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Archive for the ‘women’s art’ Category


Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral

Friends and readers,

When I saw the above photo I felt nothing in visual art came so close to expressing the emotions appropriate to what has happened in those countries where over the past couple of months the coronavirus has been allowed to spread, sicken and kill thousands upon thousands of people. Where 1 in 4 in the US who previously had a job, income, is now unemployed, countless millions not knowing where their next payment for rent is coming from, as another countless line up for bags of food.

She caught my eye because on Trollope&Peers we have been reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, and I had just finished the long chapter describing in detail the 15th century cathedral, with all its figures and characteristic elements and ornaments as yet semi-intact. It accompanies a story in the Times Literary Supplement (May 15 2020, pp 24-25) where the essayist, Stephanie Sy-Quia, tells the story of Nana, her grandmother’s life, which included a period as a nun, and another studying for an advanced degree where Nana wrote on Julian of Norwich; Sy-Quia is helping her mother to move the grandmother into a retirement home, and they are conveying a bookcase full of her favorite books to be re-read and re-read (see TLS,Books to End a Life with“). The grandmother is fragile, not far from death is the feel, and there is a meaningful conversation before Sy-Quia must leave her there, the essay ending with these words: “That’s how I like to think of her: on her balcony in the sun, book in hand, intermittently sleeping.”

Hugo finds in the chronicles and figures of stone that make up a centuries-old building meant to be a haven the meaning Nana finds in re-reading (among Nana’s listed favorites) Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. This week I turned back to the beauty of Roger Fry’s philosophy of art and found some humor in the divagations of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights‘ satire on airplane flight: from Godzone:


I prefer the French title

Tokarczuk works at not to write a book that can be labelled woman’s novel (horrors!) but in some of the many interwoven stories (the book is the closest 20th century book I’ve seen to Orlando Furioso), we are back to a female narrator who is a version of the authoress. First some funny vignettes depicting the “safety rituals” in airplane terminals (“they confiscate her nail clippers, and she laments the loss, because she’d liked them and had been using them for years” — I lost a favorite barret that way) as well as the “plastic airplane food,” but soon we are into her email – which she can still reach: “if you are not on the Internet, you don’t exist” (tonight the Burney Society opened a page on FB and a page on twitter and asked us all to click “like” and become followers. And we get a story of a love affair. We learn it was 3 decades ago at the time she was involved in “taking part in a massive program aimed at eliminating pests” (weasels opposums), anything that makes human beings sick. See that. Prophetic. Written before this present pandemic: she goes to the doctor and they do everything they can which appears to be “scanning everything they could” (in her body), diagnosing it all and sending her home.

She has a gift for light lucid prose and her translator, Jennifer Croft conveys how extraordinary it is such a massive machine with so many people can behave like a bird. She does make a mistake: she seems no to be aware of how noisy, crowded, overlit are airplanes; she is in the middle seat of a long row of small seats and all we are told is she is “uncomfortable.” That’s all. How about the skin of the next person near yours? She falls asleep, watches her screen with complacency.

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Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

These last two weeks I finished the spring courses I was attending on-line, carried on reading for my review of the new standard edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, and towards the course I hope I get to teach “on-screen” so to speak starting this Monday. I was beginning to feel some courage about it after a group training session two weeks ago and then a one-on-two 101 session with a generous-hearted person who will be co-host with me, until today I was among 5 people who were not sent the promised codes to open the meeting as host. I emailed several times and got no answer by phone either. People in the class told me they got the class invite so the course will go on, and I assume they do mean me to teach it this Monday starting 1:45 pm. As my co-host told me, “It’s on them, their responsibility to ensure that we are up and running no later than 1:40.”

I’ve been reading Framley Parsonage with an on-line Trollope Society book, as well as mesmerized by Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife, at the core of which is a modern re-write of the Rev Josiah and Mrs Mary Crawley story, and have been asked and delighted to say yes to give a twenty-minute talk on the Crawley pair. I’ll do him as Trollope’s Jean Valjean, and end on Joanna’s updating of the abject woman. does justice to the inner workings, modern style, of a rector humiliated, not promoted &c&c while at the same time showing us the Mrs Crawley figure, an Anna Bouverie (the Madame Bovary allusion is there as contrast) trying to build a life for herself of some liberty and finding out how hard that is.

I realized today that the Lucy Robartes’s journey-ordeal where she risks her life to nurse the ailing unto death Mrs Crawley (from the endemic typhoid is as relevant today as the Crawley one. Lucu’s story is not carried over except perhaps as part of Anna’s perpetual working hard for everyone else, high good-humored intelligence, and wry scepticism towards self-destructive self-immolating choices

I also hope to join in on three courses online at this OLLI at AU, which sound very appealing: four sessions on good or classic American films (last night I watched City Lights, the first, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, and was absorbed and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would); on American artists in Italy from the mid-18th century to World War One (I’ve long read about this topic and have two sets of marvelous picture and essays books on this English-speaking ambivalent art scene in Naples and Rome); the last on modern American poetry, 1940-2020.

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A new French law requires masks be worn in certain public spaces, but it is still illegal to wear religious attire that covers the face

None of this pushes away from my mind the bleak world not far from my neighborhood, seeping into it in fact. I chose David Holgate’s figure because she is also wearing a scarf. In this now literally sick world I abide in objects take on symbolic value that is as pernicious and counter-productive as the groups of people in this country who support the criminal con-man Trump. I am speaking of course of masks, surgical face masks, which all medical authorities and people who know anything about these coronavirus say, together with washing one’s hands, can go a long way to stopping the spread of this virus. I wear a mask over my face, wrap a scarf around my head. From a young child I have had ear-aches if I go out when it’s at all cold or windy without a hat or scarf around my ears. But I also like to wear a scarf, a head kerchief. Jim used to worry my more Muslim-like ones (two presents from students long ago) would attract hostility.

Well, now Trump has managed to politicize masks as well as scarves so not wearing a mask becomes a political statement showing your strong support of Trump and all his policies and attitudes (among them hatred for all people of color, including people of Asian descent), your disdain of fear of the virus and behavior shaped by concern not to spread it to others or catch it yourself. This intersects with attitudes towards the police, towards law, towards violence, towards women. The result is a witches’ brew ready to explode into mobs of armed thugs (these include military style police) destroying non-white people, democrats (yes), gay people, Jews, women seeking liberty for their bodies. Not to wear a mask, or wear one made to look like a flat cut up and you are marked as Maga — something to be proud of, especially if you don’t get sick; you want to work as opposed to these sniveling non-person immigrants whose deaths don’t matter.

This is in the autobiographical mode so here’s what happened to me this morning as I walked to the post box to return a DVD in order to get a DVD of Temple Grandin (for a zoom meeting this coming month with a serious-minded aspergers group). I went with my mask firmly in place and a kerchief on (have I said I wear a kerchief to protect an inner ear which hurts if I go out without a hat or kerchief until it’s very hot). A woman who lives in one of super expensive houses dotted all over my neighborhood (this one the result of a ridiculous renovation which made it into a one will walls of glass, appropriate to standing on a cliff — seeing its absurd transparency, they put curtains everywhere and filled their yard thick with greenery) was across the street with her daughter, both w/o masks. They are the Greenwich, Connecticut type republicans, part of the wide swathe of seeming reasonable people are callously cynically supporting Trump to keep their taxes low and make an American which serves them (hand and foot). I stopped and looked at them sort of pointedly. The girl went back in the house. I then carried on (of course no talk; we’ve never been introduced that I can remember – this place is filled with snobs), put my DVD in the post box, turned round to walk back and the woman was just putting her mask on as if she had not seen me

Fuck these people. They voted for this man. He has now attacked free speech, what he threatened to do before he became president. Before he won he said he would change the libel laws insofar as he could in an effort to end free speech. So twitter rightly at long last marking his lies and incitements to violence are his excuse, and he has a sycophant lawless Attorney General behind him. Net neutrality went when he took office. Read what is happening in Iowa, Texas, meat-packing factories where workers were forced back into lethal situations. People sickening every where and the death rate goes up. 40% of deaths are still whites

Governor Northam has not sent police out to enforce much of the closing of shops and I’ve discovered many did remain open — especially those run by people who dress like the Trumpite-base types. There was an incident where police were sent to stop a large party in a white neighborhood and it was stopped, the people were indignant and it made the papers. I think the purpose of the masks is twofold: they do stop the virus and if you wash your hands a lot that helps. But it’s that Northam wants to make a point life out there is dangerous and you must do all you can to avoid sickness. He is a physician and democrat. Trump by carrying on not wearing a mask does politicize it and the South Dakota governor can cry all he wants, and plead with his state citizens to wear masks to protect others, but Trump wins. Not wearing a mask says this is silly or it’s courageous or there is nothing else to do (nonsense – we could support all workers and businesses all summer with the money now given in billions to corporations with democratic consent). That woman didn’t want to wear a mask. It’s a bother – and she allows her daughter not to wear one. Like (my guess about her) she couldn’t give a shit what Trump is – she wants all the money and privilege she can have, she banks on being white to make her less likely to get sick because of how and whom she lives with.

A friend (white) told me someone in her community (or on the Net in a group she’s in talked about this) called the police when someone was not wearing a mask. Someone else defended this person for calling the police. The person defending was then subject to loads of abusive emails calling her a Nazi and threatening her. Now it’s been shown by numbers since masks started in this pandemic that far far more black people are stopped by police and their mask demanded. I would myself only call a cop if I felt my life so directly in danger that I was in less danger from the cop — I’ve tried to teach this formula to Izzy who twice has been badly bullied by police since they don’t understand disabled (autistic) people, and once it seems almost came near arrest for jay-walking. I would approve of the person calling the police on principle but in reality myself never call a cop for such a purpose. Once in my neighborhood Izzy was bullied on a bike by two black children; one of the women in one of the houses looking on called the cops: I was told later they visited the black people in the next impoverished neighborhood and those children will never be back her. How peculiar I felt to have had Izzy’s disability turned into a weapon against black people. Look what happened to George Floyd. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx and know police there were utterly involved in the drug trade. Yes as a white woman, especially now I’m older white cops have identified me as “like my grandmother,” and not that long ago I had an encounter with one where he became hysterical because I did not obey his every utterance and got out of my car. I was at risk for my very life. So police in the US are not simply instruments of peace, law and order because they have been given license by Trump to kill and by the society to imprison vulnerable people for a long time with impunity.


Temple Grandin

Here is where the US now is, and I live in this edge toppling us into a fascist (goes without saying I suppose) dictatorship. A calamity of such a magnitude that it has driven people into their houses — it’s a kind of paranoia turned into a way of life. The EC/ASECS group met in a zoom and while we are determined to have some sort of conference, it seems that in October the wisest and most possible thing is to do it virtually. I enjoy my Aspergers group which meets more frequently; in two weeks we will discuss the excellent movie, Temple Grandin, and whatever of her books and essays we have read. For me it’s Animals in Translation and one on how women experience autism.

More of the way the virus affects just me and Izzy:

In this conversation Fauci talked about reasonably efficient and continual testing before letting students back on campus this coming fall, with intervals of 2 weeks and then tracing and when someone falls sick, isolating them.

We had heard that over this week Alexandria and other Northern Va places would be testing for coronavirus for everyone. We were told places to go but they were all only for one day at a given place and for a limited number of hours (start at 10; I forget when ending. We were unable even to get in. The one nearest to us was disorganized, far too many people, far too few officers and people doing the work.
The fuller story (for those into details): I tried to drive Izzy and I to a testing place, worried lest we catch the virus going for testing (we washed our hands, wore masks), worried about waiting for hours and so on (I brought 2 books, she had her cell phone), but none of this happened because I failed completely in finding the entrance that the police wanted cars to come in from. In all the years I’ve lived in Alexandria, Va I always came in from the front entrance or a back street near the front entrance (Duke Street), never came to the Landmark Shopping through a Van Dorn entrance. I could not picture it; Van Dorn as far as I can picture it is a very busy 3 lanes on either side highway type street. I had no idea how to find this entrance. They just shooed us on and there was no sign anywhere for how to get to the Van Dorn entrance. I discovered I had forgotten my cell phone, could only picture and mass transit junction where the other entrance was said to be (and a different shopping plaza right off it). Well I drove home, located cell phone (whew) but then found that for Landmark Mall (where the testing on my side of Alexandria was said to be) there is only one address. The one I tried to come in at. When I tried to google other entrance, the name Van Dor landed me with instructions to to the plaza. So we had to give up. There was no way someone like me could find it. Izzy was disappointed.

Not near enough money, thought, organization put into this testing. Then what about tracing? Of course what is needed in time appointed encounters and this is available only through your doctor. We are told soon state-wide testing will be offered to people past 60 and people beneath a certain income (to try to reach hispanic and African-Americans). Tomorrow we will see our friend, Monica, who works 7 days a week, 2 in a supermarket, but now gets off every other day during the week.

We spent the rest of our Memorial day our usual way. She wrote, drew (she has taken courses in drawing and art now), practiced and sang her latest musical composition, watched TV, participated on the Internet. I read, studied, posted, wrote. Both of us our usual routs on just about all the days of the years (except when she goes out to work, I out to teaching, courses, museums, together to plays &c). Also we exercised, & separately walked in the neighborhood. At night I watched half way through the excellent 1990s BBC series, The Rector’s Wife (featuring a favorite actress of mine, Lindsay Duncan, when young) and all of Carrington (Jonathan Pryce, Emma Thompson). Our cats did their things too. Had Jim been with us, our day would have been similar — only with his witty presence to inject gaiety into our hearts.

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Matisse, A Young Girl Reading (1905)

The news is not all bad as some large percentage of the US population — a majority in fact, though their votes are nullified, they are disenfranchised, gerrymandered out of counting, are against this kind of fierce overt capitalist militarist state. I am not alone in calling for a boycott of all airlines. Now! I don’t understand why people are getting on these airplanes where, far from social distancing, people are packed in as closely as ever. If all Americans refused to get onto these planes until the seating arrangements were changed to at least allow some separation, the airplane people would change their planes. Boycott these bastards who got billions from the gov’t to tide them over ….

Some are still leading decent lives in their solitude attached to the world through zooms. My older daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, have adopted (bought) two kittens. This past year they lost two beloved cats to death and the cat that is left to them (they began with five) has been as lonely as they. Here they are, sweet tiny baby cats: at first very frightened upon coming into their new home:


The vanilla ginger tabby, Max, the greyish tortie, Charlotte, clinging to one another

Here they are the next day in Laura’s workroom, her office mates. It didn’t take them that long to decide that they belong where Laura is.

My grandchildren have four paws.  And in their honor, last Caturday (a couple of days before Laura and Rob went to pick them up) I wrote this on face-book:

From ‘Penguin Handbook of Cats. The care and training of kittens:’

“Talking is, I think, particularly important. Talking from the very beginning of your acquaintance helps throughout the cat’s life … I have always made a great point of talking to my cats from kittenhood onward, and very soon they have come to know the different tones of my voice. All my cats have talked back to me, and most of them have started to do so almost at once. This initial conversation does make a great different in a cat’s life … ” Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.

See you on-screen, the new salutation …

Ellen

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Izzy and I at the National Gallery on Boxing Day

From the Christmas Revels, which when Jim was alive, he, I, and both daughters at first, and then just with Izzy, would regularly find a performance of somewhere in our area. Izzy now listens to it at least twice on CDs she has every year. It ends with Amazing Grace.

THE SHORTEST DAY

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

During this time Izzy finished a rendition of another of her expressive songs; she has been working on this for a couple of months now; she is basically a light soprano; somewhat outside her range she is singing her heart out.

The song is by Irene Cara

Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been,
Who I am,
Do I fit in.
Make believein’ is hard alone,
Out here on my own.

We’re always provin’ who we are,
Always reachin’
For that risin’ star
To guide me far
And shine me home,
Out here on my own.

When I’m down and feelin’ blue,
I close my eyes so I can be with you.
Oh, baby be strong for me;
Baby belong to me.
Help me through.
Help me need you.

Until the morning sun appears
Making light
Of all my fears,
I dry the tears
I’ve never shown,
Out here on my own.

But when I’m down and feelin’ blue,
I close my eyes so…

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We managed three Christmas events for this year’s Winter Solstice.


From Come From Away: a scene where the local inhabitants welcome the US passengers

December 21st, a Saturday, Izzy, Laura and I went to see the extraordinary (in the depths of feeling it occasionally reached) for an group concept, Canadian musical; and astonishing (in sudden individual moments, separate soliloquies, character sketches), Come from Away. It is the upbeat story of how a large group of American planes were landed in Newfoundland, Canada, because the area had a large unused airport, and how the people living in the towns all about welcomed the people on the planes, took care of them.

It’s a story we are much in need of since the spread of hatred and fear these past few years by Trump and his regime, and others like itaround the world. I’ll content myself with a review in the New York Times. Ben Brantley explains this show and its context better than I could.


The 12 players as puzzled passengers

I had not thought it possible to write and embody an meaningful humane tribute to the senseless slaughter of what happened on 9/11/2001; a reaction to decades of cruel repression around the part of the world called “the Middle East.” If it comes near you, try to go see it. It cannot be a film; it must be done live on stage.

Afterwards we ate in an unpretentious Asian restaurant (food yummy, wine good), joined by Rob, near where Izzy & I live, all four exchanged gifts. I got two velvet-like blankets, soft and warm, one for my bed, and one for my desk chair. The book Izzy bought for Laura a time-traveling tale: The Future Of Another Timeline — Annalee Newitz. I bought for Laura Charlie Ann Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night and for Izzy, Adam Rippon’s Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir. Rob got a cooking book: Midnight Chicken & Other Recipes Worth Living for by Ella Risbridger. You see one piece of evidence that the two cats are of the opinion my presents were for them.

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Central to getting through Christmas Day: around 1 o’clock Izzy and I went to see Greta Gertwig’s splendid Little Women. It’s so good I haven’t got the time or vocabulary to list all the elements that are so effective and right. Gertwig has updated the material and yet kept the core content of the book intact, with the old moods, charity, and deep sentimental feeling. By the astute use of flashbacks for the first third or so of Little Women (Volume 1 of the two, the childhood years and most straight didacticism of the books), and making the last part of Little Women and most of Good Wives, the present, a reverse in emphasis without loss was achieved.


Jo, Meg (Emma Watson) and Amy Florence Pugh) walking about Plumfield Academy, the new school run by Jo and Prof Bhaer (Louis Garret)

It is thus an open scandal, disgrace, that nothing is going to be done about that fact that this movie — superior in just about everyway to all those now playing, all of them, this movie garnered but one award — for Ronan for acting. Even that is wrong as the film features all four girls and the role of Amy has been transformed from villainess to a heroine as worthy imitation as Jo herself. Thus do we today honor ambition, materialism, selfishness, and the burning of Jo’s manuscript is somehow regarded as not the heinous cruelty it is in the book. After all Jo writes endlessly, she’ll write on and she does. We have a confrontational Jo and Laurie


A confrontational Jo ((Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet)

And then Amy is made unselfish at key moments, and suddenly it is she who urges Jo to run after Prof Bhaer. Until now Jo needed no help from Amy to retrieve her love. It is very hard to find a good photo of Louis Garret as Prof Bhaer online with Jo, though the movie (rightly in my view) makes this relationship the partnership Jo chooses in life.

The movie auditorium for Little Women was far more crowded than those showing other junks — Cats, action-adventure, moronic Marvels and the deeply reactionary The Irishmen (a re-make of On the Waterfront in effect). I did see two men falling asleep. Is the gender fault-line that big? if so, well then we need to stop making the moronic violent curse-ridden movies and return to 19th and 20th century stories by women. I’m just now watching the 1970s Fortunes of War adaptation of Oliva Manning’s Balkan Trilogy: magnificent, beautiful, intriguing, and the material frighteningly relevant — fascism taking over, gradually killing destroying wreaking unretrievable damage …

Just 3 of the countless favorable reviews (if you include non-professional or unpaid ones like mine):

Some reviews:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/part-alcott-part-gerwig-little-women-is-a-very-nearly-perfect-film/2019/12/17/ce2ae21e-1eb0-11ea-87f7-f2e91143c60d_story.html?arc404=true

https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/little-women-2019/

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/movie-reviews/little-women-review-saoirse-ronan-and-florence-pugh-excel-in-greta-gerwigs-irresistible-adaptation-38809685.html

Ronan is now a “celebrity” — she was Mary Queen of Scots (she began with playing a very unlikable young woman in Atonement). Florence Pugh was Cordelia in the powerful (good) Lear movie with Anthony Hopkins in the lead ….


So many LW movies:   Trom Robin Swicord and Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 Little Women: a rare appreciation of the role of Mr Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne) in New York going over Jo’s (Winona Ryder) stories (see my “Christmas in Little Women,” book and films …. )

I am sorry to admit the meal at our usual Asian restaurant was not enjoyable. We finally faced up to the reality this restaurant is going down: this time the service was nothing short of terrible. Half a Peking Duck is no longer possible; you must buy a whole one, but they don’t bring it out hot in front of you and carve; it is pre-carved (yet it took ever so long for them to bring it out), and they had run out of the usual side dishes. We had ordered other dishes but as they seemed not to be coming, we canceled it all and left. We will find another Peking Duck Asian restaurant next year.

Come from Away and Gertwig’s Little Women are filled with progressive social values; semi-didactic scenes of charity, people loving one another, giving, forgiving accepting: works we are much in need of since the spread of hatred and fear these past few years by the lies and control over social media Trump and his regime have achieved, and others like it around this cold commercialized world. Journalists who once would have been continually helping are today regularly killed, imprisoned, cannot find paying jobs where they can learn to do investigative reporting.

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Mill in Winter, Edward Willis Redfield

Then there was Boxing Day (the 26th). We have been doing boxing day for about 20 years now; the last 8 without Jim but remembering him. How do we do boxing day? we go to a museum, of which there are many choices in DC. This year, like most, we went to the National Gallery. The advertised exhibits were neither that interesting (though I admit one was filled with precious historicals) or large; one small one not mentioned much, that we just happened upon (the best way) of the work of a 15th century Spanish sculptor was fascinating: remarkable moving statues and bas relief; the film brought the figures close up and was a good travelogue through Spain in its own right. For me best of all were old friends — paintings I like especially to look at and return to. The pizza wasn’t bad either (in the cafe) and people ice-skating just outside to look at. Above are a photo a kind African-American young man (with a friendly family, wife, three children) took of Izzy and me in the central atrium (high up is a giant Christmas tree ball — there were two of them above the flowers this year) and a reproduction (it does not convey the quality of the impasto white paint and just glorious sense of space and sky) Mill in Winter by Edward Willis Redfield (one of my favorite pictures in this museum, an “old friend”).

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I did have some good conversation at a Christmas luncheon with the other teachers and volunteer board members at OLLI at AU early in December, and there was a party on another later afternoon in mid-December — not as good because however well meant the noisy band got in the way of what most of the people were there for — to talk to those you don’t see all term.  Izzy skipped her Christmas dinner with her Aspergers Adults club this year (sometimes her outings with them are a trial, as in a recent dance), but she appeared to enjoy her party at work (the Pentagon Library). Apart from my own Christmas movie watching at home, and reading about and around Christmas (about which see, What do we mean by a Christmasy story & C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed), this exhausts our going out. I socialize on the Net and she does too –in her case this year through exchanging and reading aloud original stories with other people on a website.  We fall back on and support one another & our cats love us too, and we have our tree.


I am irrationally fond of the tree each year — somehow it is a cheering sight (if not over-decorated and a real tree)

In my view the way some practice Winter Solstice can be very stressful for people, for a good deal of unreality is expected and imposed. Family get-togethers are potentially fraught times. For older people they are often facing increasing deterioration (I can’t drive at night so that’s why Izzy and I are not going out New Year’s Eve for the first time in 4 or so years; I’ve now got a case of eczema because of the stress I’ve had to deal with on the Net), relatives and friends have died in the previous year. Do you know what I’ve liked? I think its rituals can make many people lonelier, especially if you are someone who doesn’t have other people to do these rituals with or feel yourself not comfortable or wanted among those you can go to. I sent out 20 paper cards and about the same number of electronic Jacqui Lawson cards, and in return I had letters from old friends I hadn’t “talked” to in quite a while, and a renewal of feeling. Perhaps the best way to endure and enjoy what you can is think of it as time off, a time to remember, time (if you can) to gain some perspective.

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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This is a delightful book in the genre of what I have read and how it has affected me; I feature it since I too use paper clips to keep my place ….

“Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading.” — Logan Pearsall Smith

To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. –Robert Louis Stevenson

Friends,

Another meme about favorite books was started more than week ago now and again I joined in. You may recall the first meme asked for “10 books that have influenced me most in my life:” I wrote considerable sized blogs and then transferred the titles here. One problem with these memes is quite a number of people seem not to pay attention to what is asked for but just give “favorite” books. Seven books I have loved is quite a different questions from 10 books that have strongly influenced my life. Another quirk in this second one is the originator said one must not comment on the book, no explanation no review, just the cover. Why would someone place such a limitation on telling about 7 books I have loved? To encourage more people to do it? one person said the idea was to promote reading; surely then some idea of the content of the book(s) and why the person loved it are relevant. In any case the question is simpler: I tried to prove the 10 books influenced my life. The objection was made both times that such lists are hypocritical, people posing, pretending to like a fashionable or super-respected book. I’ve seen lists where that’s obviously true. But this is not true for everyone; there are people who can be sincere. You were to list one a day; I kept to that.

So here (once again), now Day 1, my favorite book, a book I have loved since I was 12-13, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: These are not the covers I read it in, that was a plain brown book with light gold lettering, part of a set of English classic novels my father had in the family bookshelves. The cover of the paperback edition I have read most often and is from the literal book I have most loved, and is very worn, and an explanation (and image) may be found in my blogs on books which most strongly influenced my life. I put here covers which derive from two beloved movies featuring some of my favorite actresses:

For Day 2, another book I have deeply loved, Elsa Morante’s La Storia, the story of Iduzza, then as years go by her disabled (epileptic, autistic) son, and then his dog against the backdrop of history from the 1930s to aftermath of WW2. I read it slowly in Italian (had no English translation) so when I would weep I had the problem of wetting two books, my Italian dictionary and my beloved novel becaue I had to stop to weep every so often. Despite the vast canvas, I think if it as in the tradition of Richardson’s Clarissa (choice no 2 for 10 books that influenced me). In 20th & 21st century Italian, Natalia Ginzburg and Elena Ferrante are followers of Elsa Morante at her best ….


The English covers rightly emphasizes the heroine, and here the first girl child she gives birth to ….

For Day 3 of books I have deeply loved, I remember Trollope’s The Small House at Allington. I cited Trollope’s Dr Thorne as my 4th choice of 10 books that most strongly influenced me because it was Dr Thorne that set me on this road I’m still on, but ask me which one have I loved best and I have a problem because I’m torn between Small House and Can You Forgive Her? Recently having reread CYFH? I have ringing in my ears still the punitive attitudes the narrator takes towards Alice who I wanted to love best. Trollope’s stinging sneer at Lily Dale occurs outside the novel and in response to those at the time over-sentimentalizing her. I loved her and her choice as I loved Mr Harding and his. Madame Max another favorite heroine is only a small part of Phineas Finn, and anyway I find The Small House so satisfying for many reasons and characters and themes beyond Lily’s. The picture below has the cover of the copy I first read. I probably also choose it because it repeats the paradigms and themes of Austen’s S&S. I believe Small House is one of those novels by Trollope hardly ever or never out of print since it was first published. I also have loved Millais’s illustrations for it, viz. Mr Harding meets Adolphus Crosbie

For Day 4 of books I’ve loved I chose Eleanor Clark’s Rome and A Villa. I loved this one so I am eager to tell others of this treasure. I first came across it as a chapter in the New Yorker (remember the long long essays in the middle once upon a time?) and then bought the book. It is everything a travel book should be: philosophical, beautiful in description, rooted in history, the imagination, answering the needs of the soul; immersing you in Rome and Italian culture, life, poetry. The villa in question is Hadrian’s Villa. I read (the closest writing to a review I can find) and reread it. It has recently (not that long ago) been re-issued with a new cover, which I admit I like better than the one I have at home:

Day 5 of cite a book I have loved and provide an image of one of the cover illustrations it has been graced by. There has not been much citation of poetry; for me the poetry of Charlotte Smith is my fifth inevitable choice. I just love her poetry, never tire of it, but first read them in library reading rooms because there was no single book: I found microfilms and microfiches of her Elegiac Stanzas; then in 1993 one of my heroes, the scholar Stuart Curran, produced a volume of The [More or Less Complete] Poems of Charlotte Smith. The cover is not exciting (just darkish pink with brownish-red lettering), so I’m torn between two more recent covers of the selected poem anthologies which are beginning to come out. She is known as the mother of romantic poets, the way Wordsworth is the father; since those dark ages days, most of her novels have appeared in print, and I am proud to say one of these is my edition of her Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake: I typed all 500+ pages to make a good text, wrote the introduction, notes, annotations; it was published by Valancourt, and I took it to one of the two thus far Charlotte Smith conferences where I met Curran!


A slender but good selection for those who want to start (she has poetry based on science and the natural world)

For Day 6 a book I was surprised into loving Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. I had begun to watch the 1970s Poldark series in the early 1990s because I was studying film adaptations that were very popular, and as I watched the serial drama episodes (to my surprise as I’d read the usual negative reviews — “swashbuckling” and other stigmatizing terms), I realized I liked it very much; that it was well done, characters interesting, but I felt that the books behind were probably much deeper and I would appreciate the films more if I read the books. I bought the cheapest copy I could find, not being sure I would like the book, and found I couldn’t put it down, I kept reading it where-ever I went: I particularly loved the Verity chapter where she returns to her room after she is thwarted of her lover, the chapters where Ross and Demelza first make love, and then the Pilchards clinched it. I went on to read the first four books, watch the film adaptation of the first year, then the next three, and watch the next year, and then (lack of films intervening) just read the whole 12. I’ve since read RP and Demelza many times, the first quartet quite a number; less so the first trilogy; I ilke the last 5 books, but it’s The Twisted Sword another masterwork that comes up to the first 7. And now written there papers for conferences, and many many blogs and tell myself I am writing a book and maybe will write one. I’d have to find a vanity press (if such things still exist) were I try to publish it, so it may stay on my desk. I would need help to put it on my website.Despite reading my first copies in the splendid 1970s covers with their images of Cornish landscapes, I chose the early covers of both Ross Poldark and Demelza as a pair as they suggest we are moving into another realm, historical fiction.

Now I’ve come to Day 7 I am torn — like I’ve seen others be. I seem to have several to cite. I have loved far more than 7 books and loved them in different ways. So I’ll focus on one more because I read and reread it in the early 1990s, was almost obsessed when I taught it, making calendars, writing up lectures, and I’ll mention two more briefly. So for Day 7 my choice is A.S. Byatt’s Possession; in teaching Booker Prize books I later discovered it was the awarding of this book as first prize that brought the Booker into Big Time Advertising prominence and it sold fantastically well. So no need for me to describe or review except to say it has all the characteristics I’ve long most loved in literary women’s romances, I love the skeins of allusions, the imitation poetry, the scenery …. the story & some of the characters. The first cover is the one I first was allured by; I found an image blessedly without ads all over it. The second is a recent cover, much more tasteful, more respectable (so to speak): I am glad to see Byatt’s photo on the cover. I nowadays think her best fiction, Still Life, and much enjoy her biographies, literary critical essays, some of her realistic short stories (especially memorable “The July Ghost”)

As for the other two, I do so love the books of Iris Origo, and also Caroline Moorehead’s biography of her. I read avidly Origo’s book on Byron, Teresa Guiccioli, and their last Italian and Greek years (The Last Attachment), on Leopardi, but the one that truly counted and I’ve read more than once is her powerful diary on WW2 in Italy, as she took care of herself and her community: The cover is closest to the one I have: the image covers the front page fully, is beautifully reproduced in this first edition:

This last many may not have heard of, but those who have know how exquisitely passionate, understanding, and beautiful is the story Robilant drew from the letters of Andrea Memmor and Giustiniana Wynne and the world of 18th century Venice they lived in. A Venetian Affair:

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As with my first set, I found myself irresistibly led to tell of a book and author whose work Jim loved, & which connects to one of mine: I accompanied Eleanor Clark’s Rome and A Villa by a travel book I know Jim loved, and read around the same time I did Clark’s book: Norman Douglas’s Old Calabria. The wonderful thing about Old Calabria beyond Douglas’s style, outlook, that he was a rare gay man to let you know he was gay, is his book is filled with photographs he took. I have the book still in a plain hardback we found in a vast used bookstore: here is the cover of a more recent edition. Who knows not Douglas’s South Wind (Jim loved that one too) too: a wonderful novel that anticipates the fiction of Virginia Woolf: it’s all conversations.

A happy time when he and I read these books around the same time: a few years we went to stay in Rome for 5 weeks with both daughters in 1994 (also traveling to Naples, Pompeii, and for 3 days stayed on the beach in Ischia. An FB and 18th century friend said this “sounded dreamy,” so I replied: it was a fraught trip where we were learning how to travel for the first time, but we did go because I was teaching myself Italian, translating Vittoria Colonna, and Jim reading about Italy (he also has a public school background in Latin) and had long loved Italian opera …. Looking back sadly now I wish I had behaved better, but then all of us were struggling to adjust. Paradoxically the book that enabled me to endure the lows of that trip was Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset, which I found in a book market in a square, battered copy in English. It was August, and much was closed, and air-conditioning non-existent.

Ellen

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The World at Evening — Summer

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

The color of the sky makes brilliant reflection
in the water

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

— Rachel Sherwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

From Three Poems at the End of Summer by Jane Kenyon

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

Miss Drake

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Surviving plant (coleus, said to be tough) on a day when the deadly heat measures 113F at 12:49 pm

Friends and readers,

Izzy, I and Laura will be away starting Thursday: we are going to Northern France, a beach at Calais, to be specific, and we hope to “stretch” the time to visit Paris once or twice, London once (or twice). The bnb looks lovely: air-conditioned, wifi, each of us with a room of our own.

As we go off, here is Izzy’s latest personal rendition of a song: The Corrs’ Give Me a Reason

Here are the lyrics:

It’s not romantic here in blue
Swimming, swimming in blue
You left me lonely and confused
Question, questioning you
So soon goodbye you stole my heart
Believe, believing you
Was it a lie right from the start
Answer, answer me do
Well now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
And my defense’s down so just give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
You’ll never know the love I felt
Wanting, waiting for you
It takes a weak heart to forget
Follow, follow it through
Well now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
And my defense’s down so just give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
So what’s a girl like me to do
Drowning, drowning in you
And who’s to save me from the blue
Carry, carry me through
Cause now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
And my defense’s down so just give me a reason
I am strong enough so just give me a reason
Now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
My defense’s down so just give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
What did I do wrong

They are an Irish musical group

Miss Drake

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A Native American doll I fell in love with and couldn’t bear to leave behind when I visited the Museum of the American Indian yesterday —- for the expression on her face, the posture of her body, her love for a non-human animal. She made me think of the horrifying treatment the US gov’t is now meting out to non-white children seeking asylum at our southern borders. The long history of cruelty and destruction that Native Americans experienced at the hands of the European settler colonialists has resumed today — this past week miners were with impunity killing leaders of indigenous tribes trying to protect their forest …

I’ve put her on the mantelpiece by Jim’s urn and his ashes, the small stuffed toy sheep Laura bought the day she, I, Jim and Izzy visited Stonehenge, the poignent stuffed toy penguin Izzy bought when she and I were in Sussex for a Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton House Library

Nona: You talk about him a lot.
Me: Do I? I didn’t realize.

Friends,


Jamie (Sam Heughan) as longing revenant seen in the dark from the back by Frank Randall in the streets of Inverness below his and Claire’s window (Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1)

To me one of the riveting little discussed aspects of historical fiction is its connection to ghost stories and the gothic. It is haunted terrain: the characters reached in the previous time are ghosts brought alive, somehow hallucinatory in our dreams and on that luminous film/movie/video screen. There is an idea of getting back to the past is to beat death — in Outlander Claire in the 20th century makes it plain she realizes she longs to join a world of now dead people, all gone to dust and ashes, ghosts; and the feeling in such passages. It’s a ghost of the gothic worked up through time-traveling historical fiction. Hilary Mantel plays with this too — knowingly (one of her contemporary novels is about a cynical seance holder who half-believes in what she does – the heroine is her, making a good deal of money out of this game. I find this insight in Daphne DuMaurier who goes back and forth through time too; it’s occasionally found in a Winston Graham tale. What’s necessary is that a now living person meets the character from the previous historical time as a revenant.

A poem by Algernon Swinburne captures the way Claire feels about Jamie. And when Frank dies in 1968, he becomes part of the revenants who come to life through Brianna and Claire’s memories, and Claire’s dreams — and the stones. Claire keeps choosing Jamie in all the ghostly-reverie prologues of the books, and all my life I kept choosing Jim …

A Forsaken Garden
(Click on the link to see the poem with proper indentations)

In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.

The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
To the low last edge of the long lone land.
If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
Through branches and briars if a man make way,
He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
Night and day.

The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
That crawls by a track none turn to climb
To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
These remain.

Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
Over the meadows that blossom and wither
Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
Only the sun and the rain come hither
All year long.

The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
Only the wind here hovers and revels
In a round where life seems barren as death.
Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
Years ago.

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
Did he whisper? “look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die—but we?”
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the end—but what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.

Here death may deal not again for ever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
Roll the sea.

Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.

One reason I’ve chosen Margaret Oliphant as the center of my chapter on widowed women writers in our coming book “Not an anomaly” is that she feels her widowhood in the way I feel mine haunted, thus I can enter into her case and come up with a thesis, one I hope to generalize from to include other widowed women writers: Penelope Fitzgerald, Christine de Pizan, to name two. Also I love the tone of Oliphant’s fictions and now (after two weeks of on and off immersion) her letters. She is transformed by the death but it takes a long time ….

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Lady Mary Lowther — a watercolor 19th century drawing of the Lake District I found on-line and was my summer picture on face-book for a while

A lot and almost nothing at all truly new has happened since last I wrote. I’ve read a lot, written, watched movies, some new, some seen many times, since returning to my book project on “Not an anomaly” I’ve produced a detailed chronology of the life and works of Margaret Oliphant and soon will be ready to pick a few novels (I hope) relevant to the topic of her as a widowed woman writer. I’ve produced an outline for a book on Winston Graham, am into two more Cornish novels (Rumer Godden’s China Court is one), and today began his Greek Fire (it’s set during the later 1950s in Greece when the US gov’t was interfering to prevent a socialist democracy from emerging). I’m almost finished with teaching The Enlightenment at Risk! at the OLLI at Mason and it went over better than at AU if the number of people continuing with the course and seeming deeply engaged in the topic and reading in class is any criteria.

Those of us who read Anne Boyd Rioux’s Meg Jo Beth Amy on Trollope&Peers had a good time with it, telling one another our experiences reading children’s books, and I’ve now decided that the 2017 Little Women, starring Emily Watson as Marmee and Maya Hawke as Jo is far more livingly alive, more real depth, more flexible, with all the characters given serious humanity, continuing believable evolving experience than the pretty picturesqueness of the 1995 Little Women: although Gabriel Byrne is still irresistible as Prof Bhaer, it now seems stilted, too much dialogue from the book, too exemplary in the doing of it. See Rioux’s eloquent book about 4 wonderful 19th century American women novelists. And we’ve started a strange book (to me) on WomenWriters: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: the paradigms of the characters are so unstable and quick rootless changes with a joking kind of tone at first startled but it is growing on me, she is captivating me slowly.

Little Women — Jo March: Maya Hawke’s performance has been insufficiently attended to because, forsooth she is not a celebrity star

I took a one week course at OLLI at AU reading as a group Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and watching the two movies (1958, a reactionary travesty by Mankiewicz, and a meditative faithful protest film by Philip Noyce, with Michael Caine playing the part of Fowler brilliantly). It was curiously stirring for me to sit in front of Elaine Showalter as teacher: she is very good in a classroom, friendly, warm, intelligent. prompts the class into conversation. A one day 2 hour session on archaeology in Fairfax county (at Colchester) at OLLI at Mason, Reston, was fascinating: how one learns about Native Americans, enslaved African people and European settler colonialists in the 17th through 18th century.


This is from a Gloucester dig — at the session was a couple I know to be pro-Trump: in the atmosphere at OLLI about this vicious administration, they look about with expressions grim as death, well they support death — the great irony of archaeology is our knowledge comes from garbage and death ceremonies ….

Some strong enjoyment in the three weeks was a 5 hour visit yesterday to the Museum of the American Indian with a new friend from OLLI at AU, Nona: a beautiful building, a cafeteria serving delicious food, and intelligently set-up exhibits and art comparable to what I saw in the African-American museum; these people have been treated just as horrifically, abominably. The exhibits about Native American culture and life were not as commercialized as the contemporary African-American counterparts: in both there was much new and unexpected for me to learn. The story of Pocohontas is of a young woman of elite status who took to visiting some European settlers, disappeared for nearly two years (gang-raped? hidden by her father?) to emerge the wife of John Rolfe, who took her to England where she died quickly at age 22 (perhaps in child-birth). Why she was singled out to be the core of naive myth I couldn’t see. The Indian Removal Act is thoroughly put before us – and the dire consequences, the destruction of a whole people. What a vicious man was Andrew Jackson. I have to admit the museum practiced “balance,” with justifications here and there (see how much prosperity was gotten, see how much needed space … ) — you are spared these in the African-American place.


This photo from the outside gives some sense of the beautiful gardens and fountains all around the building

Also a very hot Saturday night with Panorea we saw a virtuoso performance of Swan Lake (American Ballet Theater) at Wolf Trap: picnic with wine before — I was not as moved as I was once long ago by a ballerina who had extraordinary expressive power. Another interesting (if troubling movie) at the film club: Peanut Butter Falcon, a Huckleberry Finn fable (complete with raft), substituting a story meant to be compassionate about a Downs Syndrome young man for the racist matter of Mark Twain, was nonetheless proposing that it’s easy to provide education into independent adulthood for the disabled, with violence as a solution to his difficulties, dissing the institutions and trained female personnel who do care and whose real problem is they are underfunded. See my blog on Chernobyl: enough said.


We hope on WomenWriters@groups.io to read together (in English translation) the first volume of Beauvoir’s memoir

Looking forward to the future, I taught myself how to get to the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Northwest Washington and took a two session course in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I know the book and film adaptation well; the point was to see how courses are there, and this one was very good, many people from the OLLI at AU, a serious teacher, so now for August (usually a dearth) I have a three session course in existential humanism (three Friday early evenings) and I’m half way through Simone de Beauvoir’s exhilarating The Ethics of Ambiguity (it is!), with Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, and Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism coming up.

The book makes me feel like I’ve been in a backwater not seeing what I do in this larger (to me) refreshing context. The book has relevance to what I’ll read in September, but it also has relevance to a debate a friend and I had off-list about evil in the world and in human beings.

Just a little on Beauvoir’s book (beautifully translated by Bernard Frechtman): it is an existential argument, where she begins with a position that we begin in pessimism as we look about us (this comes later in time in the book and our lives — after childhood), but we are part of the world and the way we interact is a necessary assertion, it is a form of disclosure of the self against which we discover that others push back. Many people take one of two choices she’ll avoid: to deny death by asserting immortality and to deny life, seeing it as an illusion where we are dying all the time (that was unexpected — I thought she’d say taking the Camus view of life as meaningless where we individuals make a meaning). I cut to where she argues that there is bad willing, not that the person is deluded or mistaken, but they are acting harmfully deliberately; and one problem is the coping with evil wills which often gain power because others submit to them. Or people with bad wills given power over others who have a hard time escaping them.

The idea that exhilarated and cheered me is that we are free to chose what we want to do (within the limits of our thrownness of course) and how we go about persevering in the face of much resistance from other aspects of life and what we found to be true about our project itself.

She also talks of how in childhood the child is made to feel he or she is not free and thus irresponsible and can live in fantasy. From this she moves on to women and she talks about the situation of women in cultures where they truly have such limited choices, they are objects or enslaved creatures (even there they have a llmited –I’d say pathetic inward — freedom); in the west they are given windows of opportunity and I found it interesting and revealing (explanatory) when she says women who seem so happy at complicity with men’s desires, needs, orders, will suddenly show themselves hard, mean, cruel or furious when something they individually are keen about is brought into the picture (they drop the appearance of charm, urbanity, grace).

The store is a community center, filled with people buying, looking, a cafe and bar, very pleasant. Jim and I had gone there just for lectures and to the pizza place next door (where one of these fanatically deluded bigots came with a loaded rifle because he thought Hilary Clinton was running a child prostitution racket — he has not turned up to Trump’s concentration camps where he is imprisoning children in cement cells with junk food in appalling conditions so they sicken).

The course I mean to teach starting early September 2019 in both OLLIs — on Trollope’s Phineas Finn — is officially scheduled, and the one for spring 2020, on the novels of E.M. Forster just accepted at OLLI at Mason. Here is the blurb on that one:

The novels of E.M. Forster

In this course we will read Forster’s best-known fiction, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India. We’ll discuss what makes them such distinctive literary masterpieces capable of delivering such pleasure while delineating the realities, tragedies, comedy, and consolations of human life. We’ll place them in the context of his life, other writing, Bloomsbury connections and era. We’ll also see clips from some of the brilliant films made from them. I ask that before class begins everyone read his short and delightful Aspects of the Novel. We’ll also look at his travel writing & biographies. This rich early 20th century writing & the films will speak home to us today.

The response from both curriculum committees is delight at the choice. These are “sacred texts” one man said, how he loved Howards End in college.

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Politics and Prose from the inside ….

Not all was peace and life’s consolations on the surface at least for me.

On the way home from Politics & Prose the first time I realized I was being followed by a cop; at first I couldn’t believe this, but at last he began to flash blue lights, then his loud speaker, then gestured and finally I realized he wanted me to pull over. It seems my registration at the DMV expired in February. Who knew? I never got any mailing from them on this. So now I have to pay a fine, phone the DMV and then go through some rigmarole. The cop was not the nervous wreck cop who appeared to regard me as eager to shoot him because I did not respond in conventional ways. (When I got out of the car to talk he went hysterical: ). https://misssylviadrake.livejournal.com/158920.html

No this young man was amused. He asked me, had I realized he wanted me to pull over. I said, No, why should I? I was doing nothing wrong. I take it that this time he was able to research me while he was trailing me home — so had concluded I was this clueless old white (thus harmless) lady. I discovered my registration expired in February. I shall have to call tomorrow probably to pay a hefty fine and call the DMV to ask what to do: I hope very hard this is a routine if expensive and possibly time-consuming matter for me. I do believe I never got a letter from the DMV about this — the way other organizations try to coerce me into doing this kind of stuff online or letting them have access to my bank account.

The officer was all reassurance but smiled with a half-angry look: At home Izzy suggested this was an abusive stop. The guy had had to do research to discover my registration was expired. And though he asked to see my registration, he did not take it away. What about me or my car attracted this leech? I remembered my motto from RLStevenson: failure is the fate allotted; our business is to go through this in good spirits. But a line on the site telling me that I was now driving illegally kept me up all night; I was at the DMV (seven minutes away) in the intense heat ten minutes before the doors opened on an already long line.

When I got inside, what a scene: understaffed, the computers kept going down, people giving up and leaving. I somehow managed to get someone’s attention to ask if the computers could renew a registration over 90 due. I was thinking I would go to another DMV, but the woman suddenly looked at me and said, ah, let’s try that, and took me to a counter where a very genial woman took the summons and all the documents I brought, and made light of the problem. She said (opposed to others) I needed no new plates or photos, and if she could get her computer to respond, I’d be renewed in two minutes and while the thing went bit slowly, it did it. Home by 10. I couldn’t find out what the fine is because the cop did not register it as yet, and was told to phone back in two weeks. I did ask, why did I not get a renewal form? I do pay attention to this kind of stuff. No answer. Now I’ve marked a calendar and next year in January I’ll remember.

The DMV may be trying to save money by not sending out paper notices and don’t mind if they lure people into not paying on time so as to bully us and collect more fines.


An appealing image of retreat — idyllic

I don’t talk much about my neighborhood but it is filled with snobs who will pay a million for a house but not a dime that does not add to their accumulation. There are increasing numbers of McMansions put up: these “homes” are an obscenity the people should be ashamed of. And when someone asks me what do I think of that house having been flattened and the “beautiful” place made in its stead, I do say I think it obscene.  They fall silent — probably offended.

What’s happened is a group of cypress trees (I’m told) planted by a spiteful neighbor years ago (she wanted to shut me out, and blocked the light going into my living room) just on one side of my property have grown high, strong and over the line to the point they are bending my fence. I asked the new owner (there six months) if she would cut them back and she behaved on the edge of rudeness, resentful. She has lived next door to me for 3 months and said as how these are very old trees They are still her’s. This new woman has done nothing after I spoke with her. She responded with offhand “oh I’ll bring out my lopper” looking at me with hard indifference. Her son-in-law (lives around her) came over and said how cutting would make them ugly. They are hideous now – lots of ivy, very messy. I thought of a lawyer but lawyers cost a lot. I asked someone who lived there before the couple (the trees were small then) for advice and she said I have the right to cut down anything on my property. So I’ll hire my mowing man to cut them back, and especially the branches choking the fence. This woman paid $904,000 for her house.

You probably don’t want to hear about some malicious exclusionary behavior on the part of an Aspergers club I know about to one man who was part of their group for years: suffice to say it was over this man’s thoroughly leftist politics, his ideas for protecting disabled people if the present federal gov’t starts to go after them more than they’ve already done. The ostracized person is in his 50s, lonely, odd looking, makes little money in a part-time job in a library (autistic people are often un- or underemployed). I felt for him and wrote a couple of emails on his behalf but it’s no use.

I could many times tell of such like incidents but they are so demoralizing. Izzy and I are excluded from the coming JASNA: the cherry-picking of who goes and who doesn’t was astonishingly transparent this time. Inequality as a visible shameless continued way of life creeps on. I didn’t even know about a Gaskell conference (wasn’t told nor have been contacted by that Gaskell friend I thought I made last summer – well I didn’t make the cut, probably didn’t boast or buy into her establishment talk enough) or the recent Burney one, somehow not told by them either. Well I don’t have the money and such experiences are ordeals in so many ways too.

A few pure diary entries from face-book:

7/20: I predict today in the N.Va area the heat index will reach 120F. It’s impossible to dress appropriately … Two hours later, around noon, the literal temperature is 99F, but the heat index 119F and still climbing. In my memory of this area or any where else I’ve never experienced such oppressive all-encompassing intense heat, acccompanied by a burning hot sun on my skin. Hardly any people in cars going anywhere, supermarkets relatively empty. I know last week the hour and more sudden astonishing rainfall we had (sheets of water coming down with no stopping for the time it went on) was outside the norm. This strikes me as going outside the norm too.

7/21: It is now 104F literally and the heat index is 125F! But that is not my thought for today (just part of context). My thought is how glad I am to have so many kindly FB friends …

7/23: The weather is cooler today: last night heavy but not unusual rains, this morning heavy dark clouds prevented the sun from heating the area up, and the clouds stayed so I was able to go for a walk. First afternoon half-hour walk in days, I felt a light coolish wind even. Last night I watched the whole of the 1995 Little Women and 1/3 of the 2017: I prefer the 2017, then the second episode of the second season of Outlander; then DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn; this afternoon I spent with Samuel Johnson (this has cheered me considerably and enabled me to write this diary entry) and now I turn back to Margaret (Oliphant) — with a gratified sigh that I am able to do this.

7/25: Our heat “broke” as we say two days ago, heavy rains that day and our more usual rain yesterday — and today? it is 64F this morning (a high promised of 80F). So livable. I have opened my windows around my house. Yesterday I taught (and the session went very well) and after lunch with a friend and then with her (in a crowded auditorium) re-saw Hampstead — saw flaws this time but as my friend with me said “it’s like a glass of wine” in the desert of a now overtly cruel society this movie tries to treat lightly, came home drained …


A lovely drawing of herself from the back as artist by Constance Fennimore Woolson — she will be the center of my third chapter on spinsters, lesbian and otherwise …

Ellen

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Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E.M.

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The Road Scholar group aboard the Fowey ferry

Fowey — a place not far from Menabilly (Daphne Du Maurier would row a boat on the river from one house to another when she went visiting). You can see me all the way on the right-hand corner, all wrapped up (kerchief, hat, red fleece jacket with hood), next to me my friend, Stephen. The man standing up with all the way to the left, white hat, red jacket, jeans is Peter Maxted, our guide (one of his several books on Cornwall is The Natural Beauty of Cornwall). Moving right along down from Peter is a woman in a light violet jacket, a stick to help her walk, sunglasses, my roommate, whose name (alas) I have already forgotten, very sweet woman


Two Swans gliding along in the moat by Wells Cathedral and its close

Dear friends and readers,

The second half of the journeys. Saturday morning (May 18), we visited a China Clay mine, Wheal Martyn Center. As with the Levant mine, we had a remarkably able guide who took us through the landscape and steps in manufacturing china clay.


Figures sculpted in china clay, representing typical workers

What was unexpected is the beauty of the park all around the parts of the mine no longer in use,

and then that there is a vast quarry where the people are still mining and using china clay.


Hard work at the end of the process

I learnt about kaopectate and other compounds made from China Clay, which I use daily. Also that copper and tin mining are more dangerous: you are directly risking your life in the early eras, at real continual risk in the 19th century; but both occupations caused early death through disease. It was the person’s lungs that usually went. Fishing too is a risky occupation — so life in Cornwall was not idyllic at all, and often impoverished even if it was early in industrialization.

I’d say the tour took at least two hours. It was one of the high points of the whole tour. The guide was knowledgeable, humane, witty, curiously moving too. He had spent most of his life as a fireman.

We stopped off in a small fishing village for lunch (cheese pasty and tea) — Mevagissey, it was low tide:

The afternoon was spent in a huge garden owned by the Tremayne family for the last 400 years. Tim Smit who was the moving force in the creation of the Eden project, which I saw with my friends, has been instrumental in convert the park back from its 20th century role as a place for apartments to a farm, a Victorian/Edwardian garden, with memorials to different groups of people living in Cornwall

It was tiring as it was very warm that afternoon and the gardens have steep hills. Finally we came upon a shop where there was a choice of four films, one of them told the history of the changes in the landscape.


Here is our group again at Heligan


A formal garden

I love glimpsing birds and animals in their habitats:

Some of the landscapes was thick and wild with flowers, bushes, trees

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Cheesewring

Sunday (May 19) another deeply satisfying experience: our trip into and through Bodmin Moor. We visited circles of ancient stones called the Hurlers, at the top of the hill a formation of rock called “the Cheesewring.” The place had a feel of mystery in the sense that 6000 years ago people thought to put these markers up, and attached them to visions and finding basic needs, like water


While we were there we saw another smaller group of people engaged in an ancient ritual

The afternoon of this day included frustrating and disappointing moments. We were taken to see too much in a small space, and one of the places we were invited to explore was a tiny place, hot, where a slapstick situation comedy on PBS is filmed. We were told we were be seeing things from far (out of a bus window) which were in fact way out of sight.

So we stopped at Jamaica Inn, — it is an interesting place, first building there in the 17th century, and the one which survives makes ends meet and a profit as a restaurant, bar, bakery, from tourist relics, and its museum.


Jamaica Inn outside


How Jamaica Inn survives


Inside

We drove around 15 minutes to eat at Boscastle, and ostensibly to explore the harbor and town. I was there last time with my friends, so I have explored it; good thing as we didn’t have enough time to do so


Boscastle from below and on the edge – we were walking to the harbor, once a major one used for ships


A picturesque shop

.


Photo of Boscastle taken from a distance upon a hill

Then we drove past Tintagel (not seeing it) and into Port Isaac: a tiny town, which has received a modicum of renown and more tourists looking to find what they seen for years on their televisions. All of these villages are under pressure from neoliberal EU and gov’t policies and also the realities of climate change (there was a serious flood in 2004) and what we were seeing were the people’s attempt to find new ways to make money (not easy) and improve on the older ones (that they are doing). Tourism has become a chief “industry.”

We passed by Lemon Street in one of the towns on the way back to the hotel that night: it is “very pretty” as the Beatles said, lovely Georgian buildings in limestone.

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Sign welcoming us

It was on Monday (May 20) we went to Fowey and I asked myself if they had saved up this last series of journeys for the last day; they were so consistently fun and interesting. It is a steep narrow city just off a river and bay. Most of the people live in modern apartments and older houses on the shallow hills above; the wealthier live in the picturesque houses near the water.


An older mansion


Fowey Church

First we took a long leisurely ferry ride while a young man from the area told us of its long history as we sailed along Cornish shores (see photo at the head of this blog).


Upriver — a manufacturing plant

Fowey has several of blocks of houses, a residential population with not so-well heeled people in apartment houses further from the shore. We had a good meal at a King George III Cornish pub, and then I went back to the bookstore I had last bought a book in 4 years ago.

I am glad to say it looks as thriving as ever: this time I bought a recent good literary biography of Daphne DuMaurier. The bookshop specialized in items by authors who write about Cornwall or are thought of as Cornish. I saw what looked like a good book of poems about Betjeman but it was so slender and thirty pounds. It is a serious bookshop and hard to sustain. So prices are high but DuMaurier is well known, this was a paperback so only 9 pounds 90 pence.

As a side comment: it was very disappointing but not unexpected to discover that in the case say of DuMaurier, bookstores stocked not only her novels and biographies but studies of her, essays, books about subjects her books cover; in the case of Winston Graham, all they had was the first seven Poldark novels and nothing else, no other book by or on him. Instead there was usually a shrine to Aidan Turner. This suggests to me he has not yet broken through to be a respected author whose life and work people are interested in.

Just before we left we happened upon another hotel in the town, a renovated ex-mansion called Manor Hall where the owner once loved Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows and inside were pictures and playful statues taken from the stories of Toad, Rat and so on. This was Jim’s favorite book as a boy; he would quote lines from it (“nothing” so wonderful as “messing around in boats”).


Manor Hall

Another journey took us to Charlestown because it has a quai which is used to photograph ships leaving port in Poldark. While the harbor is beautiful and quiet, and we came upon a beach nearby where people were sun-bathing and trying to swim, the truly interesting experience was in the shipwreck museum; the entry fee quite modest:

It was filled with detailed information about what seemed hundreds of shipwrecks with focus on a few a century: how dangerous it is to live by and on the sea was brought home to us; all the different technologies over the centuries; poignant human interest stories as well as war, politics, piracy (privateering) — very somber some of it.

By contrast, to see a small exhibit on the quai about the Poldark filming the people wanted 11£ so I didn’t go in.

I felt I had a far more telling experience in Charlestown quite by chance than in any of the bookstores or other modern encounters all trip. I saw a little dog rescued by someone working in a nearby restaurant. The poor creature fell down the wall into the water on the quai and her master was feebly trying to send a ring with rope (absurd) to the dog down the wall. It was his fault the dog fell: it should have been on a leash or not that close. The man could have run around the wall and through a sort of concrete gangplank and rescued the dog. He was just not truly engaged with the dog’s fate. Well, a girl in a waitress outfit runs out, jumps in (she risked herself banging against the wall so she jumped far to keep from the wall and yet she had to land in the narrow amount of water), swims to the dog; people on a boat not far suddenly appear and come over to rescue her and said dog. They have a blanket. I was irritated to have to hear heartless remarks like “in some countries animals are treated better than people” (where? pray tell) or Stephen critiquing that she risked her life. Hers was the best act I have seen on this trip.

That evening we had our last true meal together — the meal in the airport hotel has usually been hasty; closure is provided by the last night in wherever the trip has taken place. There was an attempt to say goodbye and a few of us talked of what was our favorite experiences. I cited the Hurlers; in response Peter Maxted said he liked being there too, but preferably in the bleak winter when snow is on the ground.

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Wells Cathedral altar — photo taken by another woman in the group (all others were taken by Stephen)

Our last day and as in the previous three trips, the drive back to the airport is leisurely so that you can visit and see places on the way. We went through Glastonbury where Jim and I had stopped with Laura and Isabel so long ago (2005) and really explored the ruins of the abbey, the town — again it would have been frustrating just to be told about it as we swung by. We drove similarly through Bath and I had to listen to the guide who knew little of the 18th century town, had a very distorted view of Austen. Somehow it did not look as beautiful as when Jim and I and Izzy spent a full week there. We were going through the traffic-crowded streets of course – but I did see Queen Square and a few other streets recognizable to me once again.

The best part of the day was the long time — two hours at Wells Cathedral. Stephen and I did manage to squeeze in a very good tour of the cathedral by a sweet learning old man; we saw the click chime the hour, participated in listening to a prayer (humane, decent). Jim and I had gone to Wells repeatedly to shop in its excellent modern supermarket when we stayed at Lympton in a Clock Tower so I could attend a Trollope conference in Exeter, but when we went to the town we did not go as tourists but people living there and stayed in the modern part. This time I saw the old narrow streets, the fifteenth century pub, the ancient church, its close and square, a beautiful pub (but there was no time to eat – we did not want what had happened at Boscastle to happen here).


The cathedral front


The choir


One of the sets of windows taken down during World War Two and put in a cave until the war was over …


The gatehouse into the close


The close and gardens

Walking through the winding older streets back to the bus (which would take us to the airport hotel) I felt sad to remember the literary festivals I’ve seen (in Chichester) and heard about, which in the last two decades take place in older provincial cities like this (say Hay-on-Wye). How I wish I were still part of this older culture with Jim.

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I am trying to remember that last meal at the airport hotel, but it is gone from me. The guide again did not want to facilitate any last ceremonies & the day had been tiring, so most people went up to bed early. Many had to get to the airport early the next morning to make their plane on time.

In writing this blog I found we had gone to so many places in a short time, and Stephen taken so many photos, and what was worth listening to (the talks about the mines, about Wells, on the Fowey ferry) I couldn’t take notes on. It was all walking or moving about. So I’ve had to leave the information in the form of all the guidebooks and xeroxes and colorful maps the guides gave us out. So you’ll have just to believe me that for myself in the last two days I have returned to my project on “Winston Graham, Poldark and Cornwall” in the context of other analogous historical fiction and film, and find that indeed my sense of the geography and realities of Cornwall is much improved. I am understanding a lot more of what Halliday in his superb History of Cornwall has to tell me. I was listening to Demelza today while I drove in my car and rereading Warleggan for about an hour and could picture so much more accurately characters’ comings and goings. Picking up DuMaurier’s King’s General and I can see I would read it with precise visual appreciation of places that I couldn’t before.

So in my feeble ever inadequate (half-crippled) way I did do some research towards my mythical, dreamed of, yearned for book, A Matter of Genre.

Ellen

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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

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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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