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Izzy now guest-blogging:

“The ironic thing is, Megan Markle’s marrying Prince Harry really was a real life Cinderella story; she might not have been a lowly servant girl, but she was the woman considered unsuited for the hand of a prince, but she got to marry him anyway. Had the United Kingdom been a smarter place, instead of the sort of country to vote for Brexit and Boris Johnson, they would’ve capitalized on that fact.

We should’ve paid more attention to the fates of some of the women unfortunate enough to fall in love with and/or marry his father or brother. Camilla, forced to spend much of her life as the other woman, and still viewed that way by many even after she got to marry her prince. The less said about poor Diana, the better. And now the stories go around that even though William got to marry the woman he wanted, he still hasn’t been faithful.

In short, no woman should dream of marrying a prince. Your life will be taken over, and may well be ruined.

Really, Megan’s lucky, that her prince is low enough in the line he can walk away from his racist country and manipulative family with a clean conscience, and values her well-being enough to do so. But that they felt the need to walk away says everything.

Miss Isobel

See Two weddings: in Windsor and in Charlottesville

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


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

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

Friends and readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ellen

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The Road Scholar group aboard the Fowey ferry

Fowey — a place not far from Menabilly (Daphne Du Maurier would row a boat on the river from one house to another when she went visiting). You can see me all the way on the right-hand corner, all wrapped up (kerchief, hat, red fleece jacket with hood), next to me my friend, Stephen. The man standing up with all the way to the left, white hat, red jacket, jeans is Peter Maxted, our guide (one of his several books on Cornwall is The Natural Beauty of Cornwall). Moving right along down from Peter is a woman in a light violet jacket, a stick to help her walk, sunglasses, my roommate, whose name (alas) I have already forgotten, very sweet woman


Two Swans gliding along in the moat by Wells Cathedral and its close

Dear friends and readers,

The second half of the journeys. Saturday morning (May 18), we visited a China Clay mine, Wheal Martyn Center. As with the Levant mine, we had a remarkably able guide who took us through the landscape and steps in manufacturing china clay.


Figures sculpted in china clay, representing typical workers

What was unexpected is the beauty of the park all around the parts of the mine no longer in use,

and then that there is a vast quarry where the people are still mining and using china clay.


Hard work at the end of the process

I learnt about kaopectate and other compounds made from China Clay, which I use daily. Also that copper and tin mining are more dangerous: you are directly risking your life in the early eras, at real continual risk in the 19th century; but both occupations caused early death through disease. It was the person’s lungs that usually went. Fishing too is a risky occupation — so life in Cornwall was not idyllic at all, and often impoverished even if it was early in industrialization.

I’d say the tour took at least two hours. It was one of the high points of the whole tour. The guide was knowledgeable, humane, witty, curiously moving too. He had spent most of his life as a fireman.

We stopped off in a small fishing village for lunch (cheese pasty and tea) — Mevagissey, it was low tide:

The afternoon was spent in a huge garden owned by the Tremayne family for the last 400 years. Tim Smit who was the moving force in the creation of the Eden project, which I saw with my friends, has been instrumental in convert the park back from its 20th century role as a place for apartments to a farm, a Victorian/Edwardian garden, with memorials to different groups of people living in Cornwall

It was tiring as it was very warm that afternoon and the gardens have steep hills. Finally we came upon a shop where there was a choice of four films, one of them told the history of the changes in the landscape.


Here is our group again at Heligan


A formal garden

I love glimpsing birds and animals in their habitats:

Some of the landscapes was thick and wild with flowers, bushes, trees

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Cheesewring

Sunday (May 19) another deeply satisfying experience: our trip into and through Bodmin Moor. We visited circles of ancient stones called the Hurlers, at the top of the hill a formation of rock called “the Cheesewring.” The place had a feel of mystery in the sense that 6000 years ago people thought to put these markers up, and attached them to visions and finding basic needs, like water


While we were there we saw another smaller group of people engaged in an ancient ritual

The afternoon of this day included frustrating and disappointing moments. We were taken to see too much in a small space, and one of the places we were invited to explore was a tiny place, hot, where a slapstick situation comedy on PBS is filmed. We were told we were be seeing things from far (out of a bus window) which were in fact way out of sight.

So we stopped at Jamaica Inn, — it is an interesting place, first building there in the 17th century, and the one which survives makes ends meet and a profit as a restaurant, bar, bakery, from tourist relics, and its museum.


Jamaica Inn outside


How Jamaica Inn survives


Inside

We drove around 15 minutes to eat at Boscastle, and ostensibly to explore the harbor and town. I was there last time with my friends, so I have explored it; good thing as we didn’t have enough time to do so


Boscastle from below and on the edge – we were walking to the harbor, once a major one used for ships


A picturesque shop

.


Photo of Boscastle taken from a distance upon a hill

Then we drove past Tintagel (not seeing it) and into Port Isaac: a tiny town, which has received a modicum of renown and more tourists looking to find what they seen for years on their televisions. All of these villages are under pressure from neoliberal EU and gov’t policies and also the realities of climate change (there was a serious flood in 2004) and what we were seeing were the people’s attempt to find new ways to make money (not easy) and improve on the older ones (that they are doing). Tourism has become a chief “industry.”

We passed by Lemon Street in one of the towns on the way back to the hotel that night: it is “very pretty” as the Beatles said, lovely Georgian buildings in limestone.

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Sign welcoming us

It was on Monday (May 20) we went to Fowey and I asked myself if they had saved up this last series of journeys for the last day; they were so consistently fun and interesting. It is a steep narrow city just off a river and bay. Most of the people live in modern apartments and older houses on the shallow hills above; the wealthier live in the picturesque houses near the water.


An older mansion


Fowey Church

First we took a long leisurely ferry ride while a young man from the area told us of its long history as we sailed along Cornish shores (see photo at the head of this blog).


Upriver — a manufacturing plant

Fowey has several of blocks of houses, a residential population with not so-well heeled people in apartment houses further from the shore. We had a good meal at a King George III Cornish pub, and then I went back to the bookstore I had last bought a book in 4 years ago.

I am glad to say it looks as thriving as ever: this time I bought a recent good literary biography of Daphne DuMaurier. The bookshop specialized in items by authors who write about Cornwall or are thought of as Cornish. I saw what looked like a good book of poems about Betjeman but it was so slender and thirty pounds. It is a serious bookshop and hard to sustain. So prices are high but DuMaurier is well known, this was a paperback so only 9 pounds 90 pence.

As a side comment: it was very disappointing but not unexpected to discover that in the case say of DuMaurier, bookstores stocked not only her novels and biographies but studies of her, essays, books about subjects her books cover; in the case of Winston Graham, all they had was the first seven Poldark novels and nothing else, no other book by or on him. Instead there was usually a shrine to Aidan Turner. This suggests to me he has not yet broken through to be a respected author whose life and work people are interested in.

Just before we left we happened upon another hotel in the town, a renovated ex-mansion called Manor Hall where the owner once loved Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows and inside were pictures and playful statues taken from the stories of Toad, Rat and so on. This was Jim’s favorite book as a boy; he would quote lines from it (“nothing” so wonderful as “messing around in boats”).


Manor Hall

Another journey took us to Charlestown because it has a quai which is used to photograph ships leaving port in Poldark. While the harbor is beautiful and quiet, and we came upon a beach nearby where people were sun-bathing and trying to swim, the truly interesting experience was in the shipwreck museum; the entry fee quite modest:

It was filled with detailed information about what seemed hundreds of shipwrecks with focus on a few a century: how dangerous it is to live by and on the sea was brought home to us; all the different technologies over the centuries; poignant human interest stories as well as war, politics, piracy (privateering) — very somber some of it.

By contrast, to see a small exhibit on the quai about the Poldark filming the people wanted 11£ so I didn’t go in.

I felt I had a far more telling experience in Charlestown quite by chance than in any of the bookstores or other modern encounters all trip. I saw a little dog rescued by someone working in a nearby restaurant. The poor creature fell down the wall into the water on the quai and her master was feebly trying to send a ring with rope (absurd) to the dog down the wall. It was his fault the dog fell: it should have been on a leash or not that close. The man could have run around the wall and through a sort of concrete gangplank and rescued the dog. He was just not truly engaged with the dog’s fate. Well, a girl in a waitress outfit runs out, jumps in (she risked herself banging against the wall so she jumped far to keep from the wall and yet she had to land in the narrow amount of water), swims to the dog; people on a boat not far suddenly appear and come over to rescue her and said dog. They have a blanket. I was irritated to have to hear heartless remarks like “in some countries animals are treated better than people” (where? pray tell) or Stephen critiquing that she risked her life. Hers was the best act I have seen on this trip.

That evening we had our last true meal together — the meal in the airport hotel has usually been hasty; closure is provided by the last night in wherever the trip has taken place. There was an attempt to say goodbye and a few of us talked of what was our favorite experiences. I cited the Hurlers; in response Peter Maxted said he liked being there too, but preferably in the bleak winter when snow is on the ground.

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Wells Cathedral altar — photo taken by another woman in the group (all others were taken by Stephen)

Our last day and as in the previous three trips, the drive back to the airport is leisurely so that you can visit and see places on the way. We went through Glastonbury where Jim and I had stopped with Laura and Isabel so long ago (2005) and really explored the ruins of the abbey, the town — again it would have been frustrating just to be told about it as we swung by. We drove similarly through Bath and I had to listen to the guide who knew little of the 18th century town, had a very distorted view of Austen. Somehow it did not look as beautiful as when Jim and I and Izzy spent a full week there. We were going through the traffic-crowded streets of course – but I did see Queen Square and a few other streets recognizable to me once again.

The best part of the day was the long time — two hours at Wells Cathedral. Stephen and I did manage to squeeze in a very good tour of the cathedral by a sweet learning old man; we saw the click chime the hour, participated in listening to a prayer (humane, decent). Jim and I had gone to Wells repeatedly to shop in its excellent modern supermarket when we stayed at Lympton in a Clock Tower so I could attend a Trollope conference in Exeter, but when we went to the town we did not go as tourists but people living there and stayed in the modern part. This time I saw the old narrow streets, the fifteenth century pub, the ancient church, its close and square, a beautiful pub (but there was no time to eat – we did not want what had happened at Boscastle to happen here).


The cathedral front


The choir


One of the sets of windows taken down during World War Two and put in a cave until the war was over …


The gatehouse into the close


The close and gardens

Walking through the winding older streets back to the bus (which would take us to the airport hotel) I felt sad to remember the literary festivals I’ve seen (in Chichester) and heard about, which in the last two decades take place in older provincial cities like this (say Hay-on-Wye). How I wish I were still part of this older culture with Jim.

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I am trying to remember that last meal at the airport hotel, but it is gone from me. The guide again did not want to facilitate any last ceremonies & the day had been tiring, so most people went up to bed early. Many had to get to the airport early the next morning to make their plane on time.

In writing this blog I found we had gone to so many places in a short time, and Stephen taken so many photos, and what was worth listening to (the talks about the mines, about Wells, on the Fowey ferry) I couldn’t take notes on. It was all walking or moving about. So I’ve had to leave the information in the form of all the guidebooks and xeroxes and colorful maps the guides gave us out. So you’ll have just to believe me that for myself in the last two days I have returned to my project on “Winston Graham, Poldark and Cornwall” in the context of other analogous historical fiction and film, and find that indeed my sense of the geography and realities of Cornwall is much improved. I am understanding a lot more of what Halliday in his superb History of Cornwall has to tell me. I was listening to Demelza today while I drove in my car and rereading Warleggan for about an hour and could picture so much more accurately characters’ comings and goings. Picking up DuMaurier’s King’s General and I can see I would read it with precise visual appreciation of places that I couldn’t before.

So in my feeble ever inadequate (half-crippled) way I did do some research towards my mythical, dreamed of, yearned for book, A Matter of Genre.

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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My new stationary exercise bike

Friends and readers,

I hope all who read this diary blog had some good enjoyment yesterday. Izzy and I passed the day as we have three out of the five times we’ve live through this one since Jim died — more or less alone together.  Once a friend-daughterlike-student came with her partner from Canada to meet over a chicken with us, and once we were invited to a neighbor to partake of a turkey dinner with her and her disabled son.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the new photo. Yes I bought a stationary exercise bike at last: it arrived this past Tuesday in a big long box I could hardly move; if I understood Amazon accurately (it was not clear what would happened until I clicked to spend $148 for the bike and $73 to have it put together, separate buttons) soon after a man would come to put it together. Well he did. I almost missed him because he texted me to try to see if I was home and when I heard the call, I picked up the cell phone and tried to talk to him. No matter, I had clicked on Amazon I would be there. I have done another 8 minutes this morning and realize I have also to invent a warm-up pattern to help myself some more.

Well, back to yesterday: in the morning Izzy watched the Macy’s Day Parade, and after household tasks, I read & wrote: yesterday on Winston Graham’s No Exit, one of his few worthwhile suspense novels (not marred by misogynistic and other trash & silly tropes). I have identified thus far two other good, ethical, even fine fictions by him in the suspense mode: The Dangerous Pawn and Strangers Meeting (I recognize some of the misogynistic books have attracted male mass media movies, plays, even an opera). And I posted on my two listservs @groups.io on good books and films we are doing there, to Victoria on women’s hats in the era as showing status, rank, all sorts of cultural signals, even Outlander on the recent episode of Season 4 (caused an explosion of comments, some 246 over the day). We were unable to go for our usual walk in Old Town Alexandria or a nearby park — it being too cold where we are, so in the later afternoon I watched the 1974 Oliver Stone’s All The President’s Men. Excellent film where we watch the very early stages of finding out hard-to-get necessary information and clues to understand something important had happened and to begin to find out what it was. All actors superb. Then Izzy and I had a usual good dinner we both like and are able to eat: a roast chicken (from a family-owned farm, free range) with basmati rice, Dell Monte zucchini with yummy sauce, orange juice for her and wine for me, all while listening to good music and talking.

From friends over the day letters, emails and from Nick Holland’s blog on the Brontes an unexpected photo of Emily Bronte’s Keeper, which made me hope that Gaskell’s story of the beating of that dog by Emily which probably the truth was a rare moment in the life of that animal:

I’d gotten into Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and returning to it for my historical fiction project. She then read and watched TV & was on the Internet too, perhaps saw a movie.

Our cats played, hung about, stayed near to us, & rested & slept a lot ….

It doesn’t seem commensurate but of the good things that happened this year: I was able (with help) to move my three long-time listservs from bad yahoo to good groups.io, and made it back after many years to the lake district in the UK, and Ian, my boy pussycat is looking better of late than he has, for unknown reasons his fur a better color, smoother, fluffier, and his eyes while still surrounded by grey, somehow his face a healthier ginger with light yellow and white once again. Of the bad and losses: my friend Vivian died. One year Christmas eve we walked with her in the twilight to look at the Alexandria City Christmas tree.

A favorite a propos Jane Austen remark: “My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy.” –Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Clarycat and a truly congenial book-as-friend await me on my pillow for the night …..

I posted this to face-book at the end of the day, but found that because I did not pretend to more cheer than I felt or talk of joy or post pictures signifying these things — though I do believe conviviality and sharing the good things about this holiday ritual — I received replies which implied I was sad or in such a mood because of Vivian’s death: “condolences” and “sorry for your loss” sort of thing, which grated so I put a comment onto face-book that I’ll recycle here:

The above intendedly mild paragraph in response to FB well-meant conviviality is being misunderstood or one detail too emphasized. I mentioned Vivian’s death but my mood and point of view is not the result of that one event but the whole year I have lived through, and the kind of day I passed truthfully described amid this hegemonic order. There is one correction I should make this morning: I did not read Tomalin (who is on the pillow for what she stands for in my mind), but instead her biography of Katherine Mansfield and the very great literary biography by Nicola Beauman on EM Forster called Morgan, worth probably far more than countless books. How well she quotes Woolf on Forster.


He and she my companions

I am so tempted to cite Merwin’s Thanks in order to try to reinforce the balance I intended that I will:

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

But I found Merwin inadequate or simply comes across as ill-tempered not to forget for a few hours, so wanting to be adequate I watched DemocracyNow.org with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh discussing what is happening in our world that matters this very week and put links to that on face-book too:

among other things, a new Brazil emerging which returns us to the horrors upon horrors of the 1970s and 80s fomented by the US gov’t (and its corporations and military). The transcripts are there too: the caravan of wretchedly poor miserable people in danger of losing their lives to be met by guns and detention centers (and separation) at the US borders, the looming nuclear war ratcheted up, and how he who I won’t sully this page by naming knows there is climate break-up as his request to Ireland to allow one of his companies to build a wall shows. Lula in prison the equivalent of Mandela.

For today another day’s study, reading, writing, communicating as best I can with what uplift I can that is nonetheless truthful to be with others in the best way available to me ahead. Izzy is preparing a new song for us … and worked on that yesterday too, several times.


My computer’s automatic Windows 10 computer-enhanced latest wallpaper — as of November 23rd, this morning (click to enlarge, remembering that yours truly cannot reproduce the luminosity of the original, which comes from the computer light and had to cut off the edges in order to cut off metal frame of the computer that the cell phone software caught)

Ellen

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Helena Bonham Carter as Eleanor (55 Steps, 2017)

Friends,

Tonight I’ll concentrate on one kind of experience I’ve been having a lot of these last few weeks. I’ve been watching movies screened for me, and screening movies for others in my classes. I’ll save the Tudor Matter movies for Austen reveries (especially a great one I’d never seen before, Henry VIII, scripted Peter Martin, featuring Ray Winstone), and the film adaptations of Howards End (1992 Merchant-Ivory, 2018 Lonergan for HBo) and now Room with a View (1985 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala, 2007 ITV Andrew Davies) for a blog on E.M. Forster, of The Nun  (1966 Jacques Rivette, 2013 Guillaume Nichols) for a blog on Diderot. What unites the rest of them?

That film has become the central medium of our time? Izzy and I also saw this past weekend a moving and creditable performance and film of Sanson et Dalila (music Camille Saint-Saens, with one exquistely beautiful song, “Responding to your tenderness” the refrain) at an HD Screening (Robert Alagna especially effective up close). Yes it has, but something else, which may be seen as a push-back against what is happening in the powerful US gov’t.

Daily the behavior of a large but countable number of groups of people who have power over the well-being, prosperity, liberty of millions of people literally around the globe grow more heinous, and what do I discover myself effortlessly watching: a series of movies exposing similar behavior of earlier groups of people. Just in the last three or four weeks or so: Battleship Potemkin, Journey’s End, Judgment at Nuremberg, A Dry White Season. As with the harassment, rape and humiliation of Christine Ford, film-makers can make these with impunity as it might seem to those countable groups of people. The Nazis at the of the Nuremberg trials were most of them set free within a short time; the situation in South Africa in 1989 was desperately grave as the South African courts would do nothing to stop mass murders and torturing of black people. One black man manages to take revenge on one chief torturer. All the men is the Journey’s End, and which generals were ever called to account for this mad slaughter. Potemkin escaped the ferocious wrath of the Czar because the Russian armed forces would not fire on them, but then no one would take these men in at any port. Story after story ends this truthful way. Last year I was stunned by Paths of Glory. Everyone in an army unit stood by while a single innocent low rank soldier was scapegoated in lieu of the general who knowingly through hundreds of lives away. Probably none of these could be made in most of the states controlled by the people I began with.

What I wonder is if telling a particular local story has more resonance. Half the population of Yemen is starving to death, and it’s hardly mentioned in mainstream or most media, but the murder by torture and dismemberment of Jamal Kashoggi is this week being heard all over public media as detail by detail is let out into the public. It is true that in the movies I’ve named our attention is called to particular protagonists, complicated victims and heroes and heroines alike. How do you sear the consciousness of someone? Diderot in his essay on slavery said it was so hard to eliminate as the world is filled with people who feel no guilt over using people as abject slaves. This to introduce yet another movie that will hit you hard based on a personal story and single performance. As 55 Steps (alternative title: Eleanor and Colette) begins we see Helena Bonham Carter being shoved, into a room where there is only one blanket; she is wearing white gown used as a strait jacket; she is shouting and protesting and begging the crowd of people not to imprison her in that room, not to inject her with the drugs and they throw her on the ground, hold her down and inject her. She goes silent and still and then begins to twitch. They walk out, shutting the door behind them. Only one high window. She soon has to go to the bathroom and no one will answer her calls for help, so she urinates and defecates in her gown and all over the floor.

It’s unforgettable. How it happens that when she is let out, cleaned, and put into a room with a bed, and given food, she has the ability to phone for a lawyer we are not told. But she does. Slowly the story emerges or evolves. she is told by Colette Hughes (Hilary Swank) that the lawyer can work to release her pretty quickly, but she can also agree to stay in the asylum longer in order to argue as representative of a class action suit. (By the way the present supreme court has done all it can to stop class action suits). Almost unbelievably Eleanor opts for the second choice. Had this not been based on a real story, I would have said here is where it is not believable.


In court with Jeffrey Tambour as Mort Cohen and Hilary Swank as Colette Hughes

This is another protest film, this time on behalf of mentally disabled or troubled patients. She seems originally to have been epileptic and still can have minor seizures. Mark Bruce Rosen Bille August, and Sarah Riser dramatize how the attorney, Colette Hughs (Hilary Swank), with the help of a professor of philosophy, Mort Cohen (Jeffry Tambor) over the course of many hearings and trials managed to persuade a judge and then a review board that patients have the right to refuse medication even when they are mentally disabled. Despite several other scenes that were for me deeply distressing to watch, and although this woman died fairly young because these drugs had so weakened her immune system, she succumbed to a kidney infection (age 47), this is an upbeat story. It’s not just that Eleanor’s case was won, but that we were shown her through a camera and script that respected her as a full human being. She was not made into a plaster saint. Her very experiences taught her to survive by being obnoxious, being difficult, telling uncomfortable truths to those trying to help her (like I embarrass you, don’t I?) or demanding they accede to her needs however inconvenient at a given moment. She needs time to find a dress or suit that looks decent on her awkward body. She needs time to be listened to. She intrudes herself, is a busy-body, she likes crass music. She is unembarrassed to ask about someone else’s religion or to impose hers on the shared space equally as more discreet ways of coping. In the story she is Catholic. She is determined to be who she is. One has to live with her not understanding everything and being loud.

Carter’s performance is the film. She makes her character so touching, brings out her tender heart — for she cares for the other mentally disabled people around her. She is not shy and gives a Christmas party for these people to which her lawyer, now become a friend too, comes. She gives advice to the lawyer about how to handle her boyfriend. We do like how the professor is won over to fight for a first amendment right to speech as part of an argument — he fears to bring this up will make the case harder to win. I have seen Carter get so many good roles and have wondered why she did, as I never was that impressed with her performance. I admit I thought she was given characters not that hard to portray. Well here she is given something precious to do, make us feel her character is precious and like any living creature as worthy of the life she can achieve as anyone else. The film makes the point because you are disabled one or more ways, that does not incapacitate you from other achievements or other talents. She can get home by herself on a bus with difficult suitcases. She can live alone, pay her bills, take complicated medicines, find places.


In some shots, Carter is meant to evoke the Bride of Frankenstein: Frankenstein we recall is a protest figure

As I was watching, I found myself very distressed; I could hardly keep my eyes on the screen, and it was only that this kind of cruelty was forced on Eleanor fully before our eyes the one time, and that tin the case of the others (we do glimpse a couple of others cases), we see in passing a girl chained to her bed, we hear crying, terrible crying, or begging not to do this to her, in the midst of a plot-design which is moving upwards. The lawyer comes. Despite the lawyer’s warning, she might not be able to get Eleanor released for quite some time (even years), she is released within months and that’s happens quickly in film time. So that made what we were seeing more emotionally endurable for me. The way the film “worked” was centered on Helena Bonham Carter and as we feel her helplessness and distress and see the faces and behavior of the perpetrators (called doctors, nurses, assistants), it is driven home into our bones or hearts or feelings, how profoundly wrong this is — if we have any decent mind (I realize that Trump and regime would laugh or despise the women or simply never go to a film like this).

Such a film is frightening for me to watch. As I watched I felt there but for Jim could have gone I. It’s seeing what one dreads most put up before you. I can speak with authority. I have spent a week in a ward in an English hospital, trying to recover from a breakdown where I had just sat and cried for days. In the US I could not have had the benefit of a hospital without spending thousands. No one forced any drugs on me. Again in my very late 20s, early 30s, my state of mind was intense and fragile because I was finishing my Ph.D and didn’t have the skills to pass an interview and so became inwardly distraught as I saw my opportunities lost. I was held up by Jim, and a year or so later by a proper psychiatrist in Virginia. The right help and the person stays in society; the wrong and the person is cast away and made much worse. This is one of many areas where US society is going all wrong. Individuals are not valued because money comes first, and you can only escape the vise if you have high status or rank.

Maybe others can imagine themselves so caught up and then victimized. In small compass this is what the new psychiatry (not worthy the name does): insists on conformity, makes psychology a mild boot camp (mild is there only for social reasons of writing this). You find yourself in a mild form of boot camp; you are not validated, not comforted. I was told by one person, Oh you’re afraid to swim (I wasn’t but used that as an example), the thing to do is throw you in the water where it’s deep. Oh you find yourself abroad and unhappy; just turn round and go home. As if by magic. Completely the wrong kind of personality is encouraged to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, and then they do the bidding of the drug industry. And I know from close association with disabled people that they are treated as morons and one disability is considered the whole of the personality — if say the person doesn’t dress fashionably. That’s why the film-makers dressed Carter the way they did.

So the film has accomplished its core business: make you identify so you will want to act on her behalf. At the same time by making her such a difficult personality (again she has not learned much about socializing and what socializing she did was meet by derision or incomprehension), we see that this is not a sentimental portrait, and then when she does accomplish a lot (as I’ve outlined). It’s one part of her mind though it affects her looks. I learned to be angry at myself for at first being embarrassed at how she dresses somehow wrongly. When at the end she dies, I did think to myself, it is going over the top, and perhaps the funeral oration by Colette was repeating what we had learned too explicitly. But then the credits inform us Eleanor Riese did die age 47 as a bye-blow of these drugs. My friend, Vivian, felt that her years on drugs left her debilitated, unable to sleep and who knows if these years were not unrelated to the cancer that killed her at age 62. Camera shots of the real Eleanor Riese and then we see how Carter was dressed and behaved to look like her and the real Colette Hughes and Hilary Swank ditto.

I had worried so for Eleanor. Even if the constitutional right was proved, would the doctors obey it? would another case take away that right? could she be hurt in her apartment. Now dead, she was safe from all these.


Now and again a nurse is decent: after she wins her case, a few step forward to tell her they had not wanted to behave the way they had (then why did they so? they could quit, refuse to go along)

I have read many times that autistic children such as Izzy once was (at age 2) are sometimes put in institutions and never have a chance to develop or fulfill themselves. I’ve been reading Louise De Salvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her and her work. I am completely persuaded by De Salvo that not only was Woolf abused sexually and many times, so was her sisters Stella and Vanessa emotionally and intellectually abused, and her half-sister Laura institutionalized because she wouldn’t obey the conformist patterns demanded of the Victorian child in a strict patriarchy. I’ve mentioned I’ve been watching, reading, following a course on Violence Against Women on Future Learn. The later weeks are on the survivors of abuse, how they fare afterwards, how they are treated by society, what the trauma does to them. They make the point that trauma can cut deep and be caused by banal everyday behavior in life, if that includes the right of authority figures and men to harass, humiliate, rape, beat, silently enforce patterns of behavior. We are shown how case workers fail the victim because they stay at a high level of abstraction, turn away from the particular patterns of the perpetrator and demands that the perpetrator change his ways. Worse of all is the punishment for complaining and that is what that opening scene in 55 Steps records. So 55 Steps has general application. The underlying paradigm is the one Diderot uncovers in his La Religieuse, or Nun (which I’ll blog about separately under Austen reveries).

The film was first screened in a festival for prizes in August 2017, and it has taken all this time to reach a Virginia film club; it has yet to be distributed generally so I write to urge people to go see it if they have the slightest chance. As you can see over the past few weeks as a result of the courses I’m following, I had several others I could have chosen to write about. But somehow this common experience from the now abusive world of psychiatry and violence against women and non-conformist seems to me to reach more of us.


As friends, watching a wedding

55 Steps are the number of steps it takes to reach the courthouse room where Eleanor’s case is adjudicated. She counts the steps as they go up. They are the two lawyers who holds her hands and go up with her, steadying her. She counts the steps to get to her apartment too: 27. I remember Laura and I counting the steps up to the Milan apartment last spring after a few days and nights in Milan. The apartment on in effect the fourth floor, with its narrow stone stairwell and steep steps hurt one’s thighs after a long day. I had to pull myself up sometimes. As Eleanor was pulled and pulled herself up.

Ellen

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Izzy on the train

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


Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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


A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

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


Daytime from the side


Nightime from within looking out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is someone gliding:

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

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


Men

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

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

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

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


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

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

Miss Drake

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