Feeds:
Posts
Comments


Moth orchid?

Friends,

This is my fifth summer without Jim and I find myself remembering the final sentence of Henry James’s Washington Square:  “Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again, as it were, for life.”   I don’t sew, nor garden, nor cook but pick up my books, turn movies, writing, and reading and writing with  friends on the Net (Ayala’s Angel and then Howard’s End on one list, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw for now on another). She did not have my options: I’ll be teaching “Trollope’s Traveler, Colonialist, Editor and Rural Tales” at OLLI at AU for four weeks, and “Woolf’s Flush, Orlando, and Three Guineas” for six. Just once a week. I have a new course to prepare for in the fall at AU:

The Enlightenment: at Risk?

It’s been suggested the ideas associated with the European Enlightenment, a belief in people’s ability to act rationally, ideals of social justice, human rights, toleration, education for all, in scientific method, are more at risk than any time since the 1930s. In this course we’ll ask what was & is meant by the term, how & why did this movement spread, against what obstacles, what were the realities of the era and what were the new genres & forms of art that emerged. We’ll read Voltaire’s Candide, Diderot’s The Nun, Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands, and excerpts from Madame Roland’s Memoirs.

And over at Mason in fall, I’ll repeat Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as Tudor matter, using the great film. August for under two weeks I’ll go with Road Scholar to the Lake District and Scottish borders.

So no fear of nothing to do this summer — with memories of him and my cats by my side. Nevertheless, I find if I am home alone all day by 4 in the afternoon I become desperate; I can take a couple of days of it no more. So I teach and nowadays go to classes too.

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


Paths of Glory (Kubrick 1957, starring George C. Scott; reviewed in Guardian)

Since I last wrote on Milan, I have written about the films, plays, concerts Izzy and I have been to together and me alone on Jim and Ellen have a blog, two. There is a remarkable black Hamlet from the RSC touring about; not to be missed. And a Future Learn course on Jane Austen on Austen Reveries. There’s still 8 days to join in.

As an end-of-term thank you gift, my Later Virginia Woolf spring class at OLLI at AU gave me the above lovely flowering plant you see above. I don’t know if the person who chose it had in mind Woolf’s “Death of the Moth,” but the other gift a DVD of Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September (with Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw, Keeley Hawes, Lambert Wilson, Jane Birkin, David Tennant, script: John Banville) did emerge from my having said that Elizabeth is a daughter of Woolf. I watched it with Izzy a few years ago (Jim was still alive and he half-watched, coming in and out of the room) when she took a post-graduate course (for her) in Irish literature and “did” Bowen’s novel for her term project (a paper and talk). A superb film. Can I fit in re-reading that? blogging on the comparison? I’ll see.

The spring courses at OLLI at Mason are just coming to an end: my He Knew He Was Right, sexual and marital conflicts in Trollope and the 19th century is going astonishingly well. I hardly have to prompt discussion. I am attending a four week course where we hear about the life of and listen to and watch Leonard Cohen performing his extraordinary masterpieces of poetry and music. A little from this:

Of course this was not written recently — the year of Tiananem Square. He meant to be ironic.

A brilliantly accurate course on the aftermath of World War One has included stunning discussions on the part of the lecturer of the real behavior of the colonializers and a further three anti-war masterpieces of film: Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, Kubrick’s uncompromisingly truthful Paths of Glory, featuring George C. Scott; and this week a 1995 BBC and PBS film named All the King’s Men (a more precise clearer name is Gallipoli).

The last less well-known than the other two merits a little attention: it tells the larger story of the catastrophic slaughter of thousands and thousands of men at Gallipolli

It uses an incident where all the men from a single country house — the king’s Sandringham — went as a battalion to Gallipolli and only one returned. No one has ever offered an official explanation, much less any kind of apology. Basically they were thrown away: these young men went with foolish naive ideas about glory and honor, seeming almost not to consider they are invading a country, sent there to kill, and so of course the people there will try to kill you. No provision made for them of any long term supplies, no study of the terrain, they were told to take a hill (rather like Paths of Glory) only there were no trenches to hide in. it’s too sentimental about the country house and much compromise of nostalgia for this “earlier innocent world” (I thought of Gosford Park) but the effect was as strong as Paths of Glory and it by telling this incident in such detail taught me what happened at Gallipolli. I heard one watcher say as if this is adequate: Churchill stubbed his toe. Another woman moaned about the bad Turks but most people could see what was put before us.

So house improvements:  Izzy and I dared to build a cat tree. It was harder than building a large Edwardian dollhouse (came up to my waist) that she, I and Laura built years ago. But no one was burnt as there was no need for a hot melt glue gun. We had a faded complex diagram, everything lettered and many screws and parts.

It’s in my bedroom. Those are the books against one of the windowless walls in my bedroom. (All the rooms in house have large windows on two of the walls.) Last night they climbed on it, They sat up high and surveyed their world; they fought (playfully) on different parts; it’s a scratching post and then went into and out of one of the stacks. Our pussycats have begun to use climb in and around it. The soft bowl sticking out I turned round to be inside the cat tree space and they sniff about it. I had a small or low tree, which I have now moved to my sunroom. It’s just the height of the window sills, which are very narrow and hard to sit on. Now they can sit on that cat tree and look out.

It’s all a pretty beige or cream colored tight fur or hard carpet and wickerwork. This morning I discovered that when Ian, the ginger tabby male sits behind the soft bowl pushed in and a thick string and the stack, he cannot see me very well. This is the sort of thing that makes him think I cannot see him at all. So he is happy there. The low slung sort of awning has a sort of cat purpose too. Ian falls into it because he puts his paw into a made round hole in the same flat; he then scrambles. It’s not just to amuse me but also puzzle him as he goes round and round pawing at it, trying to work out what it is. Clarycat has never been as playful a cat, though she can get possessive over specific toys (like her small grey mouse). But she leaps from platform to platform all the way to top and is mistress of all she surveys. $70, prime amazon so no shipping cost.

On face-book people did something I didn’t expect (they often do). Tried to work out what were the books behind the cat tree. I was asked about alphabetizing and if items were out of place near Devendra P. Varma’s Gothic Flame. So answer here: behind the cat tree lower down is my film books section, my gothic books section, and my translation books section; further up language books and it’s mostly books in Italian. The acqua book to the left high up is an Elsa Morante novel. Bookcase one over (or next): all books in French. If you see two crimson colored books that’s George Sand’s Consuelo, a row of books by George Sand who I used to love to read. Still do but am onto other things now. More individual: close to Varma on one side Tyler Tichelaar’s Gothic Wanderer and next to that Tzetan Todorov’s The Fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre. On the other side of xeroxes of Varma’s other essays in a red folder, two anthologies (out of order, lots of my books are out of order) and then a favore, Anne Williams’s wonderful Art of Darkness: a Poetics of Gothic, about female gothic books.

It does look like I will not be able to have a garden this year: to do it with a plan, and hiring a landscape/gardening place is outrageously expensive.  So I don’t know what to do about my five flower plots as yet.  For now I’m just leaving them there.

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


Image online from Archives at the British Library

And I’m at long last reading away for my Winston Graham-Poldark modernist biography. I’m re-watching the old Poldarks serial and falling in love with them all over again. I listen to Davina Porter read aloud Gabaldon’s Voyager (Outlander 3), and watch the seasons, one hour at a time, obsessively after midnight. I rejoined the once-a-month-film-club and have a new friend to go with, and for Izzy and I have bought a few tickets to see Shakespeare, two operas and Gilbert and Sullivan this summer.

The worst thing about the area I live in is we are land-locked so one cannot get in one’s car and drive to the beach for the day and then home again. In NYC Jim and I used to do that in the 1970s: on Tuesday and Thursday early in the morning with our dog Llyr we’d set out for Jones Beach, close by we’d buy coffee and croissants and then go to an area where dogs were allowed. She liked going in the water and playing on the sand. We’d be home by 2.

Foolishly perhaps discussing what is real life with a friend. People keep excluding life on the Internet from “real life,” or reading, or writing, and watching movies seems not to count either. Or what do we mean by “building a life?” In the US today I’d offer this doubt as a note of reassurance: there is no building a life that one can rely on except for the few lucky who 1) above all hold onto the same middle class job that is respected for a long time and provides enough income to do what’s called entertain; 2) thus live more or less in the same vicinity for a long time; and 3) often as important stay in one relationship, again for a long time. The deprivation of ordinary daily happinesses and loneliness we are told so many Americans live with is from the insecurity of jobs, the destroying of social places open to all.

Gentle reader, do you know this poem by Leonie Adams:

The Horn

While coming to the feast I found
A venerable silver-throated horn,
Which were I brave enough to sound,
Then all, as from that moment born,
Would breathe the honey of this clime,
And three times merry in their time
Would praise the virtue of the horn.

The mist is risen like thin breath;
The young leaves of the ground smell chill,
So faintly are they strewn on death,
The road I came down a west hill;
But none can name as I can name
A little golden-bright thing, flame,
Since bones have caught their marrow chill.

And in a thicket passed me by,
In the black brush, a running hare,
Having a spectre in his eye,
That sped in darkness to the snare;
And who but I can know in pride
The heart, set beating in the side,
Has but the wisdom of a hare?

People are trying to revive foremother poetry for Fridays on Wom-po.

This what it is for me. I’ve tried to express something of my life by telling these activities and also provide context for the rest of the summer’s blogs.

Miss Drake

Advertisements

Friends,

Izzy departs from her usual music with this one by Lorde:

The lyrics:

I do my makeup in somebody else’s car
We order different drinks at the same bars
I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth
She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar
Those great whites, they have big teeth
Oh, they bite you
Thought you said that you would always be in love
But you’re not in love no more
Did it frighten you
How we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?
On the light up floor
But I hear sounds in my mind
Brand new sounds in my mind
But honey I’ll be seein’ you, ever, I go
But honey I’ll be seein’ you down every road
I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it
‘Cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go
I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it

Lorde’s name is Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor; she is a New Zealand singer, writer, record producer who also holds a Croatian citizenship; she is known for curating the soundtrack for Hunger Games. She has been politically active, performs her own music, whose themes are solitude and heartbreak.

Miss Drake


Izzy on the train

All the time they seemed to be skating in fathomless depths of air, so blue the ice had become; and so glassy smooth was it that they sped quicker and quicker to the city with the white gulls circling about them, and cutting in the air with their wings the very same sweeps that they cut on the ice with their skates — a dream of ice-skating during a hard frost, the Thames, Virginia Woolf, Orlando


Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Friends,

While last week’s account was the last about Milan and nearby environs, I have yet to speak of why we came when we did: the World’s Championship Ice-Skating contest was held from March 21st to 25th at a nearby (just outside the city proper) forum. My daughter Isobel is a devoted expert, blogger, fiction writer, evaluative fan of ice-skating. There are people who know as much as she does of the recent history of ice-skating, but I doubt you’d find anyone who knows more.

Starting Wednesday mid-morning when the tickets were handed out (no, you could not print out the tickets on any website, though you were advised to buy them well ahead), until late at night for the next four nights, and Sunday 2 to 5 for a gala performance (aired on TV), she absorbed herself in the ice-skating. She also went to a couple of early morning practices:

Laura and I joined her for three afternoons and the gala.

I could wish you had her to blog here as I’m sure she could and would describe all that happened and the many technical and other contexts with a knowledgeable critical eye. Here you may read her many blogs since Izzy gave up on her own Miss Izzy and stopped blogging there for Fan-Sided for several months, and now to where Laura moved her website from “I should have been a blogger” to Miss Izzy Ani & Izzy. I can’t.

There is also an underside, the realities of the life, the pressures, and the politics of ice-skating. What happens to ice-skaters mirrors what happens to ambition in sports in American and global life (as seen in media too) today.  I review a movie, which, if you at all interested in ice-skating as presently experienced in the US, you ought to see: I, Tonya: Tonya Harding, an ambitious working class girl (and many of those who go in for the championship and those who go are working to lower middle people) driven by the lack of wins because she was not playing the role of a sweet gentile middle class girl, either herself encouraged or was instigated by her violent desperate husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan) into directly attacking her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The husband and a thug friend tried to destroy one of Kerrigan’s knees. It was quickly found out who had done and became the scandal not only of the decade but perpetually of ice-skating itself.


A photograph Laura snapped of one (athletic) pair

I can tell you something of the experience of watching ice-skating in the Milan stadium. We took a train from where we were staying some 8 stops to just outside the city. About half an hour’s journey after a 5-7 minute walk both ways. Here is what the place looks like from the outside:


Daytime from the side


Nightime from within looking out.

It looks innocuous enough but as one reporter who regularly goes to these mass events, the least of the stadium’s concerns were the human needs of the customers. There two toilets for thousands of women. Two. The lines were not as horrendous as you might imagine because I suppose most women did like me: held themselves in until they got home. Long lines were the order of the day and night. It took hours to collect our tickets. Huge crowds forced to move into five crowd and then thin lines, and all you needed was one person to have troubles on any given line.

Inside the forum you had to wait on three lines to get any food. A line to pay and get your tickets. A line to put in a ticket for whatever food or drink was available. Another line to collect your purchase. I was told this was because very few people were empowered to sell tickets because few were trusted with money. Why two lines and not one were then called for I know not. Maybe because food was so minimal, unvaried, and poor by the time you got it your spirit was cowed. You were not allowed to bring in food or drink. Three years ago I went with Izzy to a stadium in Boston also set up to prevent people bringing food: prices were exhorbitant and I didn’t recognize as food most of what was sold, but there was just one line and there was a large variety of food and drink. Most of the customers in Milan stadium played safe and bought water & simple chip snacks.

Inside the forum the seats were small, the steep incline of the stairs painful if you went up and down more than say twice. The ushers appeared not to know their own stadium and misdirected Izzy, Laura and I at least three times. It was not freezing cold as other ice-skating stadiums I’ve been to are, but it seemed to me the noisiest of all the stadiums I’ve ever been to. Constant loud music inbetween events, flashing commercials from a central turning box, strobe lights when a new turn in events was about to proceed. As if this wasn’t enough, they had hired a bellowing clown to demand of individuals in the crowd that they make spectacles of themselves, of groups to wave flags and clap and hammer the floor with their feet.

More than a decade ago, the first time I went to an ice-skating event at a stadium in DC, I was enchanted. It was not a competition, but a show, not televised. Each of the pairs or individuals performed as personalities; there were shared group sequences. There was no excess noise in the one intermission. Since then in DC no shows come anymore, and it is all fierce competition for places in line-ups for the next contest.

Our prize-obsessed culture has won out. Just about every event is a competition or contest, and the whole atmosphere of the event is intermixed with that of an ordeal. Each of the skaters has thrown their lives into this sport, and they have spent hugely (or their parents have) and it is crucial to win. Some of them fall away quickly; those who stay the course can become anorexic (if girls) or otherwise suffer the various ills that come from such a lifestyle. Their sexual orientation becomes a matter of speculation, and until recently gay men had to hide their sexuality. A figure like Michael Weiss did very well because he is so obviously stereotypically heterosexual white male.

In Milan stadium, after a given contestant’s routine was over, the contestant was led to sit before a replica of the Milan Cathedral waiting for their score: scores in ice-skating are subjective when it comes to decimal differences. most of them are trained not to show deep disappointment but now and then you would see it.

Do most of the people sitting there “tune out” what is going on about them? or does it excite them to feel they are in some celebrity aura? I know this celebrity aura is hard to resist, and when you are near someone thought so famous, and feel the way others about them, you yourself (I myself) act oddly. I once met a Prime Minister of the UK at a Trollope dinner: John Major. I found it hard not to try to impress him somehow in our talk and afterwards felt ashamed of myself.

In watching these young people, I found the earlier dancers (who were the less competent or less be-prized) sometimes more interesting. I wish some overt attention were paid to grace and lyrical beauty, but the way the scores are talked about are in terms of feats of physical derring-do or if the person defied physics in this or that way in how many times they twirled or jumped or in a pair stayed in dazzling sync while risking falling. Many hurt themselves on the ice.

During the Sunday gala I was impressed how a ballerina who was hired to do highjinks on a wire, was carried from the ice. I’ve seen announcers carried too. It’s hard to walk, and hard simply to skate, much less do the kinds of things these young people do. I keep saying young people because their career is usually over by their early 30s.

At Milan I found three hours my limit. The shows I’ve gone to with Izzy usually last two and one half hours with half an hour intermission. I went to one championship with her in Boston five years ago now and found I couldn’t last more than three hours either though the place was more comfortable. I couldn’t endure the noise, the flashing lights, and in the one case where we found ourselves the audience in a show that was televised — asked to sit utterly still, to clap here, to endure boredom there, to not mind all the cameras, I felt we were badly exploited.

People endure this because they have been taught that they don’t count, that it’s some how bad sportsmanship to complain of bad treatment. Attitudes like these are fostered by the celebrity culture and regarding some people as superior to others.

Most of the time I find individuals skating not as varied as the couple dancers and the athletic pairs, and enjoy the couples much more. Best of all are in shows when long-time trained performers know how to keep their individuality and yet be part of a group configuration. But if you watch carefully or take a photo and look later, you can appreciate individual feats & grace — though it’s hard to feel in the atmosphere of intense competition and in this particular case the discomfort of the Milan stadium.

Here is someone gliding:

Sometimes the camera captures gestures in dancers that in motion would be prettier:

Each set begins with the contestants lining up:


Men

When they won, they were put into ritualized tableaux in princess or prince costumes:

One the elements of the experience that interested me was the difference between what we in the forum were experiencing and seeing, and what those watching broadcasts saw and experienced. It seems somehow to prefer the false to say ice-skating is more pleasurable (and much less expensive) in the comfort of your home watching TV or a digital computer screen, but I like to remember how thrilled I was in the early years as dancing, skating, athletics on the ice is hard. You won’t experience the same thrill that you do when you are there near the body that can fall or mess up and then doesn’t. Izzy is so invested in a number of individual skaters for her to see them is a kind of validation of herself, her dreams.

This gets me to the movie, I, Tonya. The actress who played the harridan mother of Tonya, La Vonya Fay Golden (Allison Janney) won a Golden Globe. I wish I could think the this prize did not reflect the misogynist pleasure of our world where people get a kick out of seeing a mother figure made into a cruel bitch. The mother is presented as the one who originally drove Tonya into becoming a competitive ice-skater. She is presented as deeply bitter because her husband (rightly) left her her; no berating is too far for this woman as she “coaches” her daughter; she also will do anything for money. At the close of the movie she accepts money from court authorities as she tries to trick her daughter into confessing she was the instigator of the crime while she has a tape going around her body.

The movie is darkly funny: part of the way it’s done is that the actors play the people being interviewed by a unseen reporter and there are continual flashbacks as the story in chronological order unfolds before us. This allows for many occasions for irony. We identify with the downtrodden working class Tonya, and she is not caricatured or condescended to nor the mother. But her husband is: he is presented as most Americans’ idea of someone trying hard to be a macho male and not quite succeeding because among other things he hasn’t got the competence to make enough money to support the role with the necessary paraphernalia: fine house, fancy car, “in” clothes. He has an idiotic sidekick who reminded me of Trump: continually lying, ceaselessly boasting, profoundly ignorant, he has the foggiest idea of how to to a deed and cover it up. It was apparently the sidekick’s continual re-parking of a car outside the event where the attack took place that provided the police with their first clues.


The scene where the police confront Tonya and her husband and coach

The value of the money is to expose the hidden injuries of class and the impoverishment of the American working and middle class. We see that in the mother’s life especially, in the dives these people eat in. As Helen O’Hara says, it was a trial by media, the very media which builds up celebrity. This is brought out. The acceptance of violence of American life is seen in Tonya’s relationship with her mother and then husband: they both beat her. The one half-humane relationship in the film is between Tonya and her trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), but from what I have been told by college students in colleges where I’ve taught, these people are bullies too.

By the end of the film you feel for Tonya while at the same time are left unsure how complicit she was in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. She is presented as someone with decent impulses whose life and surroundings teach her to make bad choices (in her husband and leaving school) and drive her to rages like the others around her. The jury decision suggests that the jury was undecided how guilty she was but convinced her husband and the friend who literally attacked Kerrigan were criminal. Harding did not lose her ambition or her turning to physical competition for prize money: later in life she tried professional wrestling, and even became a celebrity boxer. She was made part of the sordid underbelly of movies: for example,a video of her having sex with her husband was released. She used this notoriety to keep afloat.

I suppose what makes the film a story for 2017 is she is not a victim heroine but someone part of a system that is fosters internal war in people’s psyches, which they then bring to their social experience. I recommend reading Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas for the full context for all this.


Fixing her shoes — she is crying from dismay and hurt

It can all begin with innocent enough dreams of accomplishment, of pride, of achievement in the world’s eyes. I’ve been asked more than once if Izzy skates. She has, mostly for fun, and except for the one time I tried to skate with her by herself. I can think of five sequences in books and films where ice-skating is presented — H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia, the opening; Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the opening; John Gay’s early 18th century poem; Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London, where a central sequence is devoted to showing life on the ice in the midst of one of the intense frosts of the 18th century in England , and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina where Levin and Kitty as ideal sweet lovers yearning for one another ice-skate together. In all these the moments are idyllic, a halycon hiatus, physically beautiful too. The fifth is in It’s a Wonderful Life where George’s brother falls on thin ice, and George risks his own life to rescue him. Deep heroism, self-sacrifice. It is somehow indicative of the human psyche that this sport is rarely presented with any reality to our eyes.

About two weeks before we went, Izzy took herself ice-skating (partly looking forward to our trip) and fell. When much younger, she did ice-skate regularly by herself. But I had to drive her and it was not that much fun by herself. Now she was kindly taken care of while there and came home limping. It was only a twisted ankle, and within a couple of days she had no pain. A couple of weeks after we came home, she went with her JCC social club ice-skating. She didn’t fall.

For her I believe the time was very good and she is planning to go to Nationals (as she calls them) the next time they come to Boston or perhaps the World’s at Montreal. She loves to blog about ice-skating, participates intensely in this world of ice-skating, knows the politics which she reports on too. The sport and her participation in it help give her life meaning. There are thousands of people like her; each time I’ve gone to an event I’ve been impressed by the variety of types of people who are there fully absorbed. I think they were not well treated in by the Milan stadium owners. Izzy used to put up lovely YouTubes on her old blog, and I would share some too — where she shows her gift for elegant concise writing and carrying much knowledge lightly — but the commercialization of YouTube has taken most of her hard-worked efforts down.


The famous Nathan Chen whom Izzy and I first saw as a 12 year old seeking a scholarship at a Michael Weiss run skating event in (remote) Maryland — what has his life been.

I liked how he made a point of dressing simply. I wondered if that was part of his way of dealing with the stress.

Miss Drake

Milan Diaries


Via Navigli, Sunday March 25th, Antiques sale …


with my friend, Luca Gandolfi

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

Friends,

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

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


New Tess, Milan

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outside sculpture

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

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

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

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


A photo-painting of realistically conceived figures looking at art

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

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

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


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

Home again that night to read quietly and rest.

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

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


An horse-shoe shaped church in front of the cemetery

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


One of several wide and long lanes


Yes that’s me looking cold

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

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

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

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

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


Her face held up to the light by Izzy

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


Houseboats allowed

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

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

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

David Holbrook (1923-2011)

Coming Home from Abroad

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

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

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


John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) Carnavon 1800

Ellen

Doing Milan


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


A small park, and ruin in a street near ours

Friends,

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


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

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


Izzy on the cathedral roof, wearing Laura’s hat


Walking into the castle entrance — a fountain is in front

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


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

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


Ruins

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

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


Michelangelo’s late Pieta, at the Sforza castle

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


The cathedral roof from just one of many angles

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

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

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


The cathedral highest roof

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


What we saw as we came in


Walking about


The altar

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


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

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


Piazza del Monte, in Reggio Emilia, Correggio today

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

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


From our seats inside La Scala

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

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

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

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


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

Miss Drake

I can’t resist this one:

Cats sleep, anywhere,
Any table, any chair
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge,
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody’s lap will do,
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard, with your frocks-
Anywhere! They don’t care!
Cats sleep anywhere.

I accompanied this with a deeply appealing video but it has been removed by some omnipresent software machine protecting this particular YouTube.

Of course the poem’s assertion not true any. Any lap will not do. Cats will sleep anywhere once they feel safe, so if they have kind owners, such scenes Eleanor Farjeon conjures up come to mind. These are images of peace, security, quiet calm, and associated with cats help explain why we love our cats. Their behavior around us is comforting.

For example, here is one such image (though more tremulous, not quite so secure — note the wary open eyes) I photographed in my house since returning home:

Clarycat’s GreyMouse has turned up: a few days ago I saw Ian or Snuffycat carrying the toy about in his mouth. I put it on the floor after dusting off, and not much later found it as you see. Once again Clarycat continually removes Greymouse from the catbed to put it near where I am — my chair, by the threshold of the door to my workroom … Cats grow attached to objects. They attach objects to us, us to the objects we use. That’s why they sit in our shoes or among our socks.

Cats are symbolic animals — as are we. The end of the first seek home after much effort I re-found consignment thrift shop that Laura had taken Izzy and me to, Evolution Home not far from my house. I went to buy a few home improvements: a pretty lamp, finally a rug big enough to cover the new vestibule as you walk into my house, that was not super-costly, and came upon this:

There is much cross-stitching; along the outline of the cat, in his or her ears, to suggest where muscle lines go, the lines between feet, up and down his or her tail. The green is somewhat lighter than it appears in the photograph, and the ribbon is a duller red. It’s very feminine in its furls and furbelows. Both sniffed it all around and then, having accepted or approved, more or less ignored it. They cuddle around me. I’m glad for this way it will get less hair and no clawing.

Well, a friend on face-book wondered that someone would give “such a lovely thing away.” My immediate thought was how the world seems to be filled with people who don’t invest any or much emotional in things beyond personal interest, so we see that few value a book, a work of art for whatever beauty it has in and of itself — never mind the prestige of a name who made it, how it’s identified as part of an upper class taste. So this nameless pillow easily labelled kitsche would be discarded. But another friend suggested I should not assume the people didn’t care, and stories emerged of having to sell so much when you move from a larger place to a much much smaller, how you can end up discarding someone’s household who you are related to after the person dies, how some people discard things if they feel it looks “odd” (in a small apartment): “people give away gifts they just don’t care for or have room for … and people die and their stuff gets donated!”

Still to me ideas about decor — as how the objects fit together — don’t matter so much. To my mind that means you are worrying a bit too much about how the place looks to other eyes. I probably don’t have a decor in my house. Much was bought at different times and in different places.

Our things, our stuff, for some of us are central to our identity. Cherished as reminding us, as having been there when memories of the past formed.

This is from my Profile on Library Thing: “La bibliothèque devient une aventure” (Umberto Eco quoted by Chantal Thomas, Souffrir). My life is a continuation of Jim and my play without him there. I see him in my dreams and experience him in my memories daily and nightly still. Five years gone by and maybe I seem to forget but in truth I do not ever forget his now absent presence. “Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?” (from Carol Shields, Swann where a section of the book is about a man who is forced to sell his library).

It’s not silly to be attached to things, no sillier than cats.

This is one of the reasons I don’t want to move; it would be like erasing Jim and my past. I am not so much inventing a new past as adding on. I have added Milan to the other places in Italy where I went with Jim.

And I am now watching Season 3 of Outlander, using DVDs and listening to Davina Porter read aloud the book upon which the season is based: Gabaldon’s Voyager where however long the time going by seems, however varied and different her life, another person will not do:

Frank: Might you have forgotten him, with time?
Claire: That amount of time doesn’t exist

and the parallel in Lord John Grey’s story:

He said I would overcome it.
Come to terms with it.
In time.
Hal is generally right, but not always.
Some people, you grieve over forever.
(from the script, Episode 3, “All Debts Paid,” by Matthew B Roberts and Ronald Moore, from Gabaldon’s Voyager)

Miss Drake


Laura & me


Izzy & me
Photos taken the first afternoon in the Duomo square (Friday, 4/16) before the Cathedral

Friends,

Last Monday (4/26) we walked out of Union Station (a DC train and Metro center), pulling and carrying our bags after 19 hours of travel from Milan: around 9:30 am Milan time that morning we had gotten into an Uber cab for a 45 minute ride to the Milan airport; it was now 10:30 pm Washington DC time and we were stacking our stuff into Laura’s husband’s car for a half-hour ride home to Alexandria. It was an arduous trip and had been an arduous time away.

So vigorous (rigorous?) had we been that I had come down with a bad cold on Wednesday before (4/21) after a long day at the Assago Milanfiori Forum (where the ice-skating championship was held) and it had not abated one jot. By Thursday (4/29, a week and one day later) Laura was diagnosed with walking pneumonia, and yesterday, Monday (4/2) Izzy was suffering from the same bad cold (painful chest, rough hot throat, constant sneezing, blowing of nose and so on) I still have as I write ths tonight. I will drive Izzy to the doctor tomorrow for antibiotic, cough medicine and (we hope) nose spray.

Next time we better take better care of our selves. There was a raw cold in the air throughout our stay. We just never felt the balmy (warm) air we often enjoy in this southern end of the mid-Atlantic temperature zone. We kept hoping and we would take one of our layers off, and say how warm and sunny it was. But go inside some heated place, and we knew better.


What I saw each morning and evening from my window in the flat — look how antique much below is

We also had not reckoned on steep stairs on long high stairways everywhere. I became convinced Milanese people have yet to be educated into the true wonders of elevators everywhere, with conveniently located escalators a ready alternative, such as we more or less expect in NYC and Washington DC. We had a comfortable enough flat, airy, high ceiling, enough beds, a TV, wi-fi, fridge, tables, chairs, decent bathroom, but getting there was arduous: it was on the third floor. Laura counted 68 steps, stone. One merciless stairway was 14 steep ones. The stairs at the Forum looked like nearly a foot high or inbetween. By Thursday (4/22), both my knees were in pain as I walked up the stairs one last time after dinner, and my legs ached so as I got into bed, I wanted never to take off the covers or move them again. Laura’s feet were covered in bandages. Izzy was so buoyed up by her long days at the Forum she probably didn’t notice, and anyway since she spent long hours, early in the morning to late at night 4 of the days, watching the ice-skating didn’t walk nearly as much.

But now you have had the worst of it.

I’ll tell the second worst and then we can get on with what was good, instructive, fun, beautiful: if you are determined to see the world, and where you want to go is so far, you must take a plane, I would even recommend Alitalia. The Milanese airport had enough chairs for people to sit in (by contrast, in the Icelandic airport nowadays people are treated like cattle). Granted Malpensa is not genuinely comfortably with cafeteria-like places with a variety of food to eat nearby such as I saw in Dublin’s airport. Food was limited to croissants and pizza, and not in convenient locations (Italians have not discovered the wonders of attending to convenience, nearby-ness). But there were no humiliating practices of extra scrutiny at the airport or conducted by the airline (nor at the Forum — there I was waved by) as in all US airports (and twice for me in Iceland, once in Brussels in US space). Alitalia seats were fantastically small but we were fed going and coming, two meals, plenty of water, soda and wine and tea and what they called coffee for free; movies for all (I saw a movie about Thurgood Marshall and Holofcener’s wonderful Friends with Money going). The Italians were not determined to punish us because oodles of money had not been extracted from us. We were not mistreated as one is on so many airlines and in US airports today (where you officially have no civil rights).

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

So the first night, Friday (4/16). I had messengered (is that the verb?) a long-time Internet friend, Luca Gandolfi, just before we left, and that very afternon he phoned me to say he was giving a lecture on Jane Austen and her contemporaries: minor women writers. Would I like to come? Would I? Laura’s google map enabled her to help me find the place among turning alleyways and streets near the Duomo. Laura and Izzy thought they’d be bored so went for an hour’s walk near this institute, which houses a club, lecture hall (Luca is teaching a class of about 6 women as a volunteer lecturer — which scene reminded me of the OLLIs), musical concert places. Imagine we were talking of Julia Kavanagh and her novels. Luca said he preferred women writers to men. So do I.

His wife, Grazia, was there and at the end of the lecture Laura and Izzy were back and we all retired to a local Italian restaurant he and his wife often go to. Lovely place, good pizza and wine, and lots of company. Much good talk. Laura began to take many photos. Unfortunately, she put them on instagram which only later did I realize would not let someone else download them as jpgs. Nor does face-book, where you can find a photo of Luca and me.

I did not realize as yet I was having my first experience of an ancient thriving city. As the days and nights wore on, I was impressed by how everyone is interdependent in Milan. Wealth does not insulate you. Most stores have some time they are closed and everyone seems to know, for example, which pharmacies are open when. So you get lines. Everyone in Milan seems to accept lining up. The antiques market we spent hours at on Sunday morning (4/25) winded up and down the long canal, moving left and right with little spurs on side streets: slowly all the spaces filled up, slowly more and more people; around 11 the hourly church bells heard across the city. and what a higgledy-piggedy of things. I came home with this ceramic cat:

In much bubblewrap. The great Milan cathedral on the one side of a great square and down a wide pair of streets, the Castle Sforza with its vast park — are central sites, the first is tourist-infested but the places all around, the shopping is for everyone. There is some system of cabs where you must phone first but when you do phone, everyone is served. Uber is disruptive of this. The repeated trolley cars and trams going every which way. Higgedy, piggedly modern shops with ancient ruins, old buildings with new made to fit them. The restaurants are places for groups of people and are used a great deal until late at night. You must make a reservation but many do this seems.

There are exclusive practices. La Scala was so dull. As opposed to the wonderful bars (more than 2 usually) in the bowels of UK theaters and on different levels in the US which makes for much interactive experience, there is just the show, hardly announced, it’s over and all spill out. Cabs picking people up. Except for places like La Scala the lesson taught is we must and do all of us live together interconnectedly. Egalitarianism is too much an abstract word for what days really spent across Milan makes one feel.

To return to our lecture and dinner out with a friend, we were very tired, having left DC that morning 19 hours before we got to Duomo square. He and his wife walked us home and on the way showed us where the Milanese gov’t is found. In front of it is a large statue of a hand with its third finger stuck up. (Fuck you is universal.) We said goodbye and hoped we would see each other on Sunday (we did, albeit briefly) at the antiques fair where he sometimes has a stall and hunts every other week for good buys in books (collector’s items). Izzy, Laura and I must have been going 27 hours before we went up those stairs, opened the difficult door, managed to arrange the space in the flat so we slept in separate areas with doors inbetween. Privacy to read or write on ipads. And collapsed.


A Swiss lake from the train as we wound through the mountains of the Southern alps (where there are palm trees!)

Up the next morning bright and early, Saturday (4/17) to get to the Milan railway station leading us out of the country by train to Zurich, Switzerland. Why? We had been invited by a very long-time Internet friend, Fran, to visit her in her house in a small town in Germany about an hour’s drive from Zurich. I have known her since around 1997 on listservs, via email letters, in group reads, as friends, and whom I once met for an afternoon in London for lunch and a visit to a museum (the Wallace collection).


The Black forest from the car

She showed us all around Zurich that afternoon: its church, its very expensive shops, its library; its canals, bridges.


Modern shopping area

Zurich
Zurich church with spire

Then into her area of Germany by Saturday evening and we saw some remarkable small towns. One was called Doherty, Germany. Original gates preserved, streets and squares from 14th century.


A community place

There was at one end community center where immigrants could come to be acclimated, where clubs and civic activities go on; near by the statue of local woman who did much to build the town center. Home again to Fran’s beautifully custom-made house and lovely meal of melted cheese and boiled potato and pickles and pineapple and other things (it has a name but I missed it). It was the next day we visited 4 countries: we drove through the Black Forest, into Frieberg, Germany; Colmar and a French village surrounded by vines; ended in wine-bar.


Three different French villages

We were inside several interesting and quite different churches — it matters whether it was Protestant and stripped bare or high church Catholic, both were built in this region (and ferocious wars fought).


Outside a cathedral


Inside


A clock tower

High points of what we saw: one small Catholic church; Chagall stained windows; little scenes — in one street with the 14th century floors and windows and roofs I remembered how hard it was in Austen’s Emma to get a pianoforte into Miss Bates’s flat. You dropped it by ropes from the roof. Birds nesting on a roof

It has been so heartening to see so much civic pride. This is what is not seen in the US anymore. Everything has been done that can be done to break the spirit and shrink the pocketbook of the average American, at the same time as prices for everything are jacked up, no money put into anything public (not into transportation, not into schools, community centers are closed down if not run by a religious organization). Wide stretches of impoverishment and despair as the blight spreads.

Nourishing meal again at home with Fran and Karl. Much talk. Sleep. Next morning light snow, so pretty in Dogern. We returned to Zurich with Fran and got back on the train. I was sorry to part. I used to have a friend who consoled me after we had visited Salisbury cathedral and a house said to be the one Trollope modeled the Warden’s house on (in Southern England), and it was time to part. He lived in Arizona and I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again. “You know you’ve had a good time when you feel you are parting too soon.” His name was Sigmund Eisner and he was an important presence on the Trollope list with Mike Powe, the first listowner, and me and a few others in the early years. He would describe the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels as we went through them. Sigmund died about 15 years ago. I hold him in my memory.

We were in Milan by 5 pm and had to find a place to eat in — without reservations. We managed it — with difficulty. It took much walking, several rejections, and then luck. After the dinner we returned to the flat and collapsed. We slept late the following Tuesday morning (3/20). When I next write, you’ll hear all about Tuesday exploring,eating, planning for the week, shopping for food in Milan.

Gentle reader, I hope you forgive me these records of the time away with my daughters and contact with a few friends. Most of my life is spent alone. I’m back to that now: I go out to the courses at OLLI so as to be with people. I read with others online so as to be part of an imagined good community. On any given night when so many people might be out with or visiting friends, I’ll be in my house reading, writing, watching movies, listening to music, my cats nearby. So I write these to extend the times and relive them again I’ve had been out in the world with others.

Ellen