Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘travel writing’ Category


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

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


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

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

Friends,

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

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


Clarycat this week; and Ian pussycat too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only connect ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


J. J. Sempre one of my favorite cover illustrators for The New Yorker: the reading group — I like the tone, his pictures often filled with human kindness and need fulfilled. Often pleasant landscapes & rooms.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind — C.V. Cavafy

You will go uncompanioned, but go you must — Theo Dorgan

Friends and readers,

I got through last week with much reading, some in-depth, the close reading sort, then immersion in films, and writing, writing, writing and hurrying about to classes. I’ve out in (so to speak) for some new experiences: I’m to have a visitor here with Izzy and I in our house, the night and morning before I go off to the East Central ASECS (American Society for 18th century studies, regional conference) in Staunton, Virginia, with me on the long drive there and then again back three days later, and again staying over the rest of Sunday and Sunday night. I cannot remember doing that in all my 71 years. I told the people on that tour group around the Lake District and Scottish/English borders I grow weary, tired with all this learning, all these new experiences. But here I am again. How do people do this? I never got the memo of instructions.


Shenandoah Shakespeare Company — Jim & I have been to Staunton many times to see this company — where “they do it in the light”

I’ve returned in thought and reading to that project I developed into a CFP and paper: The anomaly: the adult woman living alone: widows, divorced women, spinsters. You might remember it, I was given 2 (!) panels because 6 papers came in that were thought related, and an editor from LeHigh University said if I could develop it into a collection of essays they’d be interested. I tried to publish my paper on Widows and Widowers in Austen, but Susan Allen Ford didn’t care for my perspective, and I didn’t know how to go about to write prospectus, and worse yet, gather contributors.

Well I’ve been re-thinking this — from reading Barbara Pym on WomenWriters@groups.io or not quite sure why, from thinking about early modern or Enlightenment women? — and come to the conclusion one obstacle was I was mis-formulating the very core title. A male hegemonic point of view has been obscuring that immediately I write down the phrase, what do I do: I begin to formulate the group by defining each woman there as there because of her relationship (or lack of one) to a man. The assumption is there needs to be some sort of explanation why a woman is forced into this, not that she wanted it in the first place — spinster as we know has such negative connotations (like bluestocking). And when I come across essays on these typology the assumption immediately is that the woman is clubbing together with other women or doing this or that because without a man she has not the wherewithal to support herself on her own.


Adrienne Rich

Diane Reynolds had been reading Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience” and pointed to that. I read it and find she writes about how men have denied women their own continuums of sexuality, one of which begins with the mother-daughter bond, can move to sister-bonds, female friendship and then for some sexual engagement. Why is “sadistic heterosexuality” more normal than lesbian and mother-child sensual bonding. The “rich interior” life bonding with women is marginalized as unimportant. Her desire for work of her own apart from her functions serving and being with men discounted, or (in many societies in the past and some today) forbidden. Diane points out though the dilemma is not to move to see the choice as simply happy as to chose it is to be hedged about with incomprehension, misunderstanding, disapproval, circumstances become to hard to cope with. “A single woman has such a propensity to be poor,” says Austen.

Think about things from a perspective not yet formulated. Do something never done before. Me who resists change. We have been talking about one theme of Forster’s Howards End on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io: how moving is often an experience of existential loss, of one’s identity and past erased (herein is it like experiencing the death of a beloved person whose life intertwines with our own), all the sites, symbols, things suffused with memory thrown away, re-vamped, the very streets one lived on when we come back we find have vanished. To leave this house would be to lose what enables my life. Forced into a new life, much barer, stripped before the world.


Joanna David as the displaced Elinor Dashwood in the 1971 BBC Sense and Sensibility (scripted Denis Constantduros, perhaps the first BBC film adaptation of an Austen novel & among its earliest scenes)

Lucy Worsley (JA: At Home) suggests Austen’s fiction fueled by her loss of her original home and her heroines’ attempts to recreate, re-find a new one.

Kauffmann, Angelica: Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses

I told the people on Trollope&Peers (the list’s abbreviation) how Jim read Forster’s letters with C. P. Cavafy and tonight will end this brief excursus with Cavafy’s poem (translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard). Here the courage needed for life’s adventures and the experiences you might enjoy so are set out before us:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

original Greek linked in; or read aloud

and Theo Dorgan’s response (for Leonard Cohen)

When you set out from Ithaca again,
let it be autumn, early, the plane leaves falling as you go,
for spring would shake you with its quickening,
its whispers of youth.

You will have earned the road down to the harbour,
duty discharged, your toll of labour paid,
the house four-square, your son in the full of fatherhood,
his mother, your long-beloved, gone to the shades.

Walk by the doorways, do not look left or right,
do not inhale the woodsmoke,
the shy glow of the young girls,
the resin and pine of home.
Allow them permit you to leave,
they have been good neighbours.

Plank fitted to plank, slow work and sure,
the mast straight as your back.
Water and wine, oil, salt and bread.
Take a hand in yours for luck.

Cast off the lines without a backward glance
and sheet in the sail.
There will be harbours, shelter from weather,
There will be long empty passages far from land.
There may be love or kindness, do not count on this
but allow for the possibility.
Be ready for storms.

When you take leave of Ithaca, round to the south
then strike far down for Circe, Calypso,
what you remember, what you must keep in mind.
Trust to your course, long since laid down for you.
There was never any question of turning back.
All those who came the journey with you,
those who fell to the flash of bronze,
those who turned away into other fates,
are long gathered to asphodel and dust.
You will go uncompanioned, but go you must.

There will be time in the long days and nights,
stunned by the sun or driven by the stars,
to unwind your spool of life.
You will learn again what you always knew —
the wind sweeps everything away.

When you set out from Ithaca again,
you will not need to ask where you are going.
Give every day your full, unselfconscious attention —
the rise and flash of the swell on your beam,
the lift into small harbours —
and do not forget Ithaca, keep Ithaca in your mind.
All that it was and is, and will be without you.

Be grateful for where you have been,
for those who kept to your side,
those who strode out ahead of you
or stood back and watched you sail away.
Be grateful for kindness in the perfumed dark
but sooner or later you will sail out again.

Some morning, some clear night,
you will come to the Pillars of Hercules.
Sail through if you wish. You are free to turn back.
Go forward on deck, lay your hand on the mast,
hear the wind in its dipping branches.
Now you are free of home and journeying,
rocked on the cusp of tides.
Ithaca is before you, Ithaca is behind you.
Man is born homeless, and shaped for the sea.
You must do what is best.

Here the poet is online reading aloud:

I have been companioned these last couple of nights though: by Claire Tomalin in her marvelously good A life of My Own picked up for £5 cash in Keswick — she is keeping me good company just now

Ellen

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 »


Lake Windermere, the largest of the lakes (second is Ullswater, all others much smaller, meres, waters)

There is a comfort in the strength of love;
‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else
Would break the heart … ” — Wordsworth, Michael

Dear Friends and readers,

I’ve been back from the Lake District and Northumberland for two days now, and am re-settling in. I fulfilled a long-held wish thoroughly: for six days two tour guides, one from the area, Anne (with a strong Lancashire accent) and the other originally from London, Peter (so a sort of Cockney accent now laid over by several others), who was said to know a lot about local northern border history, took 20 Americans on two mini-buses for an average of 8 hours a day up, down, and all around the winding roads and many lakes of Cumbria. Immersion. Like last time, the first night we were asked each of us to tell why we had chosen to come to this area, and a little bit about who we are. I spoke (briefly) of my bad miscarriage in 1974 in the Lake District, which had led to Jim and I spending the five days we had planned to travel about in, in a small Kendal hospital, that I had come originally because it might be said 5 lines of Wordsworth’s Michael decided me in my line of life, English major, teacher of English literature, then literary scholar and college teacher, writer. I had come back alone because my husband died 5 years ago, but I was there with him in my spirit. I came to England after the first year every year since he died.


Otterburn Castle, where we stayed — the Internet access was dodgy, but my room was magnificent, large, with a landscape tapestry above my bed

That first night was indicative of an important aspect of the trip this time: it was a Road Scholar experience. I had not realized this so strongly last time. Last time had been 7 days at the Aigas House restoration ecology estate (2 days arduous traveling), in Inverness, and I sort of put down what happened to John Lister-Kaye, and his wife, Lady Lucy, with their hierarchical ways, and various interning science students as guides with deep interest in the area, its history, its culture, gardens, cookery, animals, the Scottish environment and history. Now I realize whatever they were individually, and the local culture, the program was shaped, inflected by the Road Scholar point of view, which is thus far educational touring. There are athletic programs, and (I was told) much more “commercial” ones with a large group of people, say a cruise. I thought people were friendly but last time had gotten to know only a few people’s names well, and little about them individually (one woman artist, a widow, working in New York City, and another never married woman who lives about five minutes from me especially); I just saw most of the people as types. This time it was some 11 days (again 2 day traveling ordeal), in three hotels (one in Manchester one night at airport), two places, Lake District in Cumbria, Lindeth Howe Country Hotel, Bowness, which had been Beatrice Potter’s country house mansion; Otterburn Castle, Northumberland, which had been a Peel Tower in the days of ferocious Reiver violence, then a 10th century castle (which is from the outside still what it looks like), renovated again and again, especially in Victorian and then later 20th century. The Aigas experience dominated by two people, all tourists in single large bus, with little free time, evenings occupied too (lectures, music one night); this time four different Road Scholar tour guides, evenings free, a full Sunday free day to do what I liked — I mostly sat in front of a real fire reading Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques. Free hours in several towns — I saw exhibits, and there were pre-paid lunches sometimes together, sometimes separately or formed into smaller groups: Keswick, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Jedburgh (Scotland), and Durham. This time by the end I knew everyone’s name, something of the history and character of each individual or couple; they became very vivid in my mind. I keep hearing one man’s pleasant voice.


The tapestry over my bed in Otterburn castle

One problem I’ve been having is I dream of them. Each night I find myself waking early and not realizing I am in my house in my own bed living my usual life in Alexandria, but coming out of a dream which is inhabited by these people, and for a few moments am so confused as I try to work out which hotel I’m in. Usually when I wake from a troubling or obsessive dream, I break “the spell,” and it stops or is transformed so that the material is being lived in by someone else and begins to fade. But today I had a brief nap in the afternoon (I am very tired) and found the same phenomenon occurring: I woke in confusion, got up and began to walk about, stressed, to see what was happening now, where I was, only to find that I am home after all, not surrounded by these others, but rather my two very loving cats:

Clarycat missed me badly: Izzy said Clary would not have anything to do with her, but remained in a kind of retreat, and until today Clary has been yowling at me (vocalizing) in a harsh tone, now she is simply all over me, all the time. Ian did sleep with Izzy, stay around her, and at first stayed with that pattern, but today he began to nudge me, rub me, stay close, playing, and making me alert to his companionable presence.


You see some of the group: the woman with white page boy hair facing us and other woman, helping her, is the fellow New Yorker, Barbara (same accent as me): Inside the Hermitage: a place of fierce cruelty. The story repeated is how Bothwell was badly wounded trying to arrest some murderous Reivers lords so Mary Queen of Scots rode here to see him. She didn’t stay long. Walter Scott included it in a couple of his historical romances …

I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, but would like briefly to name and describe them (using substitute first names) so as not to forget. It was a group of people very similar in type, age, profession, and marital status and income to last time: ages from mid-50s to later 80s, mostly retired, though some had jobs they could carry on with in older age or volunteered (teachers for example, writers).  Mostly pensions from years of working were enabling this. Both times I have been in all white groups but then my choice of literary writers and places would lead to that.

5 married couples in their sixties to mid-eighties. Larry and Lea (from Oklahoma, he wrote a poem for the last night, not very good, she boasted of how he was thinking all the time); Clarence and Sheila (from Alabama, not far from Asheville, North Carolina, where they attend an OLLI as students; he a retired mine owner, she with him had had 4 children, then discovered she was good at running non-profits, he went to Yale, she Vassar, living a charmed life, by virtue of wealth from his career, and a sale of property in Florida so that today they have a beautiful apartment in Tudor City, Manhattan too, conservative democrats); Bob and Cynthia (New York Jews from Rochester, he a practicing psychiatrist of the old school who really try to help people, humane brilliant witty man, interesting to talk to about human relationships, with daughter who was a White House correspondent but quit after Trump and wrote a book about a community destroyed after a corporation left, Janesville (Amy Goldstein), Paul Ryan’s home town); Sandi and Dave (from Florida, decades ago he traveled with a friend all over southeast Asia, he kept getting left behind, at one point locked into a dungeon like fort-castle, he was determined to do all as if he were 40, and not so forgetful, refusing one of the guide’s offer of his van instead of walking, she told a story of a previous miserable Road Scholar cruise tour; as in the previous trip here was a couple who were living in a late second marriage); Rick and Maggie (she originally from Australia wrote a wonderful Chaucerian parody with vignettes of all the people channeling different Canterbury Tale characters, which gave me the idea for the title to this blog; he helped me download my boarding pass from my cell phone in the 10th century castle renovated into a hotel, the hotel reception clerk helping; otherwise they go from holiday to holiday, from Broadway play to musical). All with children and grandchildren.

Four aging widows: me; Norah (from North Carolina, husband died at 40 but as alive in her mind today as he ever was, an environmentalist, she has written 7 books, gave the impression of countless articles, reviews, post-polio she called herself, but personally daring, at dinner an effectively sharp tongue when she wanted to); Suzanne (also North Carolina, Bavarde, social worker, psychologist, doing good work with groups trying to raise minimum wage, kindly easy going mostly silent lady with a cane, lucky to be alive after many operations, husband died 24 years ago next month); Sara (Cape Cod, widowed 3 months, in throes of trauma, ceaselessly talking, insistent). Two sisters, Ginny and Linda (from California, perhaps divorced, perhaps widowed, living near one another, lots of stories, one a teacher of disabled children, teacherly; the other living this seeming cheerful life, so good-humored, with children living these successful prestige lives of university, laboratory and business). One widower, Gary, turned out to be divorced years ago, brought up his children himself (Swedish by background, has traveled to every continent, so many countries, son lives in Germany and talked of how good life is there for him). All with children and some grandchildren.


Steve, one of the 20, at the Wallington House conservatory gardens

Single people. Two never married women living in mid-town Manhattan, Dorothy (successful academic art historian professor, interested in 12th century church architecture, lived much in Italy, worked for the Met); Barbara (high school teacher in English for 35 years, I liked her, we compared notes on British costume dramas, including Poldark, liberal democrat, Jewish her talk of nieces, nephews, brother she reminded me of Vivian). They told me of how in the last 10 days of August, the Met Opera puts up a huge screen in the Kennedy Center square and screen one a night each of the 10 HD operas for that year for free. Who knew? and other stories of delightful lectures, poetry reading (Jeremy Irons reading Eliot’s The wasteland at the 92nd Street Y. One single man, Steven (from Texas, MD, PhD, pathologist, retired has taken or is taking anywhere from 17 [to 34?] Road Scholar and Overseas adventures tours, highly intelligent man, vegetarian, up early in morning, walking away, something of a loner,thought grave by the others, prickly).

One conversation. How what we use as words matters. Somehow famine came up, and I said that famine is not the result of not enough food in an area; it’s that a group of people have precarious entitlement to the food that is there, and the amount of food goes down, becomes scarce and prices soar. Steve said, “yeah, it’s a distribution problem.”

Then two of the tour guides who were with us most of the time: Anne, “happily divorced” (from the Lake District, northern Lancashire accent, thoughtful of everyone, conscientious, a model of patience, good driver, knew a lot about the area’s culture and history and geology, botany, bogus and real history, very bright, as so many Brits accepted her lot and the world she finds herself in, loves to hike, bike); Peter, now living alone on a small island (from London originally, said to be an expert in history, he did know the fierce legends, about battles, lively and tactful, bubbling over if a man can bubble over, also conscientious and knew better than a GPS where everything is, except when he got tired).

Something like 10 people had Ph.Ds, several had been teachers in college or high school, a librarian, three physicians. People with professional certificates. Three business people.  A well-educated bunch of people (like last time). Comfortably well off but not above trying to save $200 say in the fare. A number had been on quite a number of Road Scholar tours.

I learned as much from being with these people as from being on the trip. I found myself remembering back to when I was 5 and asking myself where I was or how I related to all the different houses we visited, museums exhibits I saw, amid all these different eras and varying cultural groups (Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, French Normans, Reivers, modern English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish) who left their rubbish and precious things and writings and inventions, and made the world we are now living in a palimpsest (if we will only look) through whose relics, remains, and texts we see them. I am become versions of my central self after these 6 plus decades, first in New York City, then in England, and now in Alexandria.


Lady Mary Lowther (1738-1824), The Waterfall — from Stephon Hebron’s In the Line of Beauty: Early Views of the Lake District by Amateur Artists

Most days were sunny and very warm by noon, though I needed the fleece I bought for the trip by the later afternoon; it would rain now and again. The mini-bus going up and around in narrow twisty-lanes sometimes very close to a steep edge of a cliff made for excitement at Hardnut and other passes. I began to wear my training shoes towards the end.

So, gentle reader, now I have prepared us to tell of my latest pilgrimage on Ellen and Jim have a blog, two. It is crucial to understand that everything I saw and did was in the company of these people and the choices I made were limited and shaped by their presence. It is not true that when one visits a site de memoire what matters only is the history of place, its function as a symbol to a culture, but what is being done at the moment, how it is functioning today as what 20th and 21st century people do around it and as a result of the visit. I will now go on to describe the tour itself.

I did read away for a couple of hours a day every day while away, and (among other volumes) my remarks blog style on Gina May’s moving biography of Madame Roland, and her famous memoir, and Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home will be found on Austen reveries.

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 »


Via Navigli, Sunday March 25th, Antiques sale …


with my friend, Luca Gandolfi

The cats of Campagnatico,
Which are never fully grown and have never
Been kittens, will not move for the honking motorist
But expect to be gone round — Peter Porter (1929-2010)

Friends,

The last of my Milan diaries. I’ve described wandering in central Milan on Friday, 4/16 afternoon and evening, and Tuesday, Wednesday and our neighborhood. We are come to all day Friday, Saturday morning, and a long Sunday morning and again in the evening into night.

We began Friday 4/23 by heading for fabric stores and bookshops. Laura likes to sew and make herself clothes. These were goals to take out outside the core place of cathedral, castle, and environs. We took trolleys and trams to find two fabric stores and two used bookshops.


New Tess, Milan

When we entered the fabric stores, at first the owner and/or employees wondered at us, and seemed decidedly uneager — they seemed to me to sell to the privileged. There was a language barrier, but as soon as they realized Laura meant business, somehow all was accommodated, and she came away with some beautiful material folded in rectangles in big shopping bags. For myself I bought Enzo Striano’s Il Resto Di Niente, a fictionalized biography of the later 18th century Italian woman political radical and poet, Eleonora Pimentnel de Fonseca, tragically executed during the brief Neapolitan republic of 1798, Elena Ferrante’s La figlia oscura, and Mario Soldati’s Lettere da Capri. Used bookstores in Italy are polite, quiet places, small, subdued, books set out in alphabetical order by the author’s name within categories.

We did go to Rizzoli’s and I could not find any Italian book that I might want that I did not own already. I was dismayed to discover that like US bookstores, there are less books than there used to be. Things are set up in fanfare ways: I found and bought (Italian) Atwood’s L’Assassino Cieco, traduzione di Raffaella Belletti; in the “classics” E.M. Forster’s Passaggio in India, traduzione di Adriana Motti.

What did we notice in all (some elite and expensive) and ordinary neighborhoods of apartment houses, shops, small parks? Laura noticed that Italian women tended to dress in black. A male-kind of jacket, sweater, subdued, black skirt. Very unchallenging, unobtrusive. Men very casual. Suits for those clearly going to offices.

People are permitted to bring dogs into public transportation as long as the dog is somehow kept close in a carrier of some sort. All on leashes and all small. People must buy or adopt dogs small enough to put in carriers to take on buses and trains. The dogs look nervous when the jump is made onto a trolley, but trust to the master-friend. Just about all these dogs had sweaters on (it was cold), but I spied no boots, so I conclude no corrosive salt is used to remove snow and ice (as in NYC). One woman’s dog’s sweater matched the color of her cell phone cover.

It was distressing to me to see how beggars behaved – very like in France. Utterly humbling themselves. Abjectly squatting on the street like they were praying. Alas, there was no place next to one of them I kept seeing to put money.

We then hopped onto a trolley that took us back to the park in the back of the Castle Forza (which I described in my last blog), and visited a museum with very contemporary art:


Outside sculpture

Unlike older museums (Castle Sforza or the Metropolitan in NYC), where you meander about unexpected corridors, mazes, but like contemporary ones (the Whitney, MoMA), all is clearly laid out, a few select and permanent rationalized exhibits labelled. We spent time in three.

The first was a Rick Owens exhibit (see one of Laura’s blogs on one of his fashion shows): a vast installation of a hundred or so mannikin models in de-humanized, aggressive, parodic outfits, a dark disquieting satire on what we wear and fashion shows themselves:

After a few rooms of these, we sat and watched films of models doing shows of these clothes — many with heavier bodies, many people of African heritage. Haunting, and creepy images.

They still had some of the traditional kinds of art one sees; there was a sculpture exhibit of the history of the bicycle, and intriguing paintings and photos on walls here and there:


A photo-painting of realistically conceived figures looking at art

On the upper floor there was a vast exhibit showing the visitor how we live now or how we ought to live — very modern furniture and appliances; there was a kind of neon-lit forest of electric poles. What kinds of habitations we make for ourselves, how many of our rooms don’t make sense if the point were to be comfortable.

We walked around the park to where the two main streets are, and found a restaurant for lunch. Unluckily, it featured bad service and worse food, but from there we spotted a sight-seeing bus-stop, so we hurried away and took a bus all around another part of Milan. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the microphone sets which were supposed to tell us where we were and the history of what we were seeing didn’t work.

Evening was coming, we were very tired by this time, and hopped off the bus around the shopping centers near the Cathedral and walked through very expensive shops, took a train back to a supermarket and then a cab home. You can see our feet had had enough. We stayed close to our apartment, we had reserved a table at a restaurant nearby so exclusive you could miss it as you walk by. The meal was exquisitely good.


This was the appetizer from another night: a restaurant where you pay a set fee and have many small courses where you have a taste of this or that food, and with each a glass of wine.

Home again that night to read quietly and rest.

Saturday, 4/24: we had seen on our peregrinations what we thought were basilicas, and decided the next day we would try to go into one of these. We tried for three, and they were either turned into schools or closed.

I suppose if you use Road Scholar, you won’t make these kinds of mistakes but we did learn that basilicas have found new uses in 21st century Milan.


An horse-shoe shaped church in front of the cemetery

What we did happen on was an an enormous monumental cemetery. If you have deluded yourself into assuming the impulse which made Egyptian pyramids is gone, think again. Huge cement buildings as crypts, tombs, massive sculptures of idealized figures (mythological, Catholic-religious, some realistic), many doing things (looking like they are thinking, or about to pick something up, the material they are made of often in bad shape (the damp is not good) in which families asserted their wealth, status, heritage, some of them built as far back as late Roman times, some dated 2015.


One of several wide and long lanes


Yes that’s me looking cold

The newer ones had photographs framed. The effect very creepy. Worse yet was a large house-like structure: we went into it and discovered that the poorer could buy a sort of drawer or shelf; rows and rows of these with people’s names. This reminded me of Arlington National Cemetery where there are now vast rectangles of cremated bodies and urns, each having a kind of drawer with the name of the person who once lived on its outside plaques. People were coming in to leave flowers. Everywhere also evidence that this was a way of extending the person’s life, memory, creating let’s say a deathtime. Laura fascinated took quite a number of photos. I’ll spare you the rest except for one of a cat who has found a home there:

He or she has a corner with an umbrella and under it dishes of food and water. Puss did not appear to have any cat-mates.

Perhaps our the pleasantest time we had was on Sunday morning,4/25, at the Antiques market, where I came upon my friend, Luca (above) on the lookout for good rare books. He did find one, a nineteenth century edition of Dante’s Commedia with illustrations. As I reported in my first blog this market runs up and down the length of a central canal, spreads out to side streets, and as the day progresses all around open cafes, and gradually walls are covered with artists pictures, and people come from all round to buy both ordinary clothes and needed things as well as art and craft objects. I wanted to buy a lovely watercolor of a woman and daughter on the seashore but couldn’t convey in Italian I wanted to be shipped as well as wrapped. Maybe she didn’t have any shipping services. I now regret not persisting. I worried over the price and that I might not get the picture by mail after all. It was a woman on a beach with a young girl.

It’s a flea market too: every kind of hand and machine crafted object you can imagine; some very old, some made recently, art. People talking to one another. Friendliness. I bought a sculpture in a sort of China of a sleeping cat. I looked for Trollope in Italian but no luck; most of the Italian books I found I wanted to read I already had. People kept coming and stalls being added to. There was also a marathon running in Milan that. Every one knew of the massive march in Washington DC and approved heartily.

I found the ceramic cat I described and took home (scared that wrapped up it would be taken for a bomb at the airport but it was not),


Her face held up to the light by Izzy

and here I’ll add a pink warm woolen cap with a fluffy pom-pom, lovely part leather gloves, grey on one side and multi-colored the other, Izzy found a piece of jewelry. Around 11 church bells began to ring upon the hour and seemed to keep that up until 5. Laura said that first ringing of the bells somehow made the day.


Houseboats allowed

Much later in the evening we went to the 19th century museum to one side of the Cathedral for another excellent dinner. The restaurant was on the top floor and we could see the Cathedral to our right and across the square as we ate. Later we tried to walk around the lively square for our last night. Some of the stores closed all day for Sunday opened in the evening. There were street musicians, and yes homeless people (some with pet dogs).

Our time away had come to an end, and the next day getting up around 7 am (our time Milan) we had a 19 hour trip by cab, plane, cab, train and perhaps Laura’s husband Rob’s car awaiting us at 11 at night (his time DC).

I remembered trips Jim and I took within the US, up to Canada, or just to Maine, twice to Vermont, several times to New York State, and how we’d have driven there and drive home together. How content I’d be to go home. How eager then. And tonight I’ve found a poem to express this:

David Holbrook (1923-2011)

Coming Home from Abroad

The air is high and blue yet, as we drive
Northwards across High Marne: summer
Again, after the stormy cold of June.
Yet there’s a ghostliness a sadness in the wind:
I feel it first, in the little park at Enghein
Where the tall plane trees shivered in the breeze.

Oh, I am so content, sitting beside you,
Driving home over the Northern Plains of France,
The sun still strong, everything going well,
The wine and poulard good at lunch at Chalons;
Yet, in the sky, there’s this tall hustling ghost
Drawing a veil across the face of summer.

On Zeebrugge beach all next day, the sane
Unites me to Suffolk: the cold onshore breeze
Whispers of Cotman, and those severe scenes
Of grey half-muted tones, the figures bent
Against the elements: and so we sail
Steering irrevocably into the Felixstowe fog ….


John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) Carnavon 1800

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Izzy wearing Laura’s hat just as we entered the castle chapel


A small park, and ruin in a street near ours

Friends,

I’ve told of our trip, our first evening in Milan, three day jaunt out to Zurich, nearby Germany and France, and first general impressions of Italian culture.


When they do have trees on their blocks, they tend to place the same kind of tree in rows (as they do in France)

For the rest of our time away we stayed in Milan, either exploring the city and partaking of its pleasures (each night a different restaurant), or gazing at ice-skaters in the stadium. For me the enjoyable and engaging moments were in the city: all Tuesday, Wednesday morning and night, and all day Friday, early Saturday morning and Sunday morning until 1. Here I tell of Tuesday and Wednesday, early mornings and the neighborhood.


Izzy on the cathedral roof, wearing Laura’s hat


Walking into the castle entrance — a fountain is in front

The center of Milan (not just for visitors) exists between the large square called the Duomo, around which are the enormous cathedral, which everyone will tell you took 6 centuries to build, two beautiful glass covered shopping malls, two museums, with smaller institutional (cultural, gov’t, educational) buildings scattered all about. And blocks going this way and that. The opera house La Scala is right there. Two long wide parallel streets coming away from the back of the cathedral take you to the Sforza castle, an enormous building, which probably took a few centuries to settle into its present state. Between the castle and wide streets, there is what in the UK would be called a round-about where you can catch buses touring all Milan, and see different groups of people gathering. Nearby a movie theater and further along a playhouse (with a repertoire going on). Behind the castle is a large park that reminded me of Central Park in NYC (except not so big): picturesque, meant for leisured walking, with at least one lake, birds, a modern museum at one edge, near which there is an in-door and an out-door stage (for plays or concerts).


The wrapped up person is me contentedly gazing at water birds in a lake in the park — do not mistake how old I look for discontent

Further on, you come upon a beautiful state-of-the-art library for ordinary citizens’ use; wander a bit and you’re sure to come upon the usual ruins tucked away here and there, I believe a carousel, and bike paths.


Ruins

You leave the park area through a massive carved gate which tells you it commemorates a probably not very welcome visit from the armies of Napoleon III.

Tuesday we spent all morning in the castle in the morning, and much of the afternoon in the cathedral. The high point of the castle came swiftly: a sort of chapel in which we could view Michelangelo’s late Pieta.


Michelangelo’s late Pieta, at the Sforza castle

Michelangelo’s work just stands out as more sincere, realer than anything near it, anything we saw in that castle and most that we later saw in the modern museum. we viewed his last work. I sat by it for a while. All around the chapel were artefacts and plaques telling the story of its many adventures before it came to rest, let us hope safely for a long time to come, in the quiet room. It took a long time to walk all around the castle, up and down: clearly originally a fortress from which arrows and later guns could be aimed. Among the more interesting objects we saw were some beautiful later 19th and 20th century (recent) furniture, musical instruments from across the ages. We three enjoyed a good meal in a place where we could watch people go by and I listened to a street musician who played very well and whose apparent poverty touched my heart.


The cathedral roof from just one of many angles

Doing the cathedral is no trivial task. First you must avoid waiting for hours to get in through the front. A comparable tourist attraction is the Eiffel Tower, which is a many hour wait if you want to climb up. You can save the wasted hours and tedium by buying a more expensive ticket which allows you to take an elevator straight up to the first level of the roof.

Then you climb and climb and climb in and out of nooks, stairways, past gargoyles, statues, rows of battlements, seeing Milan become lower and seeing our farther, until you get to the very top.

I almost didn’t make it, and was saying “Non posso,” when someone helped me up the last stairway.


The cathedral highest roof

I saw one young woman with a baby in a carrier against her chest, holding a toddler’s hand. I would not have risked that child. You then climb back down, not all the way, and are led into a corridor where you take another elevator, and by some sleight of hand your ticket takes you into the cathedral by a side or back entrance, and voila.


What we saw as we came in


Walking about


The altar

In order to enjoy the place you have to forget that it was and is a seat of power, intended to impress you with its wealth. Every inch carved; many places sites of worship, shameless individual tombs, marble floors, magnificent windows. Perhaps one can reconcile oneself to it by reverse thinking: imagine where it bombed to the ground, then it’s a treasure of history, beauty, aspiration lost forever. Besides an ancient crypt, there is beneath the building an archaeological dig which has unearthed a previous basilica on the same site. Now we were in early Roman Italy. So this spot has been a community center for thousands of years. We regretted leaving.


The same Duomo square, another angle, at night when after resting in our own apartment we returned for dinner

Wednesday morning we learned how difficult it would be to leave Milan on Thursday to go out by train to the countryside: the biggest disappointment for me of this trip was that I did not get to visit another friend, the biographer of Veronica Gambara, Antonia Chimenti. She lives not far from Reggio Emilia, the area Gambara lived in. There is but one bus from where she lives to the train station, and another to Correggio. A city whose institutional buildings she said not all that much changed from the outside physically from the 16th century. People there still living a quieter traditional life. We would not have had time to get to Correggio, stay there, and get back to the train for Laura and I to return to Milan and she to her home. She sent pictures, we emailed but it seems what we needed was to have someone drive us. I translated all of Gambara’s poetry, wrote a short life myself.


Piazza del Monte, in Reggio Emilia, Correggio today

Laura and I also worried that Izzy would not be able to get all the tickets to go to the ice-skating events at once, and that she might need help from us on Thursday.

So on Wednesday instead of buying tickets at a local train station, we ended up in a local supermarket, and brought home some needed comforts for the flat (juice, milk, sugar, tea, bread, cheese, wine, cereal for the morning).


From our seats inside La Scala

But Wednesday night we had a rare treat: while Izzy remained at the ice-skating stadium, Laura and me hurried back to Milan for a quick dinner and to watch the Goldberg Variations as a ballet at La Scala. Astonishing. As we watched I realized I had seen part of this modern ballet in clips of videos on TV. A wikipedia article details the Bach music. As for Robbins’s choreography, the work consists of many ballet dancers, men and women dressed in the most minimal outfits, beginning dancing as a group, gradually emerging as varying couples and individuals, with no single individual emerging as a star or personality, and then back to the group dancing, with many moods, and much repetition. The last movements repeat the first and the dancers are all back where they began on the floor. By the end you feel you have experienced a life-cycle of humanity.

Here is a typical moment from almost an hour and one half

We were one night too late for Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydice. Izzy almost said that had that opera been on, she’d have taken off from ice-skating.

Not all our adventures were outside or far away from the house our apartment was in. Laura had brought her laptop and we watched two (to me) unusual movies where food was the central subtext of stories and interviews; one traced the life story of am impoverished girl who became an austere nun who lives to cook simply; another was part of a series, each featuring a different type of food or dish which is central to a class-, race- or culture-laden experience, and that experience is ethnographically considered. Each morning Laura found herself breakfast in nearby bars. She and Izzy took walks around the neighborhood. We discovered two rare book stores, one much better than the other, but alas I owned a copy of the very book that tempted me: a volume of poetry by Elsa Morante. There was a convenient lunch place around the corner from where we were, a sort of snack place for the late afternoon. I read the books I had brought with me, and wrote to a friend; Izzy wrote in her diary (and kept very good records of the ice-skating she was seeing); and Laura kept up her paid work online and texted with her husband and a friend.


Another photo taken from our windows, a different angle includes a basilica like roof near us

Miss Drake

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »