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Archive for the ‘widowhood’ Category


Jim could recite by heart some of the lines from Beatrix Potter’s tales of small animals making do, managing

Troubles, I don’t have to tell you, don’t come at a gallop, like the Huns, but arrive quietly, stealthily, like epidemics …. Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, his reality the level of chemical elements interacting ….

Dear friends and readers.

Whether it be a massive increase in numbers of people growing very sick, and a frightening proportion of them dying, and dying in a peculiarly miserable way, or a consequent, concurrent depression or recession arising from the spreading attempts in countries the coronavirus has spread to by everyone staying home, and thus refraining from the kind of economic activity that generates income, constructive answers and behavior are eagerly looked for. They as yet seem heart-breakingly slow in most countries until the virus begins to kill in visible numbers, probably because as yet there (how many as yets do I have?) there is no vaccine, no sure and certain cure. Worse yet in some countries, groups of people are trying to use this crisis, calamity to extract huge profits for themselves (in the US Trump and his Republicans in power), or given them to constituencies; individuals in power refuse to act lest the principles of capitalism be noticed to be at all interfered with (Trump).

Last time I wrote, this lock-down, self-isolation, social distancing (self-quarantine?) whatever you want to call it, was only beginning. Tonight all the usual places I & Izzy go to are closed (schools, libraries, book stores, community centers museums, investment companies); remaining open are supermarkets, drug stores, police shops, hospitals, the post-office, restaurants which are still attracting customers. All those places where the employees can work from home, what’s called telework, or conduct business by remote access (programs include Zoom, webinar and others) are doing so — insofar as employees can pull this off.

Right now all people are waiting to see what happens next, either to themselves personally or to the society at large. So many are unemployed, our disguised dictator (so he’d like to think and works to make true), Trump has now silenced unemployment statistics (he a couple of weeks ago) forbade all gov’t agencies with information from telling the statistics of those sickening and dying from coronavirus. He can’t stop all information since newspapers, media, states & localities are publishing such information. So all his transparent lies have little purchase except with his worshipful followers who are inoculated against information not from him anyway. A huge number of people are without salaries who desperately need them; last night on twitter I saw a video of a city council in Florida where the council had shut off the electricity of all those people in the county not able to pay bills, where an African-American man broke through all the euphemisms, and pointed out what the woman at the head had done because she cared more about her relationship with the electricity company than thousands of people; she tried to shut him up but could not.


From the Washington Post: Union Station this past Wednesday/Thursday

I don’t get a salary and have to hope my investments and retirement annuities & social security keeps coming in or remain stable; Izzy is teleworking from her library, and being paid. So beyond having to stay home, and seeing supermarkets showing the results of other people’s hoard-buying so Izzy has no Skippy peanut-butter and I have to make do with other brands of tea, the cats ditto over wet-good. Not too bad. On my last public outing, I went to see the latest Emma and wrote a clog comparing it to The Portrait of a Lady on Fire, both women’s films, more alike than you might realize. I’ve written a blog beyond the ones linked in above on Angela Merkel’s speech to the German people, and some absorbing movies and books I’m turning to. I’ve put away some of what I planned to read in classes, and am concentrating on my true interests or authors, kinds of books, projects just invented and loved (E.M. Forster for example) more sheerly.


There she is modeling exemplary shopping — not piling up goods irrespective of other people’s equal needs

My IT guy, Jonathan, installed Zoom for me and I participated insofar as a I could in a remote access class — As I wrote last time, this Zoom experience is no substitute for a physically shared environment and space together. In this case we didn’t see the teacher and he could only see those who talked, and not all of them. I realize now I don’t have a computer microphone (and again will ask Jonathan to order one, even if they are as he says all out of stock), and couldn’t figure out how to make myself visible in a little square. I did see chat running underneath the screen, and saw where I could click and lo and behold began to chat with others and respond to those talking. At the end of the session the teacher first realized a few of us were contributing that way — next time, he suggested, he’ll pay attention to that too. Yet I admit that something real as an encounter happened, myself I learned little about Shakespeare’s sources for Hamlet (the topic) that I didn’t know but I did learn (oddly somehow outside what was happening, everything objectified) some more about what people value in a classroom and it’s not the content of what’s learned about the subject for most of them.

I hope this will amuse others. It has come through from a list where there are many academics studying Renaissance women. File under: are we down-hearted? no we are not, we are surviving

It is no trivial task. Thus far the people at OLLI at AU have managed to put and to participate in 20 of the originally scheduled 90 classes on-line — with some very hard work face-to-face in training classes at AU with the tech people there. I am still reading towards the Italian Jewish writing class: this week finished
the extraordinary Periodic Table by Levi; utterly appropriate and relevant, from his experiences in a concentration camp in World War Two, as Jewish boy growing up in Turin as the war came on, his fables of a desolation island afterwards, and his tales of life as a chemist. From what I can tell OLLI at Mason is struggling even more. There I have exchanged e-mails with a teacher attempting to put a class in Existential writing online. She and her husband are working away. Politics and Prose is working at putting some of their activities online. Their business must be hurting badly.

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

Mornings are the worst for me, I am in quite a state after troubling dreams — I’ve realized several of them I was believing in the other morning, and finally threw them off. Anxiety and depression manifest themselves as worry (about me, those I know and am close to, the world), and with no one to hug I can reach panic level — one morning I thought my gmail was not coming through. To mon cri de coeur of an email asking for some reply, a kind friend emailed tout de suite, 3 times (!) and I established in a couple of other ways the gmail is working, mail just coming in v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, far less ads (but I rejoiced t see a couple). Groups.io most unusually having a glitch perhaps (the owner’s child has a flu). Early mornings up from long night in dream world harder to recover from. I see all these Zoom and remote online access classes are very spotty, no substitute for what goes on that is called teaching in a shared physical environment Still hacking cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing — persistent mild cold. I am thinking of establishing new routs ….

You see ClaryCat and Ian on their cat tree this morning; although I am not watching Outlander 5 this season (because I will not pay to support fascistic programming and this ruthless capitalist move of Starz), here is Adso, Claire’s cat this season.

Sometimes around 8 after I have watched the somber news. Judy Woodruff on PBS does her level best to reassure and be hopeful or upbeat without sacrificing truth; Amy Goodman cannot get the kinds of higher officials she sometimes has on but she has substituted people with real knowledge about medicine, or the particular country which is her subject or aspect of what is happening in the US. I forgot to watch My Brilliant Friend last week on Monday. That’s the title of what will presumably be four seasons adapted from Elena Ferrante’s brilliant Neapolitan Quartet, this one The Story of a New Name. I did make up for it this past Friday, and am determined not to become too overwrought again.

As an individual I am helpless against the people in power (they have constructed the political structures that achieve legitimacy that way) — I can write blogs to try to disseminate information, cheer myself, lure someone into wasting a little of their time by forgetting or remembering and thinking and feeling with me. Wash my hands too — how about to the tune and using words of Edward Lear’s

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

III
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I will finally phone Kaiser tomorrow about this perpetual cold …

Ellen

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Journal of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe


La Peste by Camus

Friends,

These two books are those that come to mind when I try to think of literary treatments where you can find both an experience of a deadly epidemic and profound meditations on the meaning of what happens to individuals and a society when such a calamity occurs. I’ve taught them both (La Peste Englished as The Plague). I’ve read others where the deadly epidemic is either secondary, something creating an atmosphere of devastation and despair (Mann’s Death in Venice), or there as a direct cause of utterly irrational destructive and from a pragmatic standpoint useless behavior (the opening of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, where an epidemic is turned into a mass hunt for human scapegoats to blame).

The New York Times today laid out what is happening in US society as the viral infection, COVID-19 or coronavirus spreads.

My friend, Bryan Alexander’s blog laying out the global story, continually updated.
Each of us will be affected differently once it begins to spread inside the nation state and particular region of a country we live in; beyond larger social political and economic decisions made by people who can control large groups of human behavior, and a multitude of individual reactions by those not sick (some people will rush out and buy large amounts of groceries, or pharmacy supplies) and those sick. Self-protective measures (self-isolating, washing your hands to the soliloquy of Lady Macbeth beginning “Out, damned spot!”) are also socially responsible. What kind of housing you have, with whom, your age and state of health. What you do usually to occupy yourself, make a living, keep sane.

For myself I’m 73, I live in what in NYC we called a private house, with my 36 year old daughter. She is well, I have had a mild cold for about two weeks now, and I cannot throw it, but it gets no worse. What I do to occupy myself is to teach voluntarily at life-long learning organizations for older retired people so I feel I am contributing to the lives to those who appreciate this the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime of study (of literature) in an enjoyable social situation. A form of school and social club combined. Well we have been hard-hit because 1) the Trump administration so cut the budget of medical agencies there to temper, ward off, and care for people during emergencies as well as daily life, that no general testing has been done (thus the only safety measure that can be taken is mass social distancing), and 2) refused to make available for free or securely affordable such tests, or treatments as are needed so to contain the spread. Not only are most social places closing down in order to prevent masses or groups of people from getting together indiscriminately and infecting one another. Also since the demographics of one group especially at risk (past age 60) is precisely the age of OLLI groups (most people somewhere between 55 and 85), the two classes I began to teach last week (The Novels of E.M. Forster) and the three classes I was beginning to attend (on Louisa May Alcott’s books but especially Little Women/Good Wives, Italian Jewish writing, Hamlet) and was scheduled to begin (Difficult Women with Elaine Showalter) are cancelled as face-to-face classroom in person experiences.

I am told that I can try to teach by remote access using a program called Zoom. I am crucially without confidence in my ability to pull off such a thing as in all previous experience I have failed (e.g., online Webinars). There are going to be training sessions for those who agree to use this technology to reach students this coming Monday. When I have gone to such training sessions (say in how to do wikipedia) I have not learned anything as the speed, lack of precision, and assumptions about what I know and can do to start with preclude my learning. I am also very reluctant to expose myself visually and orally that way. I would “virtually” “be there,” supposedly with people in a teaching situation at a distance through videos they can study except they are not there, not themselves physically involved, not at risk themselves in the same way, and thus can react differently to. I worry what others will pick up about me. Two of the three people teaching other classes are willing to try to do this zoom. I am willing to try to be a student in a class where someone else is teacher so that I could join in the class with others but more so I can understand what this experience is before I would ever volunteer to be the person in the center. I hope that I will be able to reach one of these people: the paragraphs sent imply this will be easy. I have no confidence in that and have asked my older daughter to come over if I need help, and I will try the IT guy if he can do it by remote if I cannot. I have to wait and see.

For the one of my two E.M. Forster classes that started two weeks ago — going splendidly in the class — I offered to communicate through email. You could as alternatives communicate through conference calls or email. Thus far 12 people have said they would rather the class be canceled and given the usual classroom way another time (several of them tactful enough to say they enjoyed the in-class so much more in comparison to a silent email) compared to 4 who liked my email letters — I wrote a more detailed one today where probably as to content I conveyed far more and precisely than I do in a classroom. Most of the people who come to these classes come for the social experience primarily; so do I but perhaps I also value the literary content I learn from (when there is something new or insightful in a way I had not thought of or understood) somewhat more than the average person in these classes. Hard to say. Any way it does not seem to me the email alternative will “fly.” I feel one must have 8 people communicating to one another in a listserv situation for it to be socially enjoyable as well as educational.

As you know I find life alone without Jim difficult to endure or enjoy all by itself.


Izzy noticed this walking into the front garden on her way home from work: she walks up a hill from a bus stop. It is a baby cherry blossom tree that she and I bought last spring and a man who does my mowing and some gardening planted for us. It’s a bit behind the others, just beginning to bud. So there was a leavening moment of cheer.

Nonetheless, this week stress from this situation was added to because by Tuesday of this week I realized that the Fairfax Regional Libraries could close; that is where I have been having my taxes done for 2 years. I have not mentioned that I cancelled my trip to ASECS last week: the paper was not going well, and I could no longer live with the idea I would have to find the restaurant and the place where the Marivaux play was being done after three times getting lost attempting to go on a 7 minute trip from the OLLI at AU to Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington, and once because the usual entrance to South 110 which takes me to the Virginia highway I use was closed off and I could not work my Waze right. Once I decided not to go to ASECS, I had free time to go and made an appt with my financial advisor for today to go over what he withheld and Izzy and I would go next week. But I began to dread that the library would close before we could get there. The alternative is an awful abrasive shyster lawyer who I paid $500 to for two years to do the taxes. He produces them last thing. When we went to H&R, they asked $400 and made mistakes.

I woke this past Wednesday morning shaking. I’d had enough. I determined Izzy and I would go that evening to that library and get those taxes done & transmitted. I spent the morning calling the library to make sure it was still open, and what time the AARP people who do your taxes for free with you would be there. I called my financial adviser so he could explain to me what he had withheld from my IRA investment distribution and I explain it to the AARP person. Izzy and I set off by 4:15 am (she came home early) and (as the last two times) mine took 2 and 1/2 hours. Izzy’s takes a much shorter time. You sit there with a person who does the form with you out of all the papers you bring; then a third person evaluates what has been done. All done online. I could never do it. Then I pay direct deposit through my routing number at my bank. They print out the forms I have done; everything is put neatly in an envelope and the next year I can bring it back. It was dark when we got out and I did make one bad mistake as I tried to turn onto a lane and instead turned onto the place by the edge of the street where you can stop if your car is in trouble. I was able to get back into the traffic but it was a scary moment. But if we had waited for the weekend, when Izzy can go during the day, it would now be too late. As of tomorrow or Monday all schools and libraries are closed for the next two weeks or more.

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

There have been some good moments, even hours and half days or evenings, stretches of time.


This is the cover of the British edition and a limited one of 300 copies signed by the author — I have an uglier duller design but like contemplating this image

I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me — brilliant, true, inspiring, comparable to James Baldwin. Paradoxically I agree with Coates’s comparison: “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.” His book explained to me how African-American people are voting for Biden when his record over crucial African-American issues has been bad (voted for mass incarceration, to cut social security, engineered the Iraq war): they do not believe the white world will share their power and wealth with blacks and so they do not believe that Sanders can win ever since Sanders will take from the white supremacy and make the US into a social democracy with effective measures to make people equal and life’s necessities affordable for real.

Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. It arrived two days ago and my copy is sturdy, lovely good quality paper, sewn. A fine book.

First response to first 50 or so pages. Spoiler warning in the unlikely case the reader does not know how Cromwell ended up. She’s done it again —

Let me put a couple of early responses in: It’s deeply inward attempt to try to explain to us (it’s historical) how inside 4 years a man so leant upon and seemingly central to Henry had his head cut off (a terrifying act) by this same man. Mantel has the problem that unlike the first book were at first Cromwell is a nobody and unknown, now he has his finger in so many famous pies. In the second here was a single trajectory and stealth heroine, Anne Boleyn. This time what she is doing is laying the groundwork for his downfall – which she laid in the first book too. He is nobody still and worse he has an agenda that has a conscience at its heart. He is a genuine Protestant — protester — and secular. Array ed against him are everyone, just about. the Boleyns were Protestant and Anne and George seriously so — so too Catherine Parr, wife 6, married to Thomas Seymour and bringing up Elizabeth. Henry came near to beheading Catherine Parr over her paraphrases of the Psalms.

The Howards (remember the duke of Norfolk, the Plantagenets, the Scots group) — all fervent Catholics. Then there are the old lines families — all Catholic — Chapuys, from the Emperor, catholic, Mary’s allies, bloody catholic, Spanish ambassadors catholic and france Catholic too.

Now why was Cromwell beheaded inside 4 years. I repeat that’s astonishing. Yes he got too powerful — and rich — like Wolsey and Forche in the time of Louis XIV. But Henry was attached.
Well he tried to get Henry to marry Anne of Cleves; it’s talked about how ugly she was – but to Cromwell she was a female from the Protestant German groups. Wife No 5: Catherine Howard, beheaded, was Catholic. She was in way over her head (stupid) and promiscuous. The day Cromwell was beheaded Henry married Catherine Howard.

Henry wanted to be all powerful (think of a contemporary — this fiction is about our world too) but he knew intuitively Catholicism was the ideology that supported mindless power and he believed in the older faith. Ghosts for example. So does Cromwell. Henry too and Henry shown as continually unstable

This is a haunted book. It is hard to get into — I had to look up who Henry’s sister was, Meg, and who she married, who she went to bed with, because her heirs are rivals to Henry — Mary Queens of Scots is her grand-daughter. You miss much if you don’t know what is behind a joke about Meg’s promiscuity and lack of legal secure marriage.

All arrayed against this man – who stands also for a secular state.

So in the opening we are watching Mantel preparing the ground. but also re-realizing this female hero in male drag. For then we go with him into his home: there’s Rafe off to Helen, Richard Cromwell ….

It does restore my faith in historical fiction and its great variety too.

It seemed to me (excuse vanity) that some of these first responses (not Mantel’s herself though she is talking out of a need to perform) are missing the inner life of the book. It is a woman’s novel as well as a superb historical fiction.

An online friendship that means a lot to me has been renewed. I spent afternoon with friend from OLLI at Mason watching David Lean’s Passage to India: we talked of Forster, books and life, and ate grilled cheese sandwiches, drank tea …. The week before we went out to Cinema Art movie-house and saw The portrait of a Lady On Fire, written and directed by Céline Sciamma — about the relationship of three women, one hired to paint another who is about to be coerced into a loveless marriage, and a third, their servant, whom the painter helps obtain a safe abortion. Deeply satisfying portrait of slowly growing friendship, equality, depth of feeling. Beautiful colors, landscape of Northern Brittany, appealing seascapes. It goes a bit slow, is a bit over-produced, pompous, self-important but these do not detract from the core experience. My favorite scene is the three playing cards by the fire

I am more immersed in Forster studies than ever: reading a superb biography at last: Wendy Moffat: A Great Unrecorded History. I joined a local neighborhood book club! We met at Panera; that’s where I began to read Ta Nehisi-Coates. They are mostly women and intelligent enough. I persuaded them to make Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices their choice in two months. At the last minute I changed my courses at the OLLIs for the summer, which I still hope will be realized in classrooms (that this plague time will be over). The Eustace Diamonds is way too long: I can’t stand how Trollope hates his awful heroine or the anti-semitism; I do like the governess-Lucy Morris story, and what we see of parliament as well as the choral group at Matching Priory but that’s not enough to hold me or a class. Here it is — it was written with the cancellation of this E.M. Forster class in mind.


One of many favorite pictures by (Dora) Carrington An Artist’s Home and Garden

The Bloomsbury Novel

This course will examine a wide range of novels & art covered by the term Bloomsbury through three texts. We will read E.M. Forster’s Howards End, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. None are long, one very short. Bloomsbury novels are recognizable as written by people who belonged to this amorphous early 20th century creative group, or were printed at the Hogarth Press. Closer to the time if classes are not canceled for the spring, I may substitute Maurice for Howards End This subgenre is splendidly interesting, many thoughtful highly original texts of powerful art. There are three superlative movies for Howards End & All Passion Spent, (and if the substitute is made) one for Maurice from which we will view clips

I will include excerpts from Roger Fry’s art criticism and go over pictures by him, Douglas Grant, Carrington; excerpts from the books on biography by Andre Maurois and Lytton Strachey and Leonard Woolf’s autobiography.

Izzy finished her art class at the Torpedo Factory and at its end drew a lovely sketch of two birds she had photographed by the beach while we were at Calais this summer. It’s now on one of the walls of her room.

I’m reading Gita May’s biography of Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. She often quotes Vigee-LeBrun’s Souvenirs, which I’ve read in the French; both books very good. Also Trollope’s brilliant and at times so uncomfortably relevant Last Chronicle of Barset in the story of the impoverished outcast Crawley accused of stealing, and then harassed and left to kill himself if he was minded to (no real help offered). In my car I listen to Caroline Moorehead’s somber A Time in Winter, and soon I watched the first episode of the French TV series, A French Village (2017) — also about the dire German occupation, the ferocious cruelties of fascism/Nazism. It speaks to our present struggles to cope with the latest version of ethno-nationalism/fascism. Many many movies in this realm but this stands out because of its sincerity, brilliant acting, and intelligence.” No excess violence. We do see enough — three children killed as the Nazis fly a plane over shooting everywhere everyone in sight — implacable bullying of men in trucks armed. We are introduced to three or four family groups plus others, one Jewish couple and child. Yes this is serious and worth your time and feelings and thoughts. Still watching Mary Beard’s documentaries and the British 9 part Civilisations, with Simon Schama too.

Real grief that is permanent when Sanders lost Michigan after SuperTuesday. No real reform and change in my life time — no going back to where we were in the 1960s and early 1970s. I felt for the loss of Elizabeth Warren too. Men would not vote for her. Imagine Sanders as president and Warren as his vice-president. He made a true presidential speech tonight about what needs to be done socially over this COVID-19 calamity crisis. She would work to prevent what happened to me these weeks too: the airline refused to refund my $365. Her Consumer’s Bureau is right now de-funded, its power legislated out of existence.

So there you have it, another diary entry, another 3 weeks. You must take this as understood: my loving cats playing, being with me on and off all the time, shoring up my existence with their affectionate attachment to me. No small thing. I try to reciprocate, be responsible by not leaving them alone for more than an afternoon and making them know now and again I am aware of and with them.


Lots of seagulls on the river — photo by Izzy on her way to work

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

Let me admit at the end of all this I am very troubled. I cannot sleep for more than 4 hours unless I take sleeping pills, and sometimes not that. When I cannot sleep 4 hours,I do take a pill (zolpidem), but then I wake groggy, and distressed even more than when I wake after 4 hours with no pills. I am better rested with no pills, alert, and feel more healthy. I cannot help it that I am afraid and I don’t want to go in for “zoom training” if I show others that I am nervous and begin to cry. I was near crying after someone was unkind to me about this inability (or disability, which is what it is) yesterday. I am a depressive, with bad anxiety attacks, unable to travel without it becoming an ordeal (I had learnt to do it with Jim by my side). I don’t know if I could cope with life ordinarily were Izzy not here living with me. I help her too — she cannot drive for example, and sometimes she has meltdowns and my talk helps.

I am afraid for our society with a cruel sociopath at its head in such a position of authority and power. Many businesses might go under; many people go without money enough for food and medicine or other necessaries (like company. I wrote on twitter the other day everyone must vote for Biden as he is infinitely more decent and intelligent and humane than Trump. I fear that Trump will try to suspend the election and the powerful and wealthy let him get away with it. Now I agree with black people in the hope that since Biden is a conservative democrat, if he wins, he will be allowed to take power. What a relief that would be.

Ellen

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Keeley Hawes as Mrs Durrell reading aloud — her family and household listening (Durrells S2E4)

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fradulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit). Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

Dear friends,

The quiet winter time is coming to an end, and for a couple of months I will be busy with teaching and going to (mostly) literary classes at the two OLLIs (AU & Mason), the Politics & Prose bookstore, with the (to me) frightening trip to an ASECS conference at St Louis (where I am to give a short paper). I have been enjoying the preparation (reading & writing and movie-watching) as well as my online life on FB, twitter (I now go over there more regularly), the listservs (Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset is an extraordinary masterpiece, and I’m thinking Morrison’s Beloved is going to be painful one). Last night I became immersed in Atonement, Ian McEwan’s book and the Wright/Hampton film, yet once again, and today find myself eager to read more Louisa May Alcott, her books for adults and about herself. I was much moved by reading in Italian Natalia Ginzburg’s Inverno in Albruzzo (English found in a book which ought to be translated Small Virtues).


Snow in Abruzzo

I practiced twice going to OLLI at AU from this house, and then the P&P places from the OLLI, and I did explore parking in these neighborhoods just a bit (for the first time). Very stressful: some days since becoming a widow, it’s demoralizing to be forced to learn to be independent at age 73.

I told one of my letter friends here on the Net that I have ended living the life of what might be called an independent scholar. Truly I have made efforts for what I thought/think is a social life but have not managed it. It’s too late. I on myself must live.  ( I rephrase and think differently but analogously with Anne Finch’s I on my self can live.) I invent goals for myself, and the teaching schedules for reading on listservs, papers reviews give me a structure. Then I have to take care of this house, my car, pay the bills. The resulting daily structure and its patterns I call my “routs” (the term is Daphne DuMaurier’s). They stretch from around 7 am or when I get up to around 1 pm or when I put out the nightlight and go to sleep. I revise them every few days. Through these I fend off depression, and keep sane. When people respond that gives me meaning — so it means a lot when people write back about these various books or movies. Or appreciate my teaching. There are my daughters and my cats too. Tomorrow Izzy and I go to an HD screening of Handel’s Agrippina from the Metropolitan opera; we talked of the story matter over dinner; she is enthusiastic and looking forward to this one. Me too.

I told of how on Trollope&Peers a few of us told of our first memory from political life; yesterday after reading Caroline Moorehead’s review of Elena Ferrante’s La vita bugiarda delgi adulti (The Lie-Filled Life of Adults) Moorehead says Ferrante has her heroine feeling she is growing up, remembering a moment that woke her up from the “innocence” of childhood, its unawareness into adulthood — seeing the world in a disenchanted more abstract or in terms of larger wider adult perspectives. For Ferrante’s heroine it was when she overheard her father calling her fat; a similar devastation overcame Simone de Beauvoir in The Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: Ferrante’s heroine feared she was ugly; Beauvoir says she was found unmarriageable; Morrisons’ heroine is disturbed out of complacency when the abused orphaned child her family takes into their home longs for the bluest eye, and declares African genetic features ugly. I remember my father mocking me for being “too plump” when I was 15, too late for waking up, but in time to help trigger my anorexia. Girls are made to experience trauma over their face and body as seen by men.

But adult awareness happened earlier than that: when I was 9 into 10 during the time I and my parents moved from the Bronx to Queens. It was moving from an area called a slum, where most people would regard living as awful (bad schools, violence, no greenery in the streets anywhere, tenement houses) to an area most people might long to live in. I know my mother did. Kew Gardens, where we had a three room apartment in a tall building. I was suddenly in a neighborhood of trees, parks, one family fancy homes, apartment buildings kept looking well. I found myself in a neighborhood of (to me at the time) super-rich houses, great snobbery (the desire for prestigious possessions, creditable surroundings, people eating out the heart of every community), constant class slights, no playdates with other children through their mothers for me — and became very unhappy. Also in the schools prayers were enforced — I was startled and at first just didn’t cooperate. After a while I was forced to put my head down while the teacher read from the Bible and everyone was said to be praying. The southeast Bronx was majority black by that time, large minority of hispanic – what whites were there were mostly Irish. It had been an Irish neighborhood in the 1940s. Kew Gardens was all white, heavily Jewish, with a nearby Richmond Hill heavily Italian American, and Forest Hills said to be upper-middle. Yes no violence, the streets utterly quiet. No one on them. Very hard to meet anyone at all. Moving was the great shock, the clash of values, the kinds of people I saw, the way they behaved to one another. My father took to returning to the Bronx and old friends regularly. I didn’t have that option. I found a library I could get to myself — which was an improvement. In the Bronx my father had to take me – it was said to be too far to go on my own (a subway ride on the Bronx El). Now I had just to walk 10 blocks and I was there.

What else shall I tell you of? I have found three choral societies Izzy could try out for (audition), attached to NOVA, attached to Mason, part of the Fairfax county volunteer arts organizations, but she demurred, showed strong reluctance, she would have to work very hard, they demanded she sell tickets (!), rehearsals at night. It only took seven years. But at least I have found these exist.

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Late Winter afternoon & evening thoughts. Wind makes for fiercely felt cold outside and in. I sit in my chair blanket hours ahead of my usual time, Clarycat in my lap, electric radiator just by us (with tissues on top for my cold), Ian across the way. Outside GreyMalkin freezes but I give him/her a dish of food, some milk, and stroke and talk to him/her.


Clarycat and Ian


Grey Malkin I call this cat — a lonely cat who visits me a couple of times a day — for food and affection …

I read as how “democratic establishment leaders” (who are these mostly unnamed people the NYTimes continually cites) are determined if Sanders does not win on the first ballot to stop him. I don’t see why if they choose Bloomberg who has bribed so many of them with money in so many ways shouldn’t send me $500 too. Why should I be expected to vote for him for free? The question is, Should I write him when the time comes? And is that too small a percentage of the take (i.e., otherwise known as the American dream). His “girlfriend,” Diana Taylor, says of women suing men for sexually harassing, raping, assaulting them, “get over it.” I.e., we as women do not have the right to pursue a career or job without enduring harassment, attempted rape or assault. If we are traumatized by such experiences of sex, that just shows how weak and ridiculous we are. She did (get over it), look how successful she is. Well, I can’t get over it, never will, my experience shattered my teenage years and crippled my ability to be pro-active for myself ever after. Trump says the coronavirus spreading about the world is not happening; it’s a hoax by the democrats seeking to discredit him. There is something wrong with what passes for a brain in his head.

Meanwhile there are daffodils which come before the swallow dares & take the winds of March with beauty …

I am reading Nina Auerbach’s brilliant Haunted Heiress (about DuMaurier), to teach myself how to write about material that compels me but I recognize is repulsive (i.e., Winston Graham’s whole oeuvre); and David Constantine’s wonderful biography, Fields of Fire, on Sir Wm Hamilton and his wife Catherine Barlow — they are an attractive couple and much kinder to their adopted monkey-child, Jack, than Sontag lets on … then very funny on Sir Wm, Emma and her mother (rather like a Dickensian novel the three of them).

Zadie Smith on Kara Walker in NYRB It’s actually open to the public: It’s in the February 27, 2020 issue

Zadie Smith asks what we want history to do to us? that seems to me an odd way to put it. I have asked myself in the last couple of days why do I like historical fiction truly — from a personal standpoint. Books about people long dead — or who wrote about people long dead from their time. So the question is, What do I want it to do for me? either writing it or reading it. We can define Last Chronicle of Barset as a historical novel and other older classic books since for us in a way it is — it teaches us history, it is set in the past as well as written in the past.

But there is a difference. The book self-consciously put in the past is different and for the 21st century readers (which is what we are) we have to approach history from today and also remembering who invents our past and says this is our past controls and shapes our future. (That’s Orwell.)

One reason is I often like the heroine at the center of such books — or the heroines. I can bond with them easier than heroines in really contemporary tales (say written in the 21st century). I can identify more, often they are realer to me, I feel less inadequate than I do before contemporary heroines — who seem to me not quite real — given agency that women in the worlds I’ve lived in never had and still don’t have — unless the book is by a woman writer who is giving a true account of ordinary life (not mystery or any of the other popular genres). I can relax with Demelza Poldark. I can escape with Claire Randall at the same time as nothing is asked that is beyond me that I find asked in say a Margaret Drabble book about a woman having a career or a Mary MacCarthy about a woman who thrives in social life in upper class New York City in the 1940s. They are also not as badly off, constrained as heroines of books written in earlier centuries. I am loving the Durrells, Keeley Hawes as Louisa and Barbara Flynn as Aunt Hermione because they ask less of me too — suffer as I do (especially in Gerald Durrell’s trilogy). I bond with Catherine Barlow, and Emma Hart, the two Ladies Hamilton


Sir William Hamilton and Catherine Barlow, the first Lady Hamilton, listening to, playing music (by David Allen)

Zadie Smith’s article is about what is erased and also how much pain and truth can a reader stand — especially black readers. I agree with her in her opening that was I taught in school was an utter white-wash and most of it utterly unreal – I was never told about what really counted maybe until college and graduate school.

We will be reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris on Trollope&Peers this coming summer. It was over 40 years ago now I read it in the original French. Hugo’s birthday was two days ago. I end on Hugo’s entry into his now severely disabled character, Quasimodo’s consciousness:

This justice must, however be rendered to him. Malevolence was not, perhaps, innate in him. From his very first steps among men, he had felt himself, later on he had seen himself, spewed out, blasted, rejected. Human words were, for him, always a raillery or a malediction. As he grew up, he had found nothing but hatred around him. He had caught the general malevolence. He had picked up the weapon with which he had been wounded.
After all, he turned his face towards men only with reluctance; his cathedral was sufficient for him. It was peopled with marble figures,–kings, saints, bishops,–who at least did not burst out laughing in his face, and who gazed upon him only with tranquillity and kindliness. The other statues, those of the monsters and demons, cherished no hatred for him, Quasimodo. He resembled them too much for that. They seemed rather, to be scoffing at other men. The saints were his friends, and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and guarded him. So he held long communion with them. He sometimes passed whole hours crouching before one of these statues, in solitary conversation with it. If any one came, he fled like a lover surprised in his serenade.
And the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside. He dreamed of no other hedgerows than the painted windows, always in flower; no other shade than that of the foliage of stone which spread out, loaded with birds, in the tufts of the Saxon capitals; of no other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; of no other ocean than Paris, roaring at their bases.
What he loved above all else in the maternal edifice, that which aroused his soul, and made it open its poor wings, which it kept so miserably folded in its cavern, that which sometimes rendered him even happy, was the bells. He loved them, fondled them, talked to them, understood them. From the chime in the spire, over the intersection of the aisles and nave, to the great bell of the front, he cherished a tenderness for them all. The central spire and the two towers were to him as three great cages, whose birds, reared by himself, sang for him alone. Yet it was these very bells which had made him deaf; but mothers often love best that child which has caused them the most suffering

I read Hugo’s Last Day in the Life of a Condemned Man more than 2 decades ago: its radical condemnation of all capital punishment, all murdering by a state has as yet not been sufficiently listened to.


Laughton as Quasimodo (the final scene in the rightly famous movie, Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939)

The hardest thing about widowhood for me is being so alone for long periods of time, hours, days, weeks. Going out is an interruption in a sense. I remind myself that the way our society has been structured and has been reinforced in the last quarter of a century many people live or are in effect as alone — or not. For my loving cats are always near me or aware of my presence somehow, and they are real presences too as are & were the people in my books and on the screen.

Ellen

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One morning over the past two weeks, photo taken from sun-porch/room window

A poem I came across, which I like:

Reading Greeting Cards Before and After

His photo in the hallway greets me each day
Being in my life was an extraordinary gift
He left my world leaving a huge vacuum

Still I feel his ever presence in my life
Triggering a burst of smiles and tears
Looking at the gardens he built for me
Coming across a book we read together
Hearing the evening news and imagining his comments
Knowing he would re-load the dishwasher if he were around

An accomplished writer of research papers but not love letters
He’d spend hours searching for my perfect greeting card
Now assembled in a large basket I select one daily
Before I used to read them quickly and thank him with a kiss

Now I read them slowly, sometimes over and over again
Savoring each written word and signed “Love, Charles”
Yet to me his actions spoke more softly
Than the words on any card

—- By Ruth Perry

Dear friends and readers,

This winter I have become more intently aware than I’d been in a few years (since Jim died) of the fragile fleeting character of social life as I experience it. How easily people drop you, are glad of an excuse to ostracize or exclude someone.

One dark morning as I lay in bed waiting for the sunlight to come into my room (with my two cats beside me), I tried to think of all the places or organizations I belong to that now provide me with what social experience I have: above and beyond all in frequency, intimacy (yes) and closeness as well as a spectrum of socializing from acquaintance-polite to friendly to friends where I know something of the person for real and the person me, plus experiences of exclusion, discomfort, hurt, on the Internet as much face-book nowadays as list-servs, blogs, websites, Future Learn courses, twitter.

But after that, what physically in the face-to-face bodies and places-in-the-world included? the two Oscher Institutes of Life-long Learning (at AU and at Mason), classes at Politics and Prose (Northwest Washington Bookstore-as-community center), the Smithsonian (more impersonal) lectures, twice a year conferences (ASECS), the WAPG, an Aspergers group in Washington DC (I rarely go but I keep in touch by email), a summer film club at Cinema Art theater (once a month for 5 months). I live with one daughter, Izzy, and occasionally the other, Laura, visits or we go out with her. I’ve joined on three and this summer I’m going on a fourth Road Scholar trip. That’s it. I’ve counted 22.

Two of the experiences over the last two weeks have been especially fun — or felicitous.


Covers of audio recordings

In a dramatic reading class I listened to people read aloud passages from Dickens and we discussed Dickens, reading aloud, listening to another read, in a group, by a CD audio in a car, or reading silently (how they differ) and one I read aloud (very well if I do say so myself), the opening chapter from Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged” — with that bitter caustic yet very amusing dialogue of Mr and Mrs Bennet), the closing dialogue in Volume I where Mr Bennet tells Mrs Bennet she should not worry about Charlotte Lucas replacing her in Longbourne for perhaps she will predecease him (she finds little consolation there), and then the explosive proposal of Darcy to Elizabeth where he unknowingly insults her deeply and she refuses him. On another I read the scene from Emma where Emma deeply hurts Miss Bates in front of a group of people (Box Hill), Frank wounds Jane by in front of others saying how easy it is to make a mistake at a watering place and engage oneself to someone you don’t want, and Mr Knightley lights into Emma so damningly — all the while we hear the pain of Miss Bates, of Jane, the swelled complaints of the obtuse Mrs Elton. The others read from Dickens and I was astonished to realize that Dickens wrote a near-rape scene at the end of Dombey and Son, where a much abused wife excoriates marriage as then practised — who knew Dickens could be so subversive? Now I wish we had talked more about the spreading popularity of dramatic readings in audoibooks


Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson (Michael Jordan) and Walter MacMillan (Jamie Foxx)

On two Thursdays at the Mason OLLI I participated in class discussions of movies where the teacher is very good at teaching (he spent decades doing it before retirement) — they were lively, intelligent, fun, one on Just Mercy and the other The Parasite (see further down below).

On Just Mercy: a powerful film done in direct simply ways. I was struck after a while at how little filmic “tricks” of the trade; no flashbacks, not subtle in juxtaposition or dialogue at all. It moves forward,and the language is direct, simple. The movie is nerve-wracking to watch because I didn’t know it ended. The young African American lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael Jordan) is almost throughout the film at risk for his life — he patiently endures set-back after set-back and finally gets the case on Frontline from which he gets to go to the Alabama supreme court to ask that the charges against his client, Johnny McMillan (James Foxx), simply be dropped immediately as the original trial was gross miscarriage of justice. It is an anti-capital punishment film. We see a black man who should have been put in a hospital for PTSD and was left to stew and put off a bomb in front of a house and killed a woman, now lamenting and so sorry, a one incident actually killed by an electric chair. They were still killing people that way in Alabama in the 1980s and early 90s? we the full barbarism of it — how there is this pretense of humanity on the day the man is murdered.

As with When They See Us, Dark Waters, and Chernobyl, at the end of the film we see photographs of the real people the actors played. It is very effective to do this. The African-American actor, Michael Jordan, playing the lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has been snubbed: his performance is as good as James Foxx (nominated for best supporting actor, partly because played Ray Charles in another film)

A third was enjoyable in the class (at Politics and Prose) but it was the books we read and movie I watched that mattered: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and Alan Pater and Cellan Jones’s 1987 Fortunes of War. There is so much time to be alone.

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Sometimes it is so hard to get to and from these places. This to introduce a distressing — frightening in implications — experience I had this past Friday early afternoon.

As I was driving from Northwest Washington DC to get to Northern Virginia and took my usual turn to get onto some feeder road which takes me to South 110 and that to South 395, I found the whole roadway blocked. There was no way I could get onto that feeder road. I was quickly hopelessly lost. I became bewildered as I usually do in streets I am not accustomed to even if some of them were familiar to me from previous excursions. My garmin showed itself to be dead and I couldn’t get the cell phone even to connect to the network. I kept making wrong turns and feared in my bewildered state I would get into an accident. Finally I remembered I had put the phone on airplane mode so that it would not disturb a class I had been in. Luckily I was able to find a sidewalk I could park by. I put the setting back and voila the Waze program began to work.

But alas I have never been able to make the Waze program or app talk — or to be truthfully only intermittently. In fact what has happened is once it starts talking and I get home I can’t figure out how to shut it up. I don’t always get an “exit” box.

Another problem I have is I never knew where I want to go west or east — say on 66. I can’t tell what is north, south, east or west. I can with thought say to myself this is left and this right. Is there a long word for this for an autistic person? So that’s my first question. I would feel better if my condition — this has happened before – had a name. Getting lost. Not being able to tell where I am — have a big picture of coordinates unless I’ve lived in an area for a very long. A good pictorial memory but it has to be real buildings or streets I recognize.

So what I had was a map with lines and arrows. I managed to put it on the seat next to me and very slowly attempted to follow all the turns and arrows. It was difficult because Arlington around Rosslyn (I live in Alexandria) is no fun. The ironic paradox is what I knew to be true; I was at most 5 minutes away from some highway if I could figure out how to get to it. What happens is the lines and arrows began to show this way to South 110. I recognized that was one of the highways and going in the right direction. I drove very slow and kept adjusting the cell phone to face me.

Anyway I swung onto the highway from another exit but I could recognize pictorially where I was, and could calm down and saw this way to Exit 27, South 395 and knew where I was and then got home. Whew!

I am like a blind person when it comes to understanding directions or what I am on a map. Utter bewilderment is awful. I have tried buying a new garmin twice. But I cannot program it. All of them require some programming and I have no one to do that for me. Everyone says it’s so easy, nothing to do. I have no idea what to do and twice I have had to take back an expensive Garmin or GPS. The one I have now was programmed for me by a kind IT guy who was in my house shortly after my husband died — and helped me install a computer.

Intensely relieved to be back home. My younger daughter, Isobel, cannot help me because she is autistic and asking her to help, this kind of experience makes her intensely nervous.

My older daughter came the next day and — what happened? — within no time she had no problem.

At first the Waze was silent. Her response was to say “Waze stinks” and download google maps. She tried to look at the settings and could find nothing wrong. She did fiddle with them. Then she tried both Waze and google maps and both talked! We get in the car and both talk. But the problem is she never figured out what I had been doing wrong or what I needed to do to make the thing talk because it was talking. I did see that I often put my own address into location and she said don’t do that, just type where you want to go in the next rectangle below.

The problem is Laura (her name) really had no problem. She clicks away and after a while the Waze program talked. She finishes, somehow an exit box is there, and she clicks on it. Calm as the proverbial cucumber. I did sit with her in my car and I clicked and it talked. She could not fix for me what was working.

So a week and a half from now I have two new places to go. I worry the thing won’t talk for me. Has anyone had this problem of the cell phone Waze not talking — My cell phone is an Apple iphone 8 — I think.

To me it’s a wonder I go anywhere at all. If I were black, I would fear a cop might kill me. Laura installed for me Uber — I have Lyft. This is for my coming trip to St Louis. If I want to find a restaurant I am to go to on Friday night, and then a play on Saturday the only way is to hail one of these cab services there and back.

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The destitute-desperate family in The Parasite

Bong Jong-ho’s Parasite is part of my theme tonight: it seems to be a study of social modes of interaction exposing gross class inequities among three families. I’ve now watched it twice and people you should not miss it. It will absorb and entertain and then maybe horrify you. I am still not sure what I think about it.

First thing to be said about the film is how hard it is to talk about it, part of this Is the story line is unpredictable – that’s why you keep watching (even if it’s not assigned). You get drawn in because you are not sure what is going to happen next at all

Second it seems to me most of the thematic descriptions don’t apply generally. It’s not a thriller. We see a class war only at the very end when the destitute family driven to desperation because there’s another desperate destitute pair of people hidden deep in a many level basement of the super-rich people’s many layered – crack up and out comes from them terror, hatred, an urge to destroy these people who are exploiting them utterly – smiling all the while as if it’s perfectly okay to the destitute to be so exploited. The super-rich husband-father drops his mask for a moment when the destitute father playing a chauffeur for the first balks at an order – and threatens to fire him.

For a horror film (another designation) it’s constantly witty and funny – we laugh very uncomfortably at these desperate people – up to their chins in sewer water when it rains – yet they are endlessly ingenious, crackerjack it seems at surviving – they are all kept at a social and psychological distance from one another.

Realism is besides the point: the mother-wife is unbelievably naïve, believes anything – I saw misogyny in the way she was treated as someone who has nothing to do with her life but make expensive parties – we are better not knowing what happened to the employees the destitute family replaces – the housekeeper come back is living nightmare with her husband fleeing creditors

So I looked up Korean films and could find only a history which offered no interpretation, but I did find an essay on films called “periphery” films. Idea is developed countries, run by white people are at the center, and countries like Korea, Palestinine, Saudi Arabia – countries colonized – Australian are periphery. So I’ll conclude on 4 characteristics such films are said to have and this one has these:

1) An intense focus on place and setting. You never forget this is Korea and the two different houses are centrally photographed to stay in your mind as character in the drama – the people in the semi-basement stealing wifi in such appalling conditions – and the rich with all space hardly enough furniture, gadgets everywhere – I suppose it’s order if order is soulless.

2) A use of folk or story telling traditions – at the beginning of the film a brief fairy tale looking picture seems to suggest that the family is going to get their dearest wish using some stone – and this stone appears in the opening and closing sequences of the film. The son carries it around – it is dangerous and bad things happen around this stone. The talk is in European tradition — the fisherman and his wife, with its moral of watch out what you wish for ….

3) Looking at everything from the point of view of the excluded – no matter what it is or how – you might say those colonized whose everything is taken from them or are not allowed anything – cannot accumulate – so destitute cannot go to college — along with this these excluded people feel they can’t belong anywhere. They don’t fit in. The son says this at one point. It ends on the father in the deep basement obviously doesn’t belong anywhere. Even the super-rich don’t belong anywhere – their home is not a home, it’s an place for the real estate sellers furniture makers gadget makers, party makers to supply and sell stuff to — to make money on

4) Money and bullying. Any time a rich or powerful person is denied anything he or she resorts to bullying. But the predators all of them prey on other predators – -like the destitute family on the original employees – everyone searching for an identity – I saw an Israeli film (art film) where the characters are all seeking an identity – queasy comedy and sudden stark tragedy happen over money and bullying ow or what – at any moment a mask drops and you are facing the faceless

At any time the mask drops and you are facing the faceless

So I thought about movies made from the center as a control mechanism –- say The Durrells of Corfu, which I wrote about in my previous diary entry.

The exact place does not at all matter – they can make a home of anything.
No one bullies others and minimal money does – you need some but not a helluva lot.
The know who they are – they really do.
Point of view is that of the privileged those who assume courts are on their side – no masks – and those who have to wear masks very poignant, like Sven the homosexual man – everyone feels for him.

Last night I re-watched The Parasite, having read about cinema at the periphery (movies made by film-makers who don’t come from powerful countries run by white people, countries not colonized i recent history) and it struck me the destitute desperate family’s behavior is like that of us — when it comes to airplane travel. That is one place middle and upper middle white people come across the treatment poorer people across the globe do all the time. Similarly it appears on the surface and maybe is true that these white people accept this treatment from the airlines. They don’t go to war or paroxyms of rage, the candidates for office don’t use as one of their promises to regulate the airlines and stop their outrageous behavior to everyone but those who can afford to be deeply gouged.

OTOH, the movie makes this analogy hard to see because it calls itself Parasite and in Korean parasitic worm and seems to refer the to the destitute desperate family – a squalid word, and it also means blotches on your skin from such worms. I am not sure that the film is not problematic — partly because in the class I was in many of the people in the room defended the super-rich family: they were paying the others, they were “decent to them;” okay they were tactless and unaware of the horrible conditions of life of the others. But that’s not their fault.

If you can reach it, Michael Wood of the London Review of Books for January 2020 is very worth reading

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How to end this entry? We are today surrounded by creeping and overwhelming fascism in our public media and art — that is the mindset actuating not only the Trump administration. Every day another evil deed, yet more ugly hateful ideas and feelings spewed out. Yesterday the Trump regime rescinded decades of work to change attitudes to protect birds from wanton killing — now you may kill them as you please (and you can have as many and what kinds of guns you want. Public schools? why these are low-class government schools which debased people attend — a sign of their inferiority is no one is excluded.

Human beings need to think more about the nature of our social lives today in the year 2020. What are we seeking? What do these activities of ours depend upon? how or on what basis are we setting up our relationships with one another? Is it to escape from a default setting (to use the ubiquitous Internet jargon) of alienation, a world of cruelty and indifference as seen in Parasite and Last Chronicle of Barset and Curate in Charge? (David Copperfield ends in a wish fulfillment fantasy and the emphasis is — to be fair to the book — more about the richness of a life of solitude, of inner development of self and strength and also about death and sheer vulnerability.) These questions are urgent as we find ourselves more and more without the solid social support systems our daily lives and attitudes (beliefs in our togetherness) used to provide, more and more turning to the Internet worlds, to voluntary organizations unsupported by anything but human need.

Ellen

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From Durrells of Corfu (2016, first season, first episode): family on boat coming to Corfu


St Michael’s Mount, at first I thought Cornwall but now I know it’s Normandy? — it has this odd darkness because it is the screen image I see on my computer when I first rise and I used my cell phone to snap the picture; so it lacked the luminosity of the computer light

Friends and readers,

Hard as I try to find activities which keep me cheerful and feeling I have a meaning, in this 7th year of widowhood — maybe starting this past fall, I have had to face once again I am so deeply lonely. Last night I re-watched the second episode of the first season of The Durrells in Corfu and despite their troubles (they are real in the fiction and reflect real individual people’s lives) I find my spirit lifted and then last night I dreamt of them. As I woke in the night and again this morning I knew I had. I know I often dream of movies where I re-watch or if it’s a series and it gets under my skin (to use a metaphor), and then if there is a love relationship or character I can bond with, the vivid images and memory of sounds and places helps. I put one of the early stills at the head of this blog. Those who have watched the series remember how the headmaster caned Gerry and then was utterly unrepetent and how Mrs Durells (Keeley Hawes) refused to accept; but maybe we forget upon coming home how the next-door male neighbor speaks to her friendly-like and before you know it he is offering to marry her and telling her how he approves of boarding schools, and then her walk on the beach where she sees a girl running ahead of her parents from the sea and a tired old woman next to her on a bench, and makes up her mind to take Larry’s suggestion:

Trying to avoid taxi, she tells her four children Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo ( and Jerry they are not on vacation, they have come here to live on a meagre widow’s annuity, to escape the culture of civilization, which as far as she can tell is one of alienation and cruelty. But a generous taxi man who wants a fare comes along and he shows her respect: the mother, an important person:

To day I am working on this short paper for the coming conference – I hated getting the plane, will hate getting there, will be alone a lot as I have no rank and have not made any close connections or relationships where individuals are willing to go to a planned lunch or dinner with me, hate grand hotels and their anonymous rooms, but I will enjoy the sessions and doing papers gives me something to do on and off for weeks. I love the books I’ve chosen: Sontag’s Volcano Lover and DuMaurier’s King’s General and other books by them to make out my thesis with evidence. Last night I began to find what I needed for DuMaurier in her Enchanted Corwall and Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s collection of essays on her work. So you see how I manage.

I also today go to a movie an HD screening of Miller’s All My Sons – I’ve joined the OLLI at Mason theater group. One doesn’t go with these groups but arrives alone (so I must find the place) and because I can’t drive at night I won’t be able to go to a meal with them afterwards, but I’ll see friendly faces and probably a great play well done — it’s from the National theater in London at the Angelika theater in Fairfax (I ignore the ambiance and gimmicks as far as I can). Yesterday I was at the OLLI at AU main building to hear an hour talk by Helen Zughaib: she has had a hard life — born in Syria, an Arab family in a war zone, terrible experiences; they survived to weather life elsewhere — they were originally upper class and she grew up in Paris after they fled and then came to the US. She was enacting too much a sweet girl about to cry from trauma for my taste (there was something false about the way she performed her grief — apologizing for showing us torture in pictures when they were no such thing), but I felt what she has known, and all the people like her continuing endlessly to suffer & die so horrifically, in such squalid death camps (which are taken down if they become habitable civilized places) from ultimately US and powerful people’s ruthlessly greedy and crazed religious-grab power behavior.


Pieces of Her Life — Tiles (Helen Zughaib)

Those in charge of so many powerful gov’ts and militaries across the globe are making a befouled burning flooded global dystopia — they are just now doing all they can to destroy and steal from the people of Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Today’s picture is my present screen image of Mount St Michael, which I had thought the one in Cornwall but is actually be the one off the Normandy coast; I’ve now been to the one in Cornwall there twice (I read years ago in Henry Adams’s famous meditative Mont St Michel & Chartres,  funny to remember all these years later and how I wondered if I’d ever see it). In Cornwall, once for real with two kind friends (who however dropped me afterwards) and once fakely (a Road Scholar group where we saw it from across the water in a sort of bus stop place and all the people took photos — but me). I still work on my Winston Graham-Poldark paper and am now reading his excellent (though so narrowly conceived, too apolitical) history narrative, The Spanish Armadas.

More on the upset, cynicism over, and defense and excoriation of Megham Markle and Andrew Windsor’s decision to live a different kind of life from that of dolls in rigid repeated silly rituals:

Yes. I agree. Misogyny. And also virulent racism aimed at Meghan Markle. It’s just fine for Andrew X to join with a vicious sexual predator and trapper of women like Epstein — you can stay POTUS even after breaking central laws intended to control the POTUS so he works for the American people. But say you don’t want your wife and child to be vilified racially in the press and you are a pariah. You upset everybody. Indeed.

I wrote a blog remembering Martin Luther King the other day, the tragedies of American racism, especially for African-Americans (Baldwin’s If Beale Street could Talk, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, on cat literature, cat art, studies of cats and other animals, what I read this year, made a start on my women actresses and artists series (Susannah Arne Cibber and Adelaide Labille-Guiard). Isobel, bless her strong heart, started her art course (once a week, 10 weeks at the Torpedo factory) and cancelled her membership to JASNA (I haven’t quite done that but getting there, as in my “Hardly Any Women at All!”). I am saving my re-watching of Sanditon for a separate blog,


The two friends, Crystal Clarke as Georgiana Lambe and Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood

But here can talk more briefly of The Two Popes and Edge of Democracy on Netflix


Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the two popes

I endorsed Laura’s very sceptical (robust as they say) take on Netflix’s new line-up and choices of what to advertise, but I have to say they are also using their money to make some superb films. Last night I watched Mereilles’s latest, The Two Popes. Of course the two actors are unbeatable: Jonathan Pryce as the Argentinian priest and bishop who became Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Benedict 16. The film has a deep appeal of humanity — kindliness, two old men remembering mistakes — especially Pryce. Not so much Hopkins who does have a scary piercing look in his eye.

What is valuable is their relationship enables them to offer up memories of horrific scenes in Argentina when the US backed junta took over and slaughtered so many and destroyed all social progress that had been hoped for — since then there has been a real change and progress but the US with its instrument the OAS is again trying to create a real life dystopia

We see two people exchanging views, talking to one another.

Apparently, though, we are again in The Crown and Downton Abbey areas, for much is fantasy and idealization, especially of the retired pope (the real story)

I (honestly) personally don’t take the Catholic Church’s pronouncements seriously, so it didn’t bother me that except for the return to approving or disapproving homosexuality (part of the celibacy controversy), there was no resolution. I was interested – very much — in Bergoglio’s history and his behavior during the 1980s when the US backed coup destroyed so many people and a country for say 20 years. Human life is so short so 20 years means a lot to any individual living then. Maybe it was Mereilles in a relaxed mood. I do see that it can be called “cute” or a buddy film: it even ended in an absurd scene of them drinking beer together and watching football.
I was carried away by the good feeling of Jonathan Pryce’s character, the quietude, the whole ambiance of conversation. So many movies move frantically (including Little women) are violent, this was like The Crown in this way, a relief. There was no implicit endorsement of violence or capitalism, which most films (including the new Little Women) endorse.


Not a dream, a photo of one of these mass street demonstrations — where many are killed, maimed, and then imprisoned or disappeared for life ….

As for the Edge of Democracy, directed by Petra Costa (she also co-wrote the script and co-produced and she narrates and is the over-voice). As a film, it was not as entertaining or absorbing as The Two Popes, but as an explanation of what happened in Brazil recently it is superb, how democratically-elected social democratic gov’t whose leaders (especially Lulu) were on the side of the people, had succeeded in improving their standard of living, had spread literacy from a dearth to almost everyone going to school and learning to read and to write and a profession or useful skill of some sort, could get thrown out — successfully! overlooking an election. And then how a cruel monster, Bolsonaro, another killer for capitalism, and for destroying whole tribes of people and a vast swatch of the earth’s environment (the rain forests of Brazil) could get into power was startling.

So now I know. And it’s demoralizing. It seems all one has to do is lie, lie very effectively — after having managed to squeeze the country into a financial crisis (this takes the help of other gov’ts and agencies also determined to wipe out any social progress or indents on their profits) so the average person is now suffering — just what Trump is doing to Venezuela, Cuba (and Puerto Rico too – see above) right now. Then the people themselves deluded, with no understanding they are putting devils in place, ignore the previous election, say a coup is fine, put the good people in prison. So the decent parties of this earth have to figure out a way to fight these new sets of behaviors and tools that have brought us dictatorship everywhere (and it’s here with us in Trump’s gov’t in front of us) and misery and destruction of much that we hold dear in principle and eventually for each of us in reality in various ways.

So I recommend The Edge of Democracy. It’s told as a story of the director from her personal standpoint — that provides the line of narrative.

One afternoon, suddenly Oh I was chuffed. A beautiful book (on art paper like the last) — The Making of Outlander: the Series, The Official Guide to Seasons Three and Four by Tara Bennett — arrived on my stoop. It was all I could do to stop myself from putting everything down and just luxuriating in it. I am on my third or fourth watching of the second season. I’ve read Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, but thus far only listened, skimned and dipped and read in Voyager and Drums of Autumn, but I do think some of her best writing I’ve read thus far is in Voyager and it must’ve given them the most headaches — they filmed in South Africa as well as Scotland — to turn into a genuine movie.


How I dream of her and him too at night …

I wish there were something like this for Poldark. The scripts for the first two seasons were published and a single Companion, but the Companion swung between historical short essays (some of them very good) and fluff about stars, then towards the end about the settings, and costumes (paintings used). What these Outlander volumes do is closely compare novel and film. The Outlandish Companions for the first six novels provide the historical background as Gabaldon understands and sees it — with dictionary style sections, and a wide purview on culture, lots of illustrations, bibliographies &c

Someone (or a couple of people) have suggested to me that Outlander is more popular: more books sold and the series too. It may be more books have been sold, but I doubt the series was at first more popular. It is slowly gaining recognition: they had it on expensive high tier channels. For my part I think the series is done much better than the Poldark series, but the Poldark books are very much superior to the Outlander ones. Probably the difference (my view again) between what’s available comes from WG himself being dead and his son very unsympathetic to his father’s work and the public, while Gabaldon is there all the time trying to promote and involve herself productively.

Still lower budget is not responsible for the poorer scripts for Poldark— though it is true that Outlander had several superior writers, and a crew of superior directors. Another factor (this is again my subjective judgement) is that the leads (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson) were just not as convincing as a couple as the principal pair (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) in Outlander. The Outlander books have power but they remain romances whose central raison d’etre is the intense love of Jamie and Claire for one another (that is what fuels whatever there is of deep life) and they are structurally after the first book or so a mess. Poldarks are much more seriously historical fiction and the central relationships all have a realistic or more common ambiguity. Neither compares as historical fiction to Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levantine trilogies or Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet … as DuMaurier’s King’s General does not to Sontag’s Volcano Lover: the good ones are brilliant history too, not slackened softened history as romance. With a friend I am eagerly awaiting the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

Signed up for Italian Jewish writing for the spring at OLLI at AU (books like Christ Stopped at Eboli — I’ve read it in Carlo Levi’s Italian –, Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, Natalia Ginzburg, Lampedusa’s Gattopardo (I will add that last), shut of out but still hoping for “Difficult Women” (I’m first on the wait list I’m told) with Elaine Showalter at Politics & Prose Bookstore (MacCarthy’s The Company We Keep, Patricia Highsmith’s scary angry-depressed Edith’s Chair — maybe she will explain to me why people read cruel mean spiteful mysteries — a Joan Didion and a Susan Sontag anthology). Cross your fingers for me.

Taking a Future Learn course at Night: How to Read a Novel. Actually teaching me something, insightful, and useful for teaching. Very contemporary novels and topics (autofiction) under discussion (Olivia Lang’s plagiaristic distasteful novel, which, much to my disillusioned grief, told me that Ian Patterson, the poet-husband of “my” Jenny Diski has already re-married), but I used as an example of powerful art using free indirect discourse, complicated presences for characers, and POV, Anthony Trollope:

Anthony Trollope uses shifts in perspective a lot; these shifts make for fascinating different interpretations of the same story matter that makes up the novel. Also the characters change so a perspective a character has at the beginning is gradually altered. In Small House at Allington, Lily Dale intelligent, wry, clear-sighted and non-pompous says of the man she will fall in love with: “I’ll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell.” Later she will see him so differently and use highly emotional language when in love; when he betrays her, she changes again — her idiom the same but her understanding of this man altering. I love how he uses letters: the letter is clearly by someone whose language is utterly that person but is read by someone whose perspective is quite different, and then we have the narrator’s impersonal ironic voice joining in. This kind of thing to my mind makes Trollope one of the great novelists in the English language.

Listening in my car to Juliet Stevenson reading aloud Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day still and sometimes reveling in the descriptions and Mary Gatchet, coming spinster, and Katharine Hilbury, enduring slavery to her family.

It is very cold out just now, Winter, the air closing in round my skin deeply chilled, fridge-like. A hollow sound from the damp edgy quiet winds pushing at my robe as I step out to get the paper or feel the air.


Outside Izzy’s window


My beloved Clary warming herself on the Cable Box and my multi-regional DVD player

So that’s for this past week or so. To end on cheer, I am re-watching Mary Beard‘s intelligent enlightened humane deep history, Ultimate Rome  (also called Empire without Limits) and will soon make a separate blog — what makes for real prosperity for human kind, a good world is her underlying theme. You also get to visit places far apart in the middle and at the edges of the empire; two I’ve been to: Hadrian’s Wall and Rome itself.


I am fond of her act, how she dresses, her tone

I — & Mary Beard — have been lucky.  She so much more.  I am alone, she is anything but. == at least as to her outer existence.  Good thing my mother and father worked all their lives, spent so little of what they accumulated, for now I have it to do such things with as assuage and compensate — buy books, join groups, go places. And keep Izzy company in her good spinster life. Widow and spinster, mother & daughter.

Be well, take care, do good work, and keep in touch (I miss Garrison Keillor)

Ellen

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


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

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

Friends and readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ellen

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Monet’s Path Through Forest, Snow Effect (1870) — what lovely shades of red against whites, greys, blues, black lines can do …


Paul Gauguin, Mimi and her Cat (1890)

Gentle reader,

Monet’s winter scene, is very pretty, no? A friend on face-book said to see it lightened his morning, another described it with delight in her tone: “And it looks just like someone would today, with a backpack & bag & maybe carrying a chainsaw to cut wood.” I have made it my header picture for my face-book time-line for winter. The second, Gauguin’s, I put on face-book the day after I was 73 (Nov 30th) to thank the whopping 40 Internet, FB and other friends (people I have met in the flesh too, and also on listservs) who wished me a good day. I’m not above feeling better for such support. I was alone most of the day — as I am them majority of most days since Jim died — and I believe that some of the people (however prompted by automatic software from FB) meant well: several added a thoughtful line to me. I wrote:

I want to thank everyone who yesterday made my day easier to get through. It was a peaceful, more or less a repeat of Thursday, which was more or less a repeat of Wednesday … once term is over (and they are shorter at these Oscher Institutes) I become a homebody again. You all really helped me stay cheerful. I felt surrounded by friends.

I will say this, despite the merits of good (recognizable) food, I have found that rest (sleeping the night for a minimum of 5-6 hours in a row) is more important in maintaining sane life — I should have said staying alive, having the will and strength to carry on, than food.

I got perceptive comments from others on Mimi and Her Cat:

I love the way he shows how a cat may lift as it is petted … Thanks, a new one for me. Lovely painting which was new to me as well … An unusual posture between child and cat. The animal seems so content. I could not imagine life without our cats.

I replied: I usually dislike Gauguin’s paintings: “native” women naked to their waists, with dull looks in their eyes. This is a rare one that for me shows he had genius: it’s reproduced in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, a book which combines a history of human attitudes towards cats with what we find in pictures of them.

Then another friend (also from a time long ago when I was on Arthurnet) said: “It reminds me of Vuillard in spirit.” and my liking of this image (I haven’t forgotten it since I saw it in Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art, and wrote: “Yes — I agree. Very good. Look at the arched feet. You’ve helped me understand why I liked this picture. I like Vuillard – I have a book filled with images of his pictures — from an exhibit I went to at the National Gallery, here in DC. I used to have one of Vuillard’s murals for one of my blogs — suitably cropped and lengthened out. Here that is before re-fitted:


Place Vintimille

People have asked me why I sometimes reprint utterances people write to me on these blogs: because I value them, think them worth saving, am grateful to people who speak to me as friends and want to remember what they said so I can re-find and re-live them. One of the purposes of a diary, is to live more intensely, with more awareness, adequately through writing, not to forget what has been.

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This is another of those hard times for me as a widow. The first week of October each year (which contain the day Jim and I met, the days and nights we first made love (no we did not buy it ready made), the day we married, the day he lost consciousness forever and the day he died). Christmas day a third — I have never been able to rid myself, expunge, gauge out this yearning for happiness and belief in it as occurring on Christmas day I was somehow inspired to feel as a child, despite some 65 years of disillusion and even wretched bitterness. New Year’s, the fourth. All in later autumn, early winter.

All these promote retrospective, memories, some good, happy now and again, most mixed with and a few almost all pain. I remember the year 2000 when Jim took Izzy and I to Paris during Christmas week and New Year’s. What a relief, to escape what I used to feel than as this imposition on us, an implicit demand we do likewise. On Christmas day many stores, restaurants, theaters are opened in Paris, the general atmosphere lively, gay, usual, light, none of this intensity the American holidays conjure up. Recently I quoted to someone, Johnson’s saying of “Nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment,” and to my astonishment, the person looked puzzled. “What could that mean? why?” she asked. Could she be that naive? That inattentive to all that is going round her on occasions made fraught by such expectations that cannot be met because of the baggage, history or past, and connections we all carry round with those we have known long and been involved with.

From this Thanksgiving morning:

I am driven from my study today. Izzy listening to the commercial-laden (imbricated?) Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (it started at 9 am!) in the next room: it is so noisy, made so deliberately continually loud, with continual accompanying high and low grade noise, shouting presented as singing (can you imagine “Jingle Bells” made rapid fire, speeded up?), with rhythmic accompaniments, I cannot shut it out. So must read in sun-room this morning — all the way in the front of the house. Nothing can be heard but a cat’s yowl from the back. The room faces east so what there is of sun streams in. One of my companions (advised by a friend) is John Mullan’s What matters in Jane Austen? and it’s not bad. An essay, “Why is it Risky to go to the Seaside” relevant to her and Andrew Davies’s Sanditon. Turns out it is risky in Austen, but also exhilarating. Mullan has the trick of continually interweaving, quoting Austen … (Later in the day)

I am finding myself not sadder than I was, but more aware of how nothing can replace Jim. Yes the grief of loss fades, we (or I) see we can survive without our best friend, life companion; we grow calm, and gradually get used to absence, to (in my case) being alone most of the time. This week two fine spirits died, both of whom Jim respected, enjoyed their work: Clive James and Jonathan Miller: I commemorated them, their lives, their work on my Sylvia I blog, to which I add James’s Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language.

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So what can I record happened over the last two weeks or that I am looking forward to or doing differently.

The look of my face has changed. My new denture fits me (as my previous one did not) and narrowly holds tight (with the help of a little denture glue) on what’s left of my narrow upper gum. I can eat more things now as the upper denture slams down on the lower (teeth!). But what has also happened (and has been mentioned by others to me who get up close) is “You [I] look different.” They decline to say if I look better. Probably I look worse by conventional standards. My face falls in more, my once high cheekbones now utterly vanished, my face just narrower from where cheekbones once were downward. But I notice too that I no longer look like my mother. Since I rather disliked her (to put this mildly) and when I had to look at her face in mine it could be demoralizing, not to say corrosively ironic (to me). It’s not too much to say I’d be filled with helpless anger, frustration. I was stamped with what I wanted to forget. My mother was responsible for my first marriage. I’ve not told you that as yet. Yes, she engineered it and then hid what happened from my father who went mad with fear, anguish, grief for that week. She meant to estrange us permanently; she didn’t succeed in that but she did part us as I never returned to live with them again.

Well now for the first time ever I see I do like like my father too — or did. People used to say when I would say I look like my mother, there is your father too, your eyes are his, and especially the expression. Well now that my forehead comes out and the upper face, yes, I see him there. I see a family resemblance with one of my male cousins (whom Jim used to say from a photo Jim saw of this cousin looked like my father). What a relief …

So there is a qualification to be made to Johnson’s:

Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away…

For one of the Caturdays that passed:

This week I’ve been reading 18th century plays, about the astonishing but unenviable lives of Catherine Clive and Susannah Arne Cibber, and came upon Fielding’s Author’s Farce (mocking other productions, genres, authors &c) which concludes with an epilogue spoken by the actress as a cat. Luckless, our author in the farce, to show he does not value aid offered him by 4 different volunteering poets says “I’ll have the epilogue spoken by a cat.” The text suggests there was a real cat on stage. She or he came on and said “mew, mew.” Luckless is all encouragement but then a female player comes on and chases poor puss off: “Fie, Mr Luckless, what/Can you be doing with that filthy cat?” Upon which the cat exits. The actress (addressed as madam) and Luckless proceed to argue over whether a cat can “Speak an epilogue!” It can be only a “dumb show.” In the midst of this onto the stage “Enter Cat as a woman.” I have now been told in the revision of 1734 the epilogue by a cat was removed. So it’s the first one by an actress other than Clive who turns to the audience more or less in defense of cats, with some demurs, comparisons of wives with cats, and funny rhymes:

Puss would be seen where madam lately sat
And every Lady Townley be a cat.

She ends by suggesting many a husband would prefer to find a cat “purring by your side” in bed than a wife.


Clarycat watching me make our bed


Ian keeping warm on the DVD multi-region player where he can look out the window too

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I’m looking forward to the winter term at OLLI at Mason: I signed up for a movie course – this one will include going to art movies in this area, and meeting four times to discuss the movie together. Rather like the Cinemart summer film club — no surprise as this theater is going to cooperate for the month and try for better movies. At Politics & Prose I did sign up for a course meeting over 5 months, once a month, with two good teachers, where we’ll read and discuss the first two volumes of Olivia Manning‘s Balkan Trilogy (WW2 English people in Greece, adapted into a fine series, Fortunes of War with a young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Sarah Waters’s Night Watch (profound gothic), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve read them all but a long while ago. One I’m not sure of, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (a character is ceaselessly reincarnated — the writer is fashionable among P&P people, and she is Scottish), and then the cringeworthy All the Light You Cannot See.

I dreamed up two courses for P&P I’ll never teach: First three weeks on Germaine de Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie (in Sylvia Raphael’s wonderful translation), two week break, then a week each George Sand’s idyllic anguish of an Indiana (Raphael’s translation, an updating of Paul et Virginie), Marguerite Duras’s La Guerre (her diary-journal of the occupation in France), ending on the magical prose of Chantal Thomas in her lesbian inflected Farewell, My Queen. Or WII through Italian texts: Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (unforgettable bleak sojourn), Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and A Chill in the Air (marvelous review in NY Review of books by Adrian Lyttelton this week), ending on one of the best books in Italian of the 20th century, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). All literary masterpieces.  But I have no idea how to sell anything to anyone.

Izzy and I will see Amadeus at the Folger this Saturday (rave reviews), the Christmas Italianate concert at the nearby church, with Laura and Izzy, Come from There (a remarkable musical play about all the people landing in northern Canada where their planes were diverted on 9/11 and how the Canadians welcomed them …. January a HD screening at the Folger of Winter’s Tale with Branagh (now old) and Judi Dench as Paulina.

List life: I’ve started Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (I find I can read the French alongside the English translaton), and it’s just so compelling, I love her deep earnest tone, serious grave, intense — and read into one-third of a fine literary biography of Beauvoir by Carol Ascher. And am reveling in E.M. Forster’s Maurice, Aspects of the Novel and Abinger Harvest.

For my projects I will soon be writing an omnibus blog on my reading of Winston Graham’s mid-career suspense books, and have found the Durrells: Larry’s island books, Gerald’s memoir, and Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory (my latest mid-night reading), which brings together Larry Durrell, Constantine Cavafy and Forster in non-genteel roles, working during the war to help others. i wrote up Oliphant’s Agnes.

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These costume drama people sink into my consciousness, I dream of them, am attached to many. I mean to watch movies differently — more candidly before myself. Or just am. Last week one night after weeping (yes I cried, and by the way so did Elizabeth [referring to this third season of The Crown] at Aberfan — that she couldn’t and didn’t cry is completely false) over the moving death of John Hollingworth as Henshawe in the fifth episode of the third season of Poldark, I was rejuvenated to see him brought back in the fifth episode of the third season of said Crown as Porchey (Lord Porchester) next to the queen, both of them so enjoying one another’s company and a life at the races, at stables, at dinners, that she (Olivia Coleman) is led to lament her unlived life (with him, horses and dogs, in her headscarf) … Such such are the pleasures of costume drama watching …

On just one, but best of the episodes from the third season of The Crown, “Moonstruck,” featuring the astonishingly powerful actor, Tobias Menzies, now Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

The Crown

I use the term “moving” too lightly sometimes, so when I want the word to be taken more seriously, I am without a fresh adjective except if I add very or a string of verys. So imagine a string of verys and the word moving on this seventh episode. At last they gave Tobias Menzies something adequate to his talents: this is another learning a lesson story. To say it’s about Philip’s mid-life crisis where he is feeling the frustrations of existing in a fish bowl and spending his “job” time as a symbol at occasions, giving speeches for worth causes, is inadequate.

The hour opens with his irritation at having to go to church by 9 am and listen to a doddering old fool because Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) expects this. It is the time of the moon landing and Philip then gets so caught up with watching intensely; the whole family gathers around the TV for hours, but they leave after a while and Philip is there for days. He is identifying, bonding and thinking a an “airman” himself is their equivalent and to prove it endangers himself and a courtier with him flying the machine way too high.

The queen (and she is again the quiet improver) then hired a new man she thinks Philip might like: Robin Woods (Tim McMullan), but Philip is not going to church any more. This new man asks if he can have the use of one of the unused buildings on the property as a center for spiritual renewing; Philip finds himself asked to go and when he has to sit there listening to these depressed men, he bursts out in cruel excoriation of them, ridiculing them. Telling them they will feel valued and part of the world if they were active. How about cleaning up this floor and out he rushes. The camera on the face of the actor enacting Wood, pained blankness, patience. When the astronauts come for a visit, Philip insists on 15 minutes alone with them, we see him writing questions, and when finally most reluctant they come in, he finds hi questions cannot be asked — they are young, inarticulate, hardly gave deep thought to what they were doing –too busy. They have silly questions about life in the palace for him.

Then cut to Philip walking away from them through Buckingham Palace, and then unexplained there he is close up he sitting and talking very gravely, and we realize at he is back to Wood and his clergymen needing spiritual renewal — Menzies delivers an extraordinary speech baring his soul insofar as such a man could, apologizes to them, asks them for help.

There wasn’t a specific moment, uh, when it started.
It’s been more of a gradual thing.
A drip, drip, drip of of doubt disaffection, disease, dis discomfort.
People around me have noticed my general uh, irritability.
Um Now, of course, that’s that’s nothing new.
I’m generally a cantankerous sort, but even I would have to admit that there has been more of it lately.
Not to mention, uh, an almost jealous fascination with the achievements of these young astronauts.
Compulsive overexercising.
An inability to find calm or satisfaction or fulfillment.
And when you look at all these symptoms, of course it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that they all suggest I’m slap bang in the middle of a [CHUCKLES.]
I can’t even say what kind of crisis.
[CHUCKLING.]
That that crisis.
And Of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better.
Uh Some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.
My mother died recently.
[CLEARS THROAT.]
She she saw that something was amiss.
It’s a good word, that.
A-Amiss.
She saw that something was missing in her youngest child.
Her only son.
Faith.
“How’s your faith?” she asked me.
I’m here to admit to you that I’ve lost it.
And without it, what is there? The The loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing, but haunting desolation ghostly silence gloom.
That is what faithlessness is.
As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery.
No, the answer is in here.
Or here, or wherever it is that that faith resides.
And so Dean Woods having ridiculed you for what you and these poor, blocked, lost souls [CHUCKLING.]
were were trying to achieve here in St.
George’s House I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation as I come to say help.
Help me.
And to admit [CHUCKLES.]
that while those three astronauts deserve all our praise and respect for their undoubted heroism, I was more scared coming here to see you today than I would have been going up in any bloody rocket! [CHUCKLING

Then we see them walking out and Philip looking more cheerful and an inter-title tells us the real Duke formed a close friendship with Wood and in later years this organization became one Philip was very proud of. Then the queen is seen in the distance walking her dogs, looking on. Her face lightens with relief and cheer. Doesn’t sound like much? Watch and listen to Menzies.

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Oh my friends, what else is there to say. I spoke once again to my 83 year old aunt Barbara who sent me the only birthday card I got – she said as she heard my voice, she sends the card so that I should call her once a year. We caught up: I told her about my, Izzy and Laura’s Calais trip: on Thanksgiving day over our roast chicken, Izzy and I toasted the 12 days as the best moments, of our year, the one we wanted most to cherish.

Surely with all the deep poetical spirits I commune with in books and through movies, surely surely there is a poem for me to end my recording of this interval on. Well Clive James’s essay on an Australian poet I’d never heard of before, Stephen Edgar’s two stanzas:

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

But you see he wasn’t just anyone. My Jim was a prince. And I am 73 and without him. I thought of titling this blog the 74th year except that’s not what matters. I have not been alone for 74 years. For 45 I had a friend. The 8th year of remembering begins. The play has ended, one of the two principle characters left the stage, and I am left to create an after-piece.


Gorey’s haunted Wintertime Dancing Cat ….

Ellen

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