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Archive for the ‘real family life’ Category


Vilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941), Winter, Latvia 1910 — I’ve been reading much Atwood this week, stories of ice and snow …

“We still think of a powerful woman as an anomaly, a potentially dangerous anomaly; there is something subversive about such women, even when they are taken to be good role models. They cannot have come by their power naturally, it is felt. They must have got it from somewhere. Women writers are particularly subject to such projections, for writing itself is uncanny: it uses words for evocation rather than for denotation; it is spell-making.” Atwood, “Witches.”

From Atwood’s poem, “Spelling,” 1981

My daughter plays on the floor
With plastic letters
Red, blue, and hard yellow,
Learning how to spell,
Spelling,
How to make spells.
*******
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky, and the sun,
Your own name first,
Your first naming, your first name,
Your first word.

My blog-reading friends,

A friend and I were talking of how when people grow old, they must to smaller quarters. and that “it is extremely hard to pack up your life and say goodbye.” Especially, to sell and/or give away one’s books.

I remembered a section in Carol Shield’s Mary Swann where a character who is a widower is forced to sell his and his wife’s library and says “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” I thought of how Jim and my books were the center of our lives together: we read them together, consulted them, collected, loved, gave them a good home, and told him I have nearly 11,000 books now. About 1,000 more since Jim died. Specifically, 10,989. As I’ve said here more than once, I had told him I have 5 rooms (excluding the kitchen, two bathrooms and a hall and vestibule), large square spaces with high ceilings, and each room has two walls with one large window each. That leaves a lot of wall space for books. Since Jim’s death I enclosed my porch, adding a sixth rectangular sun-room (much sun comes in as it faces east) with one wall having two large windows on the long wall. I also use the long hall in the back of the house for book cases on one side.

And he replied: “I cannot visualize what 11,000 books look like.” So I took photographs across my house and sent a representative example to him.


My living room showing the fireplace, mantelpiece, coffee table and a ceramic cat I bought in Milan as a keepsake — also a home-made doll I fell in love with at the Museum of the American Indian and could not leave behind. You see a sort of shrine I’ve made for Jim: his urn, glasses, picture, a toy sheep we bought at Stonehenge when we went there with our daughters, and a toy penguin Izzy added after she & I visited Chawton House


Another angle


The same living room, the other side — facing the neighbor’s house


I and my cats’ bedroom with a tall cat tree Izzy and I built to one side


Another corner of the bedroom, door leading to the small bathroom just by it


Part of the hall between the two rooms — to one side is a large bathroom and on the other Izzy’s room and my workroom (in both the latter we have books across the walls)


My ex-porch, now an enclosed sun-room: you see my stationary bike


And one more of my porch — oddly the porch, though I don’t spend that much time in it, is my favorite room. It’s without any pretensions whatsoever and the chair is comfort itself.

Today is the 7th anniversary of Jim’s death: Oct 9th, 2013:

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

This week I saw on face-book many photos of women looking ever so happy in pairs and groups, dressed in 18th century clothes, at the JASNA: the cherry-picking who could come and who was excluded was shamelessly transparent this time, but as I told one friend I felt better off totally excluded because when I go I experience long hours of wasted time in soulless hotel spaces: nothing to do as only 4 to 5 hours have sessions of papers (9 on at a time, so you cannot participate in most of it). Last time I returned repeatedly to the pool where they serve decent whiskey and ginger ale. Another friend said of the 2012 as “the AMG committee thinks that by reducing the numbers who can attend and upping the cost they can “control” who can and cannot enter,” and found “dreadful,” “grown women dressing up, a clubbish attitude, a bovine-like system of hierarchy that puts one in one’s place if you didn’t “belong,” and on and on.” I don’t belong to any of the “clubs” (as in “life-long member reception,” with more and more private parties on in people’s rooms at night) so I’m left with no one and away from all the comforts of my home, in a sense my existence itself. This past week I enjoyed myself at the classes I taught and went to, and the rest of the time at home or in car listening to books, working away at projects so I was not lonely.

I had thought Izzy hadn’t noticed what this conference was like for real (so taken up was she by distracting activities, the sessions she did get to go to, the ball), because she never said anything (and loves to dress up and has learned to go to the ball and dance), but on Saturday evening when we returned from a marvelous performance of Henry IV Part I (Ed Gero as Falstaff unforgettable, so alive) at the Folger Shakespeare library, to eat out together, her talk suddenly showed she had: she said that people join professional organizations (for her librarians) and were they to be excluded from the AGM, what would be the point of paying the yearly fee. Said she, JASNA gets away with this because there is this “pretense of disinterest.”


A good review

I read this week the first of 9 tales of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, “Alphinland,” (also all of The Testaments) and lo and behold it’s about a woman whose husband has recently died and she hears his voice over the day and at night talking to her telling her what she needs to do: it’s just ice-stormed so she must go out and get salt and food stuffs; the electricity goes out, so she must find her candles. Her grown children keep telling her she must move, downsize, sell her furniture, give away his clothes, but she will not because then she will be parted from him. In our end is our beginning, a powerful original early book of literary criticism about Canadian literature and culture by Atwood is called Survival and is about how the harsh cold climate is at the heart of their worlds. Our widowed witch remains seemingly cheerful because his spirit is with her. It is not irrelevant to know that just upon the publication of The Testaments Atwood’s partner of many years died.


Another fine review

I am still suffering from the loss of my supposed friend on the internet because I find letters so wonderful and now I have to get through most of my days without this imagined support. It’s time I learned to do without this — a last left-over from the idealism of the first decade of the Internet when one could make real friends even frequently through this medium. But, to paraphrase Johnson, it may there are some who would dismiss such susceptibility (“common losses”), but he says of their lack of tenderness, they lack humanity:

“It is the part of a man to be affected with grief; to feel sorrow, at the same time that he is to resist it, and to admit of comfort” (Rambler No. 47).

For this week’s Caturday I wrote about my “third” cat and put photos on face-book: I’ve been in a relationship with this cat ever since the man who owns him/her left him (I’ll chose a gender) for two weeks with only someone the owner called his (“my”) daughter visiting the house to leave food for the cat once a day. (Maybe 2 years ago.) There is apparently a way for the cat to leave the house. He first began to visit me during this time when I responded with affection. I left food for him as at first there was no collar and I thought he might be starving. But no he is “owned” by by this man who seems to show him little affection because the cat does not know how to show it easily and moves to hissing nervously. Other neighbors had complained because they saw him on their lawns and he might shit on these. Can’t have that. Or just a sense of nuisance: how dare this animal be there? Then I saw a raccoon and knew I was endangering this cat’s life. I tried calling local authorities but saw quickly all they would do was come and take and probably kill a cat without a “owner, and this one has this legal tie (such as it is)


The cat laying on my sidewalk waiting for me to come out

The cat apparently goes missing once in a while: once the man who owns him came over to see if he was with me — I said no and I had not seen him for several weeks. Nowadays the cat sits under a tree just on the side of my lawn, a bush, or lays on my sidewalk waiting for me. Often when I come out he scoots or walks slowly over to me. He meows at me and waits for me to pet her. I give him a small amount of food once in a while which he finishes quickly but he doesn’t go away. Stays mostly under the bush. He is very wary. He does not expect or know how to show affection: will hiss after he has nudged me lest I hurt him. The other day I saw on his head a shaved spot and wondered if the “owner” had done that. The owner is someone who moved into one of these obscene McMansions in my neighborhood after he married a woman who looks 50 from afar; she has a daughter of her own but they seem to have nothing to do with this cat. He is a small grey cat with white feet; if I thought the cat a boy for sure, I’d call him Martin. The photos were a close-up, him outside waiting for me, walking about me, wanting to be petted, coming over to me when I open my front door ….


Here is the close-up


Him circling me, warily but wanting to be petted

A small instance of basic human reactions this cat has mostly known, ranging from indifference to callous selfishness (neglect) in a world bursting with these … This morning the hairless part of this poor creature’s head has grown larger and looks reddish. He greedily drank the water I put out for him. The cat is going into a new phase. He avoids people — that’s what animals do when they are very ill. He stands aside on the side of my house all elusive, looking at me when I come out to go somewhere or stand in my stoop area looking about. Close-by or passing neighbors have asked me if he is my cat and I say no and they say he comes up to them and acts oddly and is seen now and then about my house. I point to the house of the owner and say “he is said to or does lives there.” There is so much misfortune in this world but this cat could have been taken good care of, and had a good longer life.

Having gone through all four seasons of Outlander (Claire a white witch) now four times, I’m back to re-watching the whole five seasons of the new Poldarks, one episode after another in a row as far as time and evenings allow. I had been doing that for over a month (or so) when my Irish Internet friend sent me DVD copies of the British BBC programs as they appeared on British TV. I much prefer these because the American ones are rearranged, often cut (sometimes drastically or carelessly, which comes down to the same thing).

So coming back to Season 3 (The Black Moon and part of The Four Swans), I am impressed by how a few of this particular season are mood pieces — if you simply ignore (more or less) the specifics of what’s going on, enough of that (like the seashore romance of Drake and Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles), of the setting (as in the episode where our local friends learn that the ship Dwight was in was captured or fear that Andrew Blamey’s ship has gone down), allows for many sequences of filming (or whatever you want to call this) of the sea, the near landscape accompanied by appropriate music. The effect is sort of symphonic — a pleasing visual and aural experience. There are mood sequences in seasons 1 and 2, but I feel that in season 3 this kind of thing is allowed to take over and is enjoyable if you can lend yourself to it. They did not try for this except briefly in the 1970s — they didn’t have the kind of mesmerizing computer techniques (and cameras) they do today.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (season 3)


Elise Chappell as Morwenna following Drake

I’ve also embarked on a study of Austen’s Sanditon, using Janet Todd’s edition, after reading her brilliant essay (crisply written, with a fresh feel), going over and over Davies’s new adaptation, returning to Brindle’s, Anna Lefroy’s continuation. See if I can make some sense of this fragmentary text, written by a dying woman, in bad pain on and off, where the beach, the seashore, the air all around it, is a central character.


From Episode 2 of 8 (2019, an ITV product, scripted mostly by Andrew Davies)

To conclude this entry, a woman on a closed face-book page for “Autistic Women” (how I was told about this or got on I no longer remember) told of how at her new job as a cashier, she found the pace and crowds hard, but was trying hard when one customer accosted her for “not paying attention,” and when the woman kept up this harangue and she tried to explain she is autistic, the woman rushed over to her employer’s office and complained bitterly about anyone hiring such a person. So I wrote:

I have learned, much to an increase in sadness and regret, that if you tell someone of your disability or inexorable problem, far from feeling for you, many will act out contempt and try to expunge you away. Thus the way to protect yourself is not allow most others to see your social predicament. It’s the only way to maintain the respect of the cruel, stupid, selfish, unthinking bandwagon types. And that is why a space like this where we are all here together in candour and true support and friendship can mean so much. It is very hard how one cannot tell but must bear on alone. You expected some understanding instead you got hate — you must tell yourself this woman is horrible, behaved truly horribly and not blame yourself but her even if the world is filled with people who react in such ways to disabilities.


A rare oil painting by Honore Daumier: On a bridge at night — a homeless woman, perhaps refuge, with a child or disabled adult

Ellen

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Calais Sunset on the beach from high up on a hill —


Me and Izzy on a walk along French coast line — rocks along private/public beach leading to Cliffs opposite the Dover Cliffs

Sitting on a bench on the beach, Laura says, “When I grow very old or can retire, I shall move to Florida, and have summer all year round. Isobel will join me. I reply: “She will never leave her librarian job at the Pentagon until it’s closed (by a Trumo) or she must retire.” Izzy says, “It’s too hot in Florida in summer.” So Laura: “Then we can stay in the house (mine now, I will not be here then, so Izzy’s, to whom I have left my house) In summer and Florida in winter.” Isobel makes no objection. So I sit there imagining them together when I am gone.

Another time Laura says, “I’d like a dog.” I reply, “Only when you give up travel, give yet more of yourself, and are willing to walk him or her every day twice a day.” She replies, “I wish I could walk my cats.” I say, “I’d like a dog once I stop traveling, and if Izzy could accept him or her.” Izzy, “What about the cats.” Me: “Alas, they are not long-lived.”

Laura K: Yep, that’s one of my reasons for not having a dog…

Laura suddenly declaring “we are in the middle of fucking nowhere,” I finding this hilarious.

Dear friends,

I thought I would write my travelogues this time as a daily journal, because this time I came on a kind of voyage of discovery with my daughters. We did not follow a pre-arranged itinerary, where lecturers had been set up, and everything was done for us to provide a specific kind of content or experience. We were doing it ourselves and were not sure what we’d encounter. And part of what I wrote was in response to what others on my timeline (where these entries were posted), said

On the days leading up to the trip, I told people in a brief phrase we had taken a bnb at Calais, and was greeted by a chorus of doubt. What could you possibly do there? Why go there? people just pass through. Here are some of my replies before the trip:


Calais St Pierre Gardens, one of the first places we passed as we walked from the train station with our baggages to our bnb on the beach that first day

It was Laura’s choice. We said let’s go to the beach and then let’s do it in France. So, first she wanted Nice and I pictured tall hideous hotels on a bare beach — which is what I saw when decades ago I stayed at Nice a block away from said beach; so I said Northern France as by train we can get to Paris and maybe London too. So she rented a lovely bnb by the Calais beach. The place does have historicals: the English owned it for centuries, it has prisons, castles, further afield is Proust country. Although this won’t make it sound appealing, it is where The Jungle was located, where refugees congregated in huge numbers until the French gov’t-state apparatus bulldozed it.

Judy S: Oho! It got its first city charter from the husband of the (once and future) nun whose career I was following on my trek in SE England last month.
Me: In fact it is a city or town over-burgeoning with history; a channel port fought over from 14th century (Field of Gold in 16th century nearby) to WW2; a castle, prison, favorite place for mysteries because in history for spies; it’s where the French thought they could marginalize the refugees but found that it grew hugely into The Jungle, which they bulldozed away …. Once and Future Nun — who was this?
Judy S: Marie de Blois/Boulogne is the nun. She was King Stephen’s daughter, also Matilde of Boulogne’s; her last sibling died while she was abbess of Romsey. Matthew of Boulogne/ Alsace/ Flanders, younger brother of Phillip of Alsace/Flanders (Chretien’s patron), swooped in and married her, and they ruled Boulogne for 10 years and had 2 daughters. After a sort of friendly divorce, she went back to the convent, but her older daughter did inherit the title for Boulogne. Other points: for some reason I had always assumed the Field of Gold took place in England; I guess Calais was an interesting venue. I think the refugees were hugging Calais for the same reason, trying to get to England from what looked like a good departure point. Terrible events.
Me: I may be wrong: maybe it took place in England, but I remember going back and forth. Where were Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII first married: I thought they had a religious ceremony in France near the coast …
Judy S: You are right that it was in now-France–or at least Wikipedia agrees with you!


Calais along the canal

Here is my reply when we got back:

A thought: Calais is good for the very reason people seem to pass it by. It is *well-located* and has been for thousands of years; interesting things happened there because it’s well-located and a deep natural harbor, channel port near the Atlantic — half of Dunkirk happened at Calais; the Jungle formed there. Trade routes go through there to Flanders from France. Lace center at one time. The problem was no cabs — the local people are heavily working class, and more or less left liberal in the French way, and middling — it went for Macron and it is now angry at Macron for good reason. And the price of the train tickets. But staying at the beach was perfect. Jim and I stayed in a ducal hunting lodge (for him and mistress and horses) with Izzy one of the summers he was in the NATO group; it was just outside Chichester — cathedral town, with wonderful bookstore, a theater, a festival. Now not far was the Chitterings a beach, and not far London — but you needed to rent a car and drive on the left. There are towns near London and then the shore — the way Austen did it — but you must drive to do it. Buses won’t work. There were lots of buses around Calais: Laura found out the buses (one set round and round the city were for free -every 20 minutes!) and the expensive trains. Phineas Finn goes through Calais twice: to duel with Lord Chiltern and return. Who has not heard of Calais. The field of gold, Henry 8 married Anne Boleyn nearby. What more do you want? It came up first on google when Laura was looking for a very nice bnb on the beach equidistant between London and Paris. It was bombed badly in WW2. But unless you are French, live all along the northern coast or English across the way you would not go regularly. Best of all the beach was beautiful, the sunrises and sunsets, it was unspoilt, a holiday spot for local people, and not commercialized because not advertised as a place to go to; the bnb was so lovely — very comfortable kitchen, fully equipped, large comfortably furnished front room; two separate rooms, three rooms with pictures windows. Filled with light. And inexpensive in comparison to places people are told are alluring.


Walking on beach that first day — we are the other side of the English channel and can see the White Cliffs of Dover in early morning before clouds come

First entry:

I can’t sleep. Probably I am over-excited from the day’s many adventures. Oddly (so I have concluded) when I’ve been up way too many hours I have trouble falling asleep. We (Laura, Izzy, and I) are safely ensconced in a comfortable reasonably well appointed apartment. It has two large windows and glass doors overlooking a truly lovely beach which winds all around the coastline. It became obvious we are in a holiday spot for local people, lots of children, stores brightly lit on an extensive pier offering ice cream, French fries, other delights, at the end of which is a lighthouse. Not far by eye signs of port and harbor — huge ships pass in the distance. I’ve counted 3 lighthouses across this seascape. Our host and hostess (so to speak) kindly and helpful. Tomorrow we must find food for the flat (although the one restaurant we managed yesterday provided me with scrumptious onion soup, very thick with potatoes, cheese, toasty bits if bread and onion that is all I have had for many many hours), bus passes, make small plans on what to do daily beyond the beach and planned trips. We may have to use Uber as there are few cabs. This is a driving community and we are not up to renting a car. The local craft specialty is lace; culturally they are influenced by Flanders still. The young woman (Marni) visiting and caring for my cats has sent photos of Clarycat playing with her and eating, and has glimpsed Ian whisking away (crafty cat). Now for a sleeping pill. Cool winds through terrace.

I am into Phineas Finn. How marvelously does Trollope take you into his book: he overcomes all surrounding circumstance no matter what these are — travel is travail …Also reading book I picked up on The Jungle ( as it was derogatorily called). I watched PBS news and Malcolm Bryant on how these cruise ships are at last being reined in—the towns they exploit are now going to charge them and put up restrictions.

Judy S: That sounds lovely. How long are you staying? This is the second week of the big European vacation, isn’t it?
Me: It’s not a big European vacation ; we are away for ten days or eleven, including travel time. We are staying in Calais and hope onceto take Eurostar to Paris and once to London. We thought another day we’d go to another oval Brittany city or town; someone gave me a list. Today we began to get to know the city, did see a few places tourists and others go to see, and we were at the beach.
Judy S: I meant, the period when Europeans who live in the cities take their own vacations at the beach.
Me: oh I see. I misunderstood. Yes we are away at the time of (to use the phrase Eric Rohmer adopted for one of his movies) “the green ray.” Maybe that is why we are seeing so many people on this beach. The begin to drive up around 11; by 3 no parking spaces in many lots, so they park on the sand or grass. They flit away beginning around 5:30, and by now (well after 7 pm) the evening group is there, ice cream and other shops nearby the beach having opened.
Judy S: I just remembered the term in Italian–Fer’agosto or something like that. I remember enjoying the beach at Rimini, long ago, because you could watch the Italian families enjoying themselves.
Miranda S: Welcome to the world of beach parking! 🙂 Much the same obtains in Spain, before the European schools go back in early September: family parties, including ours (!), set up and stay all day. But my Spanish nieces are amazing competitive swimmers, even ignoring jellyfish (nooo!) as they power across their Mediterranean bay.. Check online what is open in Paris before you go. Shame to get there and find your choice of attractions closed…been there, done that on a day trip! We can travel from our local station to Paris in 3 hours tops, but it is a good idea to check the days of fermeture, before you commit. There are good restaurants round the Gare du Nord, by the way.
Me: probably all is chance on these holidays, at least after securing the plane and place to stay, and a way from plane to place (say a train or a cab) when doing things on your own, there will be misses. That has been my experience.


Harry Potter Fantasy Exit Kings Cross


This sapphire stars is at Victoria Gate, from where our walk began – the artist is Daile Chihuly

Second entry:

So today we took one of our longer day trips—into London by Eurostar. We saw and did a lot, but highlights were the 2 hours in Kew Gardens, a beautiful exhibit of glass art by Chihuly: Reflections on Nature, carefully strewn around a quietly planned rectangular walk from Victoria Gate, eating in a restaurant nearby in business since the 19th century. We walked in Bloomsbury, by the Library; in Kensington and went to the Victoria and Albert museum (should have gone to the Imperial War Museum to see non-French impressionism), were in crowds of people strolling and eating ice cream. For me each return is a return to Jim and aroused memory of many years of companionship and deep contentment. Here he was born, grew up, though it was in the US where he made his way as an adult successful male. Here I married him — at Leeds City Registry office.


Calais — the Notre Dame Garden

Third entry:

Today is partial rest and doing more necessary things. I exchanged a whole lot of dollars for Euros. We bought bus passes, shopped again, saw the local Notre-Dame de Paris. This afternoon the beach. Locally we’ll go through the modern city center (industrial, international, fashion shops, where people work), where are the big working ships we see from far. I have learned (astonishing as this seems) refugees first came to the part of the city where I now am (it has the town hall, parks, churches). Then they were pushed back from the larger coast where the Chunnel is located. A very hard and sad story across many years, still going on, but less so, so rendered invisible. The French British and Dutch authorities were somewhat humane, nothing like the cruel depravity of the US gov’t today. I’m drinking some comforting chamomile tea, eating port salut with French bread. My French (spoken) is coming back, word and simple phrase by word and simple phrase—in execrable Bronx accent. Reading Beauvoir in French to help—a travel book about a time she spent in NYC in the 1940s. At the time she felt it to be a place cut off from the natural world

Anny: Enjoy your deserved trip!
Me: In my old age I am finding the beach magical while I sit on the sand and go in the water.
Diana B: Too funny, French Bronx! My French teacher at Hunter, Madame Hopstein, had a Bronx accent too, so if I still spoke French it would probably be a la Bronx. Glad you are having such a lovely time, though I can see why it wouldn’t be my choice – I already live by the beach, which explains why I crave mountains! Always want something different from what we’ve got…
Me: I miss very much how in NYC on any day, but to do this weekday mornings are best, you can get in your car and in well under 2 hours you are on a beach. Many free. Nothing like that in the DC or Va area: at least 3 hours which means you c…See More Decades ago on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Jim and I would drive with our dog, Llyr, to a small pretty area of Jones Beach where dogs were allowed. She liked the water. We’d bring coffee in a thermos and 2 croissants. Happy moments. I feel guilty that in later years I didn’t want to go to the beach. It was such a hassle, traffic jams (we had to go when everyone else did), have to rent this often snobbish house. I didn’t enjoy the context, and there was nothing to do but the beach. He would have to sit under an umbrella or his skin would burn and peel. Now I wish I had compromised more. It just wasn’t the free and easy thing of NYC — or southern England. We did go to beaches in England in summer where they were close to where we happened to stay for his job: free and easy. Pebbled beaches, cold water, sweaters. You went all the way to England to go to the beach? Partly, yes. We did other things too. So now we go all the way to Calais to go .
Patricia: I loved Jones beach as a child
Me: It was Orchard Beach we went to as children. We were all in the Bronx, and so was Orchard Beach so there were buses. To get to Jones Beach still you need a car. I believe it was your mother and my father who took us; your father worked as a taxicab driver; my father had no car. My mother preferred to go to work.
Diane R: Sounds like you are finding much to do and much variety. It is true we always want what we don’t have.
Me: Vacations take much effort and self control and patience and courage. You’d think they were just more life.
Patricia H: Oh how wonderful to relax on the beach
Me: Do you remember when we were small going to Orchard Beach where my memory says it took 6 buses? Surely my memory exaggerates, and it was a mere 4. Your mother and mine, maybe fathers too—but I don’t remember your father or my mother there, just your mother but that cannot be, as more than one adult had to carry blankets, towels and plastic picnic containers. I remember my father there, faintly. The sand was so white and hot, the water calm, all under a wide blue sky. All 4 cousins.
Patricia H: “Just remember Jones and Rockaway beach when living in the Bronx. Then I guess wading river beach on long island ( went every day)
Me: We never went to Jones Beach unless someone had a car. Your and my mother could not drive. My mother would never have gone in such a jaunt if she had somewhere else to go to in order to make money working. My father bought his first car when I was 13. Your father’s cab was the company’s and used for his livelihood. Rockaway is available by public transportation from Brooklyn, as is Coney Island. Not the Bronx. Yes once Aunt Helen sold her house to my father, and he basically made it a family house, we all went to the beach on Long Island’s north shore—very pebbly, high cliffs. The nearest town was called Wading River. Early on (before my father bought that house) we somehow were all at that house and experienced two devastating hurricanes that hit the North Shore: Diana and Carol. Do you remember these? Again the only two adults I remember in one frantic flight from one of these two hurricanes was my father driving and your mother sitting in the back of a rented car. Ask Richard what he remembers. The waters came up to the top of the cliff and Freddy Eilmer’s bar. It was terrifying.
Patricia H: Gosh I don’t remember the hurricanes. Yes the bungalow was a summer place for the family. All aunt’s vacations took care of all kids during summer, even aunt Stella. Aunt Stella would buy Danish from that bakery one time your mother watched us
Me: Yes I remember that extraordinary set of boils you developed on your back, and going to a doctor in Riverhead (who had many patients). You may remember my mother being there, because it was so rare. She took you (with me along) to a doctor that day. I went to camp only once and hated it, but I did not come regularly to that house (we did call it “the bungalow”) until after my father bought it. There are (or were) photos of me as a young child in front of a water pump and that can only have happened in the early days of that house. I remember Bill building it (with others) and saying this would kill him. I remember later in time Aunt Stella going to a bakery to bring back morning rolls and cakes on Sundays. Yes I have some memories of comfortable happy times in that community—dances on Saturday night at the end of the block, a place called the Sugar Bowl where teenagers hung out and all bought ice cream. I believe Carol met Billy there, a fateful moment for her entire future.
Patricia H: I do remember the dances at the end of the Street, I loved it. I think building the bungalow did kill Uncle Bill in the end
Me: he died young, early fifties, as you will recall a sudden heart attack. Building that house with his bare hands and tools and knowledge gained so slowly was just another of the stresses he endured. His wife was a hard and could a mean woman (she would refuse to talk to him in their house for weeks). He job as a printer was long hours and hard physical labor; the union helped until technology defeated the printers and the old good jobs began to disappear. He voted against his own interest (the Republican Party has been fiercely anti-worker since the end of the 19th century; nothing has changed there). He might have been happier had he been able to divorce and build another life or (staying) had a son. Carol is now fierce Republican. My mother went back to remunerative work when I was an infant; at age 3 I was left with Helen and she washed my mouth out with soap over something I said, and my father would not leave me with her again. If she was a pitiless woman (as was her mother though not so obtuse). Life paid her back. Among other things, her daughter married who she did to spite her. The scary thing about these Trump worshippers is he has become a God and die of or for hatred for them. Of course they will not put it this way.
Michele Reday C: Sounds like a great trip! Bon Voyage traveling in France!


Paris — the Seine


Paris — morning tour of Marais, ends on cheese and wine tasting


Paris the Musee D’Orsay


Musee D’Orsay hall

Fourth entry:

Today we spent the day in Paris and I can testify to a truly interesting and at moments transformative time. Laura had been determined to join this tour called “Paris by mouth.” The very name embarrassed me. It is misnamed. Perhaps testing food tour with somewhat nationalistic lectures intended to impress ( in front of apparently prestigious maker of remarkable food) would be more accurate—as in fact I got little to eat. (Very like a “Whiskey night” in Scotland which was sillily presented as an opportunity to be drunk when it was the barest tasting with similar long speeches.) The frame was historical: we walked all around Marais, (swamp), an ancient area of Paris, once a slum, now gentrified with these exquisite expensive shops. It was not widened in the 1870’s. Then drinking wine and eating good cheese. Lots of museums, and older buildings. Then in the afternoon I was dazzled by the Berthe Morisot exhibit in the Musee d’Orsay. I bought the first big heavy art catalogue book I have for years: so many pictures I’d never seen before. Reproductions well done. She has her own peculiar technique — and her own outlook and mood. Maybe now justice will be done. I will try to write on her separately.


Berthe Morisot, Field of Wheat

We wandered about the rooms of beauty—impressionist and post-impressionists, which I have not seen or not seen for years; then walked along Seine, saw what’s left of Notre Dame, the Louvre from far. Time was up: no time for a book and DVD store hard to find (as in “you can’t miss it” — “oh yes I can”). We did manage a bookstore in London. It was time hurry down to underground Metro to find our way to train to return to Calais. Laura took many photos. Tomorrow the nearby Cliffs by bus and the museum of lace work, and then we have earned another time at the beach. Not that we are not there right now as I look down from the terrace and listen to the sounds of the water and people in restaurants on pier while typing this. Someone playing the guitar and singing. I have neglected some (to me) funny moments. Laura suddenly declaring “we are in the middle of fucking nowhere.” I found this hilarious. Me telling her travel is liminality, and liminal time is anxiety-producing for me, and her answering: to me travel is getting from one place to another, with Izzy explaining “this is an anthropological concept used in other contexts—no longer uncommon”. Laura then looking this up on Wikipedia on her trusty cell phone.

Diana B: I love you can’t miss it, yes I can. Know it well!
Diane R: I too have experienced “you can’t miss it” as the guarantee you will!


Cap Blanc-Nez — Cliffs along the north coast of France


Escalles from the cliffs as high as we were permitted


Cap Blanc Nez looking down

Fifth entry:

I sent to face-book a panoramic photo of one of the two sets of cliffs on the Brittany shore we visited by bus today. They belong to the Calais area. It’s a scene of great natural beauty, but its interest is it was taken over and used by the Nazis after they conquered France. Huge machines of war, technology, and displays of military might were brought here and broadcast from 1941 on. The Germans tried to help their side from here in the Battle of Britain. Then when the Nazis felt they could not invade Britain, they surveyed the British coast and listened. From here Rommel had himself photographed surrounded by other known Nazis. The Germans fueled deadly planes with bombs from here. They succeeded in preventing the Allies from landing in Brittany (the landing was Normandy). Propaganda to intimidate was sent from here. Not long ago many encampments of refugees spread out along this coast.


The Nazi monument


Flowers Nearby

Today the cows, sheep, people enjoying themselves walking, swimming, bicycling, dressed up to eat out in nearby elegant restaurants were what was visible. We all three spent a long morning using local buses exploring the coast, walking mostly. At one point while waiting for a bus an English gentleman type said to me “how strange to come here for a holiday when there are so many more interesting places to visit.” The choice of Calais as a beach also puzzles all but the people who live here and also come to visit. Laura said I should have asked him why he is here, the puzzle comes because you are supposed to go to Nice.

Diane R: Lovely–it seems to me you are precisely in an interesting place because not everybody goes there. Those places are the true finds–and you are conveniently or semi-conveniently located near two major cities.
Me: I should have said it was Laura who took this and several other magnificent photographs.
Judy S: I was going to ask. That’s the sort of thing I would never bother to learn because when will you need it? But you are right, it is magnificent.
Me: We learn things for the joy of knowing and being able to do things, here remembering how it felt. What need does anyone have of Arthurian legends? What use 18th century poetry? Remember Lear on never ask a person what he or she needs? What use are so many thing I spend my existence on?


Sunset from our Window

Sixth entry:

Around 9:30 pm Calais time on Thursday evening. I am sitting on this terrace which closely overlooks the beach. The beautiful colors of the sky (pink, orange, faint yellow, shades of darkening blue) are finishing and fading. The sea has gone dark blue. I can, though, still hear the surf, and sounds of cars passing, human beings below, all around sbout. It is very cool, and soon (in this light nightgown) I shall have to go on the other side of the glass sliding doors.


Dunkerque beach


Dunkerque Park


Dunkerque Monument on beach ….

Today we made it to Dunkirk by local train and back. It was an 8 mike walk altogether across the city to the Dunkirk park and garden (with sculptures including one of red poppies) to the monument on the beach, and them a converted large bunker now a museum. A video of about 15 minutes made up of clips and films of the events and swarms of people, ships, planes over the for days. Countless died, the French who were rescued were returned to Vichy France and taken prisoner. Some of Churchill’s speeches, to its credit also the one where he said one does not win a war by evacuation. The museum itself made up of arefacts found rotting and otherwise on the beach, photos, and (like the African-American museum recreations using mannequins. Tonight the finest level of food (like a poor fish caught) simply but rightly cooked. I now retire to Amy Goodman news report (if I tell the name I get a picture that functions as an ad) and the Judy Woodruff hour (dittto) via this iPad to hear the latest, and then absorb myself in Trollope’s Phineas Finn.

Brent Donna R: Sounds enchanting!
Me: Laura’s message (and another panorama on her timeline) remind me that alongside a bridge just by the Beach not far from the Memorial too was a young man playing the bagpipes. Why he was doing this we could not know, but it was the right music for the spot.
Brent Donna R: It is all so amazing! Bagpipes have become a symbol of mourning and remembrance.


Calais Lace Museum from outside


Olivier Theyskens fashions — just two pictures from vast exhibit and slowly stunning experience of history and art

Seventh entry:

So today we saw a remarkable exhibit tracing the history, art, and uses of lace and lace-making — it is all women’s art gradually integrated, modernized, capitalized upon, often taken over by men. It was not dull but continually alluring and insightful. Two huge floors, from earliest ingenious tools and ceaseless female labor (I thought of Wolf Hall where Mark Rylance watches Natasha? as Liz, Cromwell’s wife intuitively winds several threads at once) through all stages of industrialization and fashions. Accompanied by just the right examples of complicated technology (amazing machines), beautiful lace objects as part of all sorts of clothing as one moved through the ages. Dressed mannequins embodying each decade. All in soft lighting. This Musee de La dentelle Calais was also showing an exhibit of Olivier Theyskens fashions which seemed some how fitting. I was reminded of the Laurent Versini exhibit two summers ago now. I was enthralled then too, but there is no single catalogue book of the museum—only this exhibit and individual books on individual topics. I loved many thing there, elegant subdued versions of late 19th and some early 20th c fashions, but tonight the colors he achieved in some of the dresses stand out in my,ind: curious rich dark reds and acqua-blues.

I did not know the punch holes of the earliest machine made lace are the true origins of computer tech.

We had taken a bus again round and round, this time allover Calais, and beyond, and had learned of a Musee des beaux arts, by a park garden, which we went to in the later afternoon. There was interesting modern urban art exhibit , a few older masterworks, but nothing as a whole surpassing like the lace museum. (Photos from Laura presently).

And we finally reached the local vast cathedral:— a Notre Dame, much bigger than I thought it would be, begun in tenth century as partly a fort, expanded in 13th century (so very high spaces, arches, windows, columns, the like); beautiful Tudor garden; then again the two world wars hit hard, and it was bombed and all glass windows destroyed; now slowly being replaced by modern stained glass art.I admit the churches in France seem to leave me cold. Too overly ornate, busy with absurd statues and (to me) gilded decorations. It was funny to see a row of such statues lined up against a wall: no where else to put them, they looked so out of place.

That sigh of relief and quiet I sometimes feel in a church (so I wish there were no tour guide or groups of people) I am feeling rather on the beach in these past couple of years. Yes. Something contemplative takes over—some experience of reaching nature’s rhythms and letting go by just going and sitting there. Though part of it the moments in the water staring at the sky. I look out and see the blank wall that encloses us as earth’s atmosphere.

We did the beach too today, Izzy wanted to; then got all the way in and frolicked in the waves—it was windy most of the day. Watching the conscientious lifeguard I suddenly recalled a time when I was young on Rockaway beach where the waves were wild and high. I hear my father’s voice saying to me “watch those guys, they are perpetually pulling people out.” Sure enough. They are not just there as show-off males but watching intently and with those tubes suddenly running in and pulling people out. How old could I have been? Today’s French young man nearly scolding a couple with two small children going out foolishly far.

Another extravagant gourmet dinner and then the serene beautiful sunset over the Channel. I can’t sleep, overexcited from so much in the day.

Patricia H: Oh I would have loved to see the lace being made. Four years ago we toured the Biltmore in North Carolina.They had a mannequin displaying of beautiful simple lined lace wedding gown. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Me: If that is a super-rich family’s mansion in Asheville, I’ve been there. It resembles an English country mansion.
Patricia H: Yes Ellen, we were going on a trip for our 50th anniversary , Richard invited us to stay with them. He lives in South Carolina about 45 minutes away.


Lille Braderie statue – many of these lined the streets — enormous balloon looking sculptures


Lille Art Gallery museum — closed, far shot includes Izzy sitting on square


Lille — a 17th century building

Eighth entry:

Win some, lose some. Laura declared us defeated at Lille today. I am not sure it was an unmitigated disaster. What happened is when we arrived (after a slow non air-conditioned train trip 1 hour and 1/2) was we were confronted with a mass fall festival. We and 3 million other people had come to the already fourth largest city in France, for today & tomorrow all northern France seem to come to Lille for this early September festival cum-art and flea market. Also a fun fair in the Central Park area (so I named it), which effectively cut us off from a famous huge protective wall and fortress we had thought we would see from the outside (no ordinary people allowed in). The rides were as scary as anything in Coney Island. People, people everywhere. Eating, drinking, buying, milling about, all talking French. The famous Louvre-like museum ( if you believe the hype) was for free, but we get in and discover all the art is closed off, and what’s left, a massive used book sale. If there were any quiet nice restaurants, they were obscured by masses of on the spot cafes. Loud bands, and unrecognizable celebrities everywhere. I felt we saw the culture of the area. Jim would have said as he did of local flea markets and “estate” sales of Alexandria, Va, so-and-so is putting her shit out. We did see and Laura photographed still standing 17th century complex buildings (beautiful if we could have gotten closer, a cathedral (gothic, maybe 14th century). My guess is for reasons I now nothing of the Nazis neglected to bomb this place flat. So we got back on the train and returned to Calais.

High winds and strong chills here so Izzy and I stayed in to make ourselves plain pasta and scrambled egg. Yet it felt very hot this afternoon in Lille. I probably now have a bad cold and sore throat.

We are recovering. Tomorrow a beach day (weather permitting). I’ll try to phone my lovely taxi man who made London and Paris possible, to confirm he’ll be here Monday morning at 8:30 am to take us to the local train station or we are “up shit’s creek.” I haven’t learned to use Calais numbers. I never thought I’d say this but outside Paris (and maybe truly large cities) France is in desperate need of Uber.

Me: This morning I could see the whit cliffs of Dover from this terrace. This evening fall has arrived. Suddenly much colder, a deep low tide so human figures seen far out. The water dark blue.
Rictor N: You will laugh at the memory in the future.
Me: Towards the end of most “times away” (how I term what others call holiday, vacation, travel) I often find myself repeating a line from Austen’s Mansfield Park. Fanny Price has been at Portsmouth over a month now, and has realized she now thinks of Mansfield as her home, and repeats a line from one of Cowper’s poem voicing what a boy might feel in one of those boarding or public schools: “ With what intense desire she wants her home”
Diana B: Yup. I have thought of that line on every single trip I ever took, no matter how magnificent! And, what Rictor said.
Me: That’s interesting, Diana, from the way you picture and comment on your trips I would not have expected such a sentiment. No I won’t eventually laugh st what happened today. Remember some truths are omitted (of what occurred). Maybe I’ll be able to cry. It’s hard for me to let myself cry. I’ve hardly cried over Jim’s death when I think about how I’ve felt and all I’ve Endured since. Once a bit older, Fanny cries only when her cruel aunt and stern uncle emotionally assault and berate her.
Diana B: But of course – I have almost always said “with what intense desire,” and to *you*; I know we picked up the saying of it from each other! 🙂 It is true, most of my trips have been the very greatest happiest memories of my life, the things that stand out, and there has been surprisingly little negative, little for me to “hold back,” not to tell on Facebook. Even so, there is always that “intense desire” moment, to be home. To be with Peter and Paul and the cats, my quiet routines. And THAT thought is what reconciles me to the fact that even the most glorious trip has to end. So I say it. It is good to travel; and it is good to go home.
Me: I do hope I have not given the impression this trip has been magnificent. There have been interesting new and good times. And I have yet to get home without going through an ordeal; if I manage that, on the whole it’ll have been worth the time, effort (considerable), patience, self-control and money. Oh courage too.
Diana B: Ellen no, I didn’t get the impression you’d ever said “magnificent.” That’s my feeling about trips because, living in bland California, they mean everything to me. My impression about your trip was that it was curious how many people’s reaction was like mine, “Why Calais?” and you proceeded to show everyone why! Because it IS interesting; because it is France, and Europe, and history; and because staying off the beaten tourist track is often the very wisest thing to do! That you banged into a tourist event by accident just proves that point – but these things do happen, and by no means “ruin” a whole trip: of course not! Have a nice last day or two, a safe trip home, and it will have been a very fine and successful family trip indeed, and one to *your* taste, no one else’s! And that is what matters.
Me: Yes that is what I was doing: showing this is a remarkable and vacation-beach place. I ought to be paid. But I have also been writing to write somewhere. I find face-book is the cyber space I can write easiest in using my iPad. Finally these are diary entries, capturing my actual mood on the day of whatever it was. They will save me the trouble of writing a travel blog for this trip. I will string them altogether with a few pictures from Laura. I could write separately on that museum of lace because Izzy did come away with a free full description (with a few pictures) of the place. That would be interesting for Austen, considering how she probably spent too much time sewing—as women did then. And remember her shoplifting aunt stealing a card of white lace.
Diana B: Yes, the diary aspect and ease are among the things I do like about Facebook. Ideal for running trip descriptions – satisfying to write, and everyone likes to read them, too.
Me: I looked up Lille for the first time on Wikipedia; it is a major city in the region, with a long (2000 BC), varied history (sometimes Flemish, part of Burgundy in medieval times, then again French, took an individual position during the Revolution,alas occupied by Germans during both world wars). Prosperous from its textile industry originally, now fourth largest city in France. Hubbub for modern travel. The Braderie fair which we encountered yesterday dates back to late medieval times; it attracts 2 to 3 million people.
Brent Donna R: Taking trips away is courageous. It is change which most fear. Brava to you Ellen!


Poppies are seen in many places — this is from the two cliffs


The Seagulls

Ninth entry:

Today a relaxing day by and around the beach front, watching mingling with people and birds. Air has too much bite, wind and water without strong heat too cold to get in. Izzy taking photos of nearby aggressive seagulls. I bought from supermarket some yummy onion soup; with that, scrambled eggs and wine and tea I nurse my cold. Izzy and Laura plan an inexpensive meal tonight in one of the beach places; Laura tells me (and I tasted some) French soft ice cream is delicious. We cleaned up, packed, ready to be out of the apartment by 8:30 am tomorrow; if taxi does not show, Laura assures me it’s less than a 20 minute walk, even with bags, and I figure that’s so, so we should make our first train home at 9:06 am.

Now very sunny, light cool winds, near 6 o’clock, we sit on terrace watching: a steady stream of cars coming onto the beaches (ours is just one) for the last hour, more, also buses: groups on young people on bikes; young men on noisy motorbikes; a scene of people enjoying themselves in various ways; lots of family groups, all sizes and types; their dogs; many birds, especially seagulls; one side ice cream, fast food places, two piers, lighthouses, fishermen, beyond that Dover ferries going back and forth across the channel. One the other more apartment houses with terraced condos, playgrounds, restaurants. Lots of voices and sounds. I read Phineas Finn, Isabel watching tennis on iPad, Laura busy with cell phone.

Day and night, night and day, ceaselessly the two ferries go back and forth from Dover to Calais, Calais to Dover. Daytime you see whole huge ship carrying cars, on decks little passengers seen from afar. Tall stacks are engines. High cabins for captain and crew? But at night ship vanishes and instead you see a kind of odd vision: you see moving slowly high rectangular rooms ablaze with neon and other lights, inside the frame up and down lines with more faded lights, as these rooms seemingly tirelessly go back and forth. Sometimes the two are passing in front and behind one another. At first I didn’t realize these rectangles were the ships as visible at night. From our large picture windows …

Miranda S: Britain is an island. We need those ferries for our food and to connect us with the rest of Europe…along with the tunnel, which is admittedly quicker but lacks the sea views.

Lastly, a Calais sighting in my novel: Lord Chiltern challenges Phineas to a duel. Dueling illegal in England by that time and liable to prosecution so they do it on the sands of a Flemish beach. How do they get there? Why all four plus doctor separately head for Dover and then to Calais before proceeding to Bruges and these sands on the other side of (in the middle of fucking) nowhere. And then back through Calais crossing over to Dover… We could see the white cliffs of Dover from our terrace on clear days.

Pictures of our cats while we were away


Clary Cat close up — Marni was very loving to her


Clary comforting Ian


Ian alone, early on he looked harrowed, and here is more himself

Tenth and last entry:

I’ve been home for over 24 hours but am having a hard time re-adjusting (sleep patterns all awry) plus so much to do to catch up and compensate for not being here (like doing my bills) so no time for diary entries or blogging as yet. I want to say after the long ordeal home, especially the tiny space in the plane where I didn’t have enough room to lean down to reach my purse or fold my knees, I am convinced a law should be made that airplane companies are not allowed to have more than half the number of people per plane I was with on this last plane. All Americans should boycott all planes until such a cut in numbers is achieved. As the plane landed safely and became a jam-packed bus, and we escaped that crazed scene …

I did turn to Laura and say of the whole time since first we met at the counter at Dulles 11 days before, “The charm is wound, the deed done” [paraphrases from Shakespeare], we had a good time, no? Yes” she said. As we parted at the cab stand, I said, “you this way, we that.” We all 3 had agreed maybe we’ll do it again in another year and one half. But it was a wrench to turn away.

Diana B: Do it sooner!
Me: It cost a great deal of money. I’m already committed to going with a friend on a Road Scholar in August 2020 to “Enchanted Ireland” (maybe it’s 12 or 14 days?) and twice a year would run me out of money before I die.
Diana B: I see and understand your point entirely!
Me: I would go quicker if I could. Izzy and Laura pick up their share too and they too have to watch expenses. Want to know what we dreamed of this time? a week or so in London or near some Italian lake in the north of Italy at different times of year (not August into September).
Diana B: We have to find the right balance between having enough to live on, and not wasting our last good traveling years *not* traveling. I think a sight of Italian lakes is essential to stock up one’s minds eye with what Byron and Shelley and Mary saw!
Me: Well there are other things I enjoy much more than touring or living in another culture for a while (or returning to Jim’s); the travel itself (the long distance to get to where you tour) is a miserable ordeal. This year I had more happiness is other ways than this past week or so. So I’d say finding the right balance for what you find pleasure in and what you need — for example, in my case, teeth to eat with. No small expense for me. Yesterday it cost me $1095.00 for a new denture as my old one is cracking and for some seal to keep the old one in repair in the meantime. This after the Kaiser discount and paying for Delta Dental supplementary insurance. Laura’s medical bills are very high because ACA has been decimated of funding. She pays for her “office,” with its two computer screens and printer. Izzy’s deepest pleasure is watching ice-skating, tennis and writing. There are books I delight for hours in: I brought home an expensive beautifully made book filled with the art and essays on Berthe Morisot. There’s making sure my house is comfortable and paying people to clean, keep the yard, also keep my car in good order. Moments with friends out somewhere in local space … there’s walking in the woods on snowy evenings, which Frost forgets to tell us cost (as in it costs to breathe ….). Ian was harrowed in the first couple of days; Clarycat is continually half-crying looking about to make sure we don’t vanish. They matter too.


Tree Next to Calais station

Final thought several mornings and long days and nights back home again: it does not matter as much where you go, or what you specifically do at all — as long as what you are doing relaxes and gives you pleasure. The deeper reason for going away is going away. You escape your condition: whatever is the place you live in and all its troubles, and right now the public world of the US is infused with vileness and punitive exclusionary policies, much of them based on money, but others on the spectre of imagined identities. For me I escape the thoughts that bother me daily about who I’ve become, what I have not done in life, if you will my failures, and some of these are hard for me to accept even now. I escape my isolation for hours, maybe it’s for another kind but it is one that is another kind. In this holiday time away I was with two people I care about very much and hope care about me. The result is refreshment, a different perspective partly from the coloring of the area in which we found ourselves, and when you dare a new place, you never know what it is. So it can be a learning experience if you open up to it, don’t insulate yourself though accident, anxiety, and mistake, and all that liminality can bring will have to be endured. It was a good time for us on the whole, new places, renewed thoughts of old (for me, Jim again and my life with him), different books to read. I read the book about the Calais immigrant townships that sprung up and (like Occupy Wall Street) were destroyed, though not so ruthlessly as in the US, Michel’s Agers’ The Jungle, which will be the first book I’ll blog on on JimandEllen when I begin that blog again.

All that said our favorite places and experiences were at the two cliffs and walking along the northern coast of France, the Cite de la dentelle et de la mode (as the Lace Museum Frenchified it), the Kew Gardens experience. All day in Paris came next. Best of all our beach and the scenes from our high windows. From Philip Larkin’s High Windows:

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

It was the kind of holiday time away Jim would have liked; he would have been moved by the Dunkerque beach, museum, bagpipes. I shall now try to re-see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, with Mark Rylance saving us all, quietly in his unobtrusive sweater on his and his son’s fishing boat.

Ellen

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The World at Evening — Summer

As this suburban summer wanders toward dark
cats watch from their driveways —

The color of the sky makes brilliant reflection
in the water

There is a time, seconds between the last light
and the dark stretch ahead …

— Rachel Sherwood

A little more than a year ago, I made a summer interlude for my Sylvia I blog; now I’m content with a few words. Then I was gone for 16 days, now it’ll be 10. Then I went with a Road Scholar group to the lake district and borders of Scotland and England in the UK; now we go (me, my two daughters) to Calais, northern France.Why? well I said I wanted to go to the beach, Laura said she wanted to go to France, and Izzy was not going to be left behind.

This sculpture commemorates an eleven month siege on Calais by the British during the hundred years war …

The town or small city has a long history, it’s one of the channel ports between England and France and was owned by England for a very long time. Lots to see beyond the beaches. Castles, prisons, towers, a cathedral, museum. I looked it up on Amazon and bookfinder.com and found many books: on the recent history of immigration to the place and the development of what was known as The Jungle; as a place of war, from 14th century to WW2; where peace treaties and the like were signed; fishing and trading, commerce; a place to set mysteries. Today there are beaches, hotels, shopping, roads to drive, walks to do, markets to buy food and all sorts of goods. There are even ferries.

Laura rented a bnb for us that looks lovely in the picture: it has air-conditioning and wifi. We’ve bought to go to London at least once (see Kensington Garden exhibit), to Paris more than that (we signed up for a food fest). So we’ll use cabs and trains — spend money. The hard question for me is which books to take — to guess which ones will hold you when traveling and away is not easy, but I know Trollope may be relied upon, and so one will be Phineas Finn (as I will teach it this coming fall). I should probably take a good book on or by Austen too. They usually “work.” A small French dictionary — though for a long time it was an English city in France.

Google produces many pictures. Painters like to paint fantasies and semi-realistic images.

I love the art of Eduard Vuillard; many years ago with a visiting friend, I saw a gigantic exhibit (rooms upon rooms tracing his career) of Vuillard’s paintings, murals, drawings at the National Gallery: Dinner with Two Lamps: rue de Calais:

Chez nous, here in Alexandria, Laura’s friend, Marni, will come every day and has promised to stay 45 minutes with the two pussycats, provide food, water &c. Clarycat already made friends with her, and I hope before the end of the time, Ian will come out of hiding and join them in play.


An archetypal harbour scene by Nell Blaine (1986) — Banner Hills, 1986

From Three Poems at the End of Summer by Jane Kenyon

I stood by the side of the road,
It was the only life I had.

Miss Drake

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A flowering bush in my front garden

“Sitting alone in a room reading a book, with no one to interrupt me. That is all I ever consciously wanted out of life.” — Anne Tyler’s novel, Celestial Navigations

Friends,

The quotation that begins this blog comes from a long wonderful thread we had on Trollope&Peers in which members told one another about ourselves: it was headed: “Introductions,” but since we all knew one another in some ways, what we were really doing was telling of the significant choices and moments and the roles we played in the social world in our pasts (where you a librarian? a musician? a computer software specialist? and many other jobs), and to some extent why, and how, and where, and also why we post to one another, read and watch movies together, why we read one another’s posts (and blogs too). It was a deeply inspiriting conversation to begin a new season together. This list or our group has been going in one form or other since 1995 or 1997 depending on whether you want to count the beginning on a usenet site (majordomo software) as simply “Trollope” or our breakaway to a site run by Mike Powe with the more coherent explicit name Trollope and His Contemporaries (Trollope-l). So 24 or 22 years; with a few of our original 11-12 having died, and many changes in people, and at least 5 different places in cyberspace. Someone summed up what I said of my “career goal” with the Anne Tyler utterance.


Bookermania

It’s odd to imply (by my header) that summer has just started, for I’ve had my Cornwall early summer holiday, and now the first course I was scheduled to teach (at OLLI at AU, The Mann Booker Prize: Short and Short-listed) is over. I think the class went splendidly for all of us there — we began with 40 and about 35 stayed the course, everyone seemed to be deeply engaged by the books and enjoyed the movies, especially J L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and Pat O’Connor and Simon Gray’s film. We had new insights into Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, and people loved that film too (I showed clips). The applause and praise were music to my soul, and (not to be too ethereal) I had again cleared over $300 in the honorarium envelope I was given in the last session as a parting gift.

A course I was taking came to an end too: Hitchcock films, four of them: the teacher is gifted in his ability to analyze the films (he had studied these for years) and prompt many people in a class to talk. He assigned four (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Psycho). He demonstrated that as film art, they are fascinating experiences, lending themselves to Freudian psychoanalysis, and very intricate aesthetically, but (I think) did not prove his case that they are meant to expose and critique fundamental patriarchal and cruel paradigms that shape human lives through customs and laws. Yes Hitchcock has a gift for intuiting what is unnerving, uncanny, and presenting the amorality and appetites of people, but he is also misogynistic, homophobic, enjoys marshaling stories and images that prey on, do hostile mischief against the peace of his audience.

I watched six Hitchcock movies this time altogether. I added two to those the teacher discussed (voluntarily — as extras) The Lady Vanishes, Vertigo; and two I fell asleep on: 39 Steps and The Trouble with Harry, i.e., what shall we do with this corpse of a man who had a stroke after his silly wife hit him over the head with a milk bottle. You have to admit this was a mighty amount of film watching — I did it all after 11 at night. I have also seen and remember Marnie (very well, I’ve read a book in it) and The Birds (the latter of which is especially cruel — perhaps to the birds traumatized to behave that way too); vaguely I remember Rebecca; of the TV program Alcoa Presents many years ago I remember being frightened and Hitchcock getting a kick out of frigthenting people with uncanny stories that could arouse their atavism. So I did give Hitchcock a fair shake.

Of all ten I now remember the only one I enjoyed was The Lady Vanishes. I could say why I didn’t like each of them, but it’s a thankless task. Let me just write of Psycho and The Lady Vanishes.

I felt in the case of Psycho that Catherine MacKinnon’s argument that violent pornography aimed at hurting women violates real women’s rights to life, liberty and safety and should be controlled is well taken. It’s a mean cruel picture where a reductive Freudian explanation for people’s sexual and emotional misery is used to make a story that exemplifies that paradigm; after the homosexual man dressed as his hag-mother murders the fleeing woman in her shower, a psychiatrist is produced who explains what we have seen by the myth that was used to put the story together.


May Whittie, Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes)

As for The Lady Vanishes, the film centers on an older woman (played by Dame May Whitty) who vanishes and turns out to be a working spy for the UK gov’t; she is rescued from murder by the heroine (Margaret Lockwood) who will not believe the woman never existed, and her witty romantic male companion (Michael Redgrave). There is light good-natured (!) comedy; an unusual (for the time) use of camera tricks of all sorts, some beautiful filming of sets and scenes. As in other movies of this era, central is the danger and excitement and “awesomeness” of a train all the characters are on.

This film is not misogynistic at all — it has several brave women who are treated with dignity and respect. A sort of jokey-ness surrounds sex and the men are not predators. Nor are they little boys gone wrong, or wronged, or super-vulnerable or intent on controlling the identity and body of the heroine. The heroine was going to marry for money and rank but is very reluctant and in the end marries the hero because she likes him as a companion and he her.


1972 cast — that’s Diana Quick in the key role of Marion Halcombe


2018 — Jessie Buckley and Dougray Scott as Marion and Laura

Very good hours went into reading (with friends on Trollope&Peers @ groups.io Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White, which I now think an underrated masterpiece, and watching both the 1972 and 2018 BBC five part serial dramas. I will be blogging on this on EllenandJim have a blog, two. We are about to begin Anne Boyd Rioux’s Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, a bit early for yet another Little Women movie, we have been told is coming out next Christmas: directed by Gerta Gerwig, with Saonise Ronan as Jo, Meryl Streep as Aunt March (this is what age does to us). I’m just ending Rioux’s brilliant Writing for Immortality (again full blog to follow separately on Austen Reveries, two). Soon to try on Womenwriters@groups.io Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and then Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: topics are Afro-women writers, and mother-daughter paradigms as central to women’s lives and art.

And the second phase of summer teaching and courses began: I started my second course (at OLLI at Mason, The Enlightenment: At Risk?) and the class is much much more enthusiastic, we had a rousing time this past Wednesday. Even I am surprised. And the Cinema Art Theater film club began with the wonderfully enjoyable Hampstead (blog to follow) while the Folger Theater ended its marvelous year with an HD screening of Ghost Light, a poignant comic appropriation of Macbeth.

NB: I took the Metro to get there as 7 pm is an awkward time for me. Many shuttle buses are there for the ride back and forth from National Airport or Crystal City to King Street, but the ride is in traffic and takes longer. I got home after midnight. I had enjoyed myself, even had a friend to talk to coming back — another widow like myself. But the next day I was so tired I found myself ever so slightly nodding off as I drove. Can’t have that so this may be the last time I venture forth at night where I need to take the Metro until it’s fixed. So I am back to bouts of Outlander, books and serial drama at midnight …

I am happy to say my Anomaly project with my friend is back on track and I’ve begun to immerse myself in my first subject: Margaret Oliphant, a life-long self- and family-supporting widow as writer. I love her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her niece Annie Walker (1899 edition). Am not giving up on my Poldark studies. I listen to David Rintoul reading aloud Scott’s Waverley with such genius that he almost makes the book wholly delightful (as well as a serious presentation of cultural politics in Scotland around the time of Culloden). I came up with a proposal for the coming EC/ASECS in October: At the Crossroad of my Life; although Izzy and I will probably be excluded from the coming Williamsbury JASNA, for her sake, for the next one in Cleveland I am going to write one out of the blog I made on Austen’s History of England: “Tudor and Stuart Queens of Jane Austen ….”, as in

It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman [Anne Bullen] was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the Charges against her, and the King’s Character; all of which add some confirmation, tho’ perhaps slight ones when in comparison with those before alledged in her favour … His Majesty’s 5th Wife was the Duke of Norfolk’s Neice who, tho’ universally acquitted of the crimes for which she was beheaded, has been by many people supposed to have led an abandoned Life before her Marriage — Of this however I have many doubts … The King’s last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it (her History of England)

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On my family and physical companionship life, I shall say the obvious, which needs more to be said than people admit (but I often do and can feel others responding with a “well, duh ….”)


He is a beautiful cat — with yellow eyes. He tried to get Clarycat to play. And she hissed growled and spat at him: “I’m not in the mood just now.” So now he’s vanished, gone to hide because a contractor came … who said the life of a cat is easy …

That cats need companionship is not said often enough though. The other morning Ian was following Izzy about as she got ready for work. It was quietly done and not intrusive but persistent. He does often sit at her door when it’s closed and cry, whimper, whine, protest, scratch, until the door is open enough so he can go in and out when he wants. He is the kind of cat who loves to hide, especially high up places (like my kitchen cabinets) showing immense strength when he jumps up to them. He comes down by stages: loud thump and he is on the washing machine; another flatter thump is him hitting the floor. I worry for the machine and his underpaws. Yet when not hiding he is often with me or her and sometimes overly seeks play (brings a toy over) or sits in my lap and in effect makes love to me — murmuring, head rubbed against mine, body against my chest, his upper paws around my neck ….

Cats need companionship with people, their significant person and should not be left alone (with someone coming in to put down water and food) for any real length of time. They need another cat who they have bonded with, but both need their person too.

I also mean they grow ill without this — exhibit signs of self-harm to ward off anxiety and stress. One can read about this in better books about cats–and also occasionally see in an unfortunate cat.

Today Ian murmuring a lot at me. His way of saying I’m here and pay attention or talk to, somehow be with me.

The Cats of Outlander: Did you know the fifth season of Outlander will include cats: yes in Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross Jamie gifts Claire with a gray kitten, Adso, and the advertisement promotion photographs include the three kittens — to film a cat in a show, one needs three so as not to overwork any one cat.


The cats of Outlander — that’s Caitriona Balfe and Anita Anderson

Izzy spent two days at her first American Librarians Association conference (here in DC) last week, and now five days in New York City: among other things, she took the boat ride around Manhattan, spent a whole day at the Whitney and another at the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. She saw a musical, a play, spent time at the Strand. We kept in touch by email.

I had a beautiful conversation with my scholarly Johnsonian friend, Tony tonight — three hours — and talk sometimes with Panorea.

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Some funny New Yorker cartoons: Victorian heroines with adequate birth control by Glynnis Fawkes:

Classical heroine who did not need birth control measures:

So I have recovered from the first of my two summer trips. Never say keeping sadness at bay is not hard work.

by Eugenio Montale, as translated from the Italian by Jonathan Galassi

The Lemons

Listen to me, the poets laureate
walk only among the plants
with rare names: boxwood, privet, and acanthus.
But I like roads that lead to grassy
ditches where boys
scoop up a few starved
eels out of half-dry puddles:
paths that run along the banks
come down among the tufted canes
and end in orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better if the hubbub of the birds
dies out, swallowed by the blue:
we can hear more of the whispering
of friendly branches in not-quite-quiet air,
and the sensations of this smell
that can’t divorce itself from earth
and rains a restless sweetness on the heart.
Here, by some miracle, the war
of troubled passions calls a truce;
here we poor, too, receive our share of riches,
which is the fragrance of the lemons.

See, in these silences where things
give over and seem on the verge of betraying
their final secret,
sometimes we feel we’re about
to uncover an error in Nature,
the still point of the world, the link that won’t hold,
the thread to untangle that will finally lead
to the heart of a truth.

The eye scans its surroundings,
the mind inquires aligns divides
in the perfume it gets diffused
at the day’s most languid
It’s in these silences you see
in every fleeting human
shadow some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion fails, and time returns to us
to noisy cities where the blue
is see in patches, up between the roofs.
The rain exhausts the earth then;
winter’s tedium weighs the houses down,
the light turns miserly — the soul bitter.
Till one day through a half-shut gate
in a courtyard, there among the trees,
we can see the yellow of the lemons;
and the chill in the heart
melts, and deep in us
the golden horns of sunlight
pelt their songs.

Ellen

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From Times Literary Supplement: Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, by Eugene Atget, c 1902  — the TLS is probably my favorite among all the periodicals I subscribe to

The anguish never ceases …

Friends,

One more about this Cornwall trip and its aftermath: I don’t let myself speak hard truth too often but once in a while I must let some full truth of feeling speak

I didn’t tell that the friend I was partly with, Stephen, confirmed my hunch about what caused esophageal cancer in Jim. After I told him much that had happened, he said, yes, when a hernia formed in Jim’s diaphragm, it became a constant irritant to that and other organs nearby. I had said how at first Kaiser gave Jim a strong prescriptive medicine that endangered his kidneys. He had been suffering terrific acid. Every three months he had to take a test to see if his kidneys were managing.

Then (they said) and over-the-counter preparations had improved enormously and why didn’t Jim try one of these. It would not threaten his kidneys so directly. As I recall at first the non-prescription pills helped, but gradually (over the years) it seemed to me Jim was eating 5 tums at a time and even several times a day. Why didn’t he go to to the doctor? For all I know Jim might have told the doctors about his suffering with acid. Until this last fatal illness, Jim would not let me come into the doctor’s office with him because he, Jim, wanted to be in charge wholly. I doubt they advised a preventative esophagectomy: he would have told me that.

Stephen implied they should have done one of these – -or something about this extraordinary condition. When I said the Kaiser people said that the hernia was not implicated, Stephen laughed and said obviously this rubbing and acid was the trigger. What is cancer but an error in replicating one’s DNA? His cells would have been constantly made sore. Stephen said the suggestions Jim’s smoking or anything else were not the culprits: alcohol insofar as it exacerbated his stomach distress — it’s a poison.

Now I know too that I didn’t contract hepitatis C 40 years ago; that is between, 1976 and 1984 when I had several hemorrhages and was given blood. That’s what the Kaiser Dr Chowla and the others all claimed. (Chowla looked at me suspiciously as if I had been taking illegal drugs. Oh no it could not be Kaiser.) So  supposedly for decades I was exacerbating my liver with alcohol while having this virus and it was still in good condition. Even she saw the improbability.

I said it was more likely three years ago when I had the semi-permanent denture on top of four implants put in my lower jaw. They said, could’t be since they have these impeccable methods. I was also on this trip rooming with a retired nurse. She snorted when I told her what Kaiser said, and replied “sloppy techniques.” Hospitals are places where people contract illness because of sloppy techniques. Of course you contracted it more recently, said she.

Kaiser doctors are ever protecting themselves against suit. Careful to protect their place in the organization.

I remember after Jim contracted this cancer my neighbor told me his father-in-law had had a preventative esophagectomy (it has some medical name) and he advised others ever after not to. He had been made miserable by it: he couldn’t eat much, and only the blandest food. Now I think to myself, he was still alive years later. Then I still (foolishly) was led to hope that perhaps the operation done then, chemotherapy and radiation would save Jim.

Now I’m thinking how long ago was that? I didn’t know the man’s age. Maybe when Jim was in his mid-40s when this hernia occurred, there was not the skill or ability to do this drastic surgery. Can anyone be sure Jim would contract cancer? they might think this measure could cause other fatal events? They might have recommended some other harsh medicine. At the time Jim was contracting diverticulitis and at each episode he’d take this super-strong stuff and suffer. It would work after a while. A surgeon did offer to remove part of Jim’s lower intestine but Jim declined “for now.” Said the medicine was working better than it had. Who knows what kinds of mistakes could happen in such surgeries?

I’m telling this now because I have been very hurt by people’s comments when I tell this. Stephen right away said, he should have gone to the doctor, and implied I was in the wrong not doing anything. He is a tactless man, his politics utterly heartless, and we hardly knew one another for real — he comprehended little of my feelings.

Others since have been more aggressive and said to me, it was Jim’s fault — or mine. A few years ago on a listserv a woman having read something I said about what had happened, pointed out that Hilary Mantel was still alive because she had been so smart about her medical conditions and aggressive and thus saved herself. I asked this woman, do you mean to say he’s dead because we were so stupid, to which she replied, if you can’t face up to the truth, that’s your look-out. She wanted to believe that if you are smart you can beat terminal illness; maybe there is none?

I did tell from early on how Jim would not go for a second opinion to a super-expensive doctor in Boston, would not take the time and put off the operation to see another who would have advised massive amounts of chemotherapy — said to be successful nowadays for some. Others it can be a disaster, but it is more and more successful, better than brutal surgery which does not stop metastasis. Then when 5 weeks after that horrendous operation was healing, and the cancer had spread, he would not try for Sloane-Kettering — a friend had offered to try for an appointment. No guarantee of course. He was by that time so weak and sick. He couldn’t face even the idea of removing his liver or parts of it after the operation he had had. I couldn’t see how I could get him to NY short of a chartered cab or plane and cab.  But this is the first time this implication his death was his or my fault was said so explicitly — by three people now. People can’t accept death as natural and to be sure Jim died hard, his body fought death tooth and nail as he was not 90 but 65, and strong before the cancer began to devour him.

I have to live with Jim’s death every day of my life, every night I go to bed. I push it from my mind by keeping so absorbed in my studies, reading, writing, movie-watching, teaching, going out to plays or whatever can absorb my mind. I distract and tire myself as best I can. Now I have this to live with.


Wyre Meadow — “Ruskin” Land — I was at the National Gallery yesterday where there was an exhibit of Ruskin’s art — I didn’t get to see it, but this image is appropriate for him (click to enlarge)

A well-meaning friend gave me an anthology of widow’s reflections called Widow’s Words, and edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin. I’ve now read many memoirs of grief, fiction, poetry, and for the most part they have helped me — I’ve felt much less alone; I’ve found that my experiences are common; some of the thoughts others have written down have helped me cope. Best thus far are Julian Barnes’s third essay in Levels of Life, Sherwin Nuland, How We Die, Jacqueline Lapidus and Lise Menu’s anthology of poetry, Widow’s Handbook. But this one makes me feel terrible. Almost all the women are upper middle class and very successful people in life; they have no troubles about money (this is very unusual for widows); they are surrounded by family and just tons of friends. When they have a gathering to commemorate the spouse, 300 people show up.

Along the way we learn how successful the husband was, often this famous scholar; one left a large archive of his papers which seems to have constituted his widow’s worst problem. She was determined to get out of the apartment but she didn’t want to throw away his life’s work in papers, document, editions, books, essays of all sorts. Finally the college she was chairman of a department at took the archive. Then we usually (not all I grant) hear how well they are doing now, how useful their existences, how busy, and most have a new partner.

Good thing I didn’t not come across this earlier: among Jim’s last coherent words to me were “I don’t want to die.”  I probably would not have killed myself reading this earlier (though it can make me feel so bad) because I learned in that first six months after Jim died that I didn’t want to die either.

I have found I am too old and ugly to attract a man; it may be that I give off signals “noli me tangere.” Do none of these women find submitting to a man sexually once again too much to ask?  Submitting by a woman is central to the experience. I don’t enjoy performing fellatio to be frank, nor anal sex. And there’s how about living your own life according to your own patterns and not having to be sure to please him or fit into his preconceptions or life patterns? They are just all buoyancy with strength enough to remain an individual …

Of course I’d have known this is not a representative book at all. Why then have I read about 3/4s of this material? Well because they are so confident, filled with a sense of their admirableness, they tell more truths in other ways: this is the first anthology I’ve read where the woman really tells the horrors of pain and suffering that the victims of some of these hugely painful fatal deteriorating diseases goes through in the US — especially when it’s cancer. They also tell of the abuse they put up with — from the hospice, from the medical establishment, not usually from the insurers (though here and there ominous comments about egregious bills are alluded to); but, what is most astonishing, from their spouse or partner. Most widows or widowers hide what they went through and do not admit to enduring as a typical experience vexation, corrosive cruel comments, denigration. In the Widow’s Handbook there are cases where the husband lied and left her broke, or without a pension or any health care but this area of emotional life is omitted. For once the “battle” is not presented as heroic and self-sustaining.

Indeed some of these people seem to me to behave like mad people, crazy.  Several of these essays tell of ceaseless toleration for pain with the implication practically until the person stops breathing and his heart ceases, that he may yet live. There is nothing they won’t do and to give up hope is what they refuse. Utter unrealism to the end. Well I suppose we may say their death is not their fault. They don’t seem to realize they are putting in for this horrendous experience. Maybe this is what is meant by that word “battle.”  It’s as if they have no other choice but to torture their bodies to the end. People are really kinder to their pets.

I remember Jim telling me once the operation was over and we did realize what a mistake this had been, “don’t let them hurt me” if I can’t protect myself from them. And I didn’t let them.

Bauer-Maglin herself has a couple of pieces where it’s clear her husband was violent bully: she seems to have looked upon this personality as admirable because so strong and effective. He left her once for a much younger woman and then came back. Since this anthology reflects her outlook, it’s not surprising that her pieces are characteristic of the whole volume. She chose people like herself that she knew — heavily New York City and east coast academics. So she too is doing splendidly well now. How could she think it would help others to have gathered women together to say how wonderful their existence still is and ever will be?

Well mine isn’t. I still endure the same ordeals that I have to encounter without Jim, and as ever (this is true when he was alive too) I do what I can, and what is hard for me doesn’t get easier. I am literally alone except for my cats most of the time. My life is mostly quiet and peaceful and sometimes pleasant and I know some enjoyments and have felt a few accomplishments (even if others would not recognize these as accomplishments because they don’t recognize me).

I remember that many widows, many people have much worse things to contend with than I do because Jim left me much better off than solvent and unexpectedly I inherited substantial (for me) savings from my mother and father, and an insurance policy intended to give me a lot if he died at 65 or before. I pay decently honest people to help me with my money, the garden, the cleaning of the house.

I have many internet and FB friends and acquaintances, lots of acquaintances from the two OLLIs and from the scholarly conferences I have gone to a couple of people carry on emailing me once in a while. I have my books, movies, this computer, my house (including nowadays a few small garden patches). My teaching is for now going very well: the people like the Booker Prize books I picked out and enjoy the films.  Unlike the lady with the archive, the world Jim and I created together — our house with everything in it  — gives me what meaning I feel, and what safety I have now. (Shall I tell you I know her and happened to tell her my attitude and her reaction was light scorn; well, if you want to delude yourself … ?) I watch Isobel bravely stalwartly carrying on. She is now at work on  a new song.

But I will never write the book I would like to write because I can’t travel by myself to do the needed research; I can’t figure out how to use “word” program so won’t send off essays to journals. I would like to do these and other things.  So I don’t need to be told the life I am driven to lead now without him is my fault, or it’s his fault that he was cut off from time and life and erased from all existence, leaving behind just the things he used and had gathered for himself and us.


A photo I took from the front part of my garden this weekend: the flowers won’t last, so I take a photo to remember: I like the dark yellow ones on the wide bush best …

One thing I cannot begin to convey with a photo is the intense relief I feel when on these trips I go into a large church or cathedral, which is cool and quiet. I feel this strongest in the central nave, and it’s most common in Anglican churches — some large formal beauty but not overdone — sitting by one of the columns not far from the usual row of high windows. I like the absolute quiet, away from sun and noise and movement. It is broken (sometimes ruined altogether) when a guide comes by and starts to talk and a crowd forms, or worse yet, people begin taking these endless photos. It’s at first just getting in to a sense of deep escape. I am not communing with any god. It’s solitude in these places of stone. Quasimodo: remember Charles Laughton’s cry at the end of the 1930s film.

And, so as I enter here from day to day
And leave my burden …
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away
— from Longfellow’s sonnets on translating Dante

Ellen

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Friends,

Izzy has worked up another new version of a brilliant rock song: U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name:

I love her rendition of the music. Here are the lyrics:

I want to run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name, oh oh

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It’s all I can do

The city’s a flood
And our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled into dust

I’ll show you a place
High on the desert plain
Where the streets have no name, oh oh

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We’re still building then burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there, I go there with you
It’s all I can do

Our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Blown by the wind
Oh and I see love
See our love turn to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Blown by the wind
Oh when I go there
I go there with you
It’s all I can do

Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson

E.M.

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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

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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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