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A photo I took of one of the small bushes in my front garden still flowering this summer

Friends,

Today has been a usual fourth of July for me for the past 20 years or so:

Memories of long and not so long ago: when Jim and I were much younger, say 50 years ago, we would as a couple go out in the heat to a concert in Central Park; for a couple of those early years we were away from home and at a beach. After we had children and I felt we were supposed to be doing something, because for a few years we belonged to a military Officers Club (by right of his job working for the Defense Department), which enabled me to take my children to a nice pool and send them to day camp cheaply, we were able to go to a barbecue held by the people running the club. I remember three picnics in the evening with them. Jim did not care for fireworks, and the one time we took the children aged 7 and 1, to the center of DC both became hysterical at the noise. Sensible he said.

So he and I and Izzy began staying home together, keeping cool, me reading and writing or watching a movie and he on the Net, Izzy watching sports on TV and reading or writing on the computer, sometimes sending what she wrote as a blog to the world. Laura usually contrived to find friends to go out with.

I think fireworks have a certain beauty against the sky, and since the world beyond the earth is so meaningless and blank, dark, there is a certain pathos in throwing up these mechanically induced showers of color. So after hJim said or let me know he was tired of trying to do something special, and wanted to stay at home at peace in he quiet cool,

I would in the evening try to take Izzy to where we could hope to see the fireworks from Alexandria Park. Both times failed. We could see nothing. We discovered up on top of a high hill in Alexandria on the 14th when the city had its celebration, we could watch them. Other than that unless there was a good film on at the local cinema, I began to ignore the day too. One year Laura took Izzy to a party and I remember how Izzy came home having enjoyed herself, and her standing at the window waving goodbye looking so wistful at the good time over. Laura said the kind of people there were good kind liberal types, talkative and so Izzy could be comfortable with them. How I wish for her she could have had this more often.

Then Jim died and I became friendly with Vivian. She said, why didn’t I and Izzy and she go to the Alexandria city birthday party on July 14th, and we did that for three years. On a huge meadow, the city sets aside an arena for picnics; it’s by the Potomac. Ringed round are vendors selling snacks and drinks from carts. At 8 o’clock a free concert starts; usually well-known movie music and at 9 fireworks. We did that together, we three, three times. Below you will find a video of the fireworks from 2013, we were there that evening

Now Vivian is gone and so Izzy and I are back to staying home together. She watched tennis mostly, wrote fiction, a blog. So hers was the usual day. Morning I read Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel, Kamilla Shamsie’s Home Fire, finished reading Voltaire’s Candide in translation, wrote to friends, posted to my three listservs, and to face-book chat and about books. But then I had a treat. At the OLLI at Mason on Tuesday after I finished teaching or talking with the people in the class of Virginia Woolf and her Orlando, my new friend, Panorea and I, were told by another friend in the class of a movie, Xavier Beauvois’sThe Guardians, a literally beautiful film, filled with Cezanne like shots of the French countryside. we had told her we enjoyed so a local exhibit of Cezanne’s portraits. See Marion Sauvebois’s review:

“I can’t find him,” cries Solange, staring at an atlas trying to locate the German town where her husband is being held prisoner. Her mother Hortense picks up a magnifying glass and points to a dot on the map. “There,” she says sullenly, turning away arms protectively clasped against her chest. At least, she consoles her daughter, they can find solace in the knowledge he is alive, unlike her two sons languishing in the trenches somewhere in northern France. This all-in-all restrained scene truly captures the essence of The Guardians.

Far from playing up the inherent pathos of their situation, Xavier Beauvois’s matter-of-fact and subdued storytelling is as unnerving as it is affecting. We’re lightyears away from Hollywood’s maudlin war-time epics: these dauntless women have neither the luxury of grief nor time.

I met Panorea at 1 as afterwards she was to go to a barbecue with relatives. The Guardians is about characters like those in a Hardy novel: farming class. It takes place during WW1 when the men have to go away to war; we watch the women perform very hard work, grieve when a male relative is killed or taken prisoner. Our heroine is a Tess figure who works very hard, and is a very decent person. She is taken in by a family and thinks she is beloved and becomes the lover of the son, but the mother then betrays her by suggesting to the son she is having sex with the American soldiers and he immediately rejects her and tells his mother to get rid of her. She finds another yet harder job with a kinder poorer woman. She is discovered pregnant but not thrown out. She has great reserves of strength and after returning to a near relative, she cuts her hair to look better, gives birth to her baby, christens it properly and keeps it to love and be loved. In the last scene she has become a singer (she sang beautifully to the people at these farms at intervals) in small nightclubs in the area. She kept her child, survived and still knows some joy from daily life. it was a French film, and I could understand much of what was said, because these were not articulate peasants. Feeling and thought was conveyed by facial and body expression and what they did. What I loved best was how the film-makers respected the characters for themselves, valued them for themselves, especially the heroine. You didn’t need to be rich or high status or supposedly admirably successful in some way. You were valued for your nature and goodness and cooperation and the meaning you made out of your life by making some order and beauty and helping others and yourself to survive

Home again by car in the searing heat: a couple of hours later Izzy and I had good meal together. I drank too much wine for myself as usual and then found I kept falling asleep so for the third night gave into myself and took a couple of hours nap so here am I writing and reading what I had longed to read earlier: friends’ letters, more on Candide. I am listening to a beautiful moving reading aloud of Graham’s 7th Poldark book, The Angry Tide, and was almost unbearably moved by the story of Drake and Morwenna. These two characters are among my favorites in the Poldark books.

The vicious corrupt vicar, Whitworth is killed and one of our heroes, Drake breaks off what could have been a good marriage with the disabled Rosina (who I like so much too) because he finds irresistible his original devotion to Morwenna, a frail sensitive good young woman: he cannot desert her in her dire need, and risks everything to reach her, to pull her out of her deep depression and despair and away from the cold cruel people she has been forced to live among, and renew his life by renewing hers. The first time I read this part of the book I could hardly bear the suspense I was so anxious for him lest he be blamed for the murder of Whitworth and in her case lest she not get to live her life by Drake’s side after all. I am Morwenna (as I am Demelza and in some phases Elizabeth in these books)


Morwenna (Jane Wymark) finally reaching


Drake (Kevin McNally) — from the 1977 iteration

I wish Graham had not dropped them (basically) after this novel but that we had been permitted to have a full story about them afterwards. It’s as if he is so tender towards them, he leaves them in privacy. I like that she never really recovers — at a party years later the very sight of her son by Whitworth is enough to shatter her again: it’s true to human nature and helps us as readers remember that such cruelty that she knew is not to be trivialized by the idea the person will heal. She never fully does. I regret other characters I like so who are dropped eventually: Verity is not important in the later novels for example.

On the novels in general: What I have noticed that WG loves non-human animals and has his favored characters love them too. Like dogs, cats are mentioned over and over where other authors wouldn’t, and kindly interesting central characters are kind to their cats. Demelza will be my example of disliking all cruelty to animals and picking up on language which shows that the human being has not thought out how he or she is not attributing to animals a real consciousness of pain or attachment, which WG repeatedly shows they have. The culmination in the Poldark novels is the orangutan Valentine adopts. This deep empathy across species is part of why I like the suspense novels too. I just finished a rare early suspense book, Strangers Meeting, it ends with one of the heroines freeing a rabbit from one of these cruel traps and trying with the help of one of the heroes to mend the poor creature

It’s at such moments, with a friend who values a movie that has beauty, peace, decent values, or reading a book that conveys such experiences, that I know some happiness.


After my coming trip to the Lake District (UK) this August I shall not leave them for more than a few days at a time again


This year upon her reaching 40 Laura posted a photo of herself with one of her beloved cats

I called this for July 4th since I wanted to register some kind of decent values today — and I hope I have now done that — against what I realize the USA has again become under the gerrymandered corrupt regime of Republicans upholding a harsh corporate state: a society whose people are limited by deeply unjust unfair cruel laws, customs, who are perpetually overworked, underpaid, cheated of their labor’s value, hurt by shame, and except the lucky (by birth to people who can help them, in a place where there is some opportunity for all for a modicum of comfort) kept impoverished. It is as I type being turned back to a racist disguised dictatorship of a few powerful groups of whites, and gains that everyone had benefited from between the 1930s and 60s eviscerated utterly. Frederick Douglass’s famous speech applies to far more than black people now. Here is the whole speech introduced by David Zirkin:

It speaks to our every frustration spurred by the gap between the ideals of the United States and the reality we witness every day; between the Bill of Rights and our decaying civil liberties; between the USA’s international declarations of human rights and the ordered drone attacks backed by presidential “kill lists”; between the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and a nation that leads the world in jailing its own citizens

“What to the slave is the fourth of July?”. Here is part of it read aloud by James Earl Jones:

Izzy and I were not able to go to the demonstrations all over the US this past Saturday, because we had already bought tickets for an opera at the Barns Theater at Wolf Trap. We go but twice this summer to this place because my eyes are grown too poor to drive that far at night. We saw Mozart’s Idomeneo: Kim Pensinger readily turned this opera with its beautiful music into a play about a tyrant doing all he could to destroy refugees, whose cruel state he was partly responsible for. The staging was minimal, she allowed the figures of the fleeing, the victims, the war scenes their full plain predominance.


From Mozart’s Idomeneo, sung and staged at Wolf Trap this past Saturday, June 30th

Ellen

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Vanessa Bell, Interior with the artist’s daughter (1935-36)

Friends,

You see before you an image I’ve just scanned in using my new computer to test whether the computer’s imagery making gadgetry is working. It is. So too its print making capacity. Yes, I’ve acquired a new Dell PC Desktop Computer, and am almost “back in business.” Not all my files have been transferred (precious ones not here here include the Charlotte Smith files) and a few other glitches and helps in installing, and I’ll be back where I was on May 18th when my previous computer gave up its inner ghost. These two weeks I’ve again learned what a remarkably able computer is my laptop in the corner, a Macbook Pro (apple).

I’ve two themes tonight: library memories and recognition of some contrasting aspects of human experience. The first is a result of coming across an article in the Times Literary Supplement (probably my favorite periodical) for May 25, 2018, “Speaking Out of the Silence;” at the Hay Festival this year (I’ve no idea what that is or where it’s held), speakers were asked to share “significant memories and thoughts relating to libraries.” I notice it because I would and this past week I renewed my Reader Identification card at the Library of Congress for the first time since around 2003. I was required to sit up close face-front to a camera:


A bit blurred because it’s a cell phone photo of the card’s photo of me (this past Tuesday)

I had come to read a rare book by Winston Graham, one of his pre-Poldark novels, The Dangerous Pawn (rather good, promising, containing many of the Cornish elements, melancholy, quietude, and early sketches of interesting characters later found in Poldark country) and the next day spent as much time as my strength allowed reading it in the main reading room. Upon first coming in and settling down, I thought to myself, how glad I am “I made Izzy a librarian.” Of course I didn’t make her a librarian, but it was my idea for a profession for her. I wondered why my parents never thought of it for me. How lucky to sit in the silence surrounded by learning. At the Pentagon where she is, and here in this library, the books are open to all.

Tonight these memories leap to mind for me. (I have many others.) The first at age 10 or so this momentous moment of being taken by my father to the “adult” part of an enormous library” — so it seemed to me — on Sutphin Boulevard in the Bronx. It was a walk and bus ride away from our apartment house. We climbed up a back stairway, and I was allowed out to take out books with his card and then given one of my own. I have to have been 10 because we moved from the Bronx to Kew Gardens, Queens, by the time I was 11.

Age 19 or so being let into an art library on 52nd street in Manhattan to study Delacroix’s illustrations for a stage production of Hamlet in Paris – it was part of my term project for an art history course art Queens College. I had to have a letter of introduction from the professor. I was not prepossessing looking I could see from the librarian’s response to me, but after a few days of quiet toil on my part, studying sketches, the librarian realized I was harmless and hardly paid attention to me at all. I didn’t have to take the final after writing that paper.

A whole slew of Saturdays (literally years) spent in the Folger Library reading poetry by women whose first editions and manuscripts the Folger had: Anne Finch (18th century English), Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara (Renaissance Italian). That was the later 1980s to early 1990s; more recently in the Library of Congress around 1999-2000 I examined the first illustrations to some of Anthony Trollope’s novels by looking at periodical issues, and then around 2004 reading Anne Murray Halkett’s fragments of autobiography and a broken-off journal back in the Folger again (she was a 17th century Scots woman active in the 1640s and 50s civil war)

What unites these is how happy I was to be there, how much I enjoyed such moments. I did like research at the New York Public Library in the 1970s but it never had this cut-off idyllic sense of quietude. It was there I first became acquainted (so to speak) with Charlotte Smith (all but two of her novels were still rare). And once at the Morgan Library while I was writing my dissertation on Samuel Richardson seeing the one page fragment in his own handwriting towards a fourth novel: to be called Mrs Harriet Beaumont. Now she exists only a widow glimpsed in his Sir Charles Grandison. I remember this because the librarian hovered over me.

I asked on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io, if anyone there had any memories to share and two generous people told of precious moments and a history of the self through such memories.


Another Vanessa Bell, A Bird Cage (yes I’m reading a good biography of her and another study of her work and that of Duncan Grant and Roger Fry)

The other is a theme or variation on related topics suggested to me by a social experience I missed out on last Saturday (the day after my computer failed). I had planned to go to monthly meeting of Aspergers adults in Washington, D.C, but in the mid-afternoon I had been further demoralized by an encounter related to my attempt to re-learn to use my Macbook pro, and its updated Word writing program experience and so gave it up when I saw rain. Or so I told myself. I had been in two minds about going, and know now I should have gone since I regretted missing it.

Among other things, they have a monthly topic, which they discuss, and it turned out to have been a significant one for me: learning to recognize significant issues and how to we can choose to deal with them. Well, I thought immediately that I have a hard time sustaining friendships. I probably recognize this one so I’m not sure it fits what was asked for, but I would have liked to talk with others about this since recognition hasn’t helped me much. Some of what happens I can recognize a bit and try to counter it: that is, I seem to become too emotionally dependent or just too close, often times when I’m really not. This is apparently how I can be perceived and I can’t always realize this is a response on the part of others or there in my behaviors. When I can recognize this is happening, I do curb it. But beyond that there are other things that happen, so multiple or various because human relationships are, and what can happen I recognize I have done something which irritates the other person only as or after I’ve done it. Usually after I’ve done it and later so it is harder to apologize. Sometimes I don’t know what it was and long experience has taught me the other person won’t tell me.

Specifically, I was widowed 5 years ago and have made continual active attempts to form friendships and have failed to sustain any for any length of time. Partly it’s that I’m old and by my age most people are utterly embedded in their ways, their relationships, their families. Just about every woman I’ve become close to is divorced, separated, never married. I’ve been unlucky: of 8, the closest a dear friend, also autistic, died of cancer this past spring. I am missing her badly. Two were intolerant, would not make the effort I was making, made fun of me when I tried. Another moved back to Paris. A last grew distant: she lives across the street, also a widow whose husband died of cancer in his mid-sixties and with a grown adult child who lives with her who is also autistic — she does have to stay with him and she has said to me that she cannot have people over too often as her son becomes uncomfortable. She is not lonely as she still have a full time job and she just does not yearn for close relationships after her husband is gone. She has told me it’s like her past has been erased. Finally one person I visited for too long: I realized there were tensions but thought we remained good friends when I left, only to find castigating emails that shocked me when I got home. She had not at all said she was displeased and I know she tried to bully me and I resisted. I’m left with one, many acquaintances and a number of long-time friends who are friends at a distance, though email. NT people think you are posing: surely this technical intuition is not hard. You cannot always be getting lost. Many cannot bear any sign of vulnerability or if you do something different than other people.

I become friends with stray women — people also at liminal points of their lives. So the friend is here temporarily. He is a man in his late-50s, a lost a long-time good job and is trying for a new one here and then doesn’t succeed so has to return home. These have been two lonely weekends without my regular computer and also from teeth pain (a part of one of my dentures broke off — ouch for my tongue; I was two hours at the dentist this week and now am very uncomfortable until the new perment denture comes in). I’d love to hear from others — is there any technique you use to try to recognize if things are going badly; anything you do regularly. I try to be patient, but silent and smiling doesn’t always work either.

I told this to other women on a (closed group) at face-book, and was so relieved to read of similar experiences and trouble where the attitude of mind was that these kinds of estrangements are even common and in their judgement just as much the result of the NT or other person’s failure of understanding. Women will decide to end a friendship suddenly and not explain why. To a person they all repeated in different forms what I gathered from a summary on-line was the considered response at the meeting I missed: one has only so much energy and time in life and it’s actually best to turn away (as it were reciprocally) and cease self-reproach. If it takes you a long time to see this decision on the part of the person, or if they shock you with sudden castigation, doesn’t matter. It is useless and worse (exhausting, leaving no time to do what we enjoy or find real profit in — I’m not talking money or some unreal prestige) to beat at walls of indifference, self-reproach.

The most common response I’ve had to such utterances is blame, or useless unrealizable advice — one is not asking for anyone to tell you what to do. Several expressed surprise at what surprises me (e.g., how so many people feel no need to reply when you write them), how it can be said that autistic and Aspergers people are insensitive! Be glad of the one or two truly meaningful relationships you have, better to stay at peace with yourself and enjoy what is in you to enjoy. People told of how much online relationships can mean.

They also talked of how it’s said or been theorized (demonstration is hard) that Aspergers & autistic people tend to have more early childhood memories, and some they had. I confided (in turn) that I remember some significant events — probably because I went to stay with relatives and this sort of disruption and separation from parents stays with a child. I remember an event when I was around 18 months old, two from when I was 3. In one left with my grandmother, she left the hot apartment to sit up on the roof because she thought I was asleep, I woke to find no one and thought I was deserted forever. In another my mother forced to do something that was deeply humiliating: I made the mistake of telling her I had to go to the bathroom (the way we put it then). In public, by the side of a car she forced me to urinate. I begged her not to do this to me. I never forgot it. And I vowed never to tell her anything again that evidenced need, and I believe I never did. She was not to be trusted to respect me. When I’ve told people this (especially NTs I think) they tell me this didn’t matter, I was only 3 so therefore it didn’t matter (what she did was humiliating for an older kid but not for a 3 year old?) nor should I remember it. My mother also tried to force me to do things I didn’t want to because she thought it was “normal” to want to do x or y. I learned to be so glad she went out to work from the time I was around 10 months old on and off all my life when I lived with her. I think all my pre 5-6 year old memories come from when I was distressed. Missing my father because I was sent to live with other relatives when they lived in an apartment where no children were allowed. Then there are a couple of this lit-up moments from when I was around 4. My continuous memory begins in kindergarten — I was 5-6. I have been told of other events that happened and ways I behaved before 6 but I don’t remember them on my own.

A self-conscious caring what other people think, including those one will probably never see again, ended our thread. The story of how I didn’t learn to ice-skate came to mind. My parents bought a pair of skates for me, and I couldn’t drive so I went with my first husband as my boyfriend. What happened what I was so nervous, anxious I went very slowly and he kept getting behind me and pushing to go faster and wouldn’t leave me be so I fell badly. Later he said “everyone was looking at us” so we can’t do that again and refused to drive me there. Why not? I asked. He just wouldn’t go with me unless I went faster. I used to assume that people would most of them automatically sympathize with me; instead I’ve had two say of course he was mortified. How terrible of you (meaning me) to behave that way. Why should I or he or she care about people we know nothing of? I remain astonished. it’s not like someone driving on the road at 3 miles an hour where others in cars begin to behave dangerously because they have to go slower. But human feeling and need must be crushed under fear of what other people think. Who cares that people might look down on you skating slowly? find you ridiculous. Anyway I never learned to ice-skate and those pretty & expensive skates went into an attic.


Paul Gaugin, Mimi and Her Cat (1890)

The above picture is the first by Gaugin I’ve ever liked. It’s found in one of my late night-time reading books: Desmond Morris’s humane Cats in Art. Morris critiques and presents attitudes towards the cat and what we can know of the lives of domestic cats since we have first proof of their existence, and how differently they have been presented in art. The key to understanding and right treatment of non-human animals (I have been reading in yet another TLS article, Barbara J. King, “Our family and other animals,” May 25 2018) is first to regard them as individuals with complex psychologies in the way initiated by Jane Goodall. Why were cats in particular persecuted for a few hundred years in Europe (partly because they were companions to women?). I will be blogging on this book soon.

Ellen

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Dear friends and readers,

Yes on Friday night while I was watching a movie on it, the movie froze as did everything on the screen. My mouse wouldn’t work. A couple of times I was able to reach the starter menu but I would lose contact. I was afraid to press control-alt-delete (foolish cowardly) and instead just shut the machine down, hoping it would reboot.

It never did. No matter what I did — pull all six plugs, shut the very electricity down, press F8, or F11 or whatever tricks the IT guy said to do on the phone, it would not go past a black screen with the four colored balls turning into a four flags going dim and brighter.

It has thousands and thousands of precious files on it. Well an IT guy (one of the team) came Monday afternoon and said while they could (he could) try to fix the hard drive (where the problem lay) since the computer was now 4 years old, and had been manifesting problems like this for months, what could happen was in a few weeks or less another hard glitch happen. The wise efficient thing to do was buy a new one. He (as other experts can nowadays) retrieved all the files apparently and put a few on this Macbook Pro or apple I am typing on now so I can do my teaching work, my Graham project, my continuing study of Woolf and Samuel Johnson and biography. The movies Jim downloaded are in a separate hard drive which can be attached to the coming new computer. So too can the monitor, my printer/scanner, and loud speakers. He promised to have ordered a new PC desktop Dell computer, which would have a new CD or DVD drive. It will take a little time. I heard nothing today and if I hear nothing by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll starting phoning and emailing to get them started.

I did have several bad periods; first the first two nights before I made contact with the IT people; then last night when I faced I would have to learn to use Windows 10 (though I am promised a Windows 7 menu starter) and a new Word program when I’ve barely begun to use an older one. My Aspergers traits include great difficulty with new technologies. I have no intuition by analogy when it comes to software. I am calmer tonight. You see I can write about this.

This morning when I sat down to do my lecture/discussion notes I perked up. First of all some of it was typed already since I usually over prepare and have more than I can use and thus use it for the first part of the next period. I thought to myself, for the first time in a long time my desk has no machine on it! I sat down and began to write out my notes for tomorrow’s teaching by hand out of my head as I had done from 1972 to 1997. Yes my Mac is on the library table (underneath the other window where Jim’s computer once sat) and I have access to enormous amounts of material on the Net and am surrounded by years of riches in the form of xeroxed articles and books, and that’s a terrific advantage. I remembered Izzy works using Windows 10 all the live long day and she won’t refuse to explain and Laura promised to come over and explain for me the latest Word program. I even used the new Word program just a bit successfully. So I am feeling less panicked over a updated Windows and Word program. Tim (the IT guy) said he would download the latest OpenOffice.org on the new computer too, replace the icons I had on the now defunct desktop.

Now I worry about when the new computer will come as teaching starts June 6th. The last two days I’ve been reading Trollope’s short stories and am near to picking out the eight we will read over a month. I thought back to when my computer died last time: it was a month after Jim died, and in a way it was no surprised. It was he who kept that old machine and its software going; without him it couldn’t last. I can;t remember what I did that first couple of months I had not started teaching, was in effect doing nothing and couldn’t even drive. Perhaps I was so upset this time because I do things now. Instead of berating myself for all my failures over 60 years let’s say (since I was 9 when I in effect “woke up” to realize my parents hated each other and we were very poor) I should look at how far I came from that.

A few days ago on a face-book page for autistic-Aspergers women I tried to comfort another autistic person on that face-book page who had been saying that at 51 she sometimes feels so bad because she can’t hold up the achievements others can. Yes she is happily enough married and her husband is her friend. She has children, but like most non-NT people few friends, is lonely: someone was making the mistake of urging the very values and standards on her of the NT world that injure so, only modifying that she should take her time getting to these. Like a 5 foot person should take her time becoming 5 feet five.

I wrote: I’m 71 and have recently experienced another of my worldly failures [I have, gentle reader, I don’t tell you everything]: I and the person who knows about this will be the only ones probably, but these happen periodically. I had a long happy marriage (45 years) and now am a widow with two grown daughters, one lives with me and we do get along, even love one another. I’ve a Ph.D and a long (honorable) history of teaching in colleges, have published & so on. But when I compare myself with what my peers have done, I don’t belong to their club: I never got tenure, or any full time position (for example). I am very lonely; I have a hard time making any close friends so his death leaves a huge emptiness every day and night too. I made a local friend in the last five years where we became close and she died of cancer a few months ago.

I’d say this: don’t measure your success by imposed standards others take on because their genes and chance permitted it, whether the NT world many of which depend on social manipulation, tactful lying, understanding countless ever permutating unwritten codes. Look where you came from, and and measure your achievement by that, by your real gifts and satisfactions, which you probably had to work much harder for than a non-disabled person. Autism is not a character trait; it’s a group of disabling traits and or not having traits. If you’ve done what was in you to do then you have fulfilled your talents. Don’t berate yourself for what chance gave others’ genes and circumstances: they were born to wealth, or to a family where they didn’t need to socialize as they were so well connected; or in culture where people don’t move all the time. You’ve had your enjoyments from your character which they probably don’t want, don’t understand, don’t appreciate. They won’t congratulate you on your hard work and successes or these experiences which you preferred because they don’t prefer them and they are in the majority. But you don’t need to be on their platform. For myself when I’m feeling stronger, I know I haven’t wanted some of these because of the price I would have had to pay for them. Beating out another person, giving up a personal relationship that doesn’t fit, maybe not having another child, whatever. Writing the essay you want. Singing the song you want to sing in the way you want to sing it. Think of the price of their ticket. Then that you had to (because your genes are different) and wanted to chose a different ticket.

I don’t say that works every day nor the nights; it’s hard to shut out the superficial chatter and boasting and shallow admiration of the world and it dominates in public social life (especially so on face-book).

Virginia Woolf was so lucky to have been born to those she was born to. I think many intelligent people are similarly isolated — that’s why they enjoy conferences in the areas they study or work in. It’s only the very few who are born to intellectual families who have money and rank to pull other families into a circle because how the house looks, how you make dinner all count so even for the intelligent.

Ellen (time to drop the pseudonym at long last)

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Moth orchid?

Friends,

This is my fifth summer without Jim and I find myself remembering the final sentence of Henry James’s Washington Square:  “Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again, as it were, for life.”   I don’t sew, nor garden, nor cook but pick up my books, turn movies, writing, and reading and writing with  friends on the Net (Ayala’s Angel and then Howard’s End on one list, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw for now on another). She did not have my options: I’ll be teaching “Trollope’s Traveler, Colonialist, Editor and Rural Tales” at OLLI at AU for four weeks, and “Woolf’s Flush, Orlando, and Three Guineas” for six. Just once a week. I have a new course to prepare for in the fall at AU:

The Enlightenment: at Risk?

It’s been suggested the ideas associated with the European Enlightenment, a belief in people’s ability to act rationally, ideals of social justice, human rights, toleration, education for all, in scientific method, are more at risk than any time since the 1930s. In this course we’ll ask what was & is meant by the term, how & why did this movement spread, against what obstacles, what were the realities of the era and what were the new genres & forms of art that emerged. We’ll read Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s The Nun, Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, and excerpts from Madame Roland’s Memoirs.

And over at Mason in fall, I’ll repeat Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as Tudor matter, using the great film. August for under two weeks I’ll go with Road Scholar to the Lake District and Scottish borders.

So no fear of nothing to do this summer — with memories of him and my cats by my side. Nevertheless, I find if I am home alone all day by 4 in the afternoon I become desperate; I can take a couple of days of it no more. So I teach and nowadays go to classes too.

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Paths of Glory (Kubrick 1957, starring George C. Scott; reviewed in Guardian)

Since I last wrote on Milan, I have written about the films, plays, concerts Izzy and I have been to together and me alone on Jim and Ellen have a blog, two. There is a remarkable black Hamlet from the RSC touring about; not to be missed. And a Future Learn course on Jane Austen on Austen Reveries. There’s still 8 days to join in.

As an end-of-term thank you gift, my Later Virginia Woolf spring class at OLLI at AU gave me the above lovely flowering plant you see above. I don’t know if the person who chose it had in mind Woolf’s “Death of the Moth,” but the other gift a DVD of Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September (with Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw, Keeley Hawes, Lambert Wilson, Jane Birkin, David Tennant, script: John Banville) did emerge from my having said that Elizabeth is a daughter of Woolf. I watched it with Izzy a few years ago (Jim was still alive and he half-watched, coming in and out of the room) when she took a post-graduate course (for her) in Irish literature and “did” Bowen’s novel for her term project (a paper and talk). A superb film. Can I fit in re-reading that? blogging on the comparison? I’ll see.

The spring courses at OLLI at Mason are just coming to an end: my He Knew He Was Right, sexual and marital conflicts in Trollope and the 19th century is going astonishingly well. I hardly have to prompt discussion. I am attending a four week course where we hear about the life of and listen to and watch Leonard Cohen performing his extraordinary masterpieces of poetry and music. A little from this:

Of course this was not written recently — the year of Tiananem Square. He meant to be ironic.

A brilliantly accurate course on the aftermath of World War One has included stunning discussions on the part of the lecturer of the real behavior of the colonializers and a further three anti-war masterpieces of film: Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, Kubrick’s uncompromisingly truthful Paths of Glory, featuring George C. Scott; and this week a 1995 BBC and PBS film named All the King’s Men (a more precise clearer name is Gallipoli).

The last less well-known than the other two merits a little attention: it tells the larger story of the catastrophic slaughter of thousands and thousands of men at Gallipolli

It uses an incident where all the men from a single country house — the king’s Sandringham — went as a battalion to Gallipolli and only one returned. No one has ever offered an official explanation, much less any kind of apology. Basically they were thrown away: these young men went with foolish naive ideas about glory and honor, seeming almost not to consider they are invading a country, sent there to kill, and so of course the people there will try to kill you. No provision made for them of any long term supplies, no study of the terrain, they were told to take a hill (rather like Paths of Glory) only there were no trenches to hide in. it’s too sentimental about the country house and much compromise of nostalgia for this “earlier innocent world” (I thought of Gosford Park) but the effect was as strong as Paths of Glory and it by telling this incident in such detail taught me what happened at Gallipolli. I heard one watcher say as if this is adequate: Churchill stubbed his toe. Another woman moaned about the bad Turks but most people could see what was put before us.

So house improvements:  Izzy and I dared to build a cat tree. It was harder than building a large Edwardian dollhouse (came up to my waist) that she, I and Laura built years ago. But no one was burnt as there was no need for a hot melt glue gun. We had a faded complex diagram, everything lettered and many screws and parts.

It’s in my bedroom. Those are the books against one of the windowless walls in my bedroom. (All the rooms in house have large windows on two of the walls.) Last night they climbed on it, They sat up high and surveyed their world; they fought (playfully) on different parts; it’s a scratching post and then went into and out of one of the stacks. Our pussycats have begun to use climb in and around it. The soft bowl sticking out I turned round to be inside the cat tree space and they sniff about it. I had a small or low tree, which I have now moved to my sunroom. It’s just the height of the window sills, which are very narrow and hard to sit on. Now they can sit on that cat tree and look out.

It’s all a pretty beige or cream colored tight fur or hard carpet and wickerwork. This morning I discovered that when Ian, the ginger tabby male sits behind the soft bowl pushed in and a thick string and the stack, he cannot see me very well. This is the sort of thing that makes him think I cannot see him at all. So he is happy there. The low slung sort of awning has a sort of cat purpose too. Ian falls into it because he puts his paw into a made round hole in the same flat; he then scrambles. It’s not just to amuse me but also puzzle him as he goes round and round pawing at it, trying to work out what it is. Clarycat has never been as playful a cat, though she can get possessive over specific toys (like her small grey mouse). But she leaps from platform to platform all the way to top and is mistress of all she surveys. $70, prime amazon so no shipping cost.

On face-book people did something I didn’t expect (they often do). Tried to work out what were the books behind the cat tree. I was asked about alphabetizing and if items were out of place near Devendra P. Varma’s Gothic Flame. So answer here: behind the cat tree lower down is my film books section, my gothic books section, and my translation books section; further up language books and it’s mostly books in Italian. The acqua book to the left high up is an Elsa Morante novel. Bookcase one over (or next): all books in French. If you see two crimson colored books that’s George Sand’s Consuelo, a row of books by George Sand who I used to love to read. Still do but am onto other things now. More individual: close to Varma on one side Tyler Tichelaar’s Gothic Wanderer and next to that Tzetan Todorov’s The Fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre. On the other side of xeroxes of Varma’s other essays in a red folder, two anthologies (out of order, lots of my books are out of order) and then a favore, Anne Williams’s wonderful Art of Darkness: a Poetics of Gothic, about female gothic books.

It does look like I will not be able to have a garden this year: to do it with a plan, and hiring a landscape/gardening place is outrageously expensive.  So I don’t know what to do about my five flower plots as yet.  For now I’m just leaving them there.

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Image online from Archives at the British Library

And I’m at long last reading away for my Winston Graham-Poldark modernist biography. I’m re-watching the old Poldarks serial and falling in love with them all over again. I listen to Davina Porter read aloud Gabaldon’s Voyager (Outlander 3), and watch the seasons, one hour at a time, obsessively after midnight. I rejoined the once-a-month-film-club and have a new friend to go with, and for Izzy and I have bought a few tickets to see Shakespeare, two operas and Gilbert and Sullivan this summer.

The worst thing about the area I live in is we are land-locked so one cannot get in one’s car and drive to the beach for the day and then home again. In NYC Jim and I used to do that in the 1970s: on Tuesday and Thursday early in the morning with our dog Llyr we’d set out for Jones Beach, close by we’d buy coffee and croissants and then go to an area where dogs were allowed. She liked going in the water and playing on the sand. We’d be home by 2.

Foolishly perhaps discussing what is real life with a friend. People keep excluding life on the Internet from “real life,” or reading, or writing, and watching movies seems not to count either. Or what do we mean by “building a life?” In the US today I’d offer this doubt as a note of reassurance: there is no building a life that one can rely on except for the few lucky who 1) above all hold onto the same middle class job that is respected for a long time and provides enough income to do what’s called entertain; 2) thus live more or less in the same vicinity for a long time; and 3) often as important stay in one relationship, again for a long time. The deprivation of ordinary daily happinesses and loneliness we are told so many Americans live with is from the insecurity of jobs, the destroying of social places open to all.

Gentle reader, do you know this poem by Leonie Adams:

The Horn

While coming to the feast I found
A venerable silver-throated horn,
Which were I brave enough to sound,
Then all, as from that moment born,
Would breathe the honey of this clime,
And three times merry in their time
Would praise the virtue of the horn.

The mist is risen like thin breath;
The young leaves of the ground smell chill,
So faintly are they strewn on death,
The road I came down a west hill;
But none can name as I can name
A little golden-bright thing, flame,
Since bones have caught their marrow chill.

And in a thicket passed me by,
In the black brush, a running hare,
Having a spectre in his eye,
That sped in darkness to the snare;
And who but I can know in pride
The heart, set beating in the side,
Has but the wisdom of a hare?

People are trying to revive foremother poetry for Fridays on Wom-po.

This what it is for me. I’ve tried to express something of my life by telling these activities and also provide context for the rest of the summer’s blogs.

Miss Drake

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Via Navigli, Sunday March 25th, Antiques sale …


with my friend, Luca Gandolfi

The cats of Campagnatico,
Which are never fully grown and have never
Been kittens, will not move for the honking motorist
But expect to be gone round — Peter Porter (1929-2010)

Friends,

The last of my Milan diaries. I’ve described wandering in central Milan on Friday, 4/16 afternoon and evening, and Tuesday, Wednesday and our neighborhood. We are come to all day Friday, Saturday morning, and a long Sunday morning and again in the evening into night.

We began Friday 4/23 by heading for fabric stores and bookshops. Laura likes to sew and make herself clothes. These were goals to take out outside the core place of cathedral, castle, and environs. We took trolleys and trams to find two fabric stores and two used bookshops.


New Tess, Milan

When we entered the fabric stores, at first the owner and/or employees wondered at us, and seemed decidedly uneager — they seemed to me to sell to the privileged. There was a language barrier, but as soon as they realized Laura meant business, somehow all was accommodated, and she came away with some beautiful material folded in rectangles in big shopping bags. For myself I bought Enzo Striano’s Il Resto Di Niente, a fictionalized biography of the later 18th century Italian woman political radical and poet, Eleonora Pimentnel de Fonseca, tragically executed during the brief Neapolitan republic of 1798, Elena Ferrante’s La figlia oscura, and Mario Soldati’s Lettere da Capri. Used bookstores in Italy are polite, quiet places, small, subdued, books set out in alphabetical order by the author’s name within categories.

We did go to Rizzoli’s and I could not find any Italian book that I might want that I did not own already. I was dismayed to discover that like US bookstores, there are less books than there used to be. Things are set up in fanfare ways: I found and bought (Italian) Atwood’s L’Assassino Cieco, traduzione di Raffaella Belletti; in the “classics” E.M. Forster’s Passaggio in India, traduzione di Adriana Motti.

What did we notice in all (some elite and expensive) and ordinary neighborhoods of apartment houses, shops, small parks? Laura noticed that Italian women tended to dress in black. A male-kind of jacket, sweater, subdued, black skirt. Very unchallenging, unobtrusive. Men very casual. Suits for those clearly going to offices.

People are permitted to bring dogs into public transportation as long as the dog is somehow kept close in a carrier of some sort. All on leashes and all small. People must buy or adopt dogs small enough to put in carriers to take on buses and trains. The dogs look nervous when the jump is made onto a trolley, but trust to the master-friend. Just about all these dogs had sweaters on (it was cold), but I spied no boots, so I conclude no corrosive salt is used to remove snow and ice (as in NYC). One woman’s dog’s sweater matched the color of her cell phone cover.

It was distressing to me to see how beggars behaved – very like in France. Utterly humbling themselves. Abjectly squatting on the street like they were praying. Alas, there was no place next to one of them I kept seeing to put money.

We then hopped onto a trolley that took us back to the park in the back of the Castle Forza (which I described in my last blog), and visited a museum with very contemporary art:


Outside sculpture

Unlike older museums (Castle Sforza or the Metropolitan in NYC), where you meander about unexpected corridors, mazes, but like contemporary ones (the Whitney, MoMA), all is clearly laid out, a few select and permanent rationalized exhibits labelled. We spent time in three.

The first was a Rick Owens exhibit (see one of Laura’s blogs on one of his fashion shows): a vast installation of a hundred or so mannikin models in de-humanized, aggressive, parodic outfits, a dark disquieting satire on what we wear and fashion shows themselves:

After a few rooms of these, we sat and watched films of models doing shows of these clothes — many with heavier bodies, many people of African heritage. Haunting, and creepy images.

They still had some of the traditional kinds of art one sees; there was a sculpture exhibit of the history of the bicycle, and intriguing paintings and photos on walls here and there:


A photo-painting of realistically conceived figures looking at art

On the upper floor there was a vast exhibit showing the visitor how we live now or how we ought to live — very modern furniture and appliances; there was a kind of neon-lit forest of electric poles. What kinds of habitations we make for ourselves, how many of our rooms don’t make sense if the point were to be comfortable.

We walked around the park to where the two main streets are, and found a restaurant for lunch. Unluckily, it featured bad service and worse food, but from there we spotted a sight-seeing bus-stop, so we hurried away and took a bus all around another part of Milan. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the microphone sets which were supposed to tell us where we were and the history of what we were seeing didn’t work.

Evening was coming, we were very tired by this time, and hopped off the bus around the shopping centers near the Cathedral and walked through very expensive shops, took a train back to a supermarket and then a cab home. You can see our feet had had enough. We stayed close to our apartment, we had reserved a table at a restaurant nearby so exclusive you could miss it as you walk by. The meal was exquisitely good.


This was the appetizer from another night: a restaurant where you pay a set fee and have many small courses where you have a taste of this or that food, and with each a glass of wine.

Home again that night to read quietly and rest.

Saturday, 4/24: we had seen on our peregrinations what we thought were basilicas, and decided the next day we would try to go into one of these. We tried for three, and they were either turned into schools or closed.

I suppose if you use Road Scholar, you won’t make these kinds of mistakes but we did learn that basilicas have found new uses in 21st century Milan.


An horse-shoe shaped church in front of the cemetery

What we did happen on was an an enormous monumental cemetery. If you have deluded yourself into assuming the impulse which made Egyptian pyramids is gone, think again. Huge cement buildings as crypts, tombs, massive sculptures of idealized figures (mythological, Catholic-religious, some realistic), many doing things (looking like they are thinking, or about to pick something up, the material they are made of often in bad shape (the damp is not good) in which families asserted their wealth, status, heritage, some of them built as far back as late Roman times, some dated 2015.


One of several wide and long lanes


Yes that’s me looking cold

The newer ones had photographs framed. The effect very creepy. Worse yet was a large house-like structure: we went into it and discovered that the poorer could buy a sort of drawer or shelf; rows and rows of these with people’s names. This reminded me of Arlington National Cemetery where there are now vast rectangles of cremated bodies and urns, each having a kind of drawer with the name of the person who once lived on its outside plaques. People were coming in to leave flowers. Everywhere also evidence that this was a way of extending the person’s life, memory, creating let’s say a deathtime. Laura fascinated took quite a number of photos. I’ll spare you the rest except for one of a cat who has found a home there:

He or she has a corner with an umbrella and under it dishes of food and water. Puss did not appear to have any cat-mates.

Perhaps our the pleasantest time we had was on Sunday morning,4/25, at the Antiques market, where I came upon my friend, Luca (above) on the lookout for good rare books. He did find one, a nineteenth century edition of Dante’s Commedia with illustrations. As I reported in my first blog this market runs up and down the length of a central canal, spreads out to side streets, and as the day progresses all around open cafes, and gradually walls are covered with artists pictures, and people come from all round to buy both ordinary clothes and needed things as well as art and craft objects. I wanted to buy a lovely watercolor of a woman and daughter on the seashore but couldn’t convey in Italian I wanted to be shipped as well as wrapped. Maybe she didn’t have any shipping services. I now regret not persisting. I worried over the price and that I might not get the picture by mail after all. It was a woman on a beach with a young girl.

It’s a flea market too: every kind of hand and machine crafted object you can imagine; some very old, some made recently, art. People talking to one another. Friendliness. I bought a sculpture in a sort of China of a sleeping cat. I looked for Trollope in Italian but no luck; most of the Italian books I found I wanted to read I already had. People kept coming and stalls being added to. There was also a marathon running in Milan that. Every one knew of the massive march in Washington DC and approved heartily.

I found the ceramic cat I described and took home (scared that wrapped up it would be taken for a bomb at the airport but it was not),


Her face held up to the light by Izzy

and here I’ll add a pink warm woolen cap with a fluffy pom-pom, lovely part leather gloves, grey on one side and multi-colored the other, Izzy found a piece of jewelry. Around 11 church bells began to ring upon the hour and seemed to keep that up until 5. Laura said that first ringing of the bells somehow made the day.


Houseboats allowed

Much later in the evening we went to the 19th century museum to one side of the Cathedral for another excellent dinner. The restaurant was on the top floor and we could see the Cathedral to our right and across the square as we ate. Later we tried to walk around the lively square for our last night. Some of the stores closed all day for Sunday opened in the evening. There were street musicians, and yes homeless people (some with pet dogs).

Our time away had come to an end, and the next day getting up around 7 am (our time Milan) we had a 19 hour trip by cab, plane, cab, train and perhaps Laura’s husband Rob’s car awaiting us at 11 at night (his time DC).

I remembered trips Jim and I took within the US, up to Canada, or just to Maine, twice to Vermont, several times to New York State, and how we’d have driven there and drive home together. How content I’d be to go home. How eager then. And tonight I’ve found a poem to express this:

David Holbrook (1923-2011)

Coming Home from Abroad

The air is high and blue yet, as we drive
Northwards across High Marne: summer
Again, after the stormy cold of June.
Yet there’s a ghostliness a sadness in the wind:
I feel it first, in the little park at Enghein
Where the tall plane trees shivered in the breeze.

Oh, I am so content, sitting beside you,
Driving home over the Northern Plains of France,
The sun still strong, everything going well,
The wine and poulard good at lunch at Chalons;
Yet, in the sky, there’s this tall hustling ghost
Drawing a veil across the face of summer.

On Zeebrugge beach all next day, the sane
Unites me to Suffolk: the cold onshore breeze
Whispers of Cotman, and those severe scenes
Of grey half-muted tones, the figures bent
Against the elements: and so we sail
Steering irrevocably into the Felixstowe fog ….


John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) Carnavon 1800

Ellen

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Izzy wearing Laura’s hat just as we entered the castle chapel


A small park, and ruin in a street near ours

Friends,

I’ve told of our trip, our first evening in Milan, three day jaunt out to Zurich, nearby Germany and France, and first general impressions of Italian culture.


When they do have trees on their blocks, they tend to place the same kind of tree in rows (as they do in France)

For the rest of our time away we stayed in Milan, either exploring the city and partaking of its pleasures (each night a different restaurant), or gazing at ice-skaters in the stadium. For me the enjoyable and engaging moments were in the city: all Tuesday, Wednesday morning and night, and all day Friday, early Saturday morning and Sunday morning until 1. Here I tell of Tuesday and Wednesday, early mornings and the neighborhood.


Izzy on the cathedral roof, wearing Laura’s hat


Walking into the castle entrance — a fountain is in front

The center of Milan (not just for visitors) exists between the large square called the Duomo, around which are the enormous cathedral, which everyone will tell you took 6 centuries to build, two beautiful glass covered shopping malls, two museums, with smaller institutional (cultural, gov’t, educational) buildings scattered all about. And blocks going this way and that. The opera house La Scala is right there. Two long wide parallel streets coming away from the back of the cathedral take you to the Sforza castle, an enormous building, which probably took a few centuries to settle into its present state. Between the castle and wide streets, there is what in the UK would be called a round-about where you can catch buses touring all Milan, and see different groups of people gathering. Nearby a movie theater and further along a playhouse (with a repertoire going on). Behind the castle is a large park that reminded me of Central Park in NYC (except not so big): picturesque, meant for leisured walking, with at least one lake, birds, a modern museum at one edge, near which there is an in-door and an out-door stage (for plays or concerts).


The wrapped up person is me contentedly gazing at water birds in a lake in the park — do not mistake how old I look for discontent

Further on, you come upon a beautiful state-of-the-art library for ordinary citizens’ use; wander a bit and you’re sure to come upon the usual ruins tucked away here and there, I believe a carousel, and bike paths.


Ruins

You leave the park area through a massive carved gate which tells you it commemorates a probably not very welcome visit from the armies of Napoleon III.

Tuesday we spent all morning in the castle in the morning, and much of the afternoon in the cathedral. The high point of the castle came swiftly: a sort of chapel in which we could view Michelangelo’s late Pieta.


Michelangelo’s late Pieta, at the Sforza castle

Michelangelo’s work just stands out as more sincere, realer than anything near it, anything we saw in that castle and most that we later saw in the modern museum. we viewed his last work. I sat by it for a while. All around the chapel were artefacts and plaques telling the story of its many adventures before it came to rest, let us hope safely for a long time to come, in the quiet room. It took a long time to walk all around the castle, up and down: clearly originally a fortress from which arrows and later guns could be aimed. Among the more interesting objects we saw were some beautiful later 19th and 20th century (recent) furniture, musical instruments from across the ages. We three enjoyed a good meal in a place where we could watch people go by and I listened to a street musician who played very well and whose apparent poverty touched my heart.


The cathedral roof from just one of many angles

Doing the cathedral is no trivial task. First you must avoid waiting for hours to get in through the front. A comparable tourist attraction is the Eiffel Tower, which is a many hour wait if you want to climb up. You can save the wasted hours and tedium by buying a more expensive ticket which allows you to take an elevator straight up to the first level of the roof.

Then you climb and climb and climb in and out of nooks, stairways, past gargoyles, statues, rows of battlements, seeing Milan become lower and seeing our farther, until you get to the very top.

I almost didn’t make it, and was saying “Non posso,” when someone helped me up the last stairway.


The cathedral highest roof

I saw one young woman with a baby in a carrier against her chest, holding a toddler’s hand. I would not have risked that child. You then climb back down, not all the way, and are led into a corridor where you take another elevator, and by some sleight of hand your ticket takes you into the cathedral by a side or back entrance, and voila.


What we saw as we came in


Walking about


The altar

In order to enjoy the place you have to forget that it was and is a seat of power, intended to impress you with its wealth. Every inch carved; many places sites of worship, shameless individual tombs, marble floors, magnificent windows. Perhaps one can reconcile oneself to it by reverse thinking: imagine where it bombed to the ground, then it’s a treasure of history, beauty, aspiration lost forever. Besides an ancient crypt, there is beneath the building an archaeological dig which has unearthed a previous basilica on the same site. Now we were in early Roman Italy. So this spot has been a community center for thousands of years. We regretted leaving.


The same Duomo square, another angle, at night when after resting in our own apartment we returned for dinner

Wednesday morning we learned how difficult it would be to leave Milan on Thursday to go out by train to the countryside: the biggest disappointment for me of this trip was that I did not get to visit another friend, the biographer of Veronica Gambara, Antonia Chimenti. She lives not far from Reggio Emilia, the area Gambara lived in. There is but one bus from where she lives to the train station, and another to Correggio. A city whose institutional buildings she said not all that much changed from the outside physically from the 16th century. People there still living a quieter traditional life. We would not have had time to get to Correggio, stay there, and get back to the train for Laura and I to return to Milan and she to her home. She sent pictures, we emailed but it seems what we needed was to have someone drive us. I translated all of Gambara’s poetry, wrote a short life myself.


Piazza del Monte, in Reggio Emilia, Correggio today

Laura and I also worried that Izzy would not be able to get all the tickets to go to the ice-skating events at once, and that she might need help from us on Thursday.

So on Wednesday instead of buying tickets at a local train station, we ended up in a local supermarket, and brought home some needed comforts for the flat (juice, milk, sugar, tea, bread, cheese, wine, cereal for the morning).


From our seats inside La Scala

But Wednesday night we had a rare treat: while Izzy remained at the ice-skating stadium, Laura and me hurried back to Milan for a quick dinner and to watch the Goldberg Variations as a ballet at La Scala. Astonishing. As we watched I realized I had seen part of this modern ballet in clips of videos on TV. A wikipedia article details the Bach music. As for Robbins’s choreography, the work consists of many ballet dancers, men and women dressed in the most minimal outfits, beginning dancing as a group, gradually emerging as varying couples and individuals, with no single individual emerging as a star or personality, and then back to the group dancing, with many moods, and much repetition. The last movements repeat the first and the dancers are all back where they began on the floor. By the end you feel you have experienced a life-cycle of humanity.

Here is a typical moment from almost an hour and one half

We were one night too late for Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydice. Izzy almost said that had that opera been on, she’d have taken off from ice-skating.

Not all our adventures were outside or far away from the house our apartment was in. Laura had brought her laptop and we watched two (to me) unusual movies where food was the central subtext of stories and interviews; one traced the life story of am impoverished girl who became an austere nun who lives to cook simply; another was part of a series, each featuring a different type of food or dish which is central to a class-, race- or culture-laden experience, and that experience is ethnographically considered. Each morning Laura found herself breakfast in nearby bars. She and Izzy took walks around the neighborhood. We discovered two rare book stores, one much better than the other, but alas I owned a copy of the very book that tempted me: a volume of poetry by Elsa Morante. There was a convenient lunch place around the corner from where we were, a sort of snack place for the late afternoon. I read the books I had brought with me, and wrote to a friend; Izzy wrote in her diary (and kept very good records of the ice-skating she was seeing); and Laura kept up her paid work online and texted with her husband and a friend.


Another photo taken from our windows, a different angle includes a basilica like roof near us

Miss Drake

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I can’t resist this one:

Cats sleep, anywhere,
Any table, any chair
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge,
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody’s lap will do,
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard, with your frocks-
Anywhere! They don’t care!
Cats sleep anywhere.

I accompanied this with a deeply appealing video but it has been removed by some omnipresent software machine protecting this particular YouTube.

Of course the poem’s assertion not true any. Any lap will not do. Cats will sleep anywhere once they feel safe, so if they have kind owners, such scenes Eleanor Farjeon conjures up come to mind. These are images of peace, security, quiet calm, and associated with cats help explain why we love our cats. Their behavior around us is comforting.

For example, here is one such image (though more tremulous, not quite so secure — note the wary open eyes) I photographed in my house since returning home:

Clarycat’s GreyMouse has turned up: a few days ago I saw Ian or Snuffycat carrying the toy about in his mouth. I put it on the floor after dusting off, and not much later found it as you see. Once again Clarycat continually removes Greymouse from the catbed to put it near where I am — my chair, by the threshold of the door to my workroom … Cats grow attached to objects. They attach objects to us, us to the objects we use. That’s why they sit in our shoes or among our socks.

Cats are symbolic animals — as are we. The end of the first seek home after much effort I re-found consignment thrift shop that Laura had taken Izzy and me to, Evolution Home not far from my house. I went to buy a few home improvements: a pretty lamp, finally a rug big enough to cover the new vestibule as you walk into my house, that was not super-costly, and came upon this:

There is much cross-stitching; along the outline of the cat, in his or her ears, to suggest where muscle lines go, the lines between feet, up and down his or her tail. The green is somewhat lighter than it appears in the photograph, and the ribbon is a duller red. It’s very feminine in its furls and furbelows. Both sniffed it all around and then, having accepted or approved, more or less ignored it. They cuddle around me. I’m glad for this way it will get less hair and no clawing.

Well, a friend on face-book wondered that someone would give “such a lovely thing away.” My immediate thought was how the world seems to be filled with people who don’t invest any or much emotional in things beyond personal interest, so we see that few value a book, a work of art for whatever beauty it has in and of itself — never mind the prestige of a name who made it, how it’s identified as part of an upper class taste. So this nameless pillow easily labelled kitsche would be discarded. But another friend suggested I should not assume the people didn’t care, and stories emerged of having to sell so much when you move from a larger place to a much much smaller, how you can end up discarding someone’s household who you are related to after the person dies, how some people discard things if they feel it looks “odd” (in a small apartment): “people give away gifts they just don’t care for or have room for … and people die and their stuff gets donated!”

Still to me ideas about decor — as how the objects fit together — don’t matter so much. To my mind that means you are worrying a bit too much about how the place looks to other eyes. I probably don’t have a decor in my house. Much was bought at different times and in different places.

Our things, our stuff, for some of us are central to our identity. Cherished as reminding us, as having been there when memories of the past formed.

This is from my Profile on Library Thing: “La bibliothèque devient une aventure” (Umberto Eco quoted by Chantal Thomas, Souffrir). My life is a continuation of Jim and my play without him there. I see him in my dreams and experience him in my memories daily and nightly still. Five years gone by and maybe I seem to forget but in truth I do not ever forget his now absent presence. “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” (from Carol Shields, Swann where a section of the book is about a man who is forced to sell his library).

It’s not silly to be attached to things, no sillier than cats.

This is one of the reasons I don’t want to move; it would be like erasing Jim and my past. I am not so much inventing a new past as adding on. I have added Milan to the other places in Italy where I went with Jim.

And I am now watching Season 3 of Outlander, using DVDs and listening to Davina Porter read aloud the book upon which the season is based: Gabaldon’s Voyager where however long the time going by seems, however varied and different her life, another person will not do:

Frank: Might you have forgotten him, with time?
Claire: That amount of time doesn’t exist

and the parallel in Lord John Grey’s story:

He said I would overcome it.
Come to terms with it.
In time.
Hal is generally right, but not always.
Some people, you grieve over forever.
(from the script, Episode 3, “All Debts Paid,” by Matthew B Roberts and Ronald Moore, from Gabaldon’s Voyager)

Miss Drake

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