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Archive for the ‘women’s art’ Category

She bought a new keyboard about three weeks ago now, and I hope you can hear the difference:

The song comes from a movie called Once, made a couple of musicians who made a movie about how they met and fell in love. John Carney, the film’s director built the movie around this song provided for him by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The song won an Oscar the year of the movie. They made a second album about dealing with fame. The third is about how they broke up.

Here are the words of the lyrics for “Falling Slowly:”

I don’t know you
but I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me and always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly sing your melody
I’ll sing along

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

This morning I was thinking about earlier stretches of my life. The phrase “long ago” is so common to my imagined conversation in my mind. So long ago Jim and I did this, Izzy would do that. I saw a child walk by from my window, on his back a carry-pack, shouldering a musical instrument. That once was Izzy going to junior high, to high school.

Last night (not atypical day and evening), alerted to it by a book on British TV costume drama I’d been reading, Conflicting Masculinities (one I sent a proposal for on Wolf Hall but was rejected, because I’m not a Brit, have no title or position in a university and my thesis was too much about deeper humanity and attributing the way men are presented in costume drama to an era), I watched Banished, a serial drama which was cancelled but is powerfully about one group of men destroying the manliness and humanity of another group, treating them like enslaved beasts; also showing how one group of people can be so cruel to another when no wider public eyes are upon them. Banished is a parable about how people in our modern societies are now pulverizing the poorer, vulnerable, ethnicities that are not in the majority among them, and refugees from countries these same groups of people are busy destroying so they can steal their natural resources. Unlike Poldark there is no fundamental place, home, knowledge of one another and known community whose interest it is to support one another they can turn to.

Yesterday during the day I read one third of an immensely sad novel, Crossing the River, nominated for the Booker (when it still didn’t accept imitative crap, hadn’t become a sheer advertisement mechanism), by Caryl Phillips. Crossing the River a related book about a white man sending a beloved black man who was enslaved in the US to Liberia (both die of grief as the people they are surrounded by live these punitive lives) made me realize what a fantasy of escape Outlander becomes in this story of Jamie and Claire and Ian making a secure home so readily (he is a wanted ex-convict). I also thought of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people. Phillips’s message is do anything but separate yourself from a beloved and send them somewhere where life is said to be better — all you are doing is breaking your two hearts. I’m drawn to Phillips: born in St Kitts, yet British, he grew up in Leeds, a place I did love.

Both together — serial drama and book — made me think of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people, and a book about the Acadia diaspora when threatened by “ethic cleansing,”

“Falling slowly” is a song that cries out for help (as some tweets really do). In retrospect, its framing is a young couple who broke up.

It is March now, signs of spring — such a sweet moment from Emily Dickinson: No 1320, just the first stanza:

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell —

How I wish I could find a choir for Izzy to belong to. The only ones in my area are part of churches Izzy won’t go near — and she’s probably right not to, reactionary Catholicism she would be a very much outsider in all ways in. With that man I went out briefly with I saw an episcopal church, almost non-denominational, eucumenical, which had a poster looking for people to join their choir. A modern building, maybe enlightened people running the place. But it’s a 45 minute drive and would be at night so I can’t provide a way for her to get there, if I could get her to go. She did say yes when I showed her the place. Too far. But this is her home too.


Writing Last lines ….

Miss Drake

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The vignette for February in my Edward Gorey calendar

Friends,

I spent a lot of today seated reading in a comfortable chair. I was immersed in a remarkably fine Poldark novel, No 11, The Twisted Sword. Unfortunately there are no good illustrations or stills for it. I was so moved at the death of the young hero, Jeremy, at the accurate depiction (based on minute research) of the senseless horror of the battle of Waterloo, of the intense grief of Ross and Demelza, his father and mother, and h how death is deeply felt by all those he lived among. There’s also a profound depiction of the cruelty of society to disability showing how society makes the disabled far more unable, and the exposure of a  lying, murdering socially liked cad to beat all cads (a fugitive from Graham’s suspense novels) married to Clowance, our heroine .


Hougomont Farmhouse where thousands lost their lives at Waterloo: today and as imagined June 18, 1815

My cats were nearby most of the time, sleeping, resting or playing, trotting about, looking out a window. It was a bright very cold day, and will be colder yet tomorrow. A good deal of rain on and off.

From what happened today I’ve a poem to share too, by Adrienne Rich:

Storm Warnings

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of gray unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky.

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A roof against the wind; the wind will rise
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things that we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.

Part of the power of the poem is it’s not free verse: these are 7 line stanzas, each with a refrain of the same number of syllables. She uses syllabic verse to control the rhythms, and off-rhyme. It makes me remember the frequent Gorey illustration of someone coming to a window, looking out, and closing the curtains, turning away. This is how Ruth Prawer Jhabvala pictured her response to life ….

This evening I watched the third part of an extraordinary film adaptation for the BBC of Les Miserables, by Andrew Davies, whose lack of distribution on American TV strikes me as a deep betrayal of Davies’ humane critique of our crazed society then and now. I become breathless with stirred emotion as I watch. Davies has distilled the essential vision of Hugo — a 1000 page novel — into 6 hours: low budget sets, make-up that is a cross between Dickens and behavior out of the trauma of Marot/Sade; not heroic individualism, but society itself, the worst of human beings as at fault, reinforced by meanness, coldness of heart, a punitive persecution mentality as reigning. I thought of Hugo’s slender anti-capital punishment (the phrase seems inadequate), The last Day of a Condemned Man. Original too: the ferocity of Oyelowo seems so overwrought, and his horror at Jean Valjean’s goodness is a function (it feels like) homoerotic passion. I must write a blog-essay on this one after I’ve watched all six, comparing it to the recent 4 part Woman in White scripted by Fiona Seres. Davies’s movie does not supersede the now famous musical but might be regarded as what can frame it with understanding.


Jean Valjean (Dominic West), Fantine (Lily Collins) with Cosette, Javert (David Oyelowo)

How I get through life: When a day goes by and I realize I forgot to do this (say some specific book I was to be reading), or should have done that (blogged), or was too tired to do something else and I must to bed, and find I cannot read, I tell myself as I turn the light out, and put my small mask over my eyes, tomorrow I’ll do better, tomorrow is another day. When I wake the next morning, and feel so intensely sad, I tell myself, I’ll do what I can. This cannot be helped (the being alone), that I cannot get over (difficulties in traveling), the other thing I must accept (when I write to someone say about my project whose help I could use, or an official where I need something and no one responds — very common, gentle reader). What is the use of being angry? why blame or take it out on others? no. Try to get along, be kind, remember others suffer a lot and more than I do too. When I write postings that are misunderstood or not accepted by a majority of people, turn away from the hostile and belligerent, block insults. This doesn’t happen too often as I usually stay away from a group of people when I discover they are an unpleasant fan group but have become fascinated by Outlander and post there far too much (I must and will stop soon.) When I’ve tried to be social in non-virtual places and somehow have not managed it, when the classes I teach shrink in numbers, when I’ve decided after all not to go to this or that meeting, accept. When I see I will not able to do this paper or that review, live with it.  Do not berate self.  Remember the good blogs I’ve done, the passing pleasant conversations I have had that day at the OLLIs at Mason or AU. That we had some good conversation on my listservs and face-book pages, are reading good books, that this or that chat has been comforting.

I also go to and teach at these two OLLIs, and the winter term has started at Mason’s: two good sessions, one on American poetry, What Whitman, was at least suggestive with excerpts from a fine film Voices and visions, once shown on PBS:

Speakers include Allen Ginsburg, Justin Kaplan (Whitman’s biographer). Of course in the high school teacher running it, there was this insistence on his optimism, but part of session was devoted to Whitman’s war poetry, his homosexuality was just mentioned (it’s central), but one learned how difficult it was at first for him to gain any traction for a readership. His harsh childhood, working from a young age as a journalist, his travels all around the US, refusal to imitate older genres. I found his poetry to be more about solitude than I thought as his “I” is the only presence in the poems beyond gestures to and endless general images suffused with love for all the occupations of people.  Robinson Jeffers owes a lot to him I realized. The other on women photographers, which I have started to blog on, first up, Dorothea Lange.

I’ve had a bit of bad news: I agreed to have a general health assessment for the first time in years, including renewal of shots for things, and lo and behold was diagnosed as having the virus Hepatitis C: if you are not treated, the results can be scary. I’ve done the required “bloodwork” at a lab now, next week a scan, then see a doctor. So I’ve had to quit drinking, no more wine. Tonight was my third night: perhaps I’ll lose weight I tell myself. I feel hungrier. As someone basically toothless, I usually have sops with wine in the early evening. Now I can’t. I’ll save money. And of course perhaps my liver, if I’ve got any left. This is a big change in a long life of drinking (kept just under control). My taste buds have gotten to the point wine often doesn’t taste any good any way. Still what will I do to calm down, relax when I’ve been over-excited or come home all tense? In the later evening, alas, I’m not more wide awake and as true night comes on, I find I still can’t work or read seriously. Maybe I am more alert watching movies? I slept less the last three nights. I’m also told not to take over-the-counter sleeping pills (well I don’t, I have a prescription but …. ). However, still unsteady on my pins when I first rise from bed.

I am much relieved the senseless maniac’s partial gov’t shutdown was brought to an end, and my heroine for tonight is Nancy Pelosi:

She didn’t gloat; she remained calm, quietly reiterating all her and Chuck Schumer and the democrats’ positions. My favorite moment was when she dis-invited Trump from doing his SOTU in the Congressional assembly room and made it stick.

Ellen

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Photo taken by Izzy, December 31st, 2018, around 9pm, Kennedy Center Terrace, during the intermission of a two act new play, a parody of Love, Actually, performed by Second City in the Theater Lab:

Friends and readers,

We begin this imagined new time frame (if you pay attention to the calender) with Izzy’s truly remarkable rendition of David Grey’s Babylon. I’ve not got the words to capture the effect of this hoarse sweetness echoing out inward endurance:

Friday night I’m going nowhere
All the lights are changing green to red
Turning over TV stations
Situations running through my head
Looking back through time
You know it’s clear that I’ve been blind, I’ve been a fool
To open up my heart to all that jealousy
That bitterness, that ridicule

Saturday I’m running wild
And all the lights are changing red to green
Moving through the crowds I’m pushing
Chemicals are rushing in my bloodstream

Only wish that you were here
You know I’m seeing it so clear
I’ve been afraid
To show you how I really feel
Admit to some of those bad mistakes I’ve made

And if you want it
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was
Giving you was
Never in doubt
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon

Sunday all the lights of London shining
Sky is fading red to blue
Kicking through the autumn leaves
And wondering where it is you might be going to

Turning back for home
You know I’m feeling so alone
I can’t believe
Climbing on the stair
I turn around to see you smiling there
In front of me

And if you want it
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was
Giving you was
Never in doubt

Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now

Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now
Let go of your heart
Let go of your head
And feel it now

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon, Babylon, ah

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

I’ve reported on Mary Poppins Returns and our Christmas day meal at our usual local Chinese restaurant where we again shared a Peking Duke. A whole one this time, as the restaurant would not sell a half. We ate it all up with no trouble.

But said nothing of Boxing Day, where for a second year we went to the National Portrait Gallery. It was still open – tomorrow or the next day it will shut down — for how long no one knows and those with power to stop this are doing nothing.

From last years’ trip to this place and now this I have discovered it’s a schizophrenic museum. It does not advertise its good shows but only the reactionary or mainstream crap. Last year we came upon a remarkable exhibit, huge, intelligent of Marlene Dietrich’s life and art: just one poster downstairs;.

This time there were three different good exhibits — one of women’s art; one of fascinating worthwhile people across history:  “selfies” this was stupidly called, self portraits not idealized, remarkable artists, radical political people, interesting lives. Then a “The Struggle for Justice” — astonishing artifacts and pictures of and about slavery, mostly African American. A separate small exhibit: silhouettes of ordinary people — Russian art, 3 D silhouettes.

What was advertised was a massively ludicrous idealization of Bush I among troops; the usual presidents, Obama and his wife’s portrait. 80% of the people there were in this past of the museum.

Much of the place is empty of people — 19th century American art, mostly not masterpieces, of interest for culture – but the four were superb if not great art something else just as important. Half the people in the museum who work there appear not to know what’s there — like last year but some of them do know.

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

During for the rest of the week I fell in love with Graham’s Ross Poldark all over again — not quite for the umpteenth time. As I reread it slowly, properly, that original surprising experience I had in about 1994 or so re-emerges. This is not exactly the same text as the one I read (and most people read) is cut version Graham (unfortunately) made in 1951; this original version is about 1/4 or more as long. What I did was go through the 1945 and 1951 making note of everything cut, and now this past week I read the 1945 version for the first time slowly with all my annotations on what was cut. In the margins and in a long file. I find a great loss in most of the material cut: Jinny and Jim’s story, Elizabeth and Francis scenes, here and there a surprising revelation of intensity in Ross about his love for Elizabeth, long depictions of Cornwall, weather, sudden axioms.

The experience was clinched for me with Verity’s story, the climax where she is apparently partly for life from Blamey and the chapter where she retires to her room (14 in the 1951 version, 19 in the 1945), as it were for life. I am equally moved by the depiction of Demelza growing up, the assault on Ginny (I had not realized Graham has some pity for the crazed moronic male monster who first stalks, then harasses and finally assaults her). I know the pilchards scene in the last third is visionary — they tried to capture it in the new version but didn’t come near. In the new version there is more attempt to show Demelza growing up, not much though, and somehow Angharad Rees seems to fit the part in ways Eleanor Tomlinson cannot.

Verity was a favorite character for me and I regretted how she was mostly dropped once she marries Blamey and moves away — she doesn’t appear at all in the trilogy (BM, FS, AT). In the 1970s the BBC seemed to have an uncanny ability to pick actors who fit the parts as imagined by the authors and original readership and decade the serial drama was done: Norma Streader is perfection — a wide strength and generosity of tone the new actress doesn’t have. (Actually since the 1990s the BBC will sometimes pick an actor or actress against the grain of the part deliberately — Mark Strong for Mr Knightley, Billie Pipe for Fanny Price).

Graham may have written as well in other of these Poldark books but he never wrote better than the central sequence of RP.


A Poldark Christmas card @Rosalynde Lemarchand

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

On Love, Factually:


A senior couple: Mary Catherine Curran and Martin Garcia

Last year for the weeks preceding and New Year’s Eve Second City did a brilliant Twist your Dickens (complete with parody of It’s a Wonderful Life). This year their Love, Factually had the paradoxical quality that when it just imitated the movie, which is not easy to do (a number of the stories on stage would be impossible because of the nudity and invasions of bodies, a couple deep in anguish, e.g., over a young man in an asylum), then it was at its best. It vindicated the movie when it meant to critique it. It was at its best using stage props, improvisation, and its own ironic moments (mild). But one phrase that rang throughout as the “writer” (our narrator in effect, holding the thing together) “we are embracing the clichéd.” The performers were stunning: they seemed to become another character in such a way that you couldn’t recognize who they had been before.


A good review of this production

We then peeked in at the ball in the great hall — decorated in rich reds — and then home again, she to sleep, me to sit with the pussycats watching yet another Christmas movie (somehow flat, The Man Who Invented Christmas). For a second time this holiday I’ve been driving late at night on the highways and again we came near an accident, teaching me I must not drive at night. Year after year, decay follows decay …

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

There are so many moments that photos can’t capture or trying to ruins the experience, cuts it short. The morning of New Year’s Eve day (December 31st around 11 am) when Izzy and I came home from shopping, we found both cats sat like breadloaves on the pillows on my bed. All still. A few minutes later I saw Izzy laying on the bed in front of one of them making eye contract. I can’t capture that; it would not last long enough, especially if I got my cell phone camera 🙂 The night we realized Trump had won the presidency around 10 she went out on the path in front of the house and grieved. She understood fully how horrible this was. Standing there, in her eyes one saw it. But one cannot get that picture. I suppose that’s what actors and actresses are for: all is set up for them, cameras at the ready, scripts in mind.

This morning, New Year’s Day morning, January 1st. 2019, as I came into the kitchen I looked at the sky, a dark pink, purplish against streaks of acqua blue in the sky, a patch of it. A winter dawn. It lasted but a few minutes and had I rushed to get a camera I’d have missed some of it.

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

We have now completed this holiday time. For many like me it must be a strain to get through. Now the familial hegemonic order (with men in charge or having to be there finally) imposes itself.  And this is unreal when it comes to individual human needs. I hope all found something to enjoy — at least it’s a rest, a time out, away for us who don’t fit in.

I close by thanking all my friends here who have responded with comments or postings at the end of this fifth year without Jim for making my days more cheerful and therefore endurable by extending to me moments in your lives and your thoughts and support. No matter how hard I’ve tried, I realize sometimes that I am at least concretely literally alone most of the time and that for me it cannot be otherwise after the lifetime I had with Jim. So it is so good to be in contact with you all and have our various relationships here. It is this communication that I sustain this blog for.

Izzy too is in need of recognition, community support as she sings out her heart to the cyberspace world. I wish I could find a secular choir for her to join as a non-professional.

Ellen

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Richard Feynman: I share his metaphysical and pro-education outlook and assigned his books to classes for many years …

Friends,

This I wrote four days ago upon waking:

I looked out the window and saw such a pretty winter scene — the differently colored leaves (some withered, some not) scattered in the light green grass like decorations. I love these darker flowering bushes, the auburns, and browns, the chrysanthemums, bareness and configurations of the trees, the light blues and pinks in the sky. I find winter’s austerity beautiful.
And it’s another reason to stay alive.

This to someone who this morning objected to my analysing the Outlander films, one at a time each week as they are shown andp posting it onto a face-book Outlander non-censored page:

I’m with Richard Feynman: To me to know more about a thing only adds to its beauty and interest: I don’t see how it subtracts.  I taught a course in science from a humanities point of view for many years and used to read these passages aloud to my students — at three different times as they come from three different places:

To which I add Patricia Fargnoli (one of my favorite poets), a poem I’ve not posted here before:

The Room

The clock pressed the hours by,
frost blinded the windows.
The language beyond them disappeared
into ice.
If you sit in such a room you can forget.
The orange cat stretched out full-length
on the table and slept
the sleep of a careless one.
I lived there — or did not live¬ —
the future a cutoff thing,
the past not part of me anymore¬ —
smoke flying back from the train
on a Russian steppe
in an old complicated novel.
Gone, gone. Gone, gone. And goodbye.
In that standstill time, the cat and I
studied each other like mirrors —
his topaz inscrutable eyes.
I thought I was safe in the room.
The plow came to plow through the whiteness.
Because I was locked in my body
the frost climbed higher.
Because I was not safe
my arms wrapped around me.
One minute became the next¬ —
nothing shifted
except the cat
who jumped down and went to his bowl.
In the bookcase, the books leaned
to the right and glazed over.
The white Greek rugs and three bright watercolors
dulled to the gray of a wolf’s pelt.
The ice entered and shook the curtains.
Then it was time to move, however slightly

some action to break the frozen surface.
Still I did not move but the cat disappeared
into his hiding place between the boxes
under the bed.
I think of the people out in the world
moving around in their lives.
in/out, up/down, bending, standing,
wheels under them, the open skies.
How brave they all are.
In that room, I held fear
like the egg of a beast, about to break open.

and a favorite picture – by one of my favorite 20th century women artists:


Nell Blaine, Night Light Snow

Ellen

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Helena Bonham Carter as Eleanor (55 Steps, 2017)

Friends,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


As friends, watching a wedding

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

Ellen

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


Izzy and Laura at Coney Island.

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


At the Metropolitan Museum


At the Cloisters

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ellen

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

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

Dear Friends and readers,

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


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

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


The tapestry over my bed in Otterburn castle

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ellen

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