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Archive for the ‘women’s lives’ Category


Vilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941), Winter, Latvia 1910 — I’ve been reading much Atwood this week, stories of ice and snow …

“We still think of a powerful woman as an anomaly, a potentially dangerous anomaly; there is something subversive about such women, even when they are taken to be good role models. They cannot have come by their power naturally, it is felt. They must have got it from somewhere. Women writers are particularly subject to such projections, for writing itself is uncanny: it uses words for evocation rather than for denotation; it is spell-making.” Atwood, “Witches.”

From Atwood’s poem, “Spelling,” 1981

My daughter plays on the floor
With plastic letters
Red, blue, and hard yellow,
Learning how to spell,
Spelling,
How to make spells.
*******
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky, and the sun,
Your own name first,
Your first naming, your first name,
Your first word.

My blog-reading friends,

A friend and I were talking of how when people grow old, they must to smaller quarters. and that “it is extremely hard to pack up your life and say goodbye.” Especially, to sell and/or give away one’s books.

I remembered a section in Carol Shield’s Mary Swann where a character who is a widower is forced to sell his and his wife’s library and says “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” I thought of how Jim and my books were the center of our lives together: we read them together, consulted them, collected, loved, gave them a good home, and told him I have nearly 11,000 books now. About 1,000 more since Jim died. Specifically, 10,989. As I’ve said here more than once, I had told him I have 5 rooms (excluding the kitchen, two bathrooms and a hall and vestibule), large square spaces with high ceilings, and each room has two walls with one large window each. That leaves a lot of wall space for books. Since Jim’s death I enclosed my porch, adding a sixth rectangular sun-room (much sun comes in as it faces east) with one wall having two large windows on the long wall. I also use the long hall in the back of the house for book cases on one side.

And he replied: “I cannot visualize what 11,000 books look like.” So I took photographs across my house and sent a representative example to him.


My living room showing the fireplace, mantelpiece, coffee table and a ceramic cat I bought in Milan as a keepsake — also a home-made doll I fell in love with at the Museum of the American Indian and could not leave behind. You see a sort of shrine I’ve made for Jim: his urn, glasses, picture, a toy sheep we bought at Stonehenge when we went there with our daughters, and a toy penguin Izzy added after she & I visited Chawton House


Another angle


The same living room, the other side — facing the neighbor’s house


I and my cats’ bedroom with a tall cat tree Izzy and I built to one side


Another corner of the bedroom, door leading to the small bathroom just by it


Part of the hall between the two rooms — to one side is a large bathroom and on the other Izzy’s room and my workroom (in both the latter we have books across the walls)


My ex-porch, now an enclosed sun-room: you see my stationary bike


And one more of my porch — oddly the porch, though I don’t spend that much time in it, is my favorite room. It’s without any pretensions whatsoever and the chair is comfort itself.

Today is the 7th anniversary of Jim’s death: Oct 9th, 2013:

Those who are left are different people trying to lead the same lives … Demelza to Captain MacNeil who attempted to console her for death of infant Julia (Bk 1, ch 4, p 55)

This week I saw on face-book many photos of women looking ever so happy in pairs and groups, dressed in 18th century clothes, at the JASNA: the cherry-picking who could come and who was excluded was shamelessly transparent this time, but as I told one friend I felt better off totally excluded because when I go I experience long hours of wasted time in soulless hotel spaces: nothing to do as only 4 to 5 hours have sessions of papers (9 on at a time, so you cannot participate in most of it). Last time I returned repeatedly to the pool where they serve decent whiskey and ginger ale. Another friend said of the 2012 as “the AMG committee thinks that by reducing the numbers who can attend and upping the cost they can “control” who can and cannot enter,” and found “dreadful,” “grown women dressing up, a clubbish attitude, a bovine-like system of hierarchy that puts one in one’s place if you didn’t “belong,” and on and on.” I don’t belong to any of the “clubs” (as in “life-long member reception,” with more and more private parties on in people’s rooms at night) so I’m left with no one and away from all the comforts of my home, in a sense my existence itself. This past week I enjoyed myself at the classes I taught and went to, and the rest of the time at home or in car listening to books, working away at projects so I was not lonely.

I had thought Izzy hadn’t noticed what this conference was like for real (so taken up was she by distracting activities, the sessions she did get to go to, the ball), because she never said anything (and loves to dress up and has learned to go to the ball and dance), but on Saturday evening when we returned from a marvelous performance of Henry IV Part I (Ed Gero as Falstaff unforgettable, so alive) at the Folger Shakespeare library, to eat out together, her talk suddenly showed she had: she said that people join professional organizations (for her librarians) and were they to be excluded from the AGM, what would be the point of paying the yearly fee. Said she, JASNA gets away with this because there is this “pretense of disinterest.”


A good review

I read this week the first of 9 tales of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, “Alphinland,” (also all of The Testaments) and lo and behold it’s about a woman whose husband has recently died and she hears his voice over the day and at night talking to her telling her what she needs to do: it’s just ice-stormed so she must go out and get salt and food stuffs; the electricity goes out, so she must find her candles. Her grown children keep telling her she must move, downsize, sell her furniture, give away his clothes, but she will not because then she will be parted from him. In our end is our beginning, a powerful original early book of literary criticism about Canadian literature and culture by Atwood is called Survival and is about how the harsh cold climate is at the heart of their worlds. Our widowed witch remains seemingly cheerful because his spirit is with her. It is not irrelevant to know that just upon the publication of The Testaments Atwood’s partner of many years died.


Another fine review

I am still suffering from the loss of my supposed friend on the internet because I find letters so wonderful and now I have to get through most of my days without this imagined support. It’s time I learned to do without this — a last left-over from the idealism of the first decade of the Internet when one could make real friends even frequently through this medium. But, to paraphrase Johnson, it may there are some who would dismiss such susceptibility (“common losses”), but he says of their lack of tenderness, they lack humanity:

“It is the part of a man to be affected with grief; to feel sorrow, at the same time that he is to resist it, and to admit of comfort” (Rambler No. 47).

For this week’s Caturday I wrote about my “third” cat and put photos on face-book: I’ve been in a relationship with this cat ever since the man who owns him/her left him (I’ll chose a gender) for two weeks with only someone the owner called his (“my”) daughter visiting the house to leave food for the cat once a day. (Maybe 2 years ago.) There is apparently a way for the cat to leave the house. He first began to visit me during this time when I responded with affection. I left food for him as at first there was no collar and I thought he might be starving. But no he is “owned” by by this man who seems to show him little affection because the cat does not know how to show it easily and moves to hissing nervously. Other neighbors had complained because they saw him on their lawns and he might shit on these. Can’t have that. Or just a sense of nuisance: how dare this animal be there? Then I saw a raccoon and knew I was endangering this cat’s life. I tried calling local authorities but saw quickly all they would do was come and take and probably kill a cat without a “owner, and this one has this legal tie (such as it is)


The cat laying on my sidewalk waiting for me to come out

The cat apparently goes missing once in a while: once the man who owns him came over to see if he was with me — I said no and I had not seen him for several weeks. Nowadays the cat sits under a tree just on the side of my lawn, a bush, or lays on my sidewalk waiting for me. Often when I come out he scoots or walks slowly over to me. He meows at me and waits for me to pet her. I give him a small amount of food once in a while which he finishes quickly but he doesn’t go away. Stays mostly under the bush. He is very wary. He does not expect or know how to show affection: will hiss after he has nudged me lest I hurt him. The other day I saw on his head a shaved spot and wondered if the “owner” had done that. The owner is someone who moved into one of these obscene McMansions in my neighborhood after he married a woman who looks 50 from afar; she has a daughter of her own but they seem to have nothing to do with this cat. He is a small grey cat with white feet; if I thought the cat a boy for sure, I’d call him Martin. The photos were a close-up, him outside waiting for me, walking about me, wanting to be petted, coming over to me when I open my front door ….


Here is the close-up


Him circling me, warily but wanting to be petted

A small instance of basic human reactions this cat has mostly known, ranging from indifference to callous selfishness (neglect) in a world bursting with these … This morning the hairless part of this poor creature’s head has grown larger and looks reddish. He greedily drank the water I put out for him. The cat is going into a new phase. He avoids people — that’s what animals do when they are very ill. He stands aside on the side of my house all elusive, looking at me when I come out to go somewhere or stand in my stoop area looking about. Close-by or passing neighbors have asked me if he is my cat and I say no and they say he comes up to them and acts oddly and is seen now and then about my house. I point to the house of the owner and say “he is said to or does lives there.” There is so much misfortune in this world but this cat could have been taken good care of, and had a good longer life.

Having gone through all four seasons of Outlander (Claire a white witch) now four times, I’m back to re-watching the whole five seasons of the new Poldarks, one episode after another in a row as far as time and evenings allow. I had been doing that for over a month (or so) when my Irish Internet friend sent me DVD copies of the British BBC programs as they appeared on British TV. I much prefer these because the American ones are rearranged, often cut (sometimes drastically or carelessly, which comes down to the same thing).

So coming back to Season 3 (The Black Moon and part of The Four Swans), I am impressed by how a few of this particular season are mood pieces — if you simply ignore (more or less) the specifics of what’s going on, enough of that (like the seashore romance of Drake and Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles), of the setting (as in the episode where our local friends learn that the ship Dwight was in was captured or fear that Andrew Blamey’s ship has gone down), allows for many sequences of filming (or whatever you want to call this) of the sea, the near landscape accompanied by appropriate music. The effect is sort of symphonic — a pleasing visual and aural experience. There are mood sequences in seasons 1 and 2, but I feel that in season 3 this kind of thing is allowed to take over and is enjoyable if you can lend yourself to it. They did not try for this except briefly in the 1970s — they didn’t have the kind of mesmerizing computer techniques (and cameras) they do today.


Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza (season 3)


Elise Chappell as Morwenna following Drake

I’ve also embarked on a study of Austen’s Sanditon, using Janet Todd’s edition, after reading her brilliant essay (crisply written, with a fresh feel), going over and over Davies’s new adaptation, returning to Brindle’s, Anna Lefroy’s continuation. See if I can make some sense of this fragmentary text, written by a dying woman, in bad pain on and off, where the beach, the seashore, the air all around it, is a central character.


From Episode 2 of 8 (2019, an ITV product, scripted mostly by Andrew Davies)

To conclude this entry, a woman on a closed face-book page for “Autistic Women” (how I was told about this or got on I no longer remember) told of how at her new job as a cashier, she found the pace and crowds hard, but was trying hard when one customer accosted her for “not paying attention,” and when the woman kept up this harangue and she tried to explain she is autistic, the woman rushed over to her employer’s office and complained bitterly about anyone hiring such a person. So I wrote:

I have learned, much to an increase in sadness and regret, that if you tell someone of your disability or inexorable problem, far from feeling for you, many will act out contempt and try to expunge you away. Thus the way to protect yourself is not allow most others to see your social predicament. It’s the only way to maintain the respect of the cruel, stupid, selfish, unthinking bandwagon types. And that is why a space like this where we are all here together in candour and true support and friendship can mean so much. It is very hard how one cannot tell but must bear on alone. You expected some understanding instead you got hate — you must tell yourself this woman is horrible, behaved truly horribly and not blame yourself but her even if the world is filled with people who react in such ways to disabilities.


A rare oil painting by Honore Daumier: On a bridge at night — a homeless woman, perhaps refuge, with a child or disabled adult

Ellen

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This photo of my miniature maple in my front yard shows the coming of autumn

Robert Louis Stevenson: Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Dear friends,

Sometimes I think the hardest thing about being without Jim is living in the silence. I can’t remember that he and I kept up a perpetual stream of talk, but I did not experience hours turning into days and sometimes a week where the silence is broken only for a while after Izzy comes home and we have dinner together. October used to be my favorite of time of year: it was (so I thought before global warming) more or less guaranteed no more 90F days by October 1st; I still find the colors of autumn lovely.

Jim and I were married October 6th, 1969, a year to the day we met. His birthday was October 3rd, 1948. But now a new anniversary intrudes: he died October 9th, 2013, and that is now the anniversary that most matters.

I haven’t written because I hadn’t the emotional strength to say what I thought I needed to say if I were to keep this public diary truthful enough. I will keep it brief and general. I endured another of these incidents on a listserv where I end up scapegoated, humiliated, and excoriated — it occurred over a period of 3 or 4 days. I’ve learned since the years on Austen-l to say very little and keep away as much as I can during such distressful times, but not to say nothing and just get off. But a little fodder goes a long way with people intent on getting back. I then experienced a roller-coaster of emotion: strong distress over several days such that I found I had to tell my friend that I see locally (whose name I’ve mentioned here): Panorea picked up something was wrong and asked more than once and finally I told her about it. I know that this does not increase anyone’s respect for me but she did have some wise words about recognizing who is your friend (in the 18th century sense).

Then bitter anger; that morphs into sadnesss, and finally the world seems a bleak and empty place.


Elizabeth Mondragon as Butterfly and Amanda Palmeiro as her faithful servant-woman

Panorea did come with me during this time, a Sunday afternoon, to the In-Series theater in Washington, DC to see a modern appropriation of Puccini’s Butterfly. Extraordinarily well-sung, it was a 75 minute mini-opera where everything but the core of the story is cut away: we have left the Japanese impoverished girl in love, giving herself to the white American man, becoming pregnant, his departure and reluctant return to take the baby from her., then her suicide. Em Scow’s review for DC Metro describes the attempt to make the material speak to us in terms that critique the colonialist perspective of the original opera. Every seat in the auditorium was taken; alas, I couldn’t eat the meal we went out for later (because my denture would not stay on properly) and hadn’t the nerve to tell her then. But we both were much taken by the opera, had a good walk and good time.


Kenneth Branagh as the witty melancholy jester-hero


Cherie Lunghi — the lady who is not for burning

One of the way I dealt with this anguished memory of online betrayal (which did begin to fade) — as I do periods of anxiety, stronger depression than usual, worry-panic — was to work very hard on my projects, and so I was otherwise home a lot for the two weeks before the term began. It’s during such times that I become more aware of the silence. When I am imagining good social worlds I belong to I tend to be able to shut out the silence, and almost hear voices from FB friends and friends on other places on the Net. This is illusion, delusion. I do still shake when I remember how I felt those 4 days. I can’t always sleep as memories break in.

I now think to myself that it’s hard to say where we are safer or can make realer friends: cyberspace where no one can rape or harass you physically but the lack of bodies enables people to misrepresent what was said and there is no recourse against reiteration; or physical space where so much more information comes in immediately.

Luckily I found my book projects unexpectedly going well: Graham’s Marni (at least the opening part) is much better than I had remembered (Hitchcock’s ugly movie had obscured the real tone of the book), his Tumbled House is very good and even better the play it alludes to, Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s not for Burning, which I was able to watch in a quietly thoughtful BBC production with Kenneth Branagh (and a young Susannah Harker in a minor role — she is one of the actresses I like to watch) and Margaret Oliphant did not fail me — the novel I’m reading just now, The Doctor’s Family (a Carlingford novella) has a painfully accurate depiction of what it feels like as a widow immediately after your husband’s death, what you have to face.

Pussycats helps — my real perpetual companions, and I began to participate in Caturday on face-book. Marnie took such extraordinarily good photos of Ian and Clarycat while she cared for them I now have a bunch to share. Here is a close-up of Ian Pussycat (aka SnuffyCat as in Mr Snuffleupagus). He is notoriously difficult to take a close-up photo of, much less one intensely manifesting, and/or actively seeking for, affection.

When he comes over to my chair as I sit in front of my PC computer on my desk, he often does that. It’s the sweetest gesture. When I pick him up, he sometimes hugs his body against my chest with his paws around my neck, his beautiful tail swishing over my keyboard.

One result of this self-discipline of reading (I read the whole of Naomi Mitchinson’s The Bull Calves, most of Jenny Calder’s biography of this remarkable woman) and writing, reviewing a number of studies and books, my notes, all at once — the result I say was I finished the paper in record time, inside 3 days. I’ve never produced one so quickly before. I was chuffed because it does seem to me I am at long last getting the hang of what’s wanted in a paper for a conference and how to produce it. It has taken only 20 years (I began going to conferences in 2000). I also needed to complete the paper before the term started as I now no have the long periods of time (hours on end) that writing a good paper takes. It’s called “At this crossroad of my life: books and movies on Culloden and its aftermath” and I will share it with everyone on the Net who might like to read it in due course — early November.

I returned to blogging too (on reading Miss Mackenzie with Trollope&Peers), and then was just a miracle of efficiency and patience in obtaining a driver’s license (which I am well aware will be used part of the gov’ts mass surveillance programs).

This week teaching and going to classes began. I was too intensely cheered by how well both my classes on Phineas Finn went (Monday and Wednesday afternoons) — just splendid, and especially the second, at OLLI at Mason, where there were fewer people than I’d hoped (meaning maybe after all Can You Forgive Her? was just too long) but the people in the room greeted me with such praise, everyone seemed so friendly, as we went round the room telling names, where we were born, and for each of us (including me) what Trollope books have you read, or how did you come across him? it seems for a number of them it was I who introduced them to this remarkable novelist. Both classes of people seem to be very much enjoying the book and seeing its perceptive relevance.

Coping with the undercurrents of memories, though, when I came home, and (as often happens) hadn’t eaten enough, I overdrank too much wine too quickly and then later on collapsed in exhaustion from the effort.

I am worry about one thing I cannot easily do much about: my upper denture has a crack in it and it’s getting worse. I started the 6 week (I hope it’s no longer) process of having a new denture made — it’s a series of fittings and orders for teeth — the day I returned from Calais. I held off because I hoped the denture would last until next April when the insurance I bought would pay for what Kaiser/Medicare does not. But I saw it wouldn’t do. Now I am genuinely concerned lest it break before the new denture comes. It’s not the difficulty in eating but do I have the courage to go out and teach a class with no teeth in the top of my mouth. I have the semi-permanent denture with teeth on the bottom. (These need work she said and she’ll do that after we finish making and fitting a new top removable denture.) Would the class be able to control themselves and not keep looking with appalled horror at the astonishing sight of a seemingly middle class white woman who is toothless on her top jaw. I think I would go rather than cancel the rest of the term. But it will go hard with me. I am taking the thing off for many hours now, trying to be as gentle as I can when taking it off, cleaning it.


The chapters are set up like months of the year; each section begins with a recipe – it is very l’ecriture-femme

I know I can manage being in a class – so much easier, less demanding altogether, just have to exercise self-control — though I admit that when I go out nowadays without that denture I wear a headscarf in a style where I cover my mouth — I have two cut in the “Middle Eastern” (the phrase is a misnomer according to Adhaf Soueif.) I’ve been going out once a day this week: Tuesday a fun class on Laura Esquivel’s Like Water from Chocolate: it’s taught in a community college kind of way, power-point slides, then we go into groups (luckily some of the mostly women read the book carefully, looked things up on the Net and contributed much). What I want to say most about it is it is a book filled with tremendous cruelty (of a mother to a daughter — she beats her violently to prevent the daughter from marrying and having a life or any manifestation of feelings of her own), and for the first time I realized one of the uses of magic realism is to break up the grimness and insane irrationalities these third-world lives for women inflict on them – the dream fantasies make for pleasure, release. I’ve order the movie (I had not realized it was such a best-seller) and will watch it soon.

Today I attended an excellent class at Politics and Prose on Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love. The two women giving this class produced an immensely thorough presentation (wow), going over history (of Egypt and the brutal colonialist policies of the British followed nowadays by an equally brutal dictatorship by the military and elite Egyptians themselves, really discussing in detail the complicated stories and art of this very Booker Prize type (it recalls Byatt’s Possession) book. What they avoided was how she is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel (that was a remarkable feat but necessary as perhaps one third of the class were Jewish women who I could see horrifyingly accept what this terror state is doing.) Maybe I’ll be moved to write a blog – I wrote about it in a paper comparing it with Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake. I’ve read her non-Booker on the Edge of the Sun, her depiction of the Arab Spring in Cairo and even have her book of essays, Mezzaterra (Fragments from the Common Ground).

To round it the week off, tomorrow I got to OLLI at AU for a first class on Graham Greene in the early morning, Saturday in the later afternoon the Folger autumn concert (I enjoyed the utterly non-commercial simplicity of the presentations, to me an oasis, halcyon) by myself, and then Sunday with Izzy, to the local large library booksale and a nearby movie theater with HD screen where we hope to buy tickets for 2 Metropolitan operas to be aired there in February: Porgy and Bess, and Handel’s Aggripina. We have discovered in the ceaseless devouring commercialism of the Internet today, we can no longer buy these Metropolitan opera tickets at this theater unless we join Fandango (an advertising ticket-selling octopus). We hope to be able to refuse this joining by going directly to the theater and buying ahead at the counter.

I began this diary entry with my feeling sometimes that the hardest thing for me to endure is the silence. I believe I go out to these classes as much to hear human voices talking to one another and to me and to give me an opportunity to talk to others about what is meaningful to me and to them. Yes. Years ago I knew that I bought Books-on-tape for my car so I could feel not so alone as I drove — because even with Jim I was lonely and the voice of the brilliant reader was/is such a comfort. Right now Timothy West is making Phineas Finn such a delight. Izzy is for once listening with me again too.

In the evenings too I have returned to Downton Abbey — the first season at any rate.


Anna (Joanne Froggart) realizing that Mr Bates (Brendon Coyle) has brought her a tray of food


Anne watching him walk away (Episode 4 Downton Abbey 1st season)

The movie arrived in my local cinema art theater, and not altogether convinced it would be this alluring long-lasting hit, I hurried to see it later Tuesday afternoon and then wrote yet another blog — moved to: the trick, the involving magic begins one-third to one-half the way through and doesn’t quite succeed. I was reminded of what had drawn me in so emotionally in the first and parts of the second season so I have added the series to my watching addictively late at night beloved series — returning to old friends, the fourth episode of the first series where Mrs Hughes quietly decides against leaving her position as housekeeper where she feels wanted appreciated needed to be the wife of a man she had loved. Much more than that occurs — a favorite scene for me is when Mr Bates returns the kind favor Anna had done him the night he thought he had to leave (and was crying) by bringing him a tray of supper: he brings her one and the look in their eyes at one another brought peace to my soul. I need more than voices to assuage the aching emptiness.

I went to bed with Clarycat with the memory of their feelingful goodness in my spirit and slept the better for watching.


Close-up of ClaryCat at play with Marnie

Edward Thomas — October

The green elm with the one great bough of gold
Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one, —
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to; and the wind travels too light
To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;
The gossamers wander at their own will.
At heavier steps than birds’ the squirrels scold.
The rich scene has grown fresh again and new
As Spring and to the touch is not more cool
Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful,
Were I some other or with earth could turn
In alternation of violet and rose,
Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,
And gorse that has no time not to be gay.
But if this be not happiness, — who knows?
Some day I shall think this a happy day,
And this mood by the name of melancholy
Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

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:

***********************************
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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Calais Sunset on the beach from high up on a hill —


Me and Izzy on a walk along French coast line — rocks along private/public beach leading to Cliffs opposite the Dover Cliffs

Sitting on a bench on the beach, Laura says, “When I grow very old or can retire, I shall move to Florida, and have summer all year round. Isobel will join me. I reply: “She will never leave her librarian job at the Pentagon until it’s closed (by a Trumo) or she must retire.” Izzy says, “It’s too hot in Florida in summer.” So Laura: “Then we can stay in the house (mine now, I will not be here then, so Izzy’s, to whom I have left my house) In summer and Florida in winter.” Isobel makes no objection. So I sit there imagining them together when I am gone.

Another time Laura says, “I’d like a dog.” I reply, “Only when you give up travel, give yet more of yourself, and are willing to walk him or her every day twice a day.” She replies, “I wish I could walk my cats.” I say, “I’d like a dog once I stop traveling, and if Izzy could accept him or her.” Izzy, “What about the cats.” Me: “Alas, they are not long-lived.”

Laura K: Yep, that’s one of my reasons for not having a dog…

Laura suddenly declaring “we are in the middle of fucking nowhere,” I finding this hilarious.

Dear friends,

I thought I would write my travelogues this time as a daily journal, because this time I came on a kind of voyage of discovery with my daughters. We did not follow a pre-arranged itinerary, where lecturers had been set up, and everything was done for us to provide a specific kind of content or experience. We were doing it ourselves and were not sure what we’d encounter. And part of what I wrote was in response to what others on my timeline (where these entries were posted), said

On the days leading up to the trip, I told people in a brief phrase we had taken a bnb at Calais, and was greeted by a chorus of doubt. What could you possibly do there? Why go there? people just pass through. Here are some of my replies before the trip:


Calais St Pierre Gardens, one of the first places we passed as we walked from the train station with our baggages to our bnb on the beach that first day

It was Laura’s choice. We said let’s go to the beach and then let’s do it in France. So, first she wanted Nice and I pictured tall hideous hotels on a bare beach — which is what I saw when decades ago I stayed at Nice a block away from said beach; so I said Northern France as by train we can get to Paris and maybe London too. So she rented a lovely bnb by the Calais beach. The place does have historicals: the English owned it for centuries, it has prisons, castles, further afield is Proust country. Although this won’t make it sound appealing, it is where The Jungle was located, where refugees congregated in huge numbers until the French gov’t-state apparatus bulldozed it.

Judy S: Oho! It got its first city charter from the husband of the (once and future) nun whose career I was following on my trek in SE England last month.
Me: In fact it is a city or town over-burgeoning with history; a channel port fought over from 14th century (Field of Gold in 16th century nearby) to WW2; a castle, prison, favorite place for mysteries because in history for spies; it’s where the French thought they could marginalize the refugees but found that it grew hugely into The Jungle, which they bulldozed away …. Once and Future Nun — who was this?
Judy S: Marie de Blois/Boulogne is the nun. She was King Stephen’s daughter, also Matilde of Boulogne’s; her last sibling died while she was abbess of Romsey. Matthew of Boulogne/ Alsace/ Flanders, younger brother of Phillip of Alsace/Flanders (Chretien’s patron), swooped in and married her, and they ruled Boulogne for 10 years and had 2 daughters. After a sort of friendly divorce, she went back to the convent, but her older daughter did inherit the title for Boulogne. Other points: for some reason I had always assumed the Field of Gold took place in England; I guess Calais was an interesting venue. I think the refugees were hugging Calais for the same reason, trying to get to England from what looked like a good departure point. Terrible events.
Me: I may be wrong: maybe it took place in England, but I remember going back and forth. Where were Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII first married: I thought they had a religious ceremony in France near the coast …
Judy S: You are right that it was in now-France–or at least Wikipedia agrees with you!


Calais along the canal

Here is my reply when we got back:

A thought: Calais is good for the very reason people seem to pass it by. It is *well-located* and has been for thousands of years; interesting things happened there because it’s well-located and a deep natural harbor, channel port near the Atlantic — half of Dunkirk happened at Calais; the Jungle formed there. Trade routes go through there to Flanders from France. Lace center at one time. The problem was no cabs — the local people are heavily working class, and more or less left liberal in the French way, and middling — it went for Macron and it is now angry at Macron for good reason. And the price of the train tickets. But staying at the beach was perfect. Jim and I stayed in a ducal hunting lodge (for him and mistress and horses) with Izzy one of the summers he was in the NATO group; it was just outside Chichester — cathedral town, with wonderful bookstore, a theater, a festival. Now not far was the Chitterings a beach, and not far London — but you needed to rent a car and drive on the left. There are towns near London and then the shore — the way Austen did it — but you must drive to do it. Buses won’t work. There were lots of buses around Calais: Laura found out the buses (one set round and round the city were for free -every 20 minutes!) and the expensive trains. Phineas Finn goes through Calais twice: to duel with Lord Chiltern and return. Who has not heard of Calais. The field of gold, Henry 8 married Anne Boleyn nearby. What more do you want? It came up first on google when Laura was looking for a very nice bnb on the beach equidistant between London and Paris. It was bombed badly in WW2. But unless you are French, live all along the northern coast or English across the way you would not go regularly. Best of all the beach was beautiful, the sunrises and sunsets, it was unspoilt, a holiday spot for local people, and not commercialized because not advertised as a place to go to; the bnb was so lovely — very comfortable kitchen, fully equipped, large comfortably furnished front room; two separate rooms, three rooms with pictures windows. Filled with light. And inexpensive in comparison to places people are told are alluring.


Walking on beach that first day — we are the other side of the English channel and can see the White Cliffs of Dover in early morning before clouds come

First entry:

I can’t sleep. Probably I am over-excited from the day’s many adventures. Oddly (so I have concluded) when I’ve been up way too many hours I have trouble falling asleep. We (Laura, Izzy, and I) are safely ensconced in a comfortable reasonably well appointed apartment. It has two large windows and glass doors overlooking a truly lovely beach which winds all around the coastline. It became obvious we are in a holiday spot for local people, lots of children, stores brightly lit on an extensive pier offering ice cream, French fries, other delights, at the end of which is a lighthouse. Not far by eye signs of port and harbor — huge ships pass in the distance. I’ve counted 3 lighthouses across this seascape. Our host and hostess (so to speak) kindly and helpful. Tomorrow we must find food for the flat (although the one restaurant we managed yesterday provided me with scrumptious onion soup, very thick with potatoes, cheese, toasty bits if bread and onion that is all I have had for many many hours), bus passes, make small plans on what to do daily beyond the beach and planned trips. We may have to use Uber as there are few cabs. This is a driving community and we are not up to renting a car. The local craft specialty is lace; culturally they are influenced by Flanders still. The young woman (Marni) visiting and caring for my cats has sent photos of Clarycat playing with her and eating, and has glimpsed Ian whisking away (crafty cat). Now for a sleeping pill. Cool winds through terrace.

I am into Phineas Finn. How marvelously does Trollope take you into his book: he overcomes all surrounding circumstance no matter what these are — travel is travail …Also reading book I picked up on The Jungle ( as it was derogatorily called). I watched PBS news and Malcolm Bryant on how these cruise ships are at last being reined in—the towns they exploit are now going to charge them and put up restrictions.

Judy S: That sounds lovely. How long are you staying? This is the second week of the big European vacation, isn’t it?
Me: It’s not a big European vacation ; we are away for ten days or eleven, including travel time. We are staying in Calais and hope onceto take Eurostar to Paris and once to London. We thought another day we’d go to another oval Brittany city or town; someone gave me a list. Today we began to get to know the city, did see a few places tourists and others go to see, and we were at the beach.
Judy S: I meant, the period when Europeans who live in the cities take their own vacations at the beach.
Me: oh I see. I misunderstood. Yes we are away at the time of (to use the phrase Eric Rohmer adopted for one of his movies) “the green ray.” Maybe that is why we are seeing so many people on this beach. The begin to drive up around 11; by 3 no parking spaces in many lots, so they park on the sand or grass. They flit away beginning around 5:30, and by now (well after 7 pm) the evening group is there, ice cream and other shops nearby the beach having opened.
Judy S: I just remembered the term in Italian–Fer’agosto or something like that. I remember enjoying the beach at Rimini, long ago, because you could watch the Italian families enjoying themselves.
Miranda S: Welcome to the world of beach parking! 🙂 Much the same obtains in Spain, before the European schools go back in early September: family parties, including ours (!), set up and stay all day. But my Spanish nieces are amazing competitive swimmers, even ignoring jellyfish (nooo!) as they power across their Mediterranean bay.. Check online what is open in Paris before you go. Shame to get there and find your choice of attractions closed…been there, done that on a day trip! We can travel from our local station to Paris in 3 hours tops, but it is a good idea to check the days of fermeture, before you commit. There are good restaurants round the Gare du Nord, by the way.
Me: probably all is chance on these holidays, at least after securing the plane and place to stay, and a way from plane to place (say a train or a cab) when doing things on your own, there will be misses. That has been my experience.


Harry Potter Fantasy Exit Kings Cross


This sapphire stars is at Victoria Gate, from where our walk began – the artist is Daile Chihuly

Second entry:

So today we took one of our longer day trips—into London by Eurostar. We saw and did a lot, but highlights were the 2 hours in Kew Gardens, a beautiful exhibit of glass art by Chihuly: Reflections on Nature, carefully strewn around a quietly planned rectangular walk from Victoria Gate, eating in a restaurant nearby in business since the 19th century. We walked in Bloomsbury, by the Library; in Kensington and went to the Victoria and Albert museum (should have gone to the Imperial War Museum to see non-French impressionism), were in crowds of people strolling and eating ice cream. For me each return is a return to Jim and aroused memory of many years of companionship and deep contentment. Here he was born, grew up, though it was in the US where he made his way as an adult successful male. Here I married him — at Leeds City Registry office.


Calais — the Notre Dame Garden

Third entry:

Today is partial rest and doing more necessary things. I exchanged a whole lot of dollars for Euros. We bought bus passes, shopped again, saw the local Notre-Dame de Paris. This afternoon the beach. Locally we’ll go through the modern city center (industrial, international, fashion shops, where people work), where are the big working ships we see from far. I have learned (astonishing as this seems) refugees first came to the part of the city where I now am (it has the town hall, parks, churches). Then they were pushed back from the larger coast where the Chunnel is located. A very hard and sad story across many years, still going on, but less so, so rendered invisible. The French British and Dutch authorities were somewhat humane, nothing like the cruel depravity of the US gov’t today. I’m drinking some comforting chamomile tea, eating port salut with French bread. My French (spoken) is coming back, word and simple phrase by word and simple phrase—in execrable Bronx accent. Reading Beauvoir in French to help—a travel book about a time she spent in NYC in the 1940s. At the time she felt it to be a place cut off from the natural world

Anny: Enjoy your deserved trip!
Me: In my old age I am finding the beach magical while I sit on the sand and go in the water.
Diana B: Too funny, French Bronx! My French teacher at Hunter, Madame Hopstein, had a Bronx accent too, so if I still spoke French it would probably be a la Bronx. Glad you are having such a lovely time, though I can see why it wouldn’t be my choice – I already live by the beach, which explains why I crave mountains! Always want something different from what we’ve got…
Me: I miss very much how in NYC on any day, but to do this weekday mornings are best, you can get in your car and in well under 2 hours you are on a beach. Many free. Nothing like that in the DC or Va area: at least 3 hours which means you c…See More Decades ago on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Jim and I would drive with our dog, Llyr, to a small pretty area of Jones Beach where dogs were allowed. She liked the water. We’d bring coffee in a thermos and 2 croissants. Happy moments. I feel guilty that in later years I didn’t want to go to the beach. It was such a hassle, traffic jams (we had to go when everyone else did), have to rent this often snobbish house. I didn’t enjoy the context, and there was nothing to do but the beach. He would have to sit under an umbrella or his skin would burn and peel. Now I wish I had compromised more. It just wasn’t the free and easy thing of NYC — or southern England. We did go to beaches in England in summer where they were close to where we happened to stay for his job: free and easy. Pebbled beaches, cold water, sweaters. You went all the way to England to go to the beach? Partly, yes. We did other things too. So now we go all the way to Calais to go .
Patricia: I loved Jones beach as a child
Me: It was Orchard Beach we went to as children. We were all in the Bronx, and so was Orchard Beach so there were buses. To get to Jones Beach still you need a car. I believe it was your mother and my father who took us; your father worked as a taxicab driver; my father had no car. My mother preferred to go to work.
Diane R: Sounds like you are finding much to do and much variety. It is true we always want what we don’t have.
Me: Vacations take much effort and self control and patience and courage. You’d think they were just more life.
Patricia H: Oh how wonderful to relax on the beach
Me: Do you remember when we were small going to Orchard Beach where my memory says it took 6 buses? Surely my memory exaggerates, and it was a mere 4. Your mother and mine, maybe fathers too—but I don’t remember your father or my mother there, just your mother but that cannot be, as more than one adult had to carry blankets, towels and plastic picnic containers. I remember my father there, faintly. The sand was so white and hot, the water calm, all under a wide blue sky. All 4 cousins.
Patricia H: “Just remember Jones and Rockaway beach when living in the Bronx. Then I guess wading river beach on long island ( went every day)
Me: We never went to Jones Beach unless someone had a car. Your and my mother could not drive. My mother would never have gone in such a jaunt if she had somewhere else to go to in order to make money working. My father bought his first car when I was 13. Your father’s cab was the company’s and used for his livelihood. Rockaway is available by public transportation from Brooklyn, as is Coney Island. Not the Bronx. Yes once Aunt Helen sold her house to my father, and he basically made it a family house, we all went to the beach on Long Island’s north shore—very pebbly, high cliffs. The nearest town was called Wading River. Early on (before my father bought that house) we somehow were all at that house and experienced two devastating hurricanes that hit the North Shore: Diana and Carol. Do you remember these? Again the only two adults I remember in one frantic flight from one of these two hurricanes was my father driving and your mother sitting in the back of a rented car. Ask Richard what he remembers. The waters came up to the top of the cliff and Freddy Eilmer’s bar. It was terrifying.
Patricia H: Gosh I don’t remember the hurricanes. Yes the bungalow was a summer place for the family. All aunt’s vacations took care of all kids during summer, even aunt Stella. Aunt Stella would buy Danish from that bakery one time your mother watched us
Me: Yes I remember that extraordinary set of boils you developed on your back, and going to a doctor in Riverhead (who had many patients). You may remember my mother being there, because it was so rare. She took you (with me along) to a doctor that day. I went to camp only once and hated it, but I did not come regularly to that house (we did call it “the bungalow”) until after my father bought it. There are (or were) photos of me as a young child in front of a water pump and that can only have happened in the early days of that house. I remember Bill building it (with others) and saying this would kill him. I remember later in time Aunt Stella going to a bakery to bring back morning rolls and cakes on Sundays. Yes I have some memories of comfortable happy times in that community—dances on Saturday night at the end of the block, a place called the Sugar Bowl where teenagers hung out and all bought ice cream. I believe Carol met Billy there, a fateful moment for her entire future.
Patricia H: I do remember the dances at the end of the Street, I loved it. I think building the bungalow did kill Uncle Bill in the end
Me: he died young, early fifties, as you will recall a sudden heart attack. Building that house with his bare hands and tools and knowledge gained so slowly was just another of the stresses he endured. His wife was a hard and could a mean woman (she would refuse to talk to him in their house for weeks). He job as a printer was long hours and hard physical labor; the union helped until technology defeated the printers and the old good jobs began to disappear. He voted against his own interest (the Republican Party has been fiercely anti-worker since the end of the 19th century; nothing has changed there). He might have been happier had he been able to divorce and build another life or (staying) had a son. Carol is now fierce Republican. My mother went back to remunerative work when I was an infant; at age 3 I was left with Helen and she washed my mouth out with soap over something I said, and my father would not leave me with her again. If she was a pitiless woman (as was her mother though not so obtuse). Life paid her back. Among other things, her daughter married who she did to spite her. The scary thing about these Trump worshippers is he has become a God and die of or for hatred for them. Of course they will not put it this way.
Michele Reday C: Sounds like a great trip! Bon Voyage traveling in France!


Paris — the Seine


Paris — morning tour of Marais, ends on cheese and wine tasting


Paris the Musee D’Orsay


Musee D’Orsay hall

Fourth entry:

Today we spent the day in Paris and I can testify to a truly interesting and at moments transformative time. Laura had been determined to join this tour called “Paris by mouth.” The very name embarrassed me. It is misnamed. Perhaps testing food tour with somewhat nationalistic lectures intended to impress ( in front of apparently prestigious maker of remarkable food) would be more accurate—as in fact I got little to eat. (Very like a “Whiskey night” in Scotland which was sillily presented as an opportunity to be drunk when it was the barest tasting with similar long speeches.) The frame was historical: we walked all around Marais, (swamp), an ancient area of Paris, once a slum, now gentrified with these exquisite expensive shops. It was not widened in the 1870’s. Then drinking wine and eating good cheese. Lots of museums, and older buildings. Then in the afternoon I was dazzled by the Berthe Morisot exhibit in the Musee d’Orsay. I bought the first big heavy art catalogue book I have for years: so many pictures I’d never seen before. Reproductions well done. She has her own peculiar technique — and her own outlook and mood. Maybe now justice will be done. I will try to write on her separately.


Berthe Morisot, Field of Wheat

We wandered about the rooms of beauty—impressionist and post-impressionists, which I have not seen or not seen for years; then walked along Seine, saw what’s left of Notre Dame, the Louvre from far. Time was up: no time for a book and DVD store hard to find (as in “you can’t miss it” — “oh yes I can”). We did manage a bookstore in London. It was time hurry down to underground Metro to find our way to train to return to Calais. Laura took many photos. Tomorrow the nearby Cliffs by bus and the museum of lace work, and then we have earned another time at the beach. Not that we are not there right now as I look down from the terrace and listen to the sounds of the water and people in restaurants on pier while typing this. Someone playing the guitar and singing. I have neglected some (to me) funny moments. Laura suddenly declaring “we are in the middle of fucking nowhere.” I found this hilarious. Me telling her travel is liminality, and liminal time is anxiety-producing for me, and her answering: to me travel is getting from one place to another, with Izzy explaining “this is an anthropological concept used in other contexts—no longer uncommon”. Laura then looking this up on Wikipedia on her trusty cell phone.

Diana B: I love you can’t miss it, yes I can. Know it well!
Diane R: I too have experienced “you can’t miss it” as the guarantee you will!


Cap Blanc-Nez — Cliffs along the north coast of France


Escalles from the cliffs as high as we were permitted


Cap Blanc Nez looking down

Fifth entry:

I sent to face-book a panoramic photo of one of the two sets of cliffs on the Brittany shore we visited by bus today. They belong to the Calais area. It’s a scene of great natural beauty, but its interest is it was taken over and used by the Nazis after they conquered France. Huge machines of war, technology, and displays of military might were brought here and broadcast from 1941 on. The Germans tried to help their side from here in the Battle of Britain. Then when the Nazis felt they could not invade Britain, they surveyed the British coast and listened. From here Rommel had himself photographed surrounded by other known Nazis. The Germans fueled deadly planes with bombs from here. They succeeded in preventing the Allies from landing in Brittany (the landing was Normandy). Propaganda to intimidate was sent from here. Not long ago many encampments of refugees spread out along this coast.


The Nazi monument


Flowers Nearby

Today the cows, sheep, people enjoying themselves walking, swimming, bicycling, dressed up to eat out in nearby elegant restaurants were what was visible. We all three spent a long morning using local buses exploring the coast, walking mostly. At one point while waiting for a bus an English gentleman type said to me “how strange to come here for a holiday when there are so many more interesting places to visit.” The choice of Calais as a beach also puzzles all but the people who live here and also come to visit. Laura said I should have asked him why he is here, the puzzle comes because you are supposed to go to Nice.

Diane R: Lovely–it seems to me you are precisely in an interesting place because not everybody goes there. Those places are the true finds–and you are conveniently or semi-conveniently located near two major cities.
Me: I should have said it was Laura who took this and several other magnificent photographs.
Judy S: I was going to ask. That’s the sort of thing I would never bother to learn because when will you need it? But you are right, it is magnificent.
Me: We learn things for the joy of knowing and being able to do things, here remembering how it felt. What need does anyone have of Arthurian legends? What use 18th century poetry? Remember Lear on never ask a person what he or she needs? What use are so many thing I spend my existence on?


Sunset from our Window

Sixth entry:

Around 9:30 pm Calais time on Thursday evening. I am sitting on this terrace which closely overlooks the beach. The beautiful colors of the sky (pink, orange, faint yellow, shades of darkening blue) are finishing and fading. The sea has gone dark blue. I can, though, still hear the surf, and sounds of cars passing, human beings below, all around sbout. It is very cool, and soon (in this light nightgown) I shall have to go on the other side of the glass sliding doors.


Dunkerque beach


Dunkerque Park


Dunkerque Monument on beach ….

Today we made it to Dunkirk by local train and back. It was an 8 mike walk altogether across the city to the Dunkirk park and garden (with sculptures including one of red poppies) to the monument on the beach, and them a converted large bunker now a museum. A video of about 15 minutes made up of clips and films of the events and swarms of people, ships, planes over the for days. Countless died, the French who were rescued were returned to Vichy France and taken prisoner. Some of Churchill’s speeches, to its credit also the one where he said one does not win a war by evacuation. The museum itself made up of arefacts found rotting and otherwise on the beach, photos, and (like the African-American museum recreations using mannequins. Tonight the finest level of food (like a poor fish caught) simply but rightly cooked. I now retire to Amy Goodman news report (if I tell the name I get a picture that functions as an ad) and the Judy Woodruff hour (dittto) via this iPad to hear the latest, and then absorb myself in Trollope’s Phineas Finn.

Brent Donna R: Sounds enchanting!
Me: Laura’s message (and another panorama on her timeline) remind me that alongside a bridge just by the Beach not far from the Memorial too was a young man playing the bagpipes. Why he was doing this we could not know, but it was the right music for the spot.
Brent Donna R: It is all so amazing! Bagpipes have become a symbol of mourning and remembrance.


Calais Lace Museum from outside


Olivier Theyskens fashions — just two pictures from vast exhibit and slowly stunning experience of history and art

Seventh entry:

So today we saw a remarkable exhibit tracing the history, art, and uses of lace and lace-making — it is all women’s art gradually integrated, modernized, capitalized upon, often taken over by men. It was not dull but continually alluring and insightful. Two huge floors, from earliest ingenious tools and ceaseless female labor (I thought of Wolf Hall where Mark Rylance watches Natasha? as Liz, Cromwell’s wife intuitively winds several threads at once) through all stages of industrialization and fashions. Accompanied by just the right examples of complicated technology (amazing machines), beautiful lace objects as part of all sorts of clothing as one moved through the ages. Dressed mannequins embodying each decade. All in soft lighting. This Musee de La dentelle Calais was also showing an exhibit of Olivier Theyskens fashions which seemed some how fitting. I was reminded of the Laurent Versini exhibit two summers ago now. I was enthralled then too, but there is no single catalogue book of the museum—only this exhibit and individual books on individual topics. I loved many thing there, elegant subdued versions of late 19th and some early 20th c fashions, but tonight the colors he achieved in some of the dresses stand out in my,ind: curious rich dark reds and acqua-blues.

I did not know the punch holes of the earliest machine made lace are the true origins of computer tech.

We had taken a bus again round and round, this time allover Calais, and beyond, and had learned of a Musee des beaux arts, by a park garden, which we went to in the later afternoon. There was interesting modern urban art exhibit , a few older masterworks, but nothing as a whole surpassing like the lace museum. (Photos from Laura presently).

And we finally reached the local vast cathedral:— a Notre Dame, much bigger than I thought it would be, begun in tenth century as partly a fort, expanded in 13th century (so very high spaces, arches, windows, columns, the like); beautiful Tudor garden; then again the two world wars hit hard, and it was bombed and all glass windows destroyed; now slowly being replaced by modern stained glass art.I admit the churches in France seem to leave me cold. Too overly ornate, busy with absurd statues and (to me) gilded decorations. It was funny to see a row of such statues lined up against a wall: no where else to put them, they looked so out of place.

That sigh of relief and quiet I sometimes feel in a church (so I wish there were no tour guide or groups of people) I am feeling rather on the beach in these past couple of years. Yes. Something contemplative takes over—some experience of reaching nature’s rhythms and letting go by just going and sitting there. Though part of it the moments in the water staring at the sky. I look out and see the blank wall that encloses us as earth’s atmosphere.

We did the beach too today, Izzy wanted to; then got all the way in and frolicked in the waves—it was windy most of the day. Watching the conscientious lifeguard I suddenly recalled a time when I was young on Rockaway beach where the waves were wild and high. I hear my father’s voice saying to me “watch those guys, they are perpetually pulling people out.” Sure enough. They are not just there as show-off males but watching intently and with those tubes suddenly running in and pulling people out. How old could I have been? Today’s French young man nearly scolding a couple with two small children going out foolishly far.

Another extravagant gourmet dinner and then the serene beautiful sunset over the Channel. I can’t sleep, overexcited from so much in the day.

Patricia H: Oh I would have loved to see the lace being made. Four years ago we toured the Biltmore in North Carolina.They had a mannequin displaying of beautiful simple lined lace wedding gown. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Me: If that is a super-rich family’s mansion in Asheville, I’ve been there. It resembles an English country mansion.
Patricia H: Yes Ellen, we were going on a trip for our 50th anniversary , Richard invited us to stay with them. He lives in South Carolina about 45 minutes away.


Lille Braderie statue – many of these lined the streets — enormous balloon looking sculptures


Lille Art Gallery museum — closed, far shot includes Izzy sitting on square


Lille — a 17th century building

Eighth entry:

Win some, lose some. Laura declared us defeated at Lille today. I am not sure it was an unmitigated disaster. What happened is when we arrived (after a slow non air-conditioned train trip 1 hour and 1/2) was we were confronted with a mass fall festival. We and 3 million other people had come to the already fourth largest city in France, for today & tomorrow all northern France seem to come to Lille for this early September festival cum-art and flea market. Also a fun fair in the Central Park area (so I named it), which effectively cut us off from a famous huge protective wall and fortress we had thought we would see from the outside (no ordinary people allowed in). The rides were as scary as anything in Coney Island. People, people everywhere. Eating, drinking, buying, milling about, all talking French. The famous Louvre-like museum ( if you believe the hype) was for free, but we get in and discover all the art is closed off, and what’s left, a massive used book sale. If there were any quiet nice restaurants, they were obscured by masses of on the spot cafes. Loud bands, and unrecognizable celebrities everywhere. I felt we saw the culture of the area. Jim would have said as he did of local flea markets and “estate” sales of Alexandria, Va, so-and-so is putting her shit out. We did see and Laura photographed still standing 17th century complex buildings (beautiful if we could have gotten closer, a cathedral (gothic, maybe 14th century). My guess is for reasons I now nothing of the Nazis neglected to bomb this place flat. So we got back on the train and returned to Calais.

High winds and strong chills here so Izzy and I stayed in to make ourselves plain pasta and scrambled egg. Yet it felt very hot this afternoon in Lille. I probably now have a bad cold and sore throat.

We are recovering. Tomorrow a beach day (weather permitting). I’ll try to phone my lovely taxi man who made London and Paris possible, to confirm he’ll be here Monday morning at 8:30 am to take us to the local train station or we are “up shit’s creek.” I haven’t learned to use Calais numbers. I never thought I’d say this but outside Paris (and maybe truly large cities) France is in desperate need of Uber.

Me: This morning I could see the whit cliffs of Dover from this terrace. This evening fall has arrived. Suddenly much colder, a deep low tide so human figures seen far out. The water dark blue.
Rictor N: You will laugh at the memory in the future.
Me: Towards the end of most “times away” (how I term what others call holiday, vacation, travel) I often find myself repeating a line from Austen’s Mansfield Park. Fanny Price has been at Portsmouth over a month now, and has realized she now thinks of Mansfield as her home, and repeats a line from one of Cowper’s poem voicing what a boy might feel in one of those boarding or public schools: “ With what intense desire she wants her home”
Diana B: Yup. I have thought of that line on every single trip I ever took, no matter how magnificent! And, what Rictor said.
Me: That’s interesting, Diana, from the way you picture and comment on your trips I would not have expected such a sentiment. No I won’t eventually laugh st what happened today. Remember some truths are omitted (of what occurred). Maybe I’ll be able to cry. It’s hard for me to let myself cry. I’ve hardly cried over Jim’s death when I think about how I’ve felt and all I’ve Endured since. Once a bit older, Fanny cries only when her cruel aunt and stern uncle emotionally assault and berate her.
Diana B: But of course – I have almost always said “with what intense desire,” and to *you*; I know we picked up the saying of it from each other! 🙂 It is true, most of my trips have been the very greatest happiest memories of my life, the things that stand out, and there has been surprisingly little negative, little for me to “hold back,” not to tell on Facebook. Even so, there is always that “intense desire” moment, to be home. To be with Peter and Paul and the cats, my quiet routines. And THAT thought is what reconciles me to the fact that even the most glorious trip has to end. So I say it. It is good to travel; and it is good to go home.
Me: I do hope I have not given the impression this trip has been magnificent. There have been interesting new and good times. And I have yet to get home without going through an ordeal; if I manage that, on the whole it’ll have been worth the time, effort (considerable), patience, self-control and money. Oh courage too.
Diana B: Ellen no, I didn’t get the impression you’d ever said “magnificent.” That’s my feeling about trips because, living in bland California, they mean everything to me. My impression about your trip was that it was curious how many people’s reaction was like mine, “Why Calais?” and you proceeded to show everyone why! Because it IS interesting; because it is France, and Europe, and history; and because staying off the beaten tourist track is often the very wisest thing to do! That you banged into a tourist event by accident just proves that point – but these things do happen, and by no means “ruin” a whole trip: of course not! Have a nice last day or two, a safe trip home, and it will have been a very fine and successful family trip indeed, and one to *your* taste, no one else’s! And that is what matters.
Me: Yes that is what I was doing: showing this is a remarkable and vacation-beach place. I ought to be paid. But I have also been writing to write somewhere. I find face-book is the cyber space I can write easiest in using my iPad. Finally these are diary entries, capturing my actual mood on the day of whatever it was. They will save me the trouble of writing a travel blog for this trip. I will string them altogether with a few pictures from Laura. I could write separately on that museum of lace because Izzy did come away with a free full description (with a few pictures) of the place. That would be interesting for Austen, considering how she probably spent too much time sewing—as women did then. And remember her shoplifting aunt stealing a card of white lace.
Diana B: Yes, the diary aspect and ease are among the things I do like about Facebook. Ideal for running trip descriptions – satisfying to write, and everyone likes to read them, too.
Me: I looked up Lille for the first time on Wikipedia; it is a major city in the region, with a long (2000 BC), varied history (sometimes Flemish, part of Burgundy in medieval times, then again French, took an individual position during the Revolution,alas occupied by Germans during both world wars). Prosperous from its textile industry originally, now fourth largest city in France. Hubbub for modern travel. The Braderie fair which we encountered yesterday dates back to late medieval times; it attracts 2 to 3 million people.
Brent Donna R: Taking trips away is courageous. It is change which most fear. Brava to you Ellen!


Poppies are seen in many places — this is from the two cliffs


The Seagulls

Ninth entry:

Today a relaxing day by and around the beach front, watching mingling with people and birds. Air has too much bite, wind and water without strong heat too cold to get in. Izzy taking photos of nearby aggressive seagulls. I bought from supermarket some yummy onion soup; with that, scrambled eggs and wine and tea I nurse my cold. Izzy and Laura plan an inexpensive meal tonight in one of the beach places; Laura tells me (and I tasted some) French soft ice cream is delicious. We cleaned up, packed, ready to be out of the apartment by 8:30 am tomorrow; if taxi does not show, Laura assures me it’s less than a 20 minute walk, even with bags, and I figure that’s so, so we should make our first train home at 9:06 am.

Now very sunny, light cool winds, near 6 o’clock, we sit on terrace watching: a steady stream of cars coming onto the beaches (ours is just one) for the last hour, more, also buses: groups on young people on bikes; young men on noisy motorbikes; a scene of people enjoying themselves in various ways; lots of family groups, all sizes and types; their dogs; many birds, especially seagulls; one side ice cream, fast food places, two piers, lighthouses, fishermen, beyond that Dover ferries going back and forth across the channel. One the other more apartment houses with terraced condos, playgrounds, restaurants. Lots of voices and sounds. I read Phineas Finn, Isabel watching tennis on iPad, Laura busy with cell phone.

Day and night, night and day, ceaselessly the two ferries go back and forth from Dover to Calais, Calais to Dover. Daytime you see whole huge ship carrying cars, on decks little passengers seen from afar. Tall stacks are engines. High cabins for captain and crew? But at night ship vanishes and instead you see a kind of odd vision: you see moving slowly high rectangular rooms ablaze with neon and other lights, inside the frame up and down lines with more faded lights, as these rooms seemingly tirelessly go back and forth. Sometimes the two are passing in front and behind one another. At first I didn’t realize these rectangles were the ships as visible at night. From our large picture windows …

Miranda S: Britain is an island. We need those ferries for our food and to connect us with the rest of Europe…along with the tunnel, which is admittedly quicker but lacks the sea views.

Lastly, a Calais sighting in my novel: Lord Chiltern challenges Phineas to a duel. Dueling illegal in England by that time and liable to prosecution so they do it on the sands of a Flemish beach. How do they get there? Why all four plus doctor separately head for Dover and then to Calais before proceeding to Bruges and these sands on the other side of (in the middle of fucking) nowhere. And then back through Calais crossing over to Dover… We could see the white cliffs of Dover from our terrace on clear days.

Pictures of our cats while we were away


Clary Cat close up — Marni was very loving to her


Clary comforting Ian


Ian alone, early on he looked harrowed, and here is more himself

Tenth and last entry:

I’ve been home for over 24 hours but am having a hard time re-adjusting (sleep patterns all awry) plus so much to do to catch up and compensate for not being here (like doing my bills) so no time for diary entries or blogging as yet. I want to say after the long ordeal home, especially the tiny space in the plane where I didn’t have enough room to lean down to reach my purse or fold my knees, I am convinced a law should be made that airplane companies are not allowed to have more than half the number of people per plane I was with on this last plane. All Americans should boycott all planes until such a cut in numbers is achieved. As the plane landed safely and became a jam-packed bus, and we escaped that crazed scene …

I did turn to Laura and say of the whole time since first we met at the counter at Dulles 11 days before, “The charm is wound, the deed done” [paraphrases from Shakespeare], we had a good time, no? Yes” she said. As we parted at the cab stand, I said, “you this way, we that.” We all 3 had agreed maybe we’ll do it again in another year and one half. But it was a wrench to turn away.

Diana B: Do it sooner!
Me: It cost a great deal of money. I’m already committed to going with a friend on a Road Scholar in August 2020 to “Enchanted Ireland” (maybe it’s 12 or 14 days?) and twice a year would run me out of money before I die.
Diana B: I see and understand your point entirely!
Me: I would go quicker if I could. Izzy and Laura pick up their share too and they too have to watch expenses. Want to know what we dreamed of this time? a week or so in London or near some Italian lake in the north of Italy at different times of year (not August into September).
Diana B: We have to find the right balance between having enough to live on, and not wasting our last good traveling years *not* traveling. I think a sight of Italian lakes is essential to stock up one’s minds eye with what Byron and Shelley and Mary saw!
Me: Well there are other things I enjoy much more than touring or living in another culture for a while (or returning to Jim’s); the travel itself (the long distance to get to where you tour) is a miserable ordeal. This year I had more happiness is other ways than this past week or so. So I’d say finding the right balance for what you find pleasure in and what you need — for example, in my case, teeth to eat with. No small expense for me. Yesterday it cost me $1095.00 for a new denture as my old one is cracking and for some seal to keep the old one in repair in the meantime. This after the Kaiser discount and paying for Delta Dental supplementary insurance. Laura’s medical bills are very high because ACA has been decimated of funding. She pays for her “office,” with its two computer screens and printer. Izzy’s deepest pleasure is watching ice-skating, tennis and writing. There are books I delight for hours in: I brought home an expensive beautifully made book filled with the art and essays on Berthe Morisot. There’s making sure my house is comfortable and paying people to clean, keep the yard, also keep my car in good order. Moments with friends out somewhere in local space … there’s walking in the woods on snowy evenings, which Frost forgets to tell us cost (as in it costs to breathe ….). Ian was harrowed in the first couple of days; Clarycat is continually half-crying looking about to make sure we don’t vanish. They matter too.


Tree Next to Calais station

Final thought several mornings and long days and nights back home again: it does not matter as much where you go, or what you specifically do at all — as long as what you are doing relaxes and gives you pleasure. The deeper reason for going away is going away. You escape your condition: whatever is the place you live in and all its troubles, and right now the public world of the US is infused with vileness and punitive exclusionary policies, much of them based on money, but others on the spectre of imagined identities. For me I escape the thoughts that bother me daily about who I’ve become, what I have not done in life, if you will my failures, and some of these are hard for me to accept even now. I escape my isolation for hours, maybe it’s for another kind but it is one that is another kind. In this holiday time away I was with two people I care about very much and hope care about me. The result is refreshment, a different perspective partly from the coloring of the area in which we found ourselves, and when you dare a new place, you never know what it is. So it can be a learning experience if you open up to it, don’t insulate yourself though accident, anxiety, and mistake, and all that liminality can bring will have to be endured. It was a good time for us on the whole, new places, renewed thoughts of old (for me, Jim again and my life with him), different books to read. I read the book about the Calais immigrant townships that sprung up and (like Occupy Wall Street) were destroyed, though not so ruthlessly as in the US, Michel’s Agers’ The Jungle, which will be the first book I’ll blog on on JimandEllen when I begin that blog again.

All that said our favorite places and experiences were at the two cliffs and walking along the northern coast of France, the Cite de la dentelle et de la mode (as the Lace Museum Frenchified it), the Kew Gardens experience. All day in Paris came next. Best of all our beach and the scenes from our high windows. From Philip Larkin’s High Windows:

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

It was the kind of holiday time away Jim would have liked; he would have been moved by the Dunkerque beach, museum, bagpipes. I shall now try to re-see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, with Mark Rylance saving us all, quietly in his unobtrusive sweater on his and his son’s fishing boat.

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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Simone de Beauvoir’s early existentialist essay

Frank: Might you have forgotten him, with time?
Claire: That amount of time doesn’t exist — “All Debts Paid” (Outlander 3:3)


Frank (Tobias Menzies) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) — Boston, 1968: he the tragic figure

Hope is the thing with feathers — Emily Dickinson

Friends and readers,

I get so tired sometimes. I want to stand or to sit ever so still, and hold my head with my hand on my forehead, over my eyes, and to keen. To give way at last. I am so fond of my nearly furniture-less sun-room. I wonder what Jim would think of it. I’ll never know. He would laugh, not mockingly. I do not remember him ever laughing mockingly. No jeers. His laughter was ever kind, gentle teasing, cordial, lightening up life. If it were not that I fall asleep because my one plush rocking chair is so comfortable, I’d sit there many hours in sunpuddle reading.

I seem this summer to be feeling more grief than I have in a while. I was so stunned that first year. It may be how things accumulate: this summer I realized too late (typical of me) that the ISECS (International 18th century society) meet in Edinburgh in July was one to go to — I could sense it from the photos I saw on face-book. To have been there then. I would have known enough of the people. I would have walked new streets that I’ve not tried, alleyways, maybe seen a play. I had been earlier this year regretting that Jim and I didn’t go to a Renaissance Society meeting that was held in Florence: he wanted to go in the early 2000s, but I was still so seared from a time in the 1990s when I tried on my own and was shattered by the experience — I knew no one and found it an endurance ordeal. He was right: we could have learned so much while we saw what was worth seeing; he would have been with me this time. Not so here. Now it’s come to me my reason for resolutely turning away, that my idea that I wanted to teach to take up the full six weeks had not taken into account I could have gone by saying I would teach a 3 week session at the OLLI at Mason summer session; no one would have minded. Why didn’t I think of this? Ah, if there is ever a next time.

Jim used to say when I’d cancel a class at Mason where it was a matter of required courses with grades, and it seemed no one or few minded at all, why didn’t he have a job like that; one where when he didn’t show up, many were relieved ….


Giovanni Volpato and Louis DuCrois, Temple to Sybil, Tivoli (1750) — once the wallpaper on Jim’s laptop (now mine, with a different picture

And then I had a panic attack trying to find a restaurant on a central Alexandria Old Town Street — having been invited to lunch there by two thoroughly monied Northwest DC-resident women (from the OLLI at AU). But he has missed so much. I merely miss my friend, my partner, the daily absence, the easy fun together.

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


Clarycat this past Wednesday morning ….

I thought for this entry I’d transcribe my notes from a remarkably at moments exhilarating class experience I’m part of at the Politics and Prose bookstore for 3 evenings, 6-8 pm: it’s called “3 Odd Humanists,” but it’s about three existential texts and writers: Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism” (it’s not), Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity (Of Ambiguity is a more accurate, indeed close translation), and Weil’s The Need for Roots (Uprootedness in French). Ten highly intelligent some well-read people all reading the text, with a professor, David Johnson, from Georgetown who comes prepared. He startled me the first night by beginning with Plato and Aristotle. I remembered back to my early undergraduate days reading “selections” of philosophy by myself (300 people in the class, we sat in a vast lecture hall while the teacher talked on up front) for a required course whose absurd title I can’t quite recall.

I enjoy also when I come out around 8 and the sky is just darkening seeing how crowded the store is (a lecture upstairs will be going on), the people drinking, eating, reading and taking notes in the store (one guy at a table surrounded by books and papers), outside in the street everyone eating ice cream (I finally saw where the ice cream store is further along on the block), people sitting on benches, strolling about, eating out on the sidewalk by or in a restaurant, a good city life scene. Once three summers ago Vivian and I bought ice cream cones in a crowded store in Old Town in summer, it was around 9:30, people milling people all about us, two blocks from the river, an uncommon scene (some special event had occurred earlier in the day). I even ate mine. Then on both occasions, I could come home to my bed, my cats, my house, and relax. This time I ate supper and started this blog. I gather at Politics & Prose this kind of thing goes on almost nightly.

I want to transcribe a few scattered notes in the context of my own reading of the three books thus far. My handwriting is so feeble, the class proceeds by conversation mostly, not lecture, but I suspect I’ll get more out of what was said or remember some of it by writing the notes out, turning my Pitman stenography and memory into readable English.

What is now wonderful about philosophy is I’m learning it’s about finding a rationale, an encompassing perspective for oneself (with others) which explains and predicts how things are and can comfort. A kind of meaning or patterns. And it’s fun to do. The last or only time I took a real philosophy course before was a small class where we read a new book each week, starting with Sophocles, moving “through the ages” and languages, to include Dante’s Inferno, and on to 20th century texts: each time, in a manic way I thought, interpreting what we read to show that this text too exemplifies Heidegger’s existentialism — as explained to us in a readable more or less coherent text by Magda King. And it worked each time! after a while I could parrot and apply the Heidegger as-told-by King outlook to the point of getting an A+ in that course. But I did not see my own thoughts, feelings, acts intimately in terms of existentialism; that is what we are encouraged to do in these grown-up sessions.

So, on to what I have from Sartre & Beauvoir & Weil thus far:

Sartre (translator Carol Macomber): “In reality things will be what men have chosen them to be. Does that mean I must resort to quietism [conform]. No.” So in my life that means that although I was born to very poor unconnected parents, I ignored all attempts to make me make a life’s choice based on making a middle class income. Instead I chose literature, writing, and ended with low paid teaching (because that’s what the society has chosen for someone like me who does this ….)

I see Prof Johnson said that Sartre shows us a paranoid view of reality and what Sartre says we must do is move deep into our own minds and remain true to them. We are obligated it seems to feel the reality of anguish and abandonment when we realize we cannot turn to others to create our own meaning; at the same time as irrespective of others, no matter how they might try to stop us, we must fulfill our talents. We find we are here existing. (This reminds me of Heidegger’s thrownness.) The individual exploration of the self is what matters. We are a presence to ourselves. At the same time we must be responsible for our acts. If circumstances are against your doing something, Sartre says it is still cowardly not to do it — he insists you have the potential or capacity to act so not to act is a choice. David Johnson said that for Sartre subjectivity is your presence in the world.

He asserts that human relationships are fundamentally hostile. I fear this is so. We must affirm the value of what we choose. Must we?

He seems to think morality must have a broader scope than sympathy and devotion to another. Yet the concrete goal of helping another (rather than the vague group) is more useful. Reality alone counts. Dreams expectations only serve to define us as broken dreams, abortive hopes, and thwarted expectations. I feel I am in Samuel Johnson’s world here.

One problem I found is that Sartre is prescriptive, not descriptive as I remember Heidegger was. I think of an old Bible story about how if you are given certain talents, you must use them or God will punish you. No one supernatural will punish you in Sartre’s scheme — but yourself. He is unforgiving. I also found him defensive — especially against communists (!) who he said demanded that we give ourselves over to group idea or set of ideas. Thus we lose our freedom. Why not just ignore them? He was very bothered by Camus’s Stranger because he felt the book argued for the futility of any attempt to explain the world. (This is a branch of nihilism, commented the teacher). He says we must ignore others and yet himself cannot dismiss someone else’s admired book. Sartre says what has happened today is a breakdown of central social systems, so that people are aware their way of life is not universal nor their norms or values: we daily live in close proximity to disillusionment, disenchantment because we have woken up. Now to me we are with Kant saying that the enlightenment is a movement where we are adults and our own authorities based on our own experience and developing judgement.

How is existentialism humanism I asked the teacher: because we are centering ourselves on ourselves, on people relationships; through people the world is created. Well, I’d say in part. I read that Sartre says humanism is thinking man is the end we work for, humanity the supreme value. Well this is just wrong. Other animals count too and we must value them and act for them as much.


Ian this very morning on what was Jim’s desk, now my third library table, with the laptop on it too.

My notes on Beauvoir are more coherent and extensive. I felt that she was explaining Sartre — it is an early work, before The Second Sex, before any of her novels and long memoir.

The past is never to be used as a template for the present — David Johnson’s comment on a passage by Beauvoir which is not my understanding of her.  To me she subtilizes, nuances, and interjects an ethic of care. We might say hers is the woman’s point of view, his the man’s. She is concretely about politics and  the cruelties of fascism (as is Weil):

I know that Beauvoir write at her outset our nature has two basic impulses we must obey: to disclose ourselves to others and to will, to act out what we want or feel as mirrored by this disclosure. (She was accused of essentialism.) I thought how solitary confinement is a form of torture: the person can neither disclose him or herself, nor can he or she will an effective act.

Well, Johnson said for Beauvoir subjectivity is terrifying, as we are a mere small presence in a particularly unjust or evil world. She does insist that evil is real, that there are bad actors in the world, they rise to power and will evil. There can be no general ethics for all. We are left in ambiguity. We find ready-made values imposed on us by “serious” people, and these values veil our liberty from us. She is not a nihilist. When we genuinely act authentically we must not impinge on others’ liberty either – or speak or act for them.

Freedom for Beauvoir brings about transcendence, not in any divine but by opening up and providing for indeterminate possibilities. We do have to exist in the present. The last part of her text is her worrying over the Heideggerian idea that people to be human must thrust themselves forward into the future. The enslaved person is denied a fundamental need because he or she can have no future, can plan nothing as at any time he or she may sold or forced to do something he or she would rather not. Johnson remarked the future is the not yet. Religion tells us to throw ourselves into a future that’s is not so, so we must dismiss that. But many philosophies show how people live in terms of the future. I remember learning in the class on Heidegger that he explains why slavery is so de-humanizing: Nonetheless Beauvoir says we must live in the present; the future can be seen through what we are doing in the present, it is incarnate in the present. We must not lose ourselves in the not yet?

I was impressed by how often she brought up childhood, how many references to Rousseau, a long passage on Emile. She declared that “the child does not contain the man he will become.” At long last. There were several passages on how women have been enslaved, how even in cultures where there is opportunity to disclose themselves authentically to someone other than a trusted confidant, to act according to her will, she has been taught submission, struck by how she saw through the gaiety of women who are complicit with the wills of men, how quickly their graciousness can become hard, bitter fury. She too demands we not resign ourselves or we have failed. A piece on Mlle de Lespinasse’s abject letters in love, that Lespinasse is in love with suffering; she sees Lespinasse’s many renouncements, her dependence as frightening. So does Austen in Marianne Dashwood.

She gave me freedom when she said (reminding me of Elinor Dashwood) it is enough to be liberated in one’s thought. I felt comfort when she allowed for joy in history (and presumably historical fiction) because you assume a relationship of sheer contemplation and aesthetic enjoyment. The past is past.

Outside of time and far from men, we face history — Beauvoir, as translated by Bernard Frechtman

But I do know from Orwell “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls [our understanding of] the past.”

Johnson also seems to have talked of failure — or I have notes where he seemed to be saying how intentional we are, we may not be able to disclose ourselves to another. They are in their subjectivity. I cited RLStevenson, a favorite passage:

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson

To which one of the people said, Becket said that more concisely: fail better. I thought of all the exchanges on the Internet I’ve had over the years and how I misunderstand others and they misunderstand me, or how what I have said does not register as important to them, but some side issues or details I cited, and maybe vice versa too.

So we fall back on “the appeal:” we try to appeal to others based on their groundwork to understand us and we try to respond to appeals. An ethic of looking to the other, but respecting (not fearing) them except when evil actors, she can be brought together with Carol Gilligan’s humane groundwork on the psychology of women. And hence l’ecriture-femme.

I have begun Simone de Weil – the cover to my edition of her book is silly: a photo of carrots (root vegetables anyone?). Translator Arthur Wills. I know she starved herself to death, so desperately hideous to her was the barbaric WW2. She is so different from the other two, though. Not just the belief in God but an assumption we must take this belief into account in our understanding of life, death &c The publisher has TS Eliot as introducer because he was an overt fervent (in his later poetry) Anglican. Then he’s right about Weil having a way of beginning with a very wrong idea, indeed lopsided (to my mind), sometime perverse, but then from this point A she leaps to Point B, where she is uttering a brilliant explanatory truth and moving from truth to truth, some just statements and others encompassing utterances … There is paradoxically a lot more pragmaticism and open politics about the 1940s wars and the horrors of Nazism. Yet the soul’s needs is what she is on about: what are “the vital needs of the human being.” She is very Samuel-Johnsonian.

She offers concrete alternatives to the anti-humane organizations of our society, their de-humanizing and uprooted values. I discover too I have her deeply anti-war commentary, The Iliad or The Poem of Force, ed and trans. Hames P Holoska.

I’ve been reading in these two Weils this morning. I am troubled by my discovery that in her Uprootedness (The Need for Roots), the central presences are men. Once she leaves universal needs and talks of society, it’s the working men who must be freed, the peasant is a man. Women come up only as pregnant wives, as prostitutes (which she want to outlaw) or sewing.

There is no more masculine work I know than The Iliad, and all Weil’s words are couched as universals, not as gendered situations, yet here most frequently she picks out passages about women’s grief, women’s subjection. I gave up on Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls because its realism made it so monotonous; the heroine never had any choice, any separate subjectivity; this makes me want to return to it but I know I won’t find there what Beauvoir, Sartre and Weil all claim is possible: freedom in subjectivity through the mind. Frederick Douglas was able to achieve it and then fled — barker did not want to dwell on the unusual person.

I find Weil’s analysis spot on, her memory of the poem is mine. A poem about force, exulting in brutality, incessant and at the same time including all these passages of poignant helpless loss.

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


Sissinghurst Kent: the gardens

I want to bring up all-day “course” I took at the Smithsonian a week ago Saturday, “The Splendours of English Country Houses:” Bonita Billman talked a nearly 6 hour lecture (putting it all together and eliminating the breaks and lunch) on “the splendors of English country houses,” historically conceived; we began with Bess of Hardwicke and Renaissance massive structures and ended on a renovaton of a 14th century castle by another filthy rich family with personally aesthetically ambitious people with their hands on great gobs of money, the Courtaulds’s Elthan Palace. She was genuinely informative, insightful, wry, lots of information. I’ve ten pages of dense stenographer, 5 pages of a xeroxed summary of what she said, names of houses, architects, places, a good bibliography. Pictures of architectural elements.  I just can’t transcribe this material.

So my faith in the Smithsonian as a place to go for reasonably intelligent lectures is restored. Once, one long summer day a miraculous nearly 8 hours by a man who knew all these is to know about the Beatles and their music, with accompanying music, pictures. But the last 3 lectures I went to at the Smithsonian were embarrassingly bad; one was morally moronic (about surgery in the 19th century in the UK). I worried I would be getting hours of talk intended to elicit gasps at the obscenities wealth inequality that made these places possible over the centuries (still supports some), or these irritating giggles. There was still this curious stupid laughter (common in film audiences). I like art history – I in effect minored in art history in college. One got only 2 credits for every course you took: so to me that just allowed me to take more of them and I did. The Smithsonian has many art history lectures, most mediocre — the speakers speak as if they never read any deconstructionism or theory. Still, the Smithsonian still has far fewer literary choices than they did when I first joined.

But afterwards I realized that there were serious lacks in her talks. She omitted to evaluate what we were seeing from a truly aesthetic and moral standpoint. If we divest ourselves of alluring richness-worshipping preconceptions about showing off wealth, prominence, making a stage or set to emphasize power, status; many of the rooms Billman showed and a helluva lot of the objects were anything from ludicrous, ridiculous and to objectively seen obscene. Useless. Extravagant and done on the backs of the abysmal low wages and fierce hard physical labor of huge numbers of people. Imagine what John Berger would have said — he’d have perhaps produced an hour’s lecture of what was worth looking at truly, the rest cultural study of the super-rich and super-powerful. I did fall asleep for a while over the long part about Palladian houses and objects. Thank you for this critical funny observation.

The TLS for August 2, 2019 had a review by Michael Hall, of yet another of these books which insist on sheer celebration of the houses the rich for themselves, which had this aware perspective. The houses named were most of them Billman discussed. It is no longer true the 1% must give up these houses; they are buying some of them back and re-converting them into luxury palaces for themselves and their friends. Take Eltham Palace, a renovated 14th century castle:

Inside the house the decor is strictly and unqualifiedly art deco, with the accent on name furniture interior decorators:

Someone on my timeline commented: “This looks like the lobby of the headquarters of a life insurance company. I trust it comes across better in person.” This fits into these existentialists: we are to ask whose subjectivity, what values are these houses imposing on us, at what cost to whom and why cannot this money be spent on the poor, the vulnerable, the refuge (a section of Weil is on the ultimate uprooted, the refuge), or some social services program, how about comfortable for free buses and trains.

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


Izzy and I at the neighborhood summer block party Tuesday evening this past week — it’s talked about as if a central event; for the second of two times we’ve come, we found it sparsely attended

So I come back to where I began: this summer or this time of this summer is again hard. Truthful talk of a widow’s life. At that lunch I did after all make at the fine restaurant, with the two women we discussed what it is to be an older woman alone.

One said she was a widow of 40 years and epitomized her experience thus: “yes you get to go out for lunch like this,” but then spend your life as an outcast come evening: suddenly you are not invited to places you were because you are not a couple; how other women regard you as a threat. Yes. The other has been widowed twice, on her third and now unhappy marriage; her first husband was simply shot to death one day in their house; she came home to find the corpse; no one ever discovered who did it or why; she was left with three young children. The second a successful companionship, died of cancer. I remembered a third woman (online friend) this week told me (as she has before) of all the reproaches she has been the target of if she brought up she had been unlucky or looked sad — her husband died when she was 37 and he in his mid-40s:  the speakers seem to resent that she got a social security check, and pension as this man’s widow. She too left with two children. Why do people resent the minimal needs of others their class being met by some group set up for this through some shared scheme.  Jim was dead two weeks and I was told “it’s your own fault now if you are miserable” (but someone I hadn’t realized disliked Jim very much for his reclusive ways); that first year:  “get over it!”

We have been reading and discussing Trollope’s mid-career Miss Mackenzie on Trollope&Peers: its focus is a 35 year old spinster, left a lot of money, and trying to make a choice of life for herself and we’ve been discussing what were and are attitudes towards people who never marry, never have a partner, nor children. Why people marry? Why have children? One of the most moving modern plays of the 20th century of the realistic kind I’ve seen is by Lillian Hellman, The Autumn Garden; it focuses on a 50 plus year old woman now divorced (the husband left her for a much younger woman) whose 3 children are anywhere from indifferent to scornful. How lonely she is, how unappreciated she feels. Maybe I’d like a deeply compatible relationship once again, but I don’t think I’d get one like what I had where I’d again be allowed all the the time to read and write and watch what I want on TV, and nowadays go where I want (to classes) and (as a single man said on our list) I’ve an idea that no relationship could be worth giving up those freedoms for me — even if the price is years of nights alone and coping with my disabilities.


Trollope is having an Italian renaissance …

It’s called facing or accepting one’s lot, which I am doing this summer.

Ellen

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Berthe Morisot’s summer scene, reading on a lake, mother and child


Just Fine all Alone — Tammy Cantrell — — standing in for me and Ian (my latest time-line photos)

Dancing Day II by Marie Ponsot. Is it not a beautiful poem? It was just put on Wompo, a listserv for women’s poetry (July 9th).

Once, one made many.
Now, many make one.
The rest is requiem.

We’re running out of time, so
we’re hurrying home to
practice to
gether for the general dance.
We’re past get-ready, almost at get-set.
Here we come many to
dance as one.

Plenty more lost selves keep arriving, some
we weren’t waiting for. We stretch and
lace up practice shoes. We mind our manners—
no staring, just snatching a look
—strict and summative—
at each other’s feet & gait & port.

Every one we ever were shows up
with world-flung poor triumphs
flat in the back-packs we set down to greet
each other. Glad tired gaudy
we are more than we thought
& as ready as we’ll ever be.

We’ve all learned the moves, separately,

from the absolute dancer
the foregone deep breather
the original choreographer.

Imitation’s limitation—but who cares.
We’ll be at our best on dancing day.
On dancing day
we’ll belt out tunes we’ll step to
together
till it’s time for us to say
there’s nothing more to say
nothing to pay no way
pay no mind pay no heed
pay as we go.
Many is one; we’re out of here,
exeunt omnes

exit oh and save
this last dance for me

on the darkening ground
looking up into
the last hour of left light
in the star-stuck east,
its vanishing flective, bent
breathlessly.

All the characteristics and feel of l’ecriture-femme. She has just died — her life span was April 6, 1921 to July 5 1919 Long lived.

Dear friends and readers,

Moved by Ian Patterson’s essay in the July 4th issue of the London Review of Books, “My Books,” where he described his journey through life as a deep adventures reading, buying, and planning to read books (so acquiring them) until he found himself living in a diary of his life, the paths ahead of him, the books he will open, consult, live in, and when time permits, read next, I come back to continue this diary.

That’s how I’ve been, how I was with Jim. The essay turns into a memoir of loss of his beloved wife, Jenny Diski too. Truth to tell, I was irresistibly draw to the column when I saw the name that I knew from just one of her last essays was that of “the poet,” her partner (husband) of many years. In his The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes has his character declare the experience of life is “accumulation.” Taking on you the burden of memory to make a meaning or identity for yourself. Ian Patterson is at risk of losing his identity

The idea the man has is they are a manifestation of his very soul. I like how he remembers individuals by colors and look and feel and the visual memory of where some passage is on the page in the book itself So do I.

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


Me, taken summer 2014

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference … Frost

This to share with my readers here my part in a thread of postings that went on for several days where people on my TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, asked if they would once again or for the first time introduce themselves, began to pour out memories of (in Frost’s famous poems’ terms) the varied paths they took different (they felt) from many others around them, or in response to some painful events or losses, or their own needs, goals, desires.

It’s not my place to tell of these others, but I can post my response to theirs. Someone said she had had enough of schooling or college, after one post-graduate degree. So I replied:

I [too] felt after I finished my Ph.D. no more degrees. I know both women and men who have gone on for another degree, sometimes to the Ph.D again, often the professional one — the job-oriented lawyer’s degree. I said no more no matter what. I also was a secretary — some three times, the most fun being in Northern England. Secretary was a way in, but it was hard to break out of that. I’m also now at two Lifelong Learning Institutes and have the great pleasure of developing my own courses. I couldn’t agree more about being asked as a woman to read mostly dead white European males (and the usual token woman, e.g., Austen, Eliot, Bronte, maybe Woolf). But I’ll remark it was not all males who made the cut: not only Trollope but Collins was beyond the pale. F.R Leavis has a lot to answer for, but his book and Scrutiny were so enormously influential because by being ever so solemn, treating close reading as a hard mystery, and using only authors with lots of prestige did the profession justify itself. For a while in the later 20th century it justified itself politically by deconstructing these sacred works, but after a couple of decades that hadn’t gone over very well, feminism as dreamed of in the second phase had been beat back badly: now humanities departments are just shut down in many places.

For reasons beyond explaining, people began to use reading Spenser’s Faerie Queene as the “step too far” they had been asked to do as English or humanities majors. To this, I countered:

My dear, I have read the entire Faerie Queene and I wrote a paper on the sixth book which almost won a prize. I a couple of times almost won a prize: my short story out of Gone with the Wind, “Ellen’s Story” (O’Hara) almost won a prize …. I don’t regret reading  The Faerie Queene. Maybe I regret the years in the composition part of an English department where I gave in and assigned the community text. I wasted the students’ time with utter self-interested crap — books published by members of the department, this year’s fashionable book. I didn’t keep that up and so didn’t win Brownie points with anyone. I saw my younger daughter discouraged from being an English major when the older man who taught “The first half of Eng Lit” from the Norton retired, and a young faculty member assigned 12 sophisticated novels which assumed a sophisticated attitude to literature (one of which had been written by him, one by his wife) and also that you had read classics. She hated it and never took another English course; she did like Milton from the first half, Pope, Shakespeare — she like all that.

Yes for years I never read a woman’s book, or if I was assigned one, I was strongly discouraged from making that woman or art the focus of a term paper. I was astonished after I got my Ph.D, to discover a slew of Renaissance women poets, and now it grates on me at OLLIs where teachers (women too) just cite men’s books — or men’s films.

The internet has been a lifeline for me — transformed some fundamental attitudes and my life but this has been the result of activities online of all sorts, yet its been mostly posting and reading about books and movies with others. Maybe a course or so. Just learning about and reaching things I was unaware of before. My first true insightful social life occurred here

The question came up, what are we good at? what we choose to do is what we like and we like what we have talent for. A couple of people professed to be good only at reading, writing, and (say) crossword puzzles. So I said,

I’m down right hopeless at crossword puzzles but can with patience manage a jigsaw and when I was 15 I took up a year of my life buying jigsaw with lovely pictures and doing them over a long period of time. The living room table became my puzzle table — and I put it in our hall so as to try to get of sight and sound of the TV. By 15 I had stopped watching most TV. I loved Drabble’s memoir The Pattern in the Carpet, A Personal History with Jigsaws – she used the puzzle as a metaphor for our existence.

But I can parallel park a car on a city street into a tight space. I parallel -parked just today in order to go to the Farmer’s market. I had Volkswagon bugs for years and used to have to park them in Manhattan. So it was “on the job” training. I am no where as good at parking in garages and parking lots — I scratch (a mild term) the sides of my cars on pillars and yes on other cars … I find the lines are too narrowly drawn and wonder what people do who have truly big cars. I have a PriusC — compact Prius (Toyota with hybrid engine).

Among us book readers on this list for reading books together who wrote in on this theme, there were a number of people who once taught and a few who taught in senior colleges and left. And they gave different reasons for this or just expressed dismay, disgust, alienation, a desire not to become a migrant contingent teacher (with low pay and poor benefits). I expressed my feelings about this crossroads especially:

It seems that at some point at least some of us have taken some road or made a choice we could not come back from, or not retrieve easily. My feeling is for academics — people teaching in colleges, but maybe in high school too there comes a time when some of us ask ourselves, Do we want to do this for the rest of our lives? People I’ve talked to (and written with) often say that the decision time comes because they haven’t made tenure (will not get the truly respected position and decent money and security), and I have been made to feel bad because they go on about this choice to make a better salary – of course the ones who say this are those who went on to make a better salary. The implication is, what is the matter with you? why did you take this? because all my life I was an adjunct. Sometimes it’s accompanied by adverse criticism (often accurate) of the academy — though businesses are as and worse corrupted.

I am often silent when face-to-face because I’m outnumbered or the person has the American hegemony on his or her side. But when it is one-on-one or here on the Net I do reply and it’s that I said to myself, I don’t care if I never make even a full-time position (contingent). There is nothing else I want to do or can endure. (I admit I never thought of going back for another degree to be a librarian — I could have.) I would rather spend my life reading (here we go) and writing and teaching reading and writing at the cost of whatever. Of course I had a husband and I thought he was doing pretty well. (Since in these OLLIs Ive met people who have said, what a shame he didn’t rise to one of the super-high grades and make “real” money.) I did come to that  a place in the path where I saw this group of people would not even give me a full time contingent job, and yet I chose to stay on where I was … Now thinking there were opportunities for me to get behind someone with tenure to do with them what they wanted, an dwho could have helped me but there was no offer and it could have taken years and then I not be chosen. I’ve been lucky in that my mother unexpectedly left me money which is really why I am comfortable. But I’m glad I didn’t spend my existence in an insurance office — I’m not saying that those who have didn’t find satisfaction in that. The young man who is my financial adviser works long hours 5 days a week with little vacation doing nothing but working with money — it’s what he wants …. I can’t regret what I feel I have not truly suffered for by not having enough money to live right now.

As Frost’s poem says, I took another path, or unlike others who didn’t make tenure, I stayed in the path – that same one I saw as mine, all I could do with what I was and had – at age 19 sitting on a bench in a park with a friend I still know. She is today a widow like me, with her Ph.D in economics, she teaches as a retired person at a college in Florida — so an adjunct salary — she would never teach what she’d call and most people nothing — there’s that word nothing. I don’t teach for nothing. Shakespeare would understand my comment there & Austen too.

I can bring Trollope into this too: he gave up his good job at the Post Office because he was passed over for promotion. He felt humiliated. Yes he wanted to write full time, yes he wanted to start a periodical, yes maybe he was tired of the post office. But he gave up a pension to do this. And I have seen people say “the hell with it,” I can’t stand this and will give up my pension — they are usually younger, and maybe have a hope of providing for themselves in old age in some other way.

But Trollope did walk away. Took another path and look how many novels and short stories, and essays we have by him

And by the way, I have discovered that OLLI at Mason has book clubs where the group gets together and they read the book aloud! they do choose well-respected classics, and usually long ones. So this summer is Dr Zhivago in the best edition and a fine translation. I had signed up thinking it a discussion group so I decided to pass on it — I have a CD of Madoc reading it aloud brilliantly. I have read in the 19th century some book clubs just the book aloud — many clubs would have members who could not afford a copy of their own so this was a way of “getting” a book.

Something I had written about regretting not thinking of becoming a librarian, was misunderstood: “I have a hunch I would have liked working in a library — of course I dream of research libraries like the Folger or Library of Congress. Izzy so enjoyed her time in a Fairfax library where she joined in the children’s house. Now she is at the Pentagon library.”

Oh yes I know that librarians do not sit about all day reading — I did work as a librarian’s assistant (unpaid) in high school and one of my daughters is a librarian. When I said I should have thought of librarianship, I was thinking of all I knew about academia by that time, my weariness with endlessly teaching (it felt at the time but I did manage to stop teaching) freshman comp courses. What I was saying what I didn’t think of perhaps palatable alternatives — when I was young, to be a nurse was one. I was strongly discouraged continually from that.

I’m glad to come back to add to other reasons I’ve known a number of people to leave academia. Beyond money and promotion, having to move – and in the early years continually. I have met people living in NYC who say they will not take a job too far away – this is home to them, and for many good reasons. Continual moving is a continual ripping of our attempts at making relationships, transplanting ourselves, building a life apart.

Let me add on further reminiscences: I worked as an adjunct for many years, most steadily from 1989 (spring) to May 2012. For four years I taught in two places and had four classes so that would be 120 students. Sometimes I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. I’d become neurasthenic by the end of the day sometimes — especially when I did four in a row. I still remember Izzy as a small child coming up to my sofa, looking at me, walking away and returning with her blanket and a doll. She covered me with blanket and tucked the doll in, and then returned to whatever she was doing. Most years I did three classes in fall and spring each, and two in the summer (one 8 week term).

I think I did like being among people, young people, and I did like the students as a group overall. At the beginning far more of them had read more books and did not have jobs, by the end it was not uncommon for me to have students who appeared to have read hardly any books and were trying to go to college with full-time jobs at the same time. At the beginning (going way back) 1972, most classes met 3 times a week for an hour, then the thin edge of wedge was twice a week for 75 minutes. In my last years I taught classes meeting either twice for 75 minutes or once for a whooping nearly 3 hour stretch. It was then I turned to have students do talks and yes used more movies.

I did stop teaching between 1976 or so and 1987 or so. Then I read proposals for the Fund for Post-Secondary Education — piece meal work where I was paid per proposal or maybe it was per hour.

If I could understand the digital software I think I’d enjoy being an editor.

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

Where Oliphant spent one summer: overlooks a lake near Fife, Scotland

I believe I said last time I have been much cheered because it seems my project to write about women writers who spend a long time unmarried is “on again:” my friend wants to do it and I feel is much more able than I to interest a publisher. Not an Anomaly a new working title.
I said I had just immersed myself in Oliphant one day; well, I’ve gone with it, and here’s a preliminary plan for three chapters: (after the introductory chapter, which might get written last):

I’m asking myself, how did being a widow affect Oliphant’s deepest being (the outward effect is obvious) and how did this enter into her fiction? I asked that question, but more superficially of Austen’s fiction and the great-great-grandmother? Now I’ll return to widows in Austen. The answer would probably make both women less of an anomaly, but that will be part of the theses: would bring home how unfairly and inaccurately people see widows, including widows themselves talking in public about themselves. Trollope has many widows and he deals with them as a man. How this differs. I could in passing bring in Christine de Pizan (I came across a CFP for a session for her out of the Christine de Pizan society — who knew there is a society?); of course Colonna was a widow; Penelope Fitzgerald who was a library waiting to happen when her husband died. Fitzgerald wrote introductions for three of Oliphant’s Carlingford novels; in her The Bookshop, she alludes to Oliphant’s stories of the seen and unseen. Realistically speaking such a chapter (if I’m lucky) I could manage by the end of the coming winter.

Looking realistically at the amount of work (including reading in Oliphant’s case) I should focus on three women. So first Oliphant, with her interest in autobiography, her Autobiography and Letters as edited by her cousin, Annie Walker, and autobiographical novels.


Lucy Hay (née Percy) Countess of Carlisle, c.1660-65 (oil on canvas) by Hanneman, Adriaen (c.1601-71) — one of numerous active 17th century women in the Civil War

The unconventional life seemingly alone. I’ll look to see what materials are truly available for Anne Murray Halkett — like Charlotte Smith she spent a long time alone; in her case I believe she lived with a skunk-type outside marriage and that is why all her papers, and especially her wonderful autobiography are in such a fragmentary state. She tried to tell about it and everything she said directly was destroyed. A new book where she figures as a major character has come out: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in 17th century Britain by Nadine Akkerman. Central books by her are at the Folger! Charlotte Smith tries to tell indirectly and she is excoriated in print, nagged to return to this abusive man in life. Censored women. Shut up women. Pariahs. Shunned women. “Cast out from respectability for a while” (Halkett’s phrase). The re-framed, posthumously published pious blank life that Woolf talks of her in Memoirs of a Novelist. That could be a second chapter.

And one for spinsters, real spinsters and lesbian spinsterhood. Living embedded in a family, living alone when they can afford it. Thus far there’s Frances Power Cobbe who lived as a lesbian and talks directly against concepts like “redundant” women, “wife-torture in England” (which laws encourage) — very rich and her partner has money too. Constance Fennimore Woolson also a spinster; thus far what I’ve read of her and about from Rioux is not about being a spinster. Anne Boyd Rioux is not interested in that — for Rioux she’s this writer wanting recognition, chasing after James – but Woolson spent her life with women relatives in the spinster pattern. The book(s) I could use here are Emma Donoghue’s — maybe including her fiction. She cites a number of such women. I’ve written two blogs on Donoghue’s books on lesbian spinsterhood

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July flowers

I have for quite a while been keeping a sort of diary on face-book, my time-line. I’ve been doing it more regularly as I stay home much more.

July 4th, evening, and a bit worn down: I shall allow Jane Austen (good of me) to express the tone of mind I’m in after a quiet day of study (reading, note taking) in the cool: My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. — Jane Austen, Letters (24 Oct 1798). Well actually I didn’t expect to be unhappy …. Izzy appears to have enjoyed her day watching tennis — and playing music — too.

To someone who had misread the above: I work at keeping my spirits up and yesterday was the second of four days I’m basically alone — for Izzy does her own thing in her room — each week. By 4 or 5 in the afternoon it gets to be a strain; I find when I’m tired depression is strong with me and I try to beat my perpetual enemy back by movies. I was reading Margaret Oliphant a good deal of the day. The tone of her mind appeals to me. I do find my face-book friends can help cheer me up when I come in the early morning and I read the entries, loo at the pictures …

July 7th: The hardest thing is learning to live alone. Now in this sixth year I go out less, much less, as I’m facing how I don’t enjoy say going to the Alexandria Community where the room is not pleasant, and the water often cold and I must go back and forth across the pool to swim. I’m not running out the way I did, not chasing will o’the wisps — as I do enjoy my reading, writing, movies, internet friendships. Several days of high heat go by and I hardly go out. I on myself can live — an opening line to an Anne Finch poem. This weekend about 3 more of these black-eyed daisy bushes bloomed as well as these pink flowers with black-brown centers. They are mid-summer flowers. Come late summer I’ll buy some fall flowers and ask the man who mows for me to plant them for me. He will do that, so I shall have flowers in fall too. All year round.

And July 10th: Just got back from teaching The Enlightenment: At Risk? at the OLLI a Mason. What a good class and what a good time we all had — they said it too. Then lunch with a friend. So much of my day gone since I spent the morning posting. And now the cats greet me. Given my situation, and what I am, whatever anyone might say at such moments, I know I’m spending these last few years of my life without Jim in a way right for me.


Ian making his presence felt — how glad I am Izzy chose a Scottish name (version of John) for him — one of my favorite characters in Outlander, Ian Murray (Jenny’s husband who writes such kindly intelligent letters) is called Ian …

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But I was over-excited, because it was the first time out in several days, and I couldn’t calm down properly to settle to read, and then I drank too much wine too quickly, and then after supper I kept falling asleep on the news, on my regulation Poldark and Outlander episodes. Finally I allowed myself to collapse into bed at 11:15 and then did manage 6 hours of deep sleep, and so recuperated today, inwardly active, writing, reading, taking notes, all day, and now achieved another autobiographical blog.


Claire in Outlander (in front of the stones) — I watch it nightly — this is from Devil’s Mark, the moment Season 1; Episode 11, where looking at the stones close up Claire decides not to return home (to not go back to the future) — for love of Jamie

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craig na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me (Dragonfly in Amber, Prologue).

Ellen

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