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“Daffodils/That come before the swallow dares, and take/The winds of March with beauty” … aka spring. Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (Act 4), once my favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays: I once taught it.

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve rewritten, re-framed this blog so as to give it an adequate framework: recuperating the self:

Get leave to work/In this world — ’tis the best you get at all — Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1853-56).

This morning I took this photograph of some of the daffodils in my front garden — under the miniature maple tree not yet in bloom …. There are other circles of tiny daffodils on both sides of the house (two circles of flowers and bushes are there), and there are some tiny white crocuses in another part of this circle under the tree, and tiny buds here and there in all the plants that survived and have now popped up green … To me they are living images of hope and each individually has delicate beauty.

I need to see them this way.


The British are not the only group of people being forced to leap into risk

For these past two weeks I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the externals of life have hit me hard: I have been rightly terrified over the coming plane trip since I am flying Southwest: we now know that added to egregious abuse of passengers to wring the last dime out of them, planes are being rebuilt to hold more people and things and thus becoming unsafe.  Then I was reeling after coming home from the AARP having made out my tax forms and uncovered an unexpected and large tax bill such that I must change my withholding on my monthly annuity and social security checks so as to live on less from here on and pay it bit-by-bit over the year. I am floored by the online boilerplate and relieved my financial adviser has promised really to help me do this when I get back from my trip. The obscenely expensive pills for hepitatis C are working (no sign of the infection in the latest tests) but I’m tired, head-achy (have again scraped my car badly), but each night sleep more deeply than I’ve down for years, except when waked by anxiety-dreams stemming from the coming trip- and conference-ordeal, these renewed money fears.

Ian also has had a hard time recovering, in his case from the new cleaning team, with their loud machines and quick work, now here twice and left a truly clean house (for the first time in years my windows are clean); it won’t do to think about the sums this switch cost me. The business is run by women and only works the first 2/3s of each workday.


After a many hour disappearance, walking about so lightly that his bell did not tinkle: he hoped to escape notice and at first would not eat or drink.

So where to find that peace and trust I can live out what future I’ve left in my quiet ways in this house.

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L. Scott Caldwell, left, and Shinelle Azoroh in Gem of the Ocean in Costa Mesa.

Well throwing myself into what I am capable of succeeding at doing, and thus enjoying. This past two weeks I have taught/led a class of some 23 retired adults reading (apparently with real enjoyment) Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and myself as a class member felt new interest in rereading the first three acts of King Lear and watching the 2008 Ian McKellen version (director Trevor Nunn, with outstanding performances by the actresses playing Goneril and Regan) and the 2016 Anthony Hopkins (director Richard Eyre, with outstanding performances by too many to mention). Despite the cutting, the Hopkins-Eyre one is the vastly superior by original direction and Hopkins’s performance). I’m stunned by Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner Come & Gone, only beginning to realize the lack of fundamental safety, security, ability to accumulate, and radically de-stablized relationships and lives this causes — a journey through the century from an African-American perspective. With my two list communities, I’m reading EBB’s Aurora Leigh, which I know I ought to be more affected than I am, and Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart, which, by contrast, I’m having a visceral personal response to the point I find myself blaming the heroine for not caring enough about her children, for in effect abandoning them, while on what seems a sort of whim at first, she pursues a divorce.

Wednesday I leave for Denver, Colorado, to endure a three-day conference on the 18th century (ASECS) and have my paper, “After the Jump:” Winston Graham’s use of documented facts and silences,” down to 19 minutes. Winston Graham has taken up much of my time therefore, with intervals filled by absorption (when I can) with Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart. I’ve added Somerset Maugham as an author who would shed light on Graham’s peculiar story of a blind man in internecine post-WW2 southern France (the hero stalks a heroine of the resistance), Night Without Stars, and am into Jeremy Poldark, a deeply melancholy troubled yet loving book once again. I now see that the murdered young woman in his Take My Life (I understand the title as a cry of the soul) and this heroine as seeking safety, the first women was destroyed by cruelty, meanness, the tunneled ambition of a schoolmaster; the second rescued as a fellow disabled person to return to quietude in a quiet corner of England. I came to this by watching a modern so-called “thriller:” In a Better World: To call it a thriller is so wrong, it’s hilarious: The film brings out the trauma underlying some thrillers which the thriller distorts in order to sell widely, and there are authors who appear not quite to understand the fundamental groundwork of such texts. I must write this up separately.

I’ve gone on to the intelligent Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies (which begins in the 19th century and takes the story to the 21st) and Ann Rioux’s Writing for Immortality, on four American women writers whose determination to write well for the sake of their art will be explicated as a fight for self-esteem and creating works of integrity, so am now eager to include at least one 19th century American women writer amid my Anomaly women. When I read Traister, I realize I am somewhat compensating for the loss of Jim: in small ways I am learning to live the way she has, learning about a world outside my coupled life. It is as yet on the edges of my existence because I have not managed to hold onto friends or a group of friends locally. Throughout my life with Jim, though, if the truth be told I would have one girlfriend usually, a kind of best friend, and so this pattern is one I know, only now I see this in a different context. I know I am right to value my FB women friends (and men too). I understand Laura’s life choices better too.

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My solitude, my self … at night (when I write these blogs too, gentle reader)


Shadow of the Tower: Episode 4: The Serpent and the Comforter

I’m riveted nightly by yet another episode of the truly astonishing 1970 BBC multi-episode studio drama, The Shadow of the Tower, with James Maxwell — why is not this more famous? A blog will follow when I’ve gone through all 13 hours twice. I started it after it was recommended by an uneven Future Learn on the Tudors I’m following just now.

Episode 4 is a study of people about to burn alive a man who has a set of radical common sense beliefs — one guard becomes unwilling and realizes this is all wrong and so does the king but goes through with it — so it’s idealized but this allows for conversations between the man and guard and king. We don’t see the torture off stage as they attempt to make him recant — just hear it and it’s agonizing to hear and then see all the signs on the man’s body. The real thrust is to shove in our faces at length the deep inhumanity of man to man and also the fierce unreasoning religiosity of the era as a cover up for power plays and fierce demands for obedience to strict conformity. James Maxwell is brilliant as the king throughout the series: witty, somehow likable, warmly human in his closest relationships, subtly intelligent yet peevish, neurotic, but effective, slowly becoming a terrifying inexorable monster to others because he has been given such power

I am also nightly now making my way through all Andrew Davies’s films, beginning with deeply mourning from within as I sit up and feel with Claire Foy’s inch-by-inch agon as she copes with her half-mad neurotic father played by Tim Courtney. Half hour by hour I am her — as I am Lila and Lenu.

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On the Net, I’ve been stirred by the life and work of another woman artist, one I won’t write a blog for (as I would be wholly inadequate) but can here invite my readers to dwell in the Spitalfields bloggers’ essays: on Dorothy Rendell:


Dorothy Rendell, View from Standhead (1955)

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/an-exhibition-of-dorothy-ren…/

Then Stephen Watts, described as a poet and novelist, wrote about her art, the legacy of what’s left:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/the-legacy-of-dorothy-rendell/


Rendell, Studio Parrot (1960)

Now the gentle author preparing for a lecture, shares with us the Rendell’s drawings and illustrations:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/03/12/dorothy-rendells-london/

Her first (posthumous) solo exhibit:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/16/dorothy-rendells-solo-show/

The gentle author is pseudonymous; I originally assumed the writer is a woman, but recently I’ve become aware the writer is a man — he has begun to use a pronoun for himself. Also that more than one person writes this blog (Gillian Tindall has written here) — it’s astonishing high quality, frequency and point of view are all outstanding, but also the amount of knowledge displayed. Probably it’s find-out-able if I tried or asked someone who knows people who are part of real art worlds in London.

One we learned in another blog that a pub that has been on the site since the 17th century, with one period of total obsolescene and desuetude (between 1970s and 2000) is now to be razed and replaced with a hideous mall that will look like a thousand others

http://spitalfieldslife.com/20…/…/13/so-long-the-water-poet/

This touches me because in one of my periods of being alive I spent all my time reading and writing about the early modern Renaissance and 17th century. Anne Finch was a later 17th century poet who lived into the 18th century. This blog is or should be of interest to anyone interested in the long 18th century.

Most recently, at and on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/03/17/dorothy-rendell-at-whitechapel-bell-foundry/


Camille Cottage, Castle Hedingham with red chair (1970)

W.S. Merwin has died, and an FB friend pointed me and others to a New York Review of Books essay-review by Ange Mlinko on Merwin’s life and poetry as that of an whole earth troubadour, who learned his art by the humble practice of learning other languages and translating wonderful poetry in them. I liked this (though I taught myself Italian enough to read and to translate it, and now need to return to it and to French

There is nothing for you to say. You must
Learn first to listen. Because it is dead
It will not come to you of itself, nor would you
Of yourself master it. You must therefore
Learn to be still when it is imparted,
And, though you may not yet understand, to remember.

What you remember is saved. To understand
The least thing fully you would have to perceive
The whole grammar in all its accidence
And all its system, in the perfect singleness
Of intention it has because it is dead.
You can only learn one part at a time.

The ghost of a sestina (invented, they say, by the troubadour Arnaut Daniel) haunts these six-line stanzas, with their repetitions of individual words (though they don’t repeat mechanically at the ends of the lines, as they do in the sestina). What is repeated? Learn, dead, remember, understand. As the poem goes on, it repeats saved, intention, order, passion. Here is the fifth and final stanza:

What you remember saves you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but to hear what never
Has fallen silent. So your learning is,
From the dead, order, and what sense of yourself
Is memorable, what passion may be heard
When there is nothing for you to say.


Merwin in his last year of life

The question is, how to recuperate the self. Mlinko believes translation is the suppression of self and that in poetry at its finest we suppress the self, we make something from nothing tangible or new as I have done tonight: Guilhem IX’s “Farai un vers de dreit nien” (“Sheer nothing’s what I’m singing of”)

This reminds me of Virginia Woolf: she wanted Anne Finch to transcend herself. This is mistaken, or need to be put another way. We can never leave ourselves, but what we can do is throw off the attacks and pressures from all around us (the wolves of society) and recuperate by following our true bends with integrity. That is the work of a lifetime. Finding who we are, and as Pope said, following nature, our nature. Making what we can. Recuperating by flowering out. I can link August Wilson’s plays to Shakespeare’s this way too: although we do not know what was his private life, only that he is incarnate in his plays.


Dorothy Rendell, Jerena at Harry Gosling School (1960): recuperating the self — look how beautifully Rendell has caught the child’s hands, the textures of her jacket and skirt, her body inside them ….

I have taken to going to Evolution Home, a consignment shop for furniture where older things are rescued. I am making my home comfortable by buying appropriate (for my needs) tables, retro clocks, rugs, baskets for my library of DVDS (kindly sent by a friend so that I have such a collection of splendid wonderful movies, often BBC). Rearranging furniture, making corners for pretty things and where I do my work. All recuperating the self, having respect and concern for myself and what I see. I hope you don’t need photos of these, for there’s not much to see. It’s the inward experience behind such changes I’m trying to steady myself with.

Ellen

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She bought a new keyboard about three weeks ago now, and I hope you can hear the difference:

The song comes from a movie called Once, made a couple of musicians who made a movie about how they met and fell in love. John Carney, the film’s director built the movie around this song provided for him by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The song won an Oscar the year of the movie. They made a second album about dealing with fame. The third is about how they broke up.

Here are the words of the lyrics for “Falling Slowly:”

I don’t know you
but I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me and always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly sing your melody
I’ll sing along

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This morning I was thinking about earlier stretches of my life. The phrase “long ago” is so common to my imagined conversation in my mind. So long ago Jim and I did this, Izzy would do that. I saw a child walk by from my window, on his back a carry-pack, shouldering a musical instrument. That once was Izzy going to junior high, to high school.

Last night (not atypical day and evening), alerted to it by a book on British TV costume drama I’d been reading, Conflicting Masculinities (one I sent a proposal for on Wolf Hall but was rejected, because I’m not a Brit, have no title or position in a university and my thesis was too much about deeper humanity and attributing the way men are presented in costume drama to an era), I watched Banished, a serial drama which was cancelled but is powerfully about one group of men destroying the manliness and humanity of another group, treating them like enslaved beasts; also showing how one group of people can be so cruel to another when no wider public eyes are upon them. Banished is a parable about how people in our modern societies are now pulverizing the poorer, vulnerable, ethnicities that are not in the majority among them, and refugees from countries these same groups of people are busy destroying so they can steal their natural resources. Unlike Poldark there is no fundamental place, home, knowledge of one another and known community whose interest it is to support one another they can turn to.

Yesterday during the day I read one third of an immensely sad novel, Crossing the River, nominated for the Booker (when it still didn’t accept imitative crap, hadn’t become a sheer advertisement mechanism), by Caryl Phillips. Crossing the River a related book about a white man sending a beloved black man who was enslaved in the US to Liberia (both die of grief as the people they are surrounded by live these punitive lives) made me realize what a fantasy of escape Outlander becomes in this story of Jamie and Claire and Ian making a secure home so readily (he is a wanted ex-convict). I also thought of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people. Phillips’s message is do anything but separate yourself from a beloved and send them somewhere where life is said to be better — all you are doing is breaking your two hearts. I’m drawn to Phillips: born in St Kitts, yet British, he grew up in Leeds, a place I did love.

Both together — serial drama and book — made me think of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people, and a book about the Acadia diaspora when threatened by “ethic cleansing,”

“Falling slowly” is a song that cries out for help (as some tweets really do). In retrospect, its framing is a young couple who broke up.

It is March now, signs of spring — such a sweet moment from Emily Dickinson: No 1320, just the first stanza:

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell —

How I wish I could find a choir for Izzy to belong to. The only ones in my area are part of churches Izzy won’t go near — and she’s probably right not to, reactionary Catholicism she would be a very much outsider in all ways in. With that man I went out briefly with I saw an episcopal church, almost non-denominational, eucumenical, which had a poster looking for people to join their choir. A modern building, maybe enlightened people running the place. But it’s a 45 minute drive and would be at night so I can’t provide a way for her to get there, if I could get her to go. She did say yes when I showed her the place. Too far. But this is her home too.


Writing Last lines ….

Miss Drake

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Richard Hunt’s Swing Low — a bronze sculpture in the front hall of the African-American Museum, alluding to the song, which carries on “sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home … ”

I love this song, and sing it to myself sometimes thinking of Jim, changing it slightly: “if you get there before I do/Coming for to carry me home/tell yourself I’m coming too; bands of angels coming after …


Cosette finds Jean Valjean working as a peasant again, his death by her side — Andrew Davies’s Les Miserables, 2018, one of the finest film adaptations I’ve seen since his War and Peace and before that Peter Straughn’s Wolf Hall — the scenes of the revolt at the barricades are astonishingly grim, true, ferocious; he shows Hugo’s book centers on “the wretched of this earth” —

I thought of Hamlet; who would keep him in this harsh world to draw his breathe in pain …

Friends,

Another 10 days of winter passed, & few things maybe worth recording happened — living from the shelter of my mind.

A friend’s cat died, Andre by name, he was a rescue cat, now 20, and her grief and my memories aroused in me thoughts of what matters in life: the strength to be kind, to give of oneself and see the other and love and be loved; our non-human (non-talking, without hands) animal friends are so helpless against our convenience. I’ll ever regret I didn’t do by my actually beloved Llyr as I should have: my excuse Jim and my dire desperation at the time, but this will not do. She was able to bury her cat companion in her back yard so she can see his grave from her window and remember what was good. I realize why people when they lose beloved people want the bodies back, if only to protect them. I read to Laura when little Judith Viorst’s The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, where he lays under the flowers at book’s end; my favorite passage was the dream image of him in heaven with the other cats eating cans of tuna.


Clarycat this week; and Ian pussycat too

Email letters from a few friends, a long phone call from Panorea, whom I am relieved to say is doing well after the operation on her spine and we may yet go to Philadelphia Museums together this August as we dreamed of in December; Farideh found an old blog of mine, Sylvia I, 2002, which shows that after all I’ve not changed much.

On the blog I found this poem “from Desk,”by Marina Tsvetaeva, as translated by Elaine Feinstein:

(In a letter she wrote to Pasternak :my desk is kitchen table)

My desk , most loyal friend
thank you. You’ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.

My loaded writing mule.
Your tough legs have endured
the weight of all my dreams, and
burdens of piled-up thoughts.

Thank you for toughening me.
no worldly joy could pass
your severe looking-glass
you blocked the first temptation,

and every base desire
your heavy oak outweighed
lions of hate, elephants
of spite you intercepted.

Thank you for growing with me
as my need grew in size
I’ve been laid out across you
so many years alive

While you’ve grown broad and wide
and overcome me. Yes,
however my mouth opens
You stretch out limitless.

You are a pillar
of light. My source of Power!
You lead me as the Hebrews once
were led forward by fire.

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One of my holds on happiness this week was about 45 minutes of a class at OLLI at Mason where our subject was the texts of TS Eliot, read aloud by members of the group, by himself very ritualistically in a video from PBS (Visions), “The Hollow Men:” it’s a kind of modernization of Dante’s Inferno: favorite lines:

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
….

I had forgotten a line I often recited to my daughters upon leaving the house comes from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (“Oh do not ask what is it?/Let us go and make our visit … “) but my favorite remains: The Coming of the Magi:

That the high school teacher who was leading the class read accurate interpretations from slides, set forth like test answers (desperation, the aftermath of WW2), which she appeared to treat with a kind of philistine mainstream scepticism, drove made me pay attention to the poetry which did speak for itself.  How beautiful and haunting are his lines, the rhythms of them stay in the mind, on the pulses. Other people in the class made intelligent sympathetic observations too.

For the OLLI at AU, I read (skimmed) with a class who met 5 times (I came four) the whole of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I have little explanation for why this un-reconstructed misogynistic violent, atavistic romance material so attracts me, but it did again. I found myself making parallels with so much romance I see today (Outlander has the paradigms), remembering back to other Arthurian books and films I’ve read or experienced. Again a fellow class member seemed to have more true depths in his reading than the person serving as teacher, and allegorized the as “Civilization and Its Discontents:” we are watching so-called civilized (at least controlled ritualized) behavior fall apart into chaos as human nature moves into sheer self-destruction, perversions of natural feeling, or cruelty, obtuseness, ending in wild despair. Consider this engraving of “The Passing of Arthur by Frank Dicksee (1889):

Read with insight and truth to our real emotions, Tennyson can be said to anticipate T.S. Eliot (much influenced by him).

At OLLI at Mason, more brilliant moving sessions on Joyce’s Dubliners from Prof Michael Maloof, whose modernism puts stories of ordinary people into Eliot’s frame; a films about Vivian Maier, more poetry, Elizabeth Bishop.

Only connect ….

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Today the last day, 75 minutes at OLLI at Mason on the African-American Museum, which I know must go to. The docent described what is there, just remarkable, sobering, true, with the a better if neither fair nor good time in general in history, with a few genuine gains since Africans were no longer enslaved; the museum showcases culture too –so modern art, music, film, sport, and African-American 20th century culture. It took from 1915 when it was first audaciously proposed to 2015 to achieve this astonishing place; congress people were most of the time willing to approve, but not fund or do anything constructive: two of the movers were John Lewis and Oprah Winfrey. What a day that must have been on opening with the President himself and his wife, African-American. Not enough such good moments. I am half-planning to go all day Tuesday: it’s a trek, bus, train then walk. But February you can just walk in without pre-buying a timed ticket.

At home, I got back to my projects, the book on Winston Graham and the anomaly: I”m reading a very good historical fiction set in the 19th century by Graham, Cordelia (to be written about separately); and a moving account of Liberty: “A better husband,” single women in the US from 1780-1830 by Chambers-Schiller: inspiring she is, telling of the vocational life of women in the era, their valuing themselves gradually, their lives count, their gifts found fulfillment in reading, writing and also finding places in society where their desire to do good work was not just tolerated but allowed to do actual good, as in Emily Howland.

I watched Davies’s Les Miserables, all six parts, and will watch again in March — from DVDs made from the BBC airing while the PBS versions play on Sunday nights, how they rise up and are murdered for their efforts (as in Chile in the 1970s, as Trump and his vile mignons are readying to do in Venezuela, and he’s doing now on the borders of the US. I proposed to Trollope&Peers that in two summers we try Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris: I read it in French in my twenties and think we as a group have learned how to do long books that take effort and patience together. I’m half tempted to propose Les Miserables, but our list had a hard time with it years ago and gave it up; I know David Bellos’s book, Les Miserables: The Novel of the Century (he wrote an exciting book, truly, on translation I reviewed — Is that a fish in your ear?).  Bellos’s one of these autobiographical meditative reads of wonderful novels might get us through — after or together with Davies.

And I continue with Outlander nightly, solacing myself among its ghosts of devoted fierce love, deep congeniality, Jamie & Claire; they’d give up all in a split second to be together again and they do, repeatedly. And I exercise, listen to folk and country music, traditional (Pete Seeger) and contemporary (Nanci Griffiths) from Pandora; the header line comes from a folk song.

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Personally significant — now I may not die from liver disease or a fatal operation in 15 years:

I was successful in wrenching needed treatment from Kaiser; finally a clinical pharmacist called this Friday and I have begun my pills as of Monday, and my schedule of blood work, restricted diet for now. I discovered Kaiser was indeed stalling and trying to put me off: the pill have a ticket price (wait for it) of $36,000 for three bottles, enough pills in each for three months. My widow’s annuity and social security come to $47,000 for the whole year. Now embedded as I am in “protections,” I can afford these bottles this way: I pay $150 a bottle to Kaiser; now in reality US society is being gouged by the drug companies (read Marcia Angell, “Opioid Nation,” from the NYRB) for these pills through Kaiser, medicare and a web of “financial assistance” it’s called. When I told friends the sum, there was hardly a gasp; instead of got stories of their analogous experiences. Everyone keeps silent, especially when they have not been able to buy or afford the needed medical treatments (opioid victims, people with diabetes, cancer&c): they grow much sicker and die early. I am feeling tired, head-achy and (surprising this!) sleep 6 hours each night, sometimes a light doze but that long …

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And I went out again (probably the last time, as we are fundamentally incompatible in attitudes towards life) with that gentle older man, a concert at his church by a “famous” (a word he kept repeating) group of singers from Yale, called the Whiffenpoofs. I have very mixed feelings about this elite group of 20 year olds.

They were presented to a mostly white, upper to middle middle class audience, many older as somehow not elite and “working hard” earning all their keep. The group was formed in 1909 and following tradition, the young adults take a year off from their Yale studies and are supported wholly by ticket sales. Wait a minute: who is paying the Yale fees? how much are they? The humor and much be-praised group spirit are sophomoric and this time all but one a woman, she has to sing counter-tenor (a falsetto). This was the first year women were let in — Yale did not accept women at all until 1969. They were all in very fancy tuxedos — they did sing beautifully in some style where their distinctly different voices came out as crooning. Nostalgic repertoire with some contemporary music and songs re-vamped interestingly thrown in.

Well, for the first time I had some insight into blackface. Until recently it would appear the all-male chorus would dress up in ballet skirts, absurd wigs, wear make-up as women and have their photo taken, and spend an afternoon “doing lunch.” What is this but unacknowledged cruel ridicule: the group pretends innocence but utter disdain for women (as in blackface lynching for blacks), and as we saw in Kavanaugh, central fraternities’s right to harassment and rape women is part of their obduracy. Scroll down, and see the meaning of blackface.

This new young woman as reported in the Washington Post, is ever so grateful for being let in to these Whiffenpoofs, to Yale, though recognizes “they have a long way to go,” for example, they must change the voices allowed in to include women’s ranges. Sofia Campoamor cannot be as “ordinary” as pretended since she attended the elite Sidwell Friends school in DC. Julie Zauzmor of the Post article, to her credit kept in focus the elitism, asked questions of the religious aspects of this Ivy League college, this 1920s “fun” group.

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Political coda: AOC is now in congress and making beautiful waves for a “green New Deal:” I like her smile, don’t you?

So that’s the news from my desk and the shelter of my mind (a line from Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song”) in Alexandria, Va,

Ellen

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

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

Friends,

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

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


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

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

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

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

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

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The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

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

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

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


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

When we first see Agatha, we are told

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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Wilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941) Winter in Latvia (1910)

Friends and readers,

This fine winter afternoon Izzy and I took what has become our “traditional” (five years running) near twilight walk in Old Town Alexandria as our way of commemorating Christmas eve. Above you see the Alexandria City Christmas tree, all lit. The DC tree is not, it is dark due to the crazed semi-dictator who insists on being given billions of taxpayers’ dollars to build a cruel hideous wall before he will let them use their own money to light up their Christmas city tree. In Alexandria we escape him here: our tree stands in front of the town square where our farmers’ market is set up every Saturday morning.

Izzy and I have this year once againy had our spirits lifted, a halcyon moment at the Folger for their Christmas Concert 2 weeks ago now; last week I went with new friend, Panorea to the Kennedy Center to see a Nutcracker suite; Saturday, Izzy, Laura and I again to the Kennedy Center, this time for Miss Saigon (I wept again, Izzy said the Engineer was more flamboyant than the man who played the part in London — he was less witty) and after out to a yummy Asian food restaurant to exchange presents; and yesterday Izzy and I once again to the Christmas Music Hall Pantomime at Metrostage. The routines could never be done today, but kept truly stylized and the ones still living, one of my favorites once again, Christmas in the Trenches, and some good feeling truly funny and touching songs, dances, and routines left us very cheerful for last night’s pre-Christmas eve. Tonight we had roast chicken.

As another year draws to a close, the holiday ritual and longer night-time encourages me to think back to the previous year and many years, to remember and compare different holiday times as well as what we did this year that was meaningful and good, also what happened that brought sorrow. And for I who who live through books and nowadays movies too, that means listing and in previous years I have come up with a list of what I read and/or watched, quite copious and discovered (not to my surprise) how much I read books by women and how much I prefer them, that I find as much intense pleasure and new life in non-fiction (literary biography especially) as I do fiction. This year I went to the trouble — it was telling my life’s important events — of listing and telling why or how 10 different books (some became sets of books) influenced my life, and I know at times I realized I was seeing so many remarkably good and fine films between a course I took in films over this fall into winter and a film club I attended from spring across the summer to early fall I was driven simply to list the titles lest now and again I forget them.

As a holiday to myself I am over the next two days reading a book that has nothing to do with any project, just something I knew I’d love and I am: Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises: her tone is just so deeply congenial, her sense of humor, her sadness and why; and I just saw two more great films, truly, Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (2008), and Arnaud Cuaron’s Roma (2018): both have an apprehension of our life as a small figure in a landscape of crowds. Desplechin’s 2 and 1/2 hour film made me feel I was experiencing the holiday in proportionate real time with a family who let me be in their intimate experience, while with Cleo I saw the world from a compassionate point of view of her & the women & children she worked so hard for.


We look in


Nearly drowned

Instead of like last year trying to remember them all or again, conjuring up why they mean what they have to me, I’ll content myself with another list:

for books the outstanding revelations even were above all Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Paul Scott’s Staying On, and the outstanding author, E.M. Forster for no less than three of his novels, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India, indeed I felt I had not begun to apprehend what my mind was processing when I read them years ago, it was as if I were reading them truly for the first time, and just as important in this was Nicola Beauman’s literary biography, Morgan; without her I would not have gotten what I did from these. All masterpieces — alas that the word is so overused. And for the unexpected, I was astonished by how much I responded deeply to because I was surprised to discover how much I liked and identified with the privileged and lucky Claire Tomalin in her A Life of My Own. A journey a life I wish I could have taken but felt grateful she shared hers with me so aware of how fortunate she had been.


A new Helen Allingham when I thought I had seen them all

For movies, may I be candid, gentle reader? Oh yes I know the one that held me over and over, especially at midnight is not finely subtle in its passion as the great TV movie, The Child In Time (Cumberbatch and Kelly MacDonald out of McEwan’s novel). As in another year the serial dramas that I found irresistible, and watched over and over, blogged and found books for, were Wolf Hall (Mantel again) and Downton Abbey (even now when the theme music is played over over the advertisement for the coming theater movie production, I find tears rising out of my eyes); and another year (but not so devotedly) The Crown (I cannot resist Claire Foy?);

so this year it has been Outlander: I’ve listened to three and one half of the four books four seasons have realized, bought and read the companions, joined conversations on face-book pages (!), posted away recaps, meditations. I’m rooting strongly for Caitriona Balfe to won the Golden Globe finally after four years of “almost there” (nominations).

I much prefer it to the new Poldark, which seems to me such a missed opportunity, given how rich the books potentially are.


Lamb, a wolf-dog has been added this year

I suppose in previous years (but I never thought to think of this) I should have said, this 2017 has been the first year I ever bought a good car for and by myself I am fond of (my 2016 PriusC), and went to Inverness and was able to visit the Highlands of Scotland; or this 2016 has been the first year I ever renovated a house and how good it is to sit in my sun-room, it’s become a habitas that I am the genius loci in. Or in this 2015 I won the first prize I ever did — the Peterson Award for service at EC/ASECS.

So unlike all previous years let me list 2018 as the year I fulfilled a long time wish-dream: this summer’s time in the Lake District and northern borders (debatable ownership here) of England. This year I went away with my two daughters to Milan (though alas for reasons best not listed I fear they will not do that with me again). I had my first over-night visitor; he stayed two nights in the sun-room and said I made him very comfortable. I tried.


A Michelangelo Pieta we saw upclose

Sadly, this year my boy ginger tabby pussycat, Ian aka “my lover,” Snuffy, is no longer well, his nose gray where it should be pink: a heart murmur I’m told.  Clarycat has lost that blithe grace she once had. All three of us become yet more attached as we grow yet more vulnerable. A rare good friend, Vivian, died in March.

So here I am on Christmas Eve reaching out once again in the one way I sometimes succeed, before I turn off the computer and go to bed, another poem by Patricia Fargnoli

Message for the Disheartened

When you are expecting nothing
a letter arrives
and someone decides for you.
Your arms fall to your sides,
your hands open.

You dress for the weather
in your gold moccasins
and prepare for long journeys
to distant countries.

The foxes who come out of the forests
stall before you but do not startle.
They are so beautiful,
full of spice and sugar.

Vines grow wildly around you
tangling your thoughts.
There are so many countries
you’ve never traveled to.

You’ve been keeping
to your own rooms
like a blanket stored
inside a closet

or an Egyptian mummy
or a room full of model ships.
In case you miss me,
keep moving through time

and I will arrive finally
in a black coat and top hat,
leaving my cane in the closet,
to open your inner pages

saying, after all, life
is sweet and not as dangerous
as you might think—though the thief
runs off with the child before help comes
(Winter)

I wish all my friends who read this happy Christmas,  a wish: be well and that 2019 should be kind to us all.

Ellen

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Nighttime in my front garden: if you look hard you can glimpse my glowing penguin waving at the world from his window in my (during the day) sun-room

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere

We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

Here are some less commonplace or unsettling pictures from the Victorian era: anthropomorphic cats, murderous frogs, and insects dancing by moonlight have not become part of our Christmas card tradition today.  We must I suppose acknowledge that Christmas is a time of fierce cold which can bring on death, and Robin redbreasts looking piteously cold under shivering wings are part of Mother Goose rhymes. For those impoverished, winter presents hardships in which living creatures can perish for not having enough or out of loneliness or isolation at the time when others it may seem heartlessly celebrate their good luck. It is allied to death because our memories are allied to deaths of those we’ve lost and the winter solstice is a time for remembering; hence the ghost stories

https://designyoutrust.com/2018/12/bizarre-and-creepy-vintage-christmas-cards-from-the-victorian-era/

I confess to a fondness for Jacquie Lawson’s kitsch cards, and send them out to listserv, email, FB, twitter and other online genuine friends at Christmas time. I wonder what is our tradition today: sentiment, pictures of groups of people happy together — dogs and cats at play — in 19th century settings in lovely countryside. I hope others will appreciate this parody as I do:

Ellen

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

Friends,

This I wrote four days ago upon waking:

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

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

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

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

The Room

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

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

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


Nell Blaine, Night Light Snow

Ellen

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