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Archive for the ‘music’ Category

She sings and plays the Johnny Cash version of the Star Wars version of I’ve been everywhere, Man.

For lyrics and context see her “Archive of My Own:”

http://archiveofourown.org/works/10241828

Miss Drake

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This month’s song: she plays on a Yamaha PSR, Voice Setting #45, 12STR Guitar:

Springsteen’s lyrics:

I get up in the evening
And I ain’t got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain’t nothing but tired
Man I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

Message keeps getting clearer
Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
Baby I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

You sit around getting older
There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
Come on baby this laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town
And they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
Hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action
I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction
Come on now baby gimme just one look

You can’t start a fire sitting ’round crying over a broken heart
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Hey baby

Miss Drake

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leonardcohen
Leonard Cohen, his most recent album, You Want It Darker

I did my best, it wasn’t much — Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves a good deal deranged — Jane Austen, Sanditon

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been writing political blogs for three days: Two nights from now it won’t be over; The morning after; tonight Post-Mortem. As eleven o’clock on November 8th approached, and I realized Trump was headed to win by the electoral college voting system, my stomach began to twist and turn. I felt so bleak the next day; and I’ve not yet begun to be able to sleep a full 6 hours in a row. Indeed it will not be over many many nights from now. It will take some time before we begin to feel whatever pain Trump manages to have in store for us, the 99%, and perhaps longer to suffer from his incompetence, human ignorance, bad temper and ruthless use of power. The new lies have started already: the protest marches are “incited by the media.”

My daughter, Laura, picked herself up, dusted herself off, and carried on much more briskly and earlier than I did: We get up, we move on. Izzy had a period of deep upset; I was overpowered by even the start of the coming underbelly of fascism masked as democracy as outlined in Trump’s plans for the first 100 days. But this morning, the third day in, I took heart, and said “We must hold firm, carry on staying together and doing what we know is valuable as long as we can: people are stronger when they stay with those they care about, and work at what they value.”

So Izzy changed her sheets, we took her quilt to the cleaners. There was a flood on the new kitchen yesterday morning and by afternoon I had been told the water heater had burst. That night I had a hose out the back down pouring the water into the yard or we’d have had a big flood in the kitchen. Had to leave said door ajar all night. Then today a man from First Class Plumber was at various tasks in my kitchen all day, and we now have a brand-new water heater, computerized, spiffy, works beautifully. It’s “only money,” as my father would say ironically: First Class Plumber sent another hard-working super-courteous black man who did a very good job. I then cleaned out the storage closet, throwing out all the filthy things I didn’t understand and now it is clean, with only a few implements whose use I understand neatly set out.

Some other losses this week: I have lost two more teeth (it’s almost miraculous I have any left) and also my irreplaceable library card to take books out of George Mason Library. The teeth are serious; had I not questioned this dentist I would have lost three. I now have but three teeth left and will have a new bottom denture on Monday afternoon. In the meantime it’s not easy to eat (yoghurt and soup for lunch, eggs and pasta for dinner)

I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. –Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower

and I feel my age.

meatsmithluncheonsireldredsmithgordondescendentfromlionelsmith
Here is what I looked like at one of the luncheons at the Charlotte Smith conference: next to me Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a many time great-grand son of Benjamin Smith (who he whispers we are not to mention), a witty companion, publisher of medical books

As to my card, I don’t need it to use the vast database, which is what I avail myself of for serious literary work, and the library itself is hard to park near, itself the most demoralizing place, with the English department having less books in the areas I’m interested than me. Inside it looks soulless, with few books to be seen, like some vacant department store, with plastic chairs and tables for the customers to sit at with their laptops; the books are in these rolling shelves hidden away in corners on higher floors, lest they get in the way. The last time I took a book out, the librarians were just delighted at such a rare event. I can’t deny that this is a blow of sorts; the ID had a picture (so a second form of identification) too.

Today Izzy was working on two songs (not just one). And my two proposals for next spring are accepted and I look forward to the courses: short versions:

OLLI at AU: Pivotal City and County Victorian Novels

We’ll read 2 best-sellers, never out of print: Gaskell’s North and South (1855), and Trollope’s Framley Parsonage (1860). Gaskell’s tale of Manchester, from Dickens’s Household Words, is a radical graphic tale of the life of factory workers, based on a strike and time of near starvation (depression), by a woman . Trollope’s made the Cornhill, the New Yorker of its day, a 4th Barsetshire concoction; followed as intensely as Downton Abbey (Gaskell wrote she wished it would go on forever and didn’t see why it couldn’t), seen today also as a complacent pro-establishment book is a Thackerayan ironic pleasure. We’ll explore how the books intersect and connect to our era.

OLLI at Mason: Booker Prize books: a marketplace niche or sub-species

We will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and three filmed: of Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Ondaatje’s The English Patient (with Minghella’s screenplay); J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (screenplay Patrick Grey) and Graham Swift’s Last Orders (screenplay Fred Schepisi)

turner
J.W. Turner’s Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen (1806)

I am reading at least seven books at once (tonight I was reading Carrington’s letters for a coming woman artist blog), and having an especially splendid time with one on historical fiction and romance (about which I mean to blog separately). My Daphne DuMaurier Companion is enthusing me to give a “The World of Daphne DuMaurier” course at OLLI Mason this summer (historical romance, The King’s General, to be included), and maybe I will return to my beloved Poldark books in the AU OLLI this fall, to wit, the 1970s great trilogy (Black Moon, Four Swans, Angry Tide). Karen Solie’s “An Enthusiast” (for geology, archealogy) captures what I am implying in about cultivating one’s garden (as Voltaire’s Candide advises):

Endless heritage beneath the heavenly soundshed.
Jet-black amphiboles. Ten varieties of scones
in Elie. Giant centipedes and petrified tree stumps ofthe Devonian
fossil record. Pyrope garnets at the foot

of the Lady’s Tower aren’t quite rare enough
to acquire significant market value, much like the self-taught experts
in autobrecciation and exfoliation weathering
who work their way to the surface of the Coastal Path

at the close of a hard winter. Amateur
geologists, rockhounds, and collectors may be distinguished
by commitments to task-specific outerwear,
but a bin bag rain poncho is not the measure of a person.

Ideas gather around phenomena as though for warmth …

I end on a YouTube of the great song, Hallelujah by the great poet-musician Leonard Cohen. We lost him yesterday. Jim just loved his music, lyrics, the performances, I have several CDs.

Sylvia

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My daughter:

Eve 6,

Sleeping through the evening
Singing dreams inside my head
I’m heading out
I’ve got some friends who say they care
And they just might
Run away with you
If things don’t go as planned
Plannin’ big could be a gamble
I’ve already rolled the dice

I spit and stutter stuff and clutter
Worries in my worried corner
Maladjusted
Just untrusted
Rusted
Sometimes brilliant trusted thoughts
Think ill stay for a while
I’m intrigued and I’m
Red as a newborn white as a corpse

I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I’m looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to lie and not to let you down

I am elated
I am all smiled and dated
In my man bites dog small town
With a Spanish name
I am my own bone
I am two toned
Red as a newborn white as a corpse

I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I’m looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to try not to let you down
Girl let me down
Slow

Why do you gotta keep the fan on high when its cold outside?
Just want to let you know I’m still a fan get it
Everybody wants charm in a smile and a promise

Promise not to try

I promise not to try not to fuck with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I’m looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to try not to not to leave
(Promise not to try)
Not to leave
(Promise not to try)
Not to not to leave-yay
(Promise not to try)
I won’t leave
I won’t leave

Read more: Eve 6 – Promise Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Perhaps I ought to mention that Izzy loved Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night in which Miss Sylvia Drake is a minor comic character.

Miss Drake

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While I was gone, Izzy added another performance on video to her repertoire:

Sylvia

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Firebird-640
Firebird at Wolf Trap

Friends,

Mirable dictu is luckier than I, for she has photos of a thriving large bookstore in her area which has been going for decades, and has included as a customer Barack Obama. If you include the DC area as part of my home area, there are a couple of equally thriving, possibly larger bookstores: Poets and Busboys in central DC, and Politics and Prose in the Northwest are two I’ve gone to. They both survive by hosting lecture series, book clubs, poetry readings, and occasionally even a play or concert (on a small stage). My bookstore memories are of vanished bookstores in Virginia and New York City. Second story used to have a bookstore in Alexandria that filled a long block and was two stories high: now there is a modest exterior (unpretentious they call it) and book filled one in DC, in Maryland and on-line site.

second-story-books-interior
Interior of the couple of mortar-and-cement Second Story bookstores left (DC)

I remember spending hours in such places. Then they had no cafeterias, or most didn’t; they were places occasionally to find a treasure I didn’t know existed. I can’t say that I regret being able to locate precisely the book I want from across the world on-line; I do reach much better books, ones I know I want, no comparison with the book I hadn’t expected. But I do miss the older experience, and especially with Jim in another part of the store. After we had had our finds, we’d come together again. Part of the pleasure was that he was there. In a small way Izzy and I replicate that twice a year in the increasingly smaller Northern Virginia Booksale (potlatch) that takes place in the large George Mason Library (nothing to do with the university): we go together, and we sometimes take as long as half an hour apart, and then find one another with our small stack of books and buy and bring them home.

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

Lovelybush
This is the way this flowering bush looked a week and a half ago — no longer

It’s been brutally hot for days and days. Ferocious by 2 in the afternoon. Air unhealthy. 118F index (including humidity, pollution and whatever else goes into that number) this past Sunday. On the Saturday night it was 95F (not the index figure, just the plain fahrenheit number) at Wolf Trap park and most people were covered in sweat, some dripping. We had come to hear Prokofiev’s first symphony and the Maurice Ravel Mother Goose suite, as prologue to Stravinsky’s Firebird. re-allegorized as a history of apartheid in South Africa. The National Symphony played achingly beautifully, and the dance, ballet, and symbolic action for Firebird was done by stick puppets and dancers as conceived by Janni Younge and choreographed by Jay Pather. It was a cumulative experience that felt magnificent by the time they’d done. Izzy’s blog will give you a flavor of the music: she admits we both fell asleep near the very end, it was that hot and we had come to the lecture and had had a long day.

The-Kind-Words
The three siblings

During such times one moves from air-conditioned house to car to building (I go to the gym for Body Strengthening 4, swim as well or long as I can — half an hour) and out to movies. The Film Club at Cinema Art Theater (Va) still goes on and this Sunday I saw the best commercial movie-house film I’ve seen since 45 Years, and before that probably last year’s Film Club’s Kilo Two Bravo: Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words. I hope it is released to the general public and turns up at Cinema Art so I can see it again. The reviews I’ve found (Leslie Felperin, TIFF) don’t do it justice.

thefather
They want kind words from him

It is sentimental at moments (it idealizes the family to some extent) but its story of a Jewish girl coerced into leaving her French-Algerian-Arab lover, into marrying an Israeli man, and for years escaping to be with him and (improbably) getting pregnant (three times) to give birth back in Israel. She dies; her husband had left her for a younger woman and discovered he is unable to produce sperm, so we are treated to a half-comic, rueful yet at time deeply felt search by her three children for their biological father. A young woman who has left a loving husband because she’s tired of miscarriages; a young man who is gay but has a child living in another country; a young man who wants meaning and has married a Brooklyn girl and is allowing her and her family into making him into a religious Jew which he is not. He is intolerant towards his gay brother. They and the sister’s husband go in a semi-comic quest for this biological father, and while they do this, they find out more about themselves, learn some humility.

When they find him in a half-abandoned quarter of Marseilles, the biological father (played by the extraordinary Maurice Benichou who has been in Michael Haneke films) is an aging man lives alone with his memories, records and a few books, seemingly poverty-stricken, he will not open his soul (or their mother’s) to them. He will not admit he is their father because (like her sister), he promised not to tell. He asks them, what do they want of him now? It’s a fable against intolerance, nationalism, defining yourself by your religion, ethnicity, status, money. Its greatest line is uttered by Benichou when his biological daughter persists in asking him what is his religion, nationality, and keeps getting a “no” to this one or that (no, he is not Jewish, no he is not an Arab, no he is not French, nor Algerian), he says “why is this so important to you?”

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

Izzy and I have had some terrible troubles with our plane tickets for our coming trips: it appears either we did not see or the times for lay-overs were changed, so that when this week I went to double-check our plane reservations before seeing about getting money to pay for the Cornwall cottage, I discovered one includes a 10 hour lay-over in Reykjavit going to England and the other a 17 (!) hour lay-over coming home. I would travel 18 hours to get to London and we a day and three hours to return. That’s intolerable, especially considering the wretched (abusive) conditions one has to endure. I spent 5 hours on the phone a few days ago uselessly, ending up shaking. To change them I have to pay a penalty and change fee that is higher than the round-trip tickets. So I will probably have to swallow and pay for a second set as we cannot tolerate such a long siege in an airport. What we will do is whatever the cost have no lay-over (one stop) and make sure the time is no more than 6 hours going and 8 back. Maybe we’ll splurge altogether and go during the day.

Corporate1percent
Remind me never to buy a plane ticket when I don’t have to cross an ocean

This is not the first time I have been so cheated over travel in an airplane. When I went to Pittsburgh this past spring I preferred to drive a long drive than take a plane; the only train was 10 hours. I met people there who had preferred a bus to a plane. Again no train was truly available. Robert Louis Stevenson’s words came to mind

There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.

And a friend sent me Rose Milligan’s

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to siwm and mountains to climb;
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go — and go you must —
You, yourself, will make more dust.

ClarycatbehindComputer
Clarycat stretched out in the sun behind my computer – she is reading about Tolstoy too

Pussycat stories help because their troubles seem so much less than ours. (It is a literal torment to think what would happen were Trump to win the presidency.) Why do cats not mew after hours of being stuck in say a closet? After many hours, both of mine will hurl their bodies against the door, and even make sounds, wails. But they will not for a mere two or so.

Earlier this week I noticed about 5 in the afternoon I hadn’t seen Clarycat in quite a while; this is not like her. She does not hide away for a long time. Then it came to me she was stuck somewhere. I finally found her in the back closet clinging to my slippers, looking very upset, and she came out slowly. She was shaking. I asked on face-book if anyone had read anything to explain why cats will not make noises within a reasonable when they are stuck somewhere? I realize at first they are usually not upset; they like to hide, but when they’ve had enough why do they stand or sit there silently waiting. Answers ranged from “Our cats are usually asleep for the first few hours. They only yowl when they wake up and decide they’re hungry,” to “Since cats are small they act like both prey and predator. When trapped, prey behavior is what they exhibit, being quiet so a large predator cannot find them. In this case, that is you.” I liked best: “I think they assume that we will eventually rescue them because they trust us.”

I read a review of a book arguing we are not smart enough to understand how smart animals are, and this made me firmer in my idea that in fact the cat is waiting as it sits there looking like it’s waiting for us, even if at length I was thinking this closet is so familiar to Clarycat and that she can hear us outside it, so she trusts all is well. But if it goes o for too long, with her at any rate, it gets too much for her. As reinforcement: once Izzy and I were out for quite a while; we come back and almost immediately hear this noise from her bedroom. Ian was literally stuck in a drawer. He waited until we came home and when he heard us, having been by himself and probably anxious, he began to make hoise and try to get out on his own. He needed help.

Cats are a great comfort. I’ve found their eyes and face lack the expressiveness of a dog’s and was told that their brains don’t have the same direct access to their face and eyes. Perhaps a myth. I do know their whole body expresses what they are feeling and am with Jane Goodall (and Darwin) in thinking the disimissal of close analogies in physical and emotional expression between people and non-people animals is there; it’s not anthropomorphic to recognize this. Maybe people want to ignore this level of the animal because then they are less convenient, more demanding to have around. But they give and mean it.

They’re funny too. When Ian was kitten like Snuffle-up-agus on the old Sesame Street he would hide the upper part of his body under things and thought because he couldn’t see us, we could see him. At some point he realized that wasn’t so and stopped hiding his head and upper body. Children have to learn this and do so very early, as well as where their ears are. But no one cheats them of thousands, no one abuses them on the edge of decency in a plane because thousands and thousands of dollars have not been extorted for a plane ticket.

waze

And I’m not all incompetence: I returned the 2016 garmin I had paid $180 for when I discovered it had become more complicated to program. I could do all sorts of things with it, including take picture, but I do not want to do these other things, only find my way. So instead (as the old garmin does not work right all the time), Izzy and I downloaded a free app called “Waze” onto our cell phones. I take it into the car with a USB cord and have discovered it gives better directions, apprises me if a cop, car standing in the waiting lane, or wrecked car is near. It has funny cartoons too. When Izzy and I finally figured out how to stop it from talking when we’d gotten where we wanted to go by putting it in sleep mode, here’s the picture that appeared ….

sleep-mode

Miss Drake

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You can’t be forever blessed ….

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

paulSimonandband
Paul Simon and his band Monday night

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

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

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

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

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

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

john-singer-sargent-robert-louis-stevenson-and-his-wife
Sergeant’s portrait of Stevenson stalking across the room, Fanny lying on the sofa wrapped in an extravagant outfit, between then an open door, a stairway, a dog at the threshold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Drake

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