Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘seasons’ Category


Charles-Francois Daubigny, Pond at Gylieu (1853)

… the most unsuccessful [life] is not that of a [wo]man, who is taken unprepared, but of [her] who is prepared and never taken — E.M. Forster, Howards End

Friends and readers,

What passes for autumn, or Indian summer, has arrived where I live. Dark mornings, hurricane season, heat less intense. A generous friend on face-book has been posting autumn poems and pictures which I’m sharing with you who read this blog tonight.

Autumn

THE thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bent dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

— John Clare

I’ve stayed put this last two weeks steadily. There is something to be said for staying put. I’ve ever liked the phrase: she stayed put. It’s enabled me to attempt to work at my projects for real, not just dream about them, or do a tiny bit a day. I am someone who does not work for money in this world of ours. And someone commended me for what is a justification of my behavior: I wrote to her it is better to work for yourself at home at what you love or what develops you or could be valued by others without making any monetary profit than work for bad people training to be a bad person at a bad place or misuse one’s gifts to send out distorting untruths to manipulate people into blindness — which more or less describes many enterprises in capitalism.

So I had this sudden change of heart or at least choice, and I’ve reserved a Road Scholar Trip in Cornwall for next May— not staying put there! Eight or 9 days, which Road Scholar has booked my flight for and I had the courage to ask for a flexible flight where while I come with them all the way to Cornwall, I leave on my own for 10 extra days to try to go to research libraries in Cornwall, and perhaps London or even Reading. In these places are the manuscripts and archives of information about Winston Graham. Prompted by a friend going to the ASECS (American 18th century Society) meeting in Denver, Colorado, this coming spring, I sent two proposals for papers in. One on Graham, which will not surprised any one who has read the first seven of his Poldark novels:


Eleanor Tomlinson, the latest Demelza (recalls one of the illustrations of the Oxford Bodley Head edition of the first four Poldark novels

The Poldark Novels: a quietly passionate blend of precise accuracy with imaginative romancing

While since the 1970s, Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark novels set in Cornwall in the later 18th century have been written about by literary and film scholars as well as historians because of the commercial success of two different series of film adaptations (1974-1978; 2015-2019), very little has been written about these novels as historical fictions in their own right. They emerge from a larger oeuvre of altogether nearly 50 volumes. Most of the non-Poldark books would be categorized variously as contemporary suspense, thriller, mystery or spy novels, with one winning the coveted Golden Dagger award, and others either filmed in the 1950s, ‘60s and 1970s (e.g, The Walking Stick, MGM, 1971), or the subject of academic style essays. One, Marnie (1961) became the source material for a famous Hitchcock movie, a respected play by the Irish writer Sean O’Connor, and in the past year or so an opera by Nico Muhly, which premiered at the London Colosseum (English National Opera production) and is at the present time being staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Some are also set in Cornwall and have been the subject of essays on Cornish literature. But a number are also set in other historical periods (early modern and late 19th century Cornwall, Victorian Manchester) and Graham published a non-fiction history of the Spanish Armadas in Cornwall. His historical fiction is usually identified as verisimilar romance, and he has been given respect for the precision of his archival research and his historical and geographical knowledge (especially of Cornwall). It is not well-known that Graham in a couple of key passages on his fiction wrote a strong defense of historical fiction and all its different kinds of characters as rooted in the creative imagination, life story, and particular personality (taken as a whole) of the individual writer. He also maintained that the past “has no existence other than that which our minds can give it” (Winston Graham, Memoirs of a Private Man, Chapter 8). I will present an examination of three of the Poldark novels, Demelza written in 1946; The Angry Tide, 1977, and The Twisted Sword, 1990, to show Graham deliberately weaving factual or documentable research with a distanced reflective representation of the era his book is written in. The result is creation of living spaces that we feel to be vitally alive and presences whose thoughts and feelings we recognize as analogous to our own. These enable Graham to represent his perception of the complicated nature of individual existences in societies inside a past and imagined place made credibly relevant to our own.

I know it might be rejected, so sent along a second proposal for a paper on a panel about Feminist Approaches to the Fieldings: this represents a smidgin of what I learned about Henry Fielding when I taught Tom Jones to two classes at the OLLIs at AU and Mason a couple of years ago now.


Camille Corduri as Jenny Jones accepting the responsibility for the baby Tom Jones’s existence (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Anne Boleyn, Jenny Jones, and Lady Townley: the woman’s point of view in Henry Fielding

I propose to give a paper discussing Anne Boleyn’s self-explanatory soliloquy at the close of A Journey from this World to the Next, Jenny Jones’s altruistic and self-destructive constancy to Mrs Bridget Allworthy across Tom Jones, and in the twelfth book of said novel, the character of Lady Townley in Cibber and Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Husband as she fits into a skein of allusion about male and class violence and marital sexual infidelity in Punch & Judy and the Biblical story of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:30-40). I will argue that the Boleyn soliloquy is probably by Henry Fielding and fits into Fielding’s thinking about women’s sexuality, and other female characters’ soliloquys in his texts; that Jenny’s adherence to a shared set of promises parallels the self-enabling and survival behavior of other women, which is seen as necessary and admirable in a commercial world where they have little legal power. I will explicate the incident in Tom Jones where Cibber and Vanbrugh’s play replaces the folk puppet-show to argue that these passages have been entirely misunderstood because the way they are discussed omits all the immediate (what’s happening in the novel) and allusive contexts from the theater and this Iphigenia story. I will include a brief background from Fielding’s experience and work outside art. I will be using the work of critics such as Earla A Willeputte, Laura Rosenthal, Robert Hume, Jill Campbell, and Lance Bertelsen. I taught Tom Jones to two groups of retired adults in a semi-college in the last couple of years and will bring in their intelligent responses to a reading of this complicated book in the 21st century. My goal is to suggest that Fielding dramatizes out of concern for them and a larger possibly more ethically behaved society the raw deal inflicted on women by law, indifference to a woman’s perspective, and custom

I believe I have told you how my proposal to talk of Intertextuality in Austen’s Persuasion (her use of Matthew Prior’s poignant satire, and Charlotte Smith’s deeply melancholy poetry in Austen’s Persuasion) was accepted for the EC/ASECS at Staunton, Virginia, where they’ll be two Shakespeare plays done by the Shenandoah Company. They are marvelous (“we do it in the light”). I’ll drive there: I’ve done it before. Later October.


Amanda Root, Ciarhan Hinds as Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth (1995 BBC Persuasion)

I’ve made my two syllabuses for the coming term, Wolf Fall: A Fresh Angle on the Tudor Matter, and The Enlightenment: At Risk? and am as ready as I’ll ever be to start next and the week after next week teaching and taking a few courses (which I named in my last diary entry blog — scroll all the way down if you’re curious.)

As if all that wasn’t enough I put in a proposal to each next spring at the two OLLIs and at long last I’m going to teach the same subject in the two places (perhaps for the next fall/spring 6 terms).

Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?

In this course we will begin a journey through Trollope’s famous roman fleuve: the 6 Palliser novels over 6 spring/fall terms. The series mirrors and delves many many levels of society and central issues of life in 19th century Europe. It contains a cast of brilliantly conceived recurring characters in a realistic thoroughly imagined landscape. CYFH? initiates central linked themes of coerced marriage, class & parliamentary politics & contains extraordinary psychological portraiture. As we move through the books, we’ll watch segments of the 1970s film adaptation dramatizing this material in original modern ways.


Susan Hampshire as Lady Glencora McClosky coerced into marriage (1975 BBC Pallisers 1:1)

Summer has ended for my daughter, Laura, with a paid for trip to Highclere Castle, with a group of on-line journalists (as a paid entertainment blogger) in order to write on the progress of the coming Downton Abbey movie. All expenses by Viking Cruises — for publicity. She enjoyed it immensely: to be “in” London (fashionable places), to live in a flat in Oxford (with working fireplace), to go to the Cotswolds, out to eat in old taverns, she immersed herself: she remembered how 10 years ago she was writing recaps no one read on this new show on PBS, Downton Abbey at her individual I should have been a blogger. And now, there she was, on a carousel on the grounds of faery.


Highclere castle from the angle of the carousel on the grounds (Sept 2018)

Summer ended for me with four (that’s four) spectacularly good women’s films: Puzzle, The Bookstop, The Dressmaker and The Wife (I’ll write on the latter two next week) Fall theater, movies, concerts start this week: Saturday Izzy and I go to D’Avenant’s rewrite of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Folger; I’ve now bought for the Smithsonian a few evening lectures and music (George Gershwin among them), and last Friday we had our first of six WAPG (Washington Area Print Group) lectures: it was Kim Roberts and on her Literary Guide to Washington D.C..

She told us about the lives of nine of her subjects from before the 1930s: writers and artists who resided in DC for however short or fleeting a period. Her book focuses on where they lived, house, lodging, friends’ place. She talked of Francis Scott Key, Frederick Douglas, Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar and his wife Alice Dunbar Nelson, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis (who should be read more), Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston. She appeared to be a deeply “in” person in the arts worlds of DC, and when asked to talk of others had no trouble expatiating away: for example, Henry Adams. I asked about Frances Hodgson Burnett, told her about Trollope’s time in DC and Elizabeth Bishop’s poem. Her talk showed that there have been class and race obstacles in the way of building indigenous literary communities in DC; until the early 20th century there was a class of highly elite, rich, powerful people who regarded the place as unfortunately they had to stay in “while gov’t was on.” It’s in rivalry to NYC. We need more plaques to commemorate where these people lived and worked. But things are improving and it’s an alive active integrated place now …

I have much reading to do, and watching of movies. And writing. So best to end with another poem

No Make-Up

Maybe one reason I do not wear makeup is to scare people.

If they’re close enough, they can see something is different with me,
something unnerving, as if I have no features,

I am embryonic, pre-eyebrows, pre-eyelids, pre-mouth,
I am like a water-bear talking to them,

or an amniotic traveller,

a vitreous floater on their own eyeball,

human ectoplasm risen on its hind legs to discourse with them.
And such a white white girl, such a sickly toadstool,

so pale, a visage of fog, a phiz of

mist above a graveyard, no magenta roses,
no floral tribute, no goddess, no grownup
woman, no acknowledgment

of the drama of secondary sexual characteristics, just the
gray matter of spirit talking,

the thin features of a gray girl in a gray graveyard­
granite, ash, chalk, dust.

I tried the paint, but I could feel it on my skin, I could
hardly move under the mask of my

desire to be seen as attractive in the female
way of 1957,

and I could not speak. And when the makeup came off I felt
actual as a small mammal in the woods

with a speaking countenance, or a basic

primate, having all the expressions

that evolved in us, to communicate.

If my teen-age acne had left scars,

if my skin were rough, instead of soft,

I probably couldn’t afford to hate makeup,
or to fear so much the beauty salon or the
very idea of beauty ship.

And my mother was beautiful-did I say this?

In my small eyes, and my smooth withered skin,
you can see my heart, you can read my naked lips.

-Sharon Olds


The Schlegels: Margaret, Helen, Tibby

I wear no or very little make-up. Lipstick maybe, I have a pencil to fill in the eyebrows I don’t have. I sit and watch the new 4 part film adaptation of Howards End (script Kenneth Lonergan, dir Hattie McDonald, with Hayley Attwell, Matthew Macfayden, Philippa Coulthard, Alex Lawther, Joseph Quinn. Rosalind Eleazar) and I cry. The ambiance, the characters’ depth of feeling, I’m so with them. Maybe it’s the music. The landscapes so alluring. At moments it’s wonderfully comic. Tears well up. Tomorrow I’m due to go to the National Gallery with a friend to see a Corot exhibit: wish us luck, that the silvery green-blue pictures are autumnal.

Ellen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


Me at Hill Top House (Lake District, August 2018)

Dear friends and readers,

You owe this blog to my just having watched an extraordinary gem of a TV film made out of a masterpiece production of Macbeth done at the Royal Shakespeare Theater starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellan; with only the most minimal props and simple costumes, they played intensely from the depths of their psychic beings. To try to describe Dench’s performance of Lady Macbeth sleep walking would defeat me: it was a silent howling grief of her whole being.

The use of close-ups, and the intense sexual interaction of Dench and McKellan were all riveting. The opening (the musical accompaniment is not the same as in the film but endure it for what you see)

I could talk of the performances, played deeply straightly, no rejection of what drives each — three witches by Marie Kean (mother), Susan Drury as mad as Macbeth by the end, Judith Harte, against the calmer presences of Bob Peck as Macduff (who left his wife and children behind), Richard Rees as the nervous Malcolm, Ian MacDiarmid the politician Ross and the porter. But then the reader will pay attention to the names, try to remember other performances. No it’s the lines from Shakespeare that they speak so of anguished despair, transcendent horror, crazed hallucinations, and especially Macbeth’s in his isolation, and loneliness, and how the ambition which drove him to kill the king was idiotic. It is as ever easiest to quote the high peak

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

But the shorter lines matter just as much, the ones that in context depend on the action of the play but resonate in the heart: no troops of friends, not one of my children left, no all slaughtered that Macbeth’s hirelings could find.

So often people don’t want to talk about what so moved them — in this case McKellan in three features accompanies the film of the play. He speaks of the original production at Stratford (and like so many now lightly grazes over how the RSC now is not what it was then), of how to play Shakespeare, the choices that Trevor Nunn made (they did it in an inscribed circle on the “other space” which holds only 100 people); the history of the Scottish play, and particulars — like of course you should not bring on someone playing the ghost of Banquo: the point is no one but Macbeth sees him. He never speaks the way Hamlet’s father’s ghost does. The film’s genre seems to be film noir in its continual blackness all around the people interacting so clingingly, in tight groups on stage, though McKellan categories it as horror.

He is such a good friend to have with you — this summer I believe it is that Izzy and I saw his great documentary film about his career at the Folger. he says TV is talking heads, that’s what you should take advantage of. In the theater he has to talk to the others at large or in a small theater of 100 perhaps individually catch your presence one at a time; in TV he talks out to me, says he.

Categories: Mark Kermode has 5 not so intelligent takes on film categories, and Andrew Marr three brilliant on Spy, Thriller and Sorcerer movies — they are on movie genres, so little talked of, the packaging of these commodities. it was almost good enough to make up for the cliched in thought and name-dropping analyses of his first two, which I’ll remind any readers of this thread were on Rom-Com (romantic comedy, which includes the tradtional “wacky” comedy genre and famiial comedy, part of traditional family dramas) and “the heist movie” (which included male violence, crime, film noir, mystery, horror — male genres which females appear in only as sex objects for when a group of women replaces the central group of males).

In the third “new” genre he turns to coming-of-age movies and suddenly he’s better, more engaged, more personal and comes up with analyses that connect the motifs of this genre to social realities in the UK and US (however indiscriminately). He lumps female coming-of-age with male so there is nothing wrong with LadyBird and he does not recognize any difference in a movie where the center is a girl and woman’s friendship and all the mentors are either mothers or women friends or a male coming of age where the question is the place of the individual _in society_, his end success in society, and the mentors are a father or male figure of some sort (avuncular). All is lumped together, and he again reaches back to old classics and then speeds up to reach modern indies and films about minorities — which in this batch are singled as about minorities and so the analyses is again better (Moonlight — black young men are utterly disadvantaged).

Still if you yourself know the difference you can see these things in what you are watching: better, his theme is finding one’s identity. He says such films are about finding one’s identity and the parents regarded as good and authorities on the surface are often those you must get away from, those whose norms will destroy you. He Kermode identifies here and the movies he choses and comments are worth seeing in this light. Movies you might not have regarded as coming of age (for example Sally Hawkins and her fish lover) he does.

I watch these sorts of things at night alone too, gentle reader.

In the silence. Ian McKellan my companion tonight bringing to me the Macbeth he did so long ago with these marvelous actors. Alone but for the imagined community the technology supplies. Yes I have much real there spiritual and emotional companionship from my many Net friends during the day with (as Penelope Fitzgerald calls them) imagined voices (in a novel on her time at the BBC radio) in the silence. I should put on the radio more, but often I don’t care for the music, even classical is too bouncy, loud, incessantly cheerful, too there. I like the music Izzy pulls up from her ipad when we are making supper: play lists of categories like calm; new age; folk music; specific kinds of classical, but then it’s enough.


Emily Mortimer as Florence Green (The Bookshop, Isabel Croixet from Penelope Fitzgerald)

That is the fate of the widow — or at least is mine and others who write about their lives as widows from time to time in newspapers and magazines — the French title of the film is Le Librarie de Mademoiselle Green. The emphasis on how she is single, not married without saying the dreaded word widow “la veuve.” I saw the excellent film adaptation by Isabel Croixet of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop in last week’s film club, and Emily Mortimer as Florence Green uttered a line from the book about how the word “widow” is so ominous (vedova parlando, an Italian phrase, carries strong disdainful connotations towards such talk). Florence is a widow of 5 years finally determining to try to work in the world, do something useful; the world does not want her she discovers. Or like Sister Ludmilla in Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, only if she costs them nothing, asks nothing, contributes without expectation of anything in return.

There’s your key. Alas, for Florence she did need money in return. When Mrs Gamart has the gov’t requisition the old house in which Florence made her bookshop, no one will give Florence any of the money back she sunk into the house, and now she is broke. Money. No matter how commercial motives have driven Croixet to soften the source book, she gets that dark hollow at the center of the book. And one is really alone when one’s life’s partner goes. It does seem as if no other relationship can come near this and not all do. All others not intertwined in the heart’s core where our breathing comes from, our oxygen. So how easy it is then, to drop people.

The year is turning into fall as the calendar directs many people’s activities to change. Not the weather, as at least in the Washington DC area, the temperature remains very hot, humid, uncomfortable. There is a softening as the sun does not emerge to glare down until after 6:30 am and fades away around 8 pm. As ever the dark mornings do not make getting up easier, but darkness does mean less heat, and when Jim was alive, we’d walk in Old Town as darkness was coming, and the twilight time in colors can be the prettiest time of each 24 hour cycle.


Alas I did not assign these — next time if there is one

And I’m finding people are behaving slightly differently to me — I’ve had a bunch of letters all at once as if people are remembering others who are part of the autumn pattern or saying goodbye to summer. I’ve been keeping my word to myself of not pushing myself out of the house just to be among people, staying in and finding more real satisfaction in at last getting to a given book or project of reading and writing more steadily and for real, thoroughly. I made some progress on my Winston Graham project this summer once all courses were over even if I went away for two weeks. Truly read carefully some eight or nine of his early suspense books, compared the original and revised first two Poldark books (Ross Poldark and Demelza were originally longer, RP considerably longer). I have found it in me to blog on some of this at Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two: “Graham’s Suspense and just pre-WWII novels.”

For the course I’m teaching at the OLLI at AU, The Enlightenment at Risk, I sit and reread or read for the first time astonishing texts by Diderot — La Religieuse, Rameau’s Nephew — Madame Roland, Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques, much more central to what I want to convey about the Enlightenment than Candide, which merely shows us the results of human nature let loose in intolerance. I am too lazy, or it is very hard to do justice to these in blogs, but I will produce a few for Austen Reveries as I go through the course and find myself having to put into words for lectures why these are so supremely important, and why another great tragedy is unfolding all around us as those who can understand find themselves helpless once again to implement their insights into what human life is, what happiness, what unacceptable (and should be forbidden) cruelty into law, make them central to custom.


Mark Rylance as Cromwell trying to create a barrier between himself and power (the King)


Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn adjusting the eye cover (2015 Wolf Hall, Straughn, Koshinsky, script, direction)

These imagined voices are my company too. I listen to Michael Slater read aloud Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and know she’s onto this too. I’m scheduled to teach Wolf Hall: A Fresh Look at Tudor Matter at the OLLI at Mason. I’m into Bring up the Bodies now, much harder, deeply pessimistic book as our hero, Thomas Cromwell, grows older and finds himself in Wolsey’s place against power now. Not read as well by Simon Vance who hasn’t the reach for the iciness and the deep turn to ghost figures for solace both books present in ironic guise.

Yet I’ve understood now how it was also necessary for me to go away in August — I should not spend weeks this way with no break — so upon one of the people in the Canterbury set I described saying twice, would I like to go on a Road Scholar trip alongside him (both take separate rooms) and we both have reserved places next May. I will go through with it with the appropriate low expectations. You see the Road Scholar programs for Cornwall do not occur in August, so I will have to find something for August too. Do I have the nerve to return to the UK for research in libraries about Graham? I’d love it, especially if I could get into BBC archives.


Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960), Winter Garden (1928): this week’s choice of artist on one of my face-book friend’s timelines ….

Most of the time I’m not literally alone in the 24 hour cycles — as I’m not literally with others on the Net. Most of the time Izzy is here in the evenings, weekends, and whatever other times she is not at work, and we go out together or live our lives in tandem, joining most closely for supper. Not these five Labor Day weekend days, as she has gone to NYC with Laura, where they appear to be having a very good time. Here they are at Coney Island in the blessed breezes.


Izzy and Laura at Coney Island.

They are staying in an apartment of one of Laura’s friends from the Net; they do thus far seem to be going to places Jim and I used to: the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum (where Laura found a fashion show), theater through half-price tickets. One day they will spend in Brooklyn, the museum, the botanical gardens, walking in Prospect Park. There is a great borough library too, but they won’t have time for that. One full day at the US open for tennis. I know Izzy the time she went alone enjoyed mightily the bus tours up and down the streets of Manhattan with the stream of talk from the guide-driver and regretted not taking one through Brooklyn.


At the Metropolitan Museum


At the Cloisters

A new level of companionship has emerged with my two cats as I carry on giving of myself in the way I do every where I am physically when one-on-one. I said how Clarycat kept up deliberately yowling-as-scolding the first two days I was back. As if to say you have some helluva nerve disappearing like that, without so much as a by your leave. Now she is under feet and all around me all the day, my perpetual pal, anticipating where we are going, what we are about to do. It can get a bit much.

But Ian or Snuffy has outdone her. He now wails with a point. He came to my room and set up a wail. I couldn’t figure out why. Izzy’s door was open: complete ingress and egress everywhere. So I asked him, what gives? and picked him up. Then he did it. He stared up at the ceiling and wailed again. What is on my workroom ceiling? why a ceiling fan! in these supremely hot dog-days of August, I not only put on the air-conditioning. I’ve taken to putting on all the fans I The house, one in each room. It helps circulate the air. Now in three rooms the fan is a (pretty) ceiling fan. He was telling me he objected to that noise and that turning gadget. A cat who wants to come into my room should not have put up with this. I obligingly turned it off. Absolute truth: about 10 minutes later I noticed him settling down into his cat-bed snoozing. Peace & quiet at last. The rigors of cat life are insufficiently appreciated, Jim used to say.

This is not the only instance where he has wailed in such a way as to communicate an idea, and when I have acted on it, (luckily) I have been somehow confirmed that we have had a good interspecies communication. On the same page as they say. Clarycat also talks at me a good deal, meowing, when I’m not there wailing and then when I call, coming to where I am to be with me.


The cover of Barnes and Noble edition of Howards End — the importance of home, place, history is central to the novel

In about two weeks my fall schedule kicks in and I’ll be going out again: at the OLLI at Mason, I’ve gotten into “The Poetry of Robert Frost,” “Four famous propaganda films” (important ones, two on labor, fancy that), Green’s The Quiet American (which I once taught) and go to a book club three times over the next 4 months (choices are like Exit West Moshin Hamid, whom I’d never heard of); and at OLLI at AU another serious course on films (politically, morally considered), the first half of War and Peace (where I can just come as I read it so carefully two years ago now on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io. There we are beginning E.M. Forster’s Howards End (book, two films, all else about Queen Forster — how Jim loved his letters with Cavafy), and are in the middle of Elizabeth Taylor’s Soul of Kindness (the lady is anything but).

I do have another personal blog, one which is crucially political to tell about my trip: the abuse of travelers on an airplane in the year 2018, the ugliness of the way the airline and the airport authorities and to say a lot about TSA who know how dispensable you, my fellow traveler and me are.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

After all, I do have a blog post to share before I go and return from the Lake District and Scottish borders: my daughter, Isobel Moody, singing her heart out on her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah:

There are many versions of this song: Cohen spent years writing and rewriting it; so to help memory along just these are quoted here:

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the Name in vain
I don’t even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah …

These are the additional lyrics as per Cohen Live (and Jeff Buckley et al); there are rumoured to be many more verses but these are the ones also that appear in Stranger Music so if there are any more available I don’t know where they are

baby I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
love is not a victory march
it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
but now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
but all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s no complaint you hear tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who’s seen the light
it’s a cold and it’s a lonely(/broken )Hallelujah
…that David played and it pleased the Lord…

Ellen

Read Full Post »


A new miniature magnolia tree

“To give way to them is to conform to rules set down by the evil minded” — Ross to Jinny, Demelza (I’m studying Winston Graham, “with all the reassurance of companionship … ” here on the Net)

Of course there has to be an end. Of course. For that is what everyone has faced since the world began. And that is — what do you call it — intolerable. It’s intolerable! So you must not think of it. You must not face it. Because it is a certainty it has to be forgotten. One cannot — one must not — fear a certainty. All we know is this moment and this moment. Ross, we are alive! We are. We are. The past is over, gone. What is to come does not exist yet. That’s tomorrow! it’s only now that can ever be, at any one moment, now, we are alive — and together. We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask — Demelza to Ross, The Angry Tide

Friends and readers,

Today I succeeded in installing a hook on the door into my study (workroom, whatever you want to call it — where I spend most of my existence).

This may be the first one I’ve ever done near accurately — the hook fits into the latch easily! I imitated what the handyman did for my front door: he put a hook on the screen so I can open the door proper and yet keep the screen semi-locked. This way I can further hope to prevent anyone from coming in the front door who I might not want to come in. Thus when I’m gone for 13 days my cats will not be able to get into my workroom and disturb or destroy anything (by mistake of course). The great test will come the next time I go out and put the latch on. Later today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

My friends, this was no trivial task. Jim used to plan for this kind of thing well ahead. I have thought and thought about it, and finally went to Home Depot, and bought the equipment. Then I waited for two strategic days of calm. Out came hammer and a device I now use to turn things that are hard to turn: it’s made of a light weight iron.

After hard experience I also decided that it’s a bad idea to have Jim’s tool box so high that every time I try to bring it down, stuff falls on my head, and I teeter on the chair ladder. So I’ve come up with solution here too! I have moved said box into a unobtrusive corner in my sun-room.

I should not omit that my cats were made quite nervous during the progress of the operation. They ran away and hid. They can’t take much tension. Ordeals are beyond them.  But it’s all over now. Folding chair cum-ladder put back. And we three back in place, me at the desk reading near computer, Clary behind it in sun-puddle and Ian in his cat bed on the other side looking out window.


Carl Larsson, The Bridge (1912) — for the sake of the cat looking on

You see, gentle reader, I’ve been occupied this and last week with some forward-looking reading and preparations for my coming holiday trip to the Lake District and Scottish borderlands. Reading ahead for my courses I’ve been relieved and delighted to find I like all my choices still: Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s La Religieuse aka The Nun (what an astonishing book), Madame Roland’s Memoirs (abridged, in English) and Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands. Mantel’s Wolf Hall fascinates me still.


I now know there’s been a recent movie (since Rivette’s 1966) with Isabelle Hubbert — I will try to obtain a copy

Despite my not being able to understand ins and outs of Vitanza’s argument in Chaste Rape he has now helped me to understand Diderot’s The Nun and given me a way to teach it. I am also helped by all I have read about torture and the motives for it. He also brings both seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale into conscious alignment. I had seen The Nun as a Clarissa story: in the center Suzanne forced to become a nun by the cruelties of her family, coerced, harassed. I also saw the hideous treatment she is meted out by the other members of the nunnery (they humiliate her, strip her naked, force her to whip herself, starve her, leave her to be fithy, scream at her) as a parable of what can happen in a prison and when you are outcast in a community whom you have openly rejected.

But now I finally see this is a story just like all the stories of rape without the open sexual attack– and that is coming from a lesbian source in the next phase of the book. Vitanza says the purpose of rape is not the sexual attack centrally; that is part of the destruction of a personality until it asks you to hurt it itself, until it takes on your values, until it kisses the tormenter.
After one of the sessions of horrifying treatment, Suzanne is told her lawyer has obtained a change of convent for her. He lost the case to have her freed but he can do this. What does she do? she gives her most precious objects to the cruel superior mother; she begs those who thew her into the dungeon physically to take other favors form her and kisses them and thanks them. When the overseer comes who has the news she can move and he forbids her to see her lawyer, she says that she has no desire to see him and when there is an opportunity she refuses. This cannot encourage the lawyer to go on helping her. He might think her forbidden but he might think she doesn’t care.

This also reminds me of Offred-June in Handmaid’s Tale where she takes on the values of the Waterfords, Lydia and everyone else – like Suzanne. I suppose she is a heroine to American watchers because we are to believe her desire for revenge and hatred is natural and her personality (so they can admire this); at tny rate she does not utterly prostrate herself as Suzanne.

Suzanne is obviously such another as Levi in the concentration camp; people in solitary confinement and beat the hell out of and mistreated in US and other tyrannical nationds’ prisons ….

I would not have been able to put Suzanne at long last next to Clarissa without Vitanza’s hook. Paradoxically he takes us past the way rape is discussed by de-centering the sex.

I took brief notes on all the texts as I went through them. I wanted to be in a position when I go off that I need not worry about not having enough time to prepare or have made a bad choice when I return home and soon it’s time to teach.


A photo Jim took of me in 2005, at Stanton Drew, the summer we spent 3 weeks in August in England with Laura and Izzy, among other things in Somerset going round to neolithic and Arthurian sites.

I’ve been on the phone a lot for me: arrange credit cards, make sure phone is international, I bought a pretty new hat and two tops and two sweaters — I hope they all come in time — to add to the warm fleece jacket I’ll bring. As usual I’ve been anxious about the plane, and was made worse nervous by an email from AirFrance, but all seems resolved. Above all, this time I am steeling myself with these thoughts: che sera, sera. As long as the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky, I’ll make it back. What happens, happens. I hope to get there but if the people won’t give me seat (almost happened twice), scrutinize me (it’s now the policy of ICE to harass people who behave in the slightest way non-conformist), if they don’t let me on the plane, I’ll just come home. If on the way I get lost, I’ll find my way — it’s not likely; only one changeover of plane. Philosophically one can’t. Once I get there, I’ll try to have a good time — Sunday I’ll pick the right books to get me through. I have wanted to see the Lake District since 1974 when I had a a fantastically bad miscarriage, which turned into a abortion to save my life and Jim and I saw only the hospital in Kendal for 5 days; the places all look beautiful, soothing, peaceful. I’m interested in Beatrice Potter, it’s Scotland once again, Lindisfarne gospels, a castle. What’s not to like? (the Road Scholar site is worryingly down this morning so I can’t link the description of the trip in).

And this will be the last time for such a jaunt. I overspent ludicrously last year, and still overspent this. I can’t keep it up — says my financial advisor, or I need to be more careful. I’ve now seen Cornwall, the Hebrides and Inverness, gone to a Trollope conference, to a Charlotte Smith one and saw Chawton Library. So after this all trips must be something I must do for a serious purpose: research in a library in Cornwall or London (say for my Winston Graham project); or if a truly good friend wants to go with me to a place I truly want to go (and for under 8 days unless there is library research involved), the conference where there are friends (no wretched nights in soulless hotels), where there are papers I know I will understand and like (or for Izzy’s sake, JASNA, but not when it’s so far away as to need planes, and no more obscenely luxurious alienating hotels).  If possible no more planes when not going outside the US. Jim used to talk of boats. Yes. As when I took tests, went for interviews, I look forward to when it’s over and I’ve had the time away, that Monday morning when I’ll be home with my cats safe and and re-transplanting myself into my routine of reading, writing, studying, movie watching, going to and taking courses, with life with friends on the Net my solace, and forays out to plays, movies, concerts, the like (in the daytime when alone as I expect I shall be most of the time).

People tell me how much better I look than the first years Jim died. That I looked paralyzed or just very bad. In my heart I feel not much different. If anything, lonelier, just used to it. I know I can survive. I have found trustworthy good people to help me whom I can pay, now AARP to do my taxes, compensating activities I enjoy very much, some of them I would not have known of when Jim was here. A new kind of meaning. I’ve learned a lot. Maybe I’m learning to be my own person irrespective of what others think and no longer seeking someone, any one, company, but doing the difficult task of living on myself and finding meaning from within — I’m strained around 4-5 still, tired, and need that first glass of wine badly. Sometimes coming home from some social experience I drink too quickly to calm myself the way I used to when Jim was here. No life activities seem to come without some ordeal.  I deny that I have changed essentially from that first night I saw the medics take Jim’s body away, just adjusted, learnt to hold what I must do to be able to remain tranquil, with some enjoyment, a sense of doing something worth doing which I can contribute to others.

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


Sideview

Last Friday finally the Roseland garden people sent out their crew and I’ve a new garden. Neighbors look approvingly as they walk by and even talk to me while I’m watering the new life. Here is one of the four new flower beds to go with the two magnolias. It’s all very symmetrical: two flower beds in front; One directly in front of house, one in front of fence by sidewalk; miniature maple at center; then on each side of house more flower beds with small evergreens too. All perennials. A picture of one of the new beds …


Flowers in the front


Evergreen shrubs to one side


The other side of the house

A little classical French designed garden! I love clarity, simplicity, order — I used to be a reader of Pope’s poetry and now I make a garden with his in mind. The crew came this morning and we’ve agreed they will come once a month to weed, to help if any of the plants need help, give advice. In fall (October) I’d like them to plant chrysanthesums — I think they are beautiful. Next spring under the miniature maple replant daffodils and crocuses and in front the house on the sidewalk by the street a small cherry blossom tree. Centered in a line from the miniature maple.

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

All teaching and going to courses came to an end the third week of July. The week-long course in Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau I attended was fulfilling because I read for the first time ever (!) a good deal of Waldon Pond, all of Civil Disobedience and Slavery in Massachusetts, and a good essay on Thoreau by Laura Dassall Wall (his biographer), Writing Henry’s Life, as well as bought the modern edition of Dickinson’s poems. Reading the poems in a new revealing order and new ones too. Civil Disobedience helped me teach Woolf’s Three Guineas during that same week. I moved into a detour on Thoreau by way of Woolf’s allusions to Antigone as following a higher law of true morality as opposed to state laws:

Thoreau was strongly anti-slavery, an open abolitionist and it was dangerous to be so even up north and in the west in the US. Thoreau says we have a duty to disobey since when what is happening to people is criminal. Black people are people who are enslaved – they are not ontologically slaves and when they try to escape this deeply wrong violated condition, a law is passed demanding others help the criminals re-enslave them. Civil Disobedience argues against obeying the Fugitive Slave Act ,which Thoreau tears down as contrary to God – but he only brings in God at the end, it is more a matter of deep violation of human beings’ right to liberty and life. Decades ago I gave a course in American Literary Masterpieces at AU (in the college itself) where I did a lot of reading in American literature and discovered that just about every controversy, everything was colored by this existence of slavery, and also that those who enslaved others were shamelessly violent. What he says about slavery in Massachusetts is that those who don’t own slaves and do nothing about it are themselves profiting from slavery and that’s why they uphold the Fugitive Slave Act. Like today in Trump’s America where the armies are brought out to attack and cause violence among peaceful demonstrators and then arrest them, and do nothing to violent right-wing groups who come and attack, so Thoreau says the armed people come to attack the innocent and good and support the criminals. One area I had forgotten was why US people wanted to take over Mexico: among the reasons was Mexico was a good place for someone enslaved to escape to. And in one of the cases he discusses what happened was an enslaved man was snatched back and brought back to Massachusetts. How shameful he says this is. He urges civil disobedience does this mid-century transcendentalist.

The teacher was embarrassingly bad — despite her array of prestigious awards, positions, published book. The way she went about justifying Thoreau made him unlikable, utterly egoistic; she kept finding the worst normative values, and then would impossibly fatuously idealize the man. Luckily the class resisted her attempt to make Dickinson back into the high school texts of cutsy whimsy. Would you believe she sat and read aloud passages detailing the wonderful peaceful deaths of these poet spirits? You couldn’t stop her. One cannot expect Adrienne Rich in Vesuvius at Home, but a pollyanna? here is one she did read aloud but hurried past:

I have never seen “Volcanoes”—
But, when Travellers tell
How those old – phlegmatic mountains
Usually so still –

Bear within – appalling Ordnance,
Fire, and smoke, and gun,
Taking Villages for breakfast,
And appalling Men –

If the stillness is Volcanic
In the human face
When upon a pain Titanic
Features keep their place –

If at length the smouldering anguish
Will not overcome –
And the palpitating Vineyard
In the dust, be thrown?

If some loving Antiquary,
On Resumption Morn,
Will not cry with joy “Pompeii”!
To the Hills return! F165 (1860) J175

I found a blog sheerly on Dickinson’s poetry and this explication:

If humans are like dormant volcanoes, then the face may be quite still while a “pain Titanic” (referring to Titans and the convulsing pain that followed their utter defeat) smolders within. But like an awakened volcano the pain will eventually burst through, overcoming the “Vineyard” of the body (its living wine and fruits), ultimately causing its death and burial “in the dust.” And yet there is the hope of “Resumption Morn” (and Dickinson takes religious liberties here with the idea of Resurrection – as if life were to simply resume rather than the souls resurrected into a new spiritual state in heaven) where even Pompeii, the fabulous city famously buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius will shake off its ashes in response to the call of a “loving Antiquary” or historian.

This is the first of several poems Dickinson will write that liken her passions to volcanoes. Unlike later poems, though, this one ends on a note of hope. The historian can recall his beloved Pompeii. Perhaps whoever aroused this passion in the poet will also call her back to life as well

I thought of Scott’s Antiquary (which is one of his novels I do like very much, and one Austen was still alive to read) and Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, which maybe I’ll teach again next summer.


Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round—
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone—

This is the Hour of Lead
Remembered, if outlived
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow—
First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—

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

I did go out somewhere beyond daily shopping and errands three times in the weeks since: twice to see a movie. Once for a lecture on the Nancy Drew books (a “special at OLLI, which deserves a blog of its own). Once for a long walk.  With my friend, Panorea. We also saw on another day Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik who with Anne Rossellini also wrote the screenplay. Very much worth seeing. It was very powerful, deeply upsetting at moments for me, it reminded me of Cathy Come Home (1960s British seeming documentary) because our two central characters, Will, a father in his later 40 or so, and Tom, a daughter aged around 15 are homeless a good deal of the time. And we see the miseries, the difficulties, and by implication, the terrors of such an existence. They get sick, come near death.

We understood it differently: My friend saw it as anti-war and full of grief for veterans we’ve thrown away — she took it the father was a Vietnam vet. He shuddered when helicopter went by. Now I detest helicopters myself. I wouldn’t go in one. She even cried over the father and those the two me on the road as she saw them all as vets. They are taking pills of all sorts – but then US people now are in an addiction mode in large numbers we are told. One of the people we hear of is a man who cannot bear to be with people. He is left a care package each week. I could not understand why the father had this need to run away from people to the point he could live around them — even if they made it clear he need never come out of his trailer. He is given a dog who attaches himself but he cannot attach himself to the dog.

I saw it as a parable of US life today, bunches of people who live in shacks, broken down trailers, corrugated iron huts, with its central tale about this profoundly disturbed man who is living with his daughter in a wood, filthy, dirty, they are picked up by authorities who are (amazingly) supportive of them in various ways; once they are cleaned up and in better health, the father insists on leaving while the girl has become happier by joining with other children caring for rabbits (all symbolic that); on the second mad trek to nowhere they both nearly die, finally the girl rebels and will not run away from a trailer someone has just about given them. I became upset when she left “civilization” for a second time with him and when she seemed to be doing it for a third time, it was so distressing. But she turned round and went back to the trailer she had rented – the kindness of the woman owner made it come cheap

If my friend is correct, and Leave No Trace about US vets, all of them together I can get why they are not overtly mistreated by authorities or when they come into contact with others. Last summer a film called Wilderness was again about a father (mothers who flee are probably imprisoned) this time fleeing with a son

I include the poster in the hope the reader might recognize this movie somewhere and thus have a chance to see it

Gavagai, an extraordinarily mesmerizing intelligent movie, was at the Sunday morning Film Club: Gavagai. The description at IMDB is ludicrously wrong: it shows how telling the literal truth can miss everything about a movie that matters.

The German businessman turns out to be a poet and as the movie unfolds we discover he is grieving deeply over the death of his wife and has decided to translate her poems written in Chinese into Norwegian (it’s co-written with Kirk Kjeldsen). We first see him getting off a broken down train (probably unrealistic as this is Norway), but maybe because it is arriving in a very small town in a rural area. He has to bribe a tourist guide, who at first seems to be a dense vulgar abrasive male, to take him to where he wants to go. The movie is their journey across the Norwegian landscape together as they reveal slowly to us their inner lives and dreams, mostly through imagery and voice-over Gradually the apparent lout is revealed to be a man estranged from a girlfriend he treated badly and over the course of the movie he manages to reconcile with her by texting her, visiting her in stop overs. He cannot get the poet to confide in him or be at all warm to him or anyone; the poet dreams of his wife at night — strange dreams with her dressed in extravagant Asian outfits. The same actress plays the ghostly wife and estranged girlfriend. It’s as if women are interchangeable to this director, and in a way they are treated as objects in the males’ dream lives. There are many correspondences and parallels between their experiences and thoughts: the climax of the film culminates on tall mountain where the poet scatters his wife’s ashes; there follows a quiet denouement which has a church-like feel as the poet walks away still in grief and never getting over it and the driver with his girlfriend join a group of people on the beach, making a bonfire. It’s summer. Beautifully photographed, long slow scenes.

It reminded me of Derek Garman and also my favorite Last Orders. A finer poetically expressive movie than you will come across in a long time. Rob Tregenza, the director runs the film program in a Virginia College (VCU) and doesn’t have all that many connections so it’s not played at festivals but is gradually gaining adherents or attention (I have no idea how) and will open in NYC and LA.

One of my favorite poets: this by her is appropriate to Gavagai:

Man Alone on a Mountain

​You stand on a black rock pinnacle with your back toward me
and look out over a rock-strewn valley which is half-hidden in mist.
In your long black coat, knee-boots and walking stick,
you seem a stranger from another century.

Before you the lower mountains, sharp
with black rocks, hover like a flock of petrified sheep,
that has wandered from the shepherd
until they are lost and frozen there.

Wind disturbs your red hair. Your balance seems precarious
and I wonder what brought you there
where the fog obscures so much?
How long did you climb and with what difficulty?
Why are you alone and what are you looking for?

Why does anyone climb to such a place? Once,
in winter, driving by myself after a snowstorm,
I pulled off the road by the trail that led up Avon Mountain.
And, wanting to see if I could do it, I struggled up the slope
which was slick with a foot of snow and ice.

My breath like sleet in my chest, my leg muscles,
unused to such climbing, ached with the strain.
A few clumps of snow fell from the pine branches onto the trail.
To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking.
If I had slipped and fallen no one knew where I was.

But you, I wish you well, stranger with the hidden face.
You seem self-assured as you stand there
sturdy but wholly alone under an uncertain sky–
its diffuse clouds, one taller mountain before you
a gray-blue blur in the distance.

​Patricia Fargnoli

Izzy and Laura went out twice together: to the US open for tennis, and this Sunday with two friends they will see Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. Izzy has studied the musical play and songs and read Chernow’s biography (my presents to her two Christmases ago). She’s been to three museum exhibits in DC. Don’t even think about the cost they paid for these tickets.


Francis Luis Mora, Rosemary, his daughter, The Little Artist

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

I conclude with some music my good FB friend provided for all of us who are her friends one morning:

This will probably be my last diary entry until I return.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


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

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Morwenna (Jane Wymark) finally reaching


Drake (Kevin McNally) — from the 1977 iteration

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Ian McKellan Mr Holmes in the movie; yes, that’s the great actress Hattie Morahan in the back. The film also had Laura Linney in it. What more could you ask?

Sexual intercourse began
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Annus Mirabilis by Philip Larkin (1922-1985) — Larkin was one of Jim’s favorite poets; the poem is meant ironically; fucking is not all, you must also do it from the heart

Friends,

That’s the latest advice I’ve had, and it was well meant. Do I want to do this Winston Graham/Poldark book? The difficulty in following it is not that the “sign” is too ambiguous, as in “follow nature” in the 18th century and ever since; but what is meant clearly to me carved out by the heart’s longings are in still desperate need of such different, contradictory and ceaselessly self-precluding food. Self-precluding. I don’t travel from home because I want to. I go out to teach and I post and blog because I need to.

This was in regards to my Winston Graham project, which I proceed at with such a snail’s pace (since I do much else in order to be with people and to feel I am useful in the world) I may not be ready to write until I’m dead. I have to make up my mind what I want. My sincere answer to that is it’s not what I want to do, but what I can. To sustain the will to live on actively (in the face of what is emerging as a fascist racist dictatorship funded by very sophisticated groups of super-rich people, enforced by a ferocious criminalizing police and court system, voted in by groups of people whose impoverished miserable lives fill them with hate and fear) I need the larger calm perspective provided by participating in socializing at whatever cost of time. And there is what I believe I will be able to publish after I’ve written it. I’ve learned to publish something takes social skills and vital permissions; to disseminate it, active connections.

I have begun listening to Oliver Hembraugh reading aloud Graham’s Angry Tide. Graham’s tone is what draws me in. So quietly intelligent and insightful, thoroughly realistic truthful as he can be about the era from the point of view of vulnerable, fringe people, those with hearts. I find the book has a quiet charm similar to what I found in the non-Poldark Dangerous Pawn and is found now and again when a book is set in Cornwall the tone is sustained.

I have managed to store up (like some squirrel) a couple of publicly shared experiences in the past couple of weeks, which it’s possible may come your way. During the time I am at these functions or places I forget what is happening in the public sphere, though I fear eventually the “mowing the lawn” will get to me and mine.


Theo and Kevin in the play

Last Sunday I went to Ken Urban’s The Remains as acted at the Studio Theater in DC (directed by David Muse). reminds me I had planned to buy a copy of The Gabriels, another play set in a family group over dinner or an occasion; The Remains reminds me of Nelson’s The Gabriels which I saw 2 years ago now and Karam’s The Humans which I saw last year. Nelson’s Gabriels is three plays — like Stoppard’s Norman Conquests, the same storyline and characters gone over from three different perspectives and time of day or night. Karam’s Humans is one night and not as good, but the family has gone over the edge economically

Ken Urban’s The Remains was astonishingly openly acted, with all emotional life on display. The story is of a pair of gay men whose marriage/partnership has failed or broken up. They have filed for divorce. They have invited the parents of one of them, Theo (Glenn Fitzgerald), American, Jewish, over for dinner, and Andrea (Danielle Skraastad) the sister of the other, Kevin (Maulik Pancholy), to tell them. The action consists of the reactions of these people, the revelations of their lives and a slow exposure to the final climax of the two men opening up before the audience what has happened within their private relationship.

One of the origins of their estrangement is Kevin is Indian, and so non-white, and after his degree from Harvard (! — much admired that he went there), and dissertation (also admired), he could not get any job above adjunct in Boston; to obtain these signs of respect and money (for comfort, a life in dignity and security for the rest of his life), he had to move to Oregon where he dislikes the school and culture. Kevin became very embittered and could not help taking this out on Theo (or so Theo felt it). They seem to have enough money because Theo has given up his humanities career in university (we are not told much about this) to become a lawyer.

Another source is their sex life has not gone well, and Theo seems to have broken their agreement not to have other lovers and to tell the truth about any other sexual encounter or partner. The assumption not gone into is that it is somehow more “natural” or part of their gay orientation to have more than one partner, and that is why they vowed not to do it because they wanted a total commitment.

Their different races have also been part of what caused the estrangement: Kevin feels Theo is turned off because he’s not white. Theo is the more vulnerable personality, he has had much more support from his parents; Kevin is adopted and the white parents keep their distance from Kevin and his sister.

Odd thing about the reviews of this one: one emphasized how well off this gay couple is, what a fancy kitchen. It’s not — they are okay — is being okay nowadays rare?

I mentioned in my previous blog that I saw Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach last Thursday or Friday (as is common with movies from his books, he did the screenplay). Dominic Cooke, the director of the TV films from Shakespeare, The Wars of the Roses 1 & 2 (from the 7 play Hollow Crown series). Chesil Beach is about a young heterosexual couple who cannot consummate on their wedding night: quite explicitly about the ravages of repressed sexuality (and fear and condemnation from the usual religious angles) and class differences. Their relationship is destroyed because he is very angry over the way he has been treated.

The two come together in my mind as exploring similar things. Both spoke home to me. Both are retrospective. The Remains is also about how lonely the two men are now; there is this moving epilogue of the character coming out to tell the audience in a singsong fashion about what life is like for them now. How Theo has not gotten over the loss of Kevin is made plain, but indirectly we see Kevin just has disintegrated too. On Chesil Beach is a series of flashbacks from the the wedding night but it then fast forwards too to show the two now. At one point the movie manages to allude to Philip Larkin’s famous poem where he says sexual intercourse began in 1963 and came with the Beatles. I know what he means, and this is an experience akin to what I knew in my teens and attitudes of mind almost impossible to shake. The movie is more upbeat because it’s a movie intended for general audiences and has this emotional bath at the conclusion where while the girl obviously got over her paralysis, married, had children and a wonderful career while the young man just became the owner of a very shabby music store (he had gotten his degree but it was clear without the girl’s father he had no chance for a middle class job). We see him weeping at a concert where her group of musicians is honored. She weeps too. I began reading the book, what a felicitiously unobtrusive simple style, I’m told it ends quietly and bleakly — as this core would probably from such a situation.

Although all four by men the males in his case do go into women’s true point of view: Kevin’s sister for example has lived through the hell of two broken marriages. Nelson’s characters are centrally women, all but one is a woman.
One troubling aspect to not lose sight of: at each step there is less larger political perspective. The Remains never touched upon our present economic situation as what has destroyed Kevin’s chances and made his race an over-the-top liability; The Humans showed such desperation no one could get him or herself to discuss the political situation.

This evening Izzy and I saw a HD screening documentary, biography style film, Ian McKellen: Playing the Part where he is the central continuing speaker — about him, his life, his career. Don’t miss this one either. Yes there is hype, yes he promotes himself but the film functions as a history of 20th century theater too since McKellan was so much a part of the evolution from actors who were part of the theater but not film before the spread of TV, demonstrating how important and often better or more genuine authentic were small and provincial theaters beyond London (McKellan was the moving force in the Actors Company — I didn’t know that). It was about gay history in the 20th century: before this century there could be no history since anyone who came out was subject to terrifying humiliating fatal punishments. I remember seeing him live with Jim at the Kennedy Center as Richard III. McKellen said that was a turning point in his life, when he turned that into film as a director. Jim got a kick out of how he handled a cigarette. I remember the large facsimile of a train on stage. For McKellen it opened the film industry to him finally.


Milo Parker

How I enjoyed two summers ago now Mr Holmes. Milo Parker who played the boy who loves Mr Holmes in that played the young McKellen in this documentary. I hope I put the book away in a place I can find it. If I should give up Graham, that would be one I’d try. Alas he’s won no Oscars thus far. The academy fears a homophobic part of the public.

Follow your heart: Ian McKellan was worth listening to for himself, for how he sees his life: he made it plain that he feels the driving force inside that made him an actor who could open up his intelligent passionate emotional life to others was his homosexuality. He was cut off from others; he had to hide himself. In order to reach others, he had to do it through this disguise, and so he did out — of a need for other human beings. He also regards himself as someone whose task it is to help others get through life by offering himself in the persons of these characters. Other people spend long hours at work, long hours of frustration and then they come to the theater and during the time they are there, you as actor are affecting them. Perhaps you can help them improve themselves or feel better by the emotional catharsis you offer, or the humor you enact. When a cruel law was promulgated by Thatcher over and above the anti-homosexual laws of the UK, he came out and worked hard to defeat it. It was passed, but no other was and it was then nullified by the change in attitudes towards gay people he and others in permanent institutions they set up continue to create. The AIDS crisis was another transformation: as an actor he went about extending the campaign to save as many people as he could.


When young as David Copperfield

Now he goes into schools and tries to help others by telling of his life as a gay man. He said they teach him, young people. They don’t want to be seen as categories — he has the generosity of heart to break out of his way of thinking and say, well yes. Why should he see himself as a gay man. He is a man, a human being first. His homosexuality does not define him, though his society tried to repress him wholly because of it. We see him living with the absurd roles he is now given in film: cartoon figures. He tries to give them depth.

But finally it is the theater that is his love. We see him with Patrick Stewart on stage doing Waiting For Godot. There was one at the Shakespeare theater this summer and I didn’t go — I should have. He said while the production is on, the rehearsals, the acting, the aftermath he becomes part of this group as a family. He knows so many actors like himself for years. He is alone now, no family, and he lives his life in effect among strangers. But he is buoyed by the sharing of this great talent and his gifts. We see his long-standing relationships in private: the men who were his partners are glimpsed. He singles out Judy Dench and a few others who live a life of meaning with him. He thinks of death frequently, has planned his funeral, is sad because he wont be able to be there.

I am writing from the heart; when I write even academic papers I write them from the heart; that’s why I can’t pretend them or make them come unless I believe in them. I try to teach from the heart. Post to the Internet, blog from the heart. Those texts written from the heart are the ones I look for and nourish myself on. There are people, as Shakespeare says, who seem to have no heart or only hard and selfish ones. How I love the actress Hattie Morahan in Davies’s 2008 Sense and Sensibility: like Holmes, she puts her inside self before us and reaches us fully.


Hattie Morahan as my favorite character, Elinor Dashwood


The local arts celebrity; Aubrey Davies was there to commemorate his mother.

I attended the abbreviated Bloomsbury day reading held at the OLLI at AU (1:30 to nearly 6:00 reading and talking of the Ithaca chapter, second to the last in Joyce’s Ulysses: it did teach me that chapter has alive vitality and the book may be readable — its outpouring of brilliant beautiful language reminded me of how I lost a female Telemachus (a young woman actually tried to chat me up at a function for Columbia grad students Jim and I went to. So after a six-year hiatus (Jim read one year and remarkably well) I returned to Jim’s worn and falling apart copy of Joyce’s book.


A married couple at OLLI reading together.

Both of my classes going splendidly — the Woolf too, and tomorrow is my film club. This coming week I go to another HD screening at the Folger: a DC original production of a re-write, modernization of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. The coming Saturday another mass demonstration across the US — what else do we have? Wall-to-wall people in the Metro paralyzes it so I may phone the Smithsonian to ask if they might re-schedule a Gilbert and Sullivan program they had scheduled for that morning. Real acting and singing from the musicals. Izzy and I were looking forward to it. How will anyone get there? Be sensible I’ll say. Very unlucky for that later afternoon (by mistake) I bought tickets for us to go to Wolf Trap Barns theater to see Mozart’s Idomeneo. Our first opera this year. We can still go as it will be in Fairfax but if we want to the demonstration we’d never be back in time.

A bad time over my boy pussycat, Ian aka Snuffy cat. About a week ago Ian had a crying jag around dawn, and it was not that Izzy would not let him into her room. He had at the time also developed a sore by his eye. I took him to the vet and she said his heart rate was worrying high: blood pressure 240. The bill for an “emergency” visit and tests was a whopping $455. She gave me pills to give him but he fought me so and then hid from me for a full day and one half (something he has not done for over a year and more now), that I gave it up. I was able to put the eye salve on and his eye is better. No crying jags.

Well I went again for a follow-up and the tests I paid for apparently say together (with her listening) that the cat has a heart murmur. It would cost me $1100 to have the blood, cardiac and other tests for a diagnosis and then I’d have to give him medicine the rest of his life if the diagnosis showed there is a medicine he could take. It could be three a day. But I was unable to get him to take medicine this week at all so I decided not to do it.

I do love this cat now — if you could see how most of the time he is a transformed personality and no longer hides most of the time but is affectionate to me and Izzy, playful, remembering what we do over the day and joining in. Right now he is on my map rubbing his face against mine. He now sticks by me most of the day. We shall have an appt every six months to see how he’s doing.


What we are reading together on WomenWriters@groups.io – thus far arresting, persuasive story about Muslim young woman who grew up in Pakistan come to do graduate work in Boston, Mass

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Izzy on the train

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


Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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


A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

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


Daytime from the side


Nightime from within looking out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is someone gliding:

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

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


Men

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

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

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

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


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

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

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »