me make our bed


Ian keeping warm on the DVD multi-region player where he can look out the window too

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I’m looking forward to the winter term at OLLI at Mason: I signed up for a movie course – this one will include going to art movies in this area, and meeting four times to discuss the movie together. Rather like the Cinemart summer film club — no surprise as this theater is going to cooperate for the month and try for better movies. At Politics & Prose I did sign up for a course meeting over 5 months, once a month, with two good teachers, where we’ll read and discuss the first two volumes of Olivia Manning‘s Balkan Trilogy (WW2 English people in Greece, adapted into a fine series, Fortunes of War with a young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Sarah Waters’s Night Watch (profound gothic), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve read them all but a long while ago. One I’m not sure of, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (a character is ceaselessly reincarnated — the writer is fashionable among P&P people, and she is Scottish), and then the cringeworthy All the Light You Cannot See.

I dreamed up two courses for P&P I’ll never teach: First three weeks on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie (in Sylvia Raphael’s wonderful translation), two week break, then a week each George Sand’s idyllic anguish of an Indiana (Raphael’s translation, an updating of Paul et Virginie), Marguerite Duras’s La Guerre (her diary-journal of the occupation in France), ending on the magical prose of Chantal Thomas in her lesbian inflected Farewell, My Queen. Or WII through Italian texts: Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (unforgettable bleak sojourn), Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and A Chill in the Air (marvelous review in NY Review of books by Adrian Lyttelton this week), ending on one of the best books in Italian of the 20th century, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). All literary masterpieces.  But I have no idea how to sell anything to anyone.

Izzy and I will see Amadeus at the Folger this Saturday (rave reviews), the Christmas Italianate concert at the nearby church, with Laura and Izzy, Come from There (a remarkable musical play about all the people landing in northern Canada where their planes were diverted on 9/11 and how the Canadians welcomed them …. January a HD screening at the Folger of Winter’s Tale with Branagh (now old) and Judi Dench as Paulina.

List life: I’ve started Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (I find I can read the French alongside the English translaton), and it’s just so compelling, I love her deep earnest tone, serious grave, intense — and read into one-third of a fine literary biography of Beauvoir by Carol Ascher. And am reveling in E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Aspects of the Novel and Abinger Harvest.

For my projects I will soon be writing an omnibus blog on my reading of Winston Graham’s mid-career suspense books, and have found the Durrells: Larry’s island books, Gerald’s memoir, and Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory (my latest mid-night reading), which brings together Larry Durrell, Constantine Cavafy and Forster in non-genteel roles, working during the war to help others. i wrote up Oliphant’s Agnes.

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These costume drama people sink into my consciousness, I dream of them, am attached to many. I mean to watch movies differently — more candidly before myself. Or just am. Last week one night after weeping (yes I cried, and by the way so did Elizabeth [referring to this third season of The Crown] at Aberfan — that she couldn’t and didn’t cry is completely false) over the moving death of John Hollingworth as Henshawe in the fifth episode of the third season of Poldark, I was rejuvenated to see him brought back in the fifth episode of the third season of said Crown as Porchey (Lord Porchester) next to the queen, both of them so enjoying one another’s company and a life at the races, at stables, at dinners, that she (Olivia Coleman) is led to lament her unlived life (with him, horses and dogs, in her headscarf) … Such such are the pleasures of costume drama watching …

On just one, but best of the episodes from the third season of The Crown, “Moonstruck,” featuring the astonishingly powerful actor, Tobias Menzies, now Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

The Crown

I use the term “moving” too lightly sometimes, so when I want the word to be taken more seriously, I am without a fresh adjective except if I add very or a string of verys. So imagine a string of verys and the word moving on this seventh episode. At last they gave Tobias Menzies something adequate to his talents: this is another learning a lesson story. To say it’s about Philip’s mid-life crisis where he is feeling the frustrations of existing in a fish bowl and spending his “job” time as a symbol at occasions, giving speeches for worth causes, is inadequate.

The hour opens with his irritation at having to go to church by 9 am and listen to a doddering old fool because Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) expects this. It is the time of the moon landing and Philip then gets so caught up with watching intensely; the whole family gathers around the TV for hours, but they leave after a while and Philip is there for days. He is identifying, bonding and thinking a an “airman” himself is their equivalent and to prove it endangers himself and a courtier with him flying the machine way too high.

The queen (and she is again the quiet improver) then hired a new man she thinks Philip might like: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan), but Philip is not going to church any more. This new man asks if he can have the use of one of the unused buildings on the property as a center for spiritual renewing; Philip finds himself asked to go and when he has to sit there listening to these depressed men, he bursts out in cruel excoriation of them, ridiculing them. Telling them they will feel valued and part of the world if they were active. How about cleaning up this floor and out he rushes. The camera on the face of the actor enacting Wood, pained blankness, patience. When the astronauts come for a visit, Philip insists on 15 minutes alone with them, we see him writing questions, and when finally most reluctant they come in, he finds hi questions cannot be asked — they are young, inarticulate, hardly gave deep thought to what they were doing –too busy. They have silly questions about life in the palace for him.

Then cut to Philip walking away from them through Buckingham Palace, and then unexplained there he is close up he sitting and talking very gravely, and we realize at he is back to Wood and his clergymen needing spiritual renewal — Menzies delivers an extraordinary speech baring his soul insofar as such a man could, apologizes to them, asks them for help.

There wasn’t a specific moment, uh, when it started.
It’s been more of a gradual thing.
A drip, drip, drip of of doubt disaffection, disease, dis discomfort.
People around me have noticed my general uh, irritability.
Um Now, of course, that’s that’s nothing new.
I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.
Not to mention, uh, an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts.
Compulsive overexercising.
An inability to find calm or satisfaction or fulfillment.
And when you look at all these symptoms, of course it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I’m slap bang in the middle of a [CHUCKLES.]
I can’t even say what kind of crisis.
[CHUCKLING.]
That that crisis.
And Of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better.
Uh Some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.
My mother died recently.
[CLEARS THROAT.]
She she saw that something was amiss.
It’s a good word, that.
A-Amiss.
She saw that something was missing in her youngest child.
Her only son.
Faith.
“How’s your faith?” she asked me.
I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it.
And without it, what is there? The The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation ghostly silence gloom.
That is what faithlessness is.
As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery.
No, the answer is in here.
Or here, or wherever it is that that faith resides.
And so Dean Woods having ridiculed you for what you and these poor, blocked, lost souls [CHUCKLING.]
were were trying to achieve here in St.
George’s House I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation as I come to say help.
Help me.
And to admit [CHUCKLES.]
that while those three astronauts deserve all our praise and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today than I would have been going up in any bloody rocket! [CHUCKLING

Then we see them walking out and Philip looking more cheerful and an inter-title tells us the real Duke formed a close friendship with Wood and in later years this organization became one Philip was very proud of. Then the queen is seen in the distance walking her dogs, looking on. Her face lightens with relief and cheer. Doesn’t sound like much? Watch and listen to Menzies.

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Oh my friends, what else is there to say. I spoke once again to my 83 year old aunt Barbara who sent me the only birthday card I got – she said as she heard my voice, she sends the card so that I should call her once a year. We caught up: I told her about my, Izzy and Laura’s Calais trip: on Thanksgiving day over our roast chicken, Izzy and I toasted the 12 days as the best moments, of our year, the one we wanted most to cherish.

Surely with all the deep poetical spirits I commune with in books and through movies, surely surely there is a poem for me to end my recording of this interval on. Well Clive James’s essay on an Australian poet I’d never heard of before, Stephen Edgar’s two stanzas:

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

But you see he wasn’t just anyone. My Jim was a prince. And I am 73 and without him. I thought of titling this blog the 74th year except that’s not what matters. I have not been alone for 74 years. For 45 I had a friend. The 8th year of remembering begins. The play has ended, one of the two principle characters left the stage, and I am left to create an after-piece.


Gorey’s haunted Wintertime Dancing Cat ….

Ellen

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