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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’


Snow-cat, made by Rob, Laura’s husband, just outside their backdoor

This morning I realized there was a sweetness about life, about existence, being alive somehow, a tone, a feel to the very air, which has vanished altogether since Jim died. My eye lighted on a house near my street, so familiar after 35 years that corner, and it came to me when I would see that corner and was driving home to where Jim often was, how the world was suffused with sweetness, a tone, a feel — gone forever, with vacuity in its place.

Friends,

The past two weeks have been cold, rain has poured on Alexandria, and now we’ve had a mild three day snow storm. Mild because only some 12 inches but enough to close down what parts of gov’t have been left open after Trump and his regime decided to make their right-wing dictatorship felt. A coup is underway to nullify the election of a democratic house. I am far from alone in being sick with worry and anxiety for my and Izzy’s comfortable existence, this house and my books supplying all that make my life worthwhile.

I’ve been thinking what can I do if Trump succeeds in keeping this up: can the money I have invested be turned around to produce some kind of income? I thought of Jane Austen’s line in Persuasion: Is there any one item on which we can retrench. I’ve been thinking of many items, including eating less and more cheaply. I’ve not bought a thing I didn’t have to since the gov’t shut down. I am already committed for two trips but after this stop. Apply for tax relief from the Alexandria property rates. I have been so proud of my garden: it would hurt not to have the gardeners work at it at least once a month (they came twice in the fall); it would break my heart, but I know nothing of gardening so need them. No more cleaning ladies. That’s easy. Izzy loves her four sports channels but we could go down on the phone somehow. Anything to stay here and keep my books. Night after night Judy Woodruff on PBS catalogues another set of individuals devastated by this.  Trump came on Fox  enjoying himself utterly. Remember he and his Republican loathe most of the agencies, like the FTC which is supposed to protect consumers, stop monopoly and exploitative practices. They are shutting all this down as a trial to see what they can destroy. They like the idea of federal workers forced to work for no pay.  Well these workers won’t keep it up for years.  My especial heart-break is the closing of the Library of Congress.


Saturday night from the windows of my enclosed porch


Sunday morning close up

I’ve been out minimally but not lonely because of the worlds of the Internet I have found so many friends and people who share some part of my taste to spend time with. I visited a friend where we had old-fashioned grilled-cheese sandwiches (on white bread no less, fried lightly in butter on a frying pan) with tea and then settled together to watch the wondrous French A Christmas Tale. She enjoyed it as deeply as I. She’s worried too: she lives on a much larger social security and annuity payments; she will rearrange her annuity payments for a start she says.

One night also I went on a date (the first in 52 years) — an old-fashioned date where the man picked me up by car, drove me to an elegant yet home-y Irish pub in Northwest Washington where we had a yummy meal and good talk; afterwards a drive through very pretty park-lined and riverside streets, and then home again home again, jiggedy-jig, where he walked me to my door. I even dressed up, complete high heels and an attempt at make-up (feeble, basically lip-stick).

I know my face looks awful but consider that the cell phone picked up harsh shadows in Izzy’s half-lit room.

We were in a neighborhood in Northwest Washington I knew existed, sort of, but had never been in. The OLLI at AU is there. Very wealthy, exclusive (he pointed to three clubs he belongs to along the river, one where no one else can come into that piece of land in that park), beautiful, forest-y. There’s a Great Falls I’d never heard of and he was even startled to hear I’d never heard of it. His big income comes from years of working in high positions in agencies Trump will destroy: environmental; he did “operations research” (mathematical finding of which is your best option to do; this is used to bomb things). He is by older heritage Jewish, but his family spent so many years in Arkansas and then Tennessee so he has no memories of any heritage but American — one of his clubs meets in a local very tasteful Episcopalian church.  An intelligent sports person, someone who knew how to and still does socialize and network, a widower, with 2 (!) guns in his house. I could see he was rightist — trained to be a fighter pilot in the later 1950s. He knew what an adjunct is, and said of Jim’s career, what a shame he didn’t make more money with such degrees. I think for us, given my expectations, & where we both came from, Jim did very well. I know mainstream people will comment (adversely) he retired so early. Yes, and I have much less because of this, but he lived for 9 years he would not have had he worked until 65, gotten that dreadful cancer, and been devoured.  So not a lot of common ground. The evening was though very pleasant. Both people kept up cordial conversation.  I think I’d actually never been on a date like this before — never treated that way in my teens. Perhaps it fit Christine Blasey Forde’s expectations when she found herself among thug upper class males for the first time. The evening was a sociological lesson for me.

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The facsimile edition


the beloved and loving dog, Hajjin

I read a new remarkable short novel where the central consciousness is a nearly kidnapped dog, the 19th century novella, The Confessions of a Lost Dog by Francis Power Cobbe — she anticipates Woolf’s Flush: deeply humane and somewhat convincing attempt to get inside a dog’s personality, not the physical self the way Woolf tried. She is one of the women I am hopeful about writing about for my projected part of a book, working title, The Anomaly (only single women trying to live apart from men have not been.) I  am now reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as translated by Ann Goldstein: she describes a world I grew up in (Naples = southeast Bronx, circa 1950s). Lenu the reader, and Lila who learns to cast off ambition because thwarted hope is one of the most painful of experiences..

Still inching along in the helpful Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, ed Ella Westland, have opened and begun more of my Cornwall travel-memoir meditative history-as-reverie books. I’m now reading the three Poldark novels I’ve chosen for the paper I’m supposed to give in Denver (if airplanes are flying — I don’t know why the TSA people just don’t go on strike — all terrorized they will lose their jobs; this is what employment in the US has come to). And I’ve had one of those delightful literary discoveries fit only for cherished re-telling in a diary.

All the years of watching the two different Poldark, and having read the twelve books I thought carefully through, I never realized both series had omitted Aunt Agatha, the 98 year old unmarried Poldark aunt’s kitten. In scenes where she appears in Black Moon we are told she has a kitten and then cat keeping her affectionate company. His name is Smollett and I suspect the name is reference to the popular 18th century novelist, Smollett who features an old unmarried woman and her beloved dog in an epistolary novel, Humphry Clinker (the hero is Methodist), and cats and offensive smells in a travel -tour book.


Agatha (Caroline Blakiston) saying goodbye to Verity (from Season 3, Black Moon)

When we first see Agatha, we are told

A black kitten moved on her lap. This was Smollett, which she had found somewhere a few months ago and made peculiarly her own. Now they were inseparable. Agatha never stirred without the kitten, and Smollett, all red tongue and yellow eye, could hardly be persuaded to leave her. Geoffrey Charles, with a small boy’s glee, always called her ‘Smell-it.’ [When George Warleggan intrudes.] The kitten, to Agatha’s pleasure, had arched its back and spat at the new arrival (Black Moon, Chapter 1).

Smollett is mentioned in passing, and when on the last page of this novel, Agatha lies dying:

The bed shook as Smollett jumped on it again. Her head was sinking sideways on the pillow. With great effort, she straightened it … then the light began to go, the warm, milk yellow sunlight of a summer day … She could not close her mouth. She tried to close her mouth and failed. Her tongue stopped. But one hand slowly moved. Smollett nudged up to it and licked it with his rough tongue. The sensation of that roughness made its way from her fingers to her brain. It was the last feeling left. The fingers moved a moment on the cat’s fur. Hold me, hold me, they said. Then quietly peacefully, at the last, submissively, beaten by a stronger will than her own, her eyes opened and she left the world behind (Black Moon, last chapter, last page, last paragraph)

Graham is very fond of animals, and especially a lover of cats throughout his novels. Ross Poldark meets Demelza because at the risk of her own severe body injury she was defending her dog, Garrick, from torturous abuse for the amusement of a mob and several boys. Here are Ian and Clarycat near a snow filled window with their toy mouse:

For snow days: I recommend the remarkable movie about Gertrude Bell narrated by Tilda Swinden, for its remarkably contemporary film footage, Bell’s letters, virtuoso performances of BBC actors as Bell’s family, friends, associates: Letters from Baghdad. I’m listening to Timothy West’s inimitable reading of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, as prelude to Can You Forgive Her? and for a group discussion (Trollope&Peers); this is alternatively with Davina Porter reading Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn. I shall buy no more of these but listen and re-listen to what I have. My kind Irish friend has sent me so many copies of DVDs of very good British BBC movies, I can go for years. My movies at home and nightly for now are both sets of Poldark serial dramas (back-to-back watching of equivalent episodes), Outlander Seasons 2 and 4. I was disappointed but not surprised when Caitriona Balfe, nominated for Golden Globe as best actress for four years in row, lost once again. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride ….

It is hard to find Balfe in a dress I can endure to look at at these ceremonies: a salutary reminder of the real woman (the first phase of her career was as a fashion model).. She is presented in the features as a cooperative team player . The blog where I found the image, repeatedly said of the dress it’s too “LV” — perhaps Louis Vuitton, but a sneering tone accompanied by scorn for those “who have trouble paying their rent,” so it’s probably a withering resentment of her outfit as not overtly extravagant, ritzy, expensive enough. I remember Jenny Bevan who has dressed hundreds of actors and actresses in the best movies for years, turning up for her award for costume in ordinary pants, top, her hair simply brushed was booed. So you see where the outrageous lengths this red carpet stupidity goes to comes from: the worst values of mean minds.

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As for keeping body as well as soul up, I walk for 20 minutes in the afternoons, and listen to country and folk music in the mornings as I exercise for 10 minutes and close this evening with Pete Seeger’s “There’s a river of my people:

There’s a river of my people
And its flow is swift and strong,
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.
Flowing to some mighty ocean,
Though its course is deep and long.

Many rocks and reefs and mountains
Seek to bar it from its way.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.
But relentlessly this river
Seeks its brothers in the sea.

You will find us in the mainstream,
Steering surely through the foam,
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.
Far beyond the raging waters
We can see our certain home.

For we have mapped this river
And we know its mighty force
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.
And the courage that this gives us
Will hold us to our course.

Oh, river of my people,
Together we must go,
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my brothers wait I know.
Hasten onward to that meeting
Where my sisters wait I know.

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Miss Drake

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

Friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon

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

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

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

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

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

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon, Babylon, ah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Poldark Christmas card @Rosalynde Lemarchand

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On Love, Factually:


A senior couple: Mary Catherine Curran and Martin Garcia

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


A good review of this production

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Wilhelm Purvitis (1872-1941) Winter in Latvia (1910)

Friends and readers,

This fine winter afternoon Izzy and I took what has become our “traditional” (five years running) near twilight walk in Old Town Alexandria as our way of commemorating Christmas eve. Above you see the Alexandria City Christmas tree, all lit. The DC tree is not, it is dark due to the crazed semi-dictator who insists on being given billions of taxpayers’ dollars to build a cruel hideous wall before he will let them use their own money to light up their Christmas city tree. In Alexandria we escape him here: our tree stands in front of the town square where our farmers’ market is set up every Saturday morning.

Izzy and I have this year once againy had our spirits lifted, a halcyon moment at the Folger for their Christmas Concert 2 weeks ago now; last week I went with new friend, Panorea to the Kennedy Center to see a Nutcracker suite; Saturday, Izzy, Laura and I again to the Kennedy Center, this time for Miss Saigon (I wept again, Izzy said the Engineer was more flamboyant than the man who played the part in London — he was less witty) and after out to a yummy Asian food restaurant to exchange presents; and yesterday Izzy and I once again to the Christmas Music Hall Pantomime at Metrostage. The routines could never be done today, but kept truly stylized and the ones still living, one of my favorites once again, Christmas in the Trenches, and some good feeling truly funny and touching songs, dances, and routines left us very cheerful for last night’s pre-Christmas eve. Tonight we had roast chicken.

As another year draws to a close, the holiday ritual and longer night-time encourages me to think back to the previous year and many years, to remember and compare different holiday times as well as what we did this year that was meaningful and good, also what happened that brought sorrow. And for I who who live through books and nowadays movies too, that means listing and in previous years I have come up with a list of what I read and/or watched, quite copious and discovered (not to my surprise) how much I read books by women and how much I prefer them, that I find as much intense pleasure and new life in non-fiction (literary biography especially) as I do fiction. This year I went to the trouble — it was telling my life’s important events — of listing and telling why or how 10 different books (some became sets of books) influenced my life, and I know at times I realized I was seeing so many remarkably good and fine films between a course I took in films over this fall into winter and a film club I attended from spring across the summer to early fall I was driven simply to list the titles lest now and again I forget them.

As a holiday to myself I am over the next two days reading a book that has nothing to do with any project, just something I knew I’d love and I am: Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises: her tone is just so deeply congenial, her sense of humor, her sadness and why; and I just saw two more great films, truly, Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (2008), and Arnaud Cuaron’s Roma (2018): both have an apprehension of our life as a small figure in a landscape of crowds. Desplechin’s 2 and 1/2 hour film made me feel I was experiencing the holiday in proportionate real time with a family who let me be in their intimate experience, while with Cleo I saw the world from a compassionate point of view of her & the women & children she worked so hard for.


We look in


Nearly drowned

Instead of like last year trying to remember them all or again, conjuring up why they mean what they have to me, I’ll content myself with another list:

for books the outstanding revelations even were above all Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Paul Scott’s Staying On, and the outstanding author, E.M. Forster for no less than three of his novels, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India, indeed I felt I had not begun to apprehend what my mind was processing when I read them years ago, it was as if I were reading them truly for the first time, and just as important in this was Nicola Beauman’s literary biography, Morgan; without her I would not have gotten what I did from these. All masterpieces — alas that the word is so overused. And for the unexpected, I was astonished by how much I responded deeply to because I was surprised to discover how much I liked and identified with the privileged and lucky Claire Tomalin in her A Life of My Own. A journey a life I wish I could have taken but felt grateful she shared hers with me so aware of how fortunate she had been.


A new Helen Allingham when I thought I had seen them all

For movies, may I be candid, gentle reader? Oh yes I know the one that held me over and over, especially at midnight is not finely subtle in its passion as the great TV movie, The Child In Time (Cumberbatch and Kelly MacDonald out of McEwan’s novel). As in another year the serial dramas that I found irresistible, and watched over and over, blogged and found books for, were Wolf Hall (Mantel again) and Downton Abbey (even now when the theme music is played over over the advertisement for the coming theater movie production, I find tears rising out of my eyes); and another year (but not so devotedly) The Crown (I cannot resist Claire Foy?);

so this year it has been Outlander: I’ve listened to three and one half of the four books four seasons have realized, bought and read the companions, joined conversations on face-book pages (!), posted away recaps, meditations. I’m rooting strongly for Caitriona Balfe to won the Golden Globe finally after four years of “almost there” (nominations).

I much prefer it to the new Poldark, which seems to me such a missed opportunity, given how rich the books potentially are.


Lamb, a wolf-dog has been added this year

I suppose in previous years (but I never thought to think of this) I should have said, this 2017 has been the first year I ever bought a good car for and by myself I am fond of (my 2016 PriusC), and went to Inverness and was able to visit the Highlands of Scotland; or this 2016 has been the first year I ever renovated a house and how good it is to sit in my sun-room, it’s become a habitas that I am the genius loci in. Or in this 2015 I won the first prize I ever did — the Peterson Award for service at EC/ASECS.

So unlike all previous years let me list 2018 as the year I fulfilled a long time wish-dream: this summer’s time in the Lake District and northern borders (debatable ownership here) of England. This year I went away with my two daughters to Milan (though alas for reasons best not listed I fear they will not do that with me again). I had my first over-night visitor; he stayed two nights in the sun-room and said I made him very comfortable. I tried.


A Michelangelo Pieta we saw upclose

Sadly, this year my boy ginger tabby pussycat, Ian aka “my lover,” Snuffy, is no longer well, his nose gray where it should be pink: a heart murmur I’m told.  Clarycat has lost that blithe grace she once had. All three of us become yet more attached as we grow yet more vulnerable. A rare good friend, Vivian, died in March.

So here I am on Christmas Eve reaching out once again in the one way I sometimes succeed, before I turn off the computer and go to bed, another poem by Patricia Fargnoli

Message for the Disheartened

When you are expecting nothing
a letter arrives
and someone decides for you.
Your arms fall to your sides,
your hands open.

You dress for the weather
in your gold moccasins
and prepare for long journeys
to distant countries.

The foxes who come out of the forests
stall before you but do not startle.
They are so beautiful,
full of spice and sugar.

Vines grow wildly around you
tangling your thoughts.
There are so many countries
you’ve never traveled to.

You’ve been keeping
to your own rooms
like a blanket stored
inside a closet

or an Egyptian mummy
or a room full of model ships.
In case you miss me,
keep moving through time

and I will arrive finally
in a black coat and top hat,
leaving my cane in the closet,
to open your inner pages

saying, after all, life
is sweet and not as dangerous
as you might think—though the thief
runs off with the child before help comes
(Winter)

I wish all my friends who read this happy Christmas,  a wish: be well and that 2019 should be kind to us all.

Ellen

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Nighttime in my front garden: if you look hard you can glimpse my glowing penguin waving at the world from his window in my (during the day) sun-room

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere

We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

Here are some less commonplace or unsettling pictures from the Victorian era: anthropomorphic cats, murderous frogs, and insects dancing by moonlight have not become part of our Christmas card tradition today.  We must I suppose acknowledge that Christmas is a time of fierce cold which can bring on death, and Robin redbreasts looking piteously cold under shivering wings are part of Mother Goose rhymes. For those impoverished, winter presents hardships in which living creatures can perish for not having enough or out of loneliness or isolation at the time when others it may seem heartlessly celebrate their good luck. It is allied to death because our memories are allied to deaths of those we’ve lost and the winter solstice is a time for remembering; hence the ghost stories

https://designyoutrust.com/2018/12/bizarre-and-creepy-vintage-christmas-cards-from-the-victorian-era/

I confess to a fondness for Jacquie Lawson’s kitsch cards, and send them out to listserv, email, FB, twitter and other online genuine friends at Christmas time. I wonder what is our tradition today: sentiment, pictures of groups of people happy together — dogs and cats at play — in 19th century settings in lovely countryside. I hope others will appreciate this parody as I do:

Ellen

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“It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible” — Henry Tilney, from Austen’s Northanger Abbey


Stage 2: yesterday, Saturday, Dec 8th, tree brought home from nearby garden place (complete with stand), placed on credenza, and Izzy removing the last of the netting


Stage 2: Just the read and silver garland


Un arbre fini — it smells sweet as yet, fresh branches, it is still drinking the water in the stand

Friends and readers,

This is Izzy and my 6th winter solstice without Jim. This past Thursday (a balmy afternoon), I climbed down from our attic with Colin, our Christmas Penguin: I remember how Jim sang some version of this song when my neighbor gave Colin to me as a gift from Target when I told her I had seen him, and not been able to persuade Jim to buy him with the enthusiasm I felt:

— “Colin, the glittering penguin, had a very shiny sleigh, and if you ever saw him, you could even say he’s gay. All of the other penguins used to laugh and call him names; they never let poor Colin join in any penguin games … then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say, Colin with your sleigh so bright … won’t you lead our line tonight …. ” —

This year I first had him facing me and the pussycats in the sun-room; then I thought he is meant to be shared, so I put him before a window yesterday. I can’t put him outdoors because I fear someone will steal him. Would someone in this neighborhood do such a thing? yes. Years ago my next door neighbor’s partner, put out a full sled and reindeer and overnight he found it vanished. He was shocked. Also how cold poor Colin would be.

Last year I added a friend for him and my pussycats this silvery and white and greyish squirrel — if you could look close you see the little sparks which in life are silvery, shine out lightly and make the rest feel snowy. He sits by the tree.


Ian aka Snuffy, imitating Demelza’s word for her son from the Poldark books I call him “my lover” — when he hops on my lap, presses his body against my chest, his front legs (arms) around my head and rubs my head with his, what else is he doing?

Being without Jim doesn’t get any easier … how much living I’ve done in the last six years and how much I now feel I should have helped him to do …. how much experience we could have had together, how many possible memories we’ve lost — how much I should have to tell him of all this somehow interim time since. I like to think that had he lived I might have found these OLLIs and gotten him to go — he might’ve liked them. When we came into the money he was waiting for we would have traveled — he never saw Venice.

I am so just loving the Outlander films and even enjoyed listening to Drums of Autumn where in this fourth volume the homophobia, racism, and even egregious violence has dropped. Diana Gabaldon takes the humane sides each time: Jamie and Claire take refuge in America — of course upper class white style; but they will not own people and they do all they can to make friends with the native Americans. Davina Porter conveys how the narrator now often is Gabaldon herself somehow presenting her characters and then Claire again. But what I love is the central relationship. I watch the first season one-by-one at midnight whenever I am not too tired (I often am so have not gotten to where Claire tells Jamie where she came from) and twice a week each of the episodes of this fourth season. I do love how they ended up in a log cabin alone together — however improbable. Last night the last scene was of them love-making, he bathing her in a hip bath covered with a white cloth first. I know to me it’s a substitute for Jim and my relationship in dreams.


Caitriona Balfe as Claire last night — of course it’s her I identity with, her conception of this character — that involved me with these films and books from the first — she was nominated for a Golden Globe once again so someone besides myself recognizes how deeply appealing she is as this character

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Pissarro, Seine: From a Louvre bridge: Ships in Snow

I don’t find the season of winter depressing. (What is happening in our public worlds is another matter.) To me it has a beauty of its own, but this year I find I am less able to cope with the cold than ever before. The chill air seemed to lace itself into my skin and bones and I shiver and hurry back in to escape the bitterness of the air. So what is better to share than one of Horace’s Odes about winter, I:X, which I found in a better translation than Dryden’s (though I still don’t like the antepenultimate and penultimate lines — why do men think women enjoy (!?) hiding from them, being elusive but that they mistake wariness and rejection for a come-on), but having just returned from a very happy time out with my friend, Panorea, at the Kennedy Center seeing a Nutcracker performance, and then going to a nearby unassuming Asian restaurant, quiet inside, one tree decorated, good food (I’ve been there before with Laura and Izzy and had the same eggplant and garlic sauce with brown rice chased down by Merlot), and with her much good companionable talk, Horace’s outlook is one I offer tonight against the dark:

See how Soracte stands glistening with snowfall,
and the labouring woods bend under the weight:
see how the mountain streams are frozen,
cased in the ice by the shuddering cold?
Drive away bitterness, and pile on the logs,
bury the hearthstones, and, with generous heart,
out of the four-year old Sabine jars,
O Thaliarchus, bring on the true wine.
Leave the rest to the gods: when they’ve stilled the winds
that struggle, far away, over raging seas,
you’ll see that neither the cypress trees
nor the old ash will be able to stir.

Don’t ask what tomorrow brings, call them your gain
whatever days Fortune gives, don’t spurn sweet love,
my child, and don’t you be neglectful
of the choir of love, or the dancing feet,
while life is still green, and your white-haired old age
is far away with all its moroseness. Now,
find the Campus again, and the squares,
soft whispers at night, at the hour agreed,
and the pleasing laugh that betrays her, the girl
who’s hiding away in the darkest corner,
and the pledge that’s retrieved from her arm,
or from a lightly resisting finger.

That is, as long as we don’t forget others not as lucky as we and try to help them somehow. I give money to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations working to improve the lot of everyone on earth using law, custom, humane principles. Poverty is utterly unnecessary in our world (it’s not just a distribution problem) is hard. so here is an accompanying image: a painting from 1959 by Peter Cook: Bitter Cold, Chapel Street …. the woman must put her clothes out in the street in hopes the wind will dry them. Frozen stiff. I have in my time hung clothes out on a line in very old dry weather. Consider the fortitude of the woman who did that.

And those inside. I know I don’t do enough by giving money to organizations working to change the economic order, to shore up what laws we have to protect against the deadly predatory class in power across this world.

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Achilles delivering Briseis to Agamemnon’s heralds; sentimental bas-relief by Antonio Canova, circa 1787–1790

I bought and actually hope to read Pat Baker’s much truer take in her Silence of the Girls which you can read about in this strong review by Patricia Storace (NYRB)

This past week was taken up by parties, luncheons for the two OLLIs at Mason and AU and one last class for my Enlightenment: At Risk course and the superb film course on morality, politics, and history in 10 soundly selected films. I can now share what we read and said in my Enlightenment course through four blogs I’ve written:

Voltaire’s Candide & Bernstein’s 20th century musical Candide:

On teaching Diderot’s La Religieuse & its 2 film adaptations, & Rameau’s Nephew &c

Samuel Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands, Scotland, & his other writing

Marie-Jeanne Phlipon Roland (1754-93): a great souled author of her own life

This week I shall write an essay for the Intelligencer about teaching the 18th century at the OLLIs (that includes Tom Jones).

For the film course I sincerely hope to write a few more blogs on these great and today perhaps forgotten films: since my last citation of the list I’ve seen Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth — I had forgotten how haunting that scene in the garage; the monstrousness and cruelty of wars is unforgettable in Stone’s film

I’ve gone on with Winston Graham whose suspense and spy novels between 1940 and 1943 impressed me as at their best anticipating LeCarre, reminiscent of Graham Greene and I add to No Exit (set in Prague the day Hitler’s armies invaded), Night Journey, the first version (1941, a very rare text, the 1966 one much inferior). And for my Anomaly essays (perhaps if I should live long a book) I have become enthusiastic over Frances Power Cobbe from her own writings (a novel told from the consciousness of a homeless beloved dog, The Confessions of a Lost Dog) and a superb study, Susan Hamilton’s Francis Power Cobbe & Victorian Feminism, and I am at least considering Anne Jameson from a biography by Clara Thomas, Love and Work Enough; I have read Jameson’s delightful Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada however many years ago.


Frances Power Cobbe with her dog, Hajjin (pilgrim), in a series of lectures dubbed “The abberation” (in Wales)

It is heartening how many serial dramas on TV today are feminist: I recently mentioned the 2018 Woman in White as strongly feminist when scripted by Fiona Seres and featuring Jessie Buckley as Marion Halscomb; add to this the 8 part film adaptation of the first novel of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (as it has come to be called), My Brilliant Friend: an Italian TV film by Antonio Costanza and (by email) Ferrante herself, it’s airing on HBO. This realization has brought to live much in the first novel I had not adequately responded to before. Don’t miss it. Told of it on https://groups.io/g/WomenWriters

Inadequate and at times snarky over intelligent girls as Emily Nussbaum’s review for the New Yorker is, she does provide background, a general summary and some good comments. I’ve been writing a summary and evaluation for every two episodes. On WomenWriters@groups.io, I have tirelessly maintained the earlier slender novels are better than this mainstream book but am now changing my mind; however you can’t understand this big mainstream unless you’ve read Days of Abandonment; The lost daughter, the nightmare on the beach (marketed absurdly as a child’d book) and know Ferrante is the translator Christa Wolf, she of Cassandra fame (a feminist take on the Iliad, deeply anti-war too). There is no sign Nussbaum has read the other books by Ferrante — for they are not about intellectuality but mother-daughter relationships, the macho male culture that suppresses and twists women, are nightmares of self-destruction (using dolls as one metaphor).

So setting all that aside, she does cover the series and says some interesting things. It is like a complex novel; it is the ‘faithful” type of adaptation. I did not realize from the two times I was able to watch the first hour that Costanza and Ferrante had picked from Little women just those passages where Jo reads aloud her book to Meg and family! I knew there was no such dialogue in the book — I looked and couldn’t find it at any rate. It’s about the two girls, about class-jumping, has wonderful dream-like sequences, goes into the ugly sexual aggressiveness of males in teenage years and how girls they don’t attack collude to despise those they do.

But there is so much more to say I was also disappointed — I feel she has not paid attention enough to episodes 5 (Shoes) and 6 (The island, aka Ischia)– nor the young men emerging (Nino, the highly intelligent young man; Pasquale, appealing coarser features projecting integrity and decency and Lila’s brother, Rino). Nussbamd (given her stance) neglects the central role of Lenu’s kind teacher in keeping her in school and the other women — the mothers who lives are so circumscribed and are angry or the women who puts up with male promiscuity because the man behaves better to them when around. The colors of the series at Ischia. I find so much in it reminds me of my experience of life in the southeast Bronx, circa 1950. Hour after hour there is some scene I’ve experienced — and not just reading Little Women.


Raffaella or Lila (Gaia Girace) and Lenu or Elena (Margherita Mazzucco)

By contrast, an excellent review by Alan Hollinghurst of A Very English Scandal: Class as central as sex and gender — the attempted and its motives reminded me of the actual murder in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Far too much sympathy was given to Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant with a granite face): I suppose because only in that way could the drama be made complex and interesting. My heart was on Norman Scott’s side (Ben Wishaw) much of the time — the speech that Norman Scott manages to make about his being one of those “thrown away” (according to Alan Hollinghurst not at all what Scott said — Scott went to pieces on the stand and cried) would fit the statement Scott made early on about his fixation over his National Insurance Card. Scott believes one needs an employer (in effect) to vouch for one’s “good character” in order to get another job or eventually collect one’s pension. We are even supposed to feel sorry for Thorpe’s best buddy (played by Alex Jennings) whom he betrays and humiliates through the lethal attorney (Adrian Scarborough just inimitable). The man sent to murder Scott murders his dog first (and then runs out of ammunition) Rinka, the dog, shot dead. Wishaw is first seen hugging a small beloved dog, Mrs Tish; last seen from afar, still alive


Ben Wishaw and the real Norman Scott – he kept loneliness at bay by caring for dogs

Oh, we got into quite a dialogue on translation on https://groups.io/g/TrollopeAndHisContemporaries with me as usual defending them as creative art on their own, occasionally better than the original text. But I’ve gone on too long already and said this all before. And it’s exhausting — when you can make no inroads into deeply entrenched prejudice — who wants to admit you didn’t read Tolstoy but rather reveled in Louise & Aylmer Maude, with a little help from Amy Mandelker, & (!) Elisabeth Guertik (I read Tolsoy in a wonderful English version with a French version underneath and the French was just superb)?  There’s a lot more at stake than these translators of course: copyright, intangible private property, centuries of thinking otherwise, a fetish I share of concentrating on an individual “behind” the book, amour-propre … I read translation studies  too you see.

How I wish I could listen to more than one novel at a time in my car: I am listening to the brilliant reading of Trollope’s extraordinarily strong novel, The Way We Live Now, as our group of friends on Trollope&Peers are now reading this novel.

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I am gaining weight now — my body more like a grandmother’s but it’s eat or conk out, and I cannot survive without my car. That’s partly why so few pictures of me: I am old and cannot face my face: dry looking, wrinkled, colorless in the photos, tired. I do exercise now 15 minutes a day in my sun-room, listening to Pete Seeger or Nanci Giffith radio (Pandora).

This week I hit a bad patch on the road, and two of the hubcabs on my tires went bouncing and flying high away, I got a flat, and a rim of one of the wheels is permanently somewhat bent. I phoned Toyota and when I saw they would do nothing, I walked a block and a half down and up a steep steep hill to a Midas where a kind man for some $500 replaces the tires, mended the bent as best he could, put on generic hubcabs and I was in business again. I have to spend — Izzy and I cannot survive without beautifully working computers attached to the Internet and all that takes. Comfortable rooms and our cats in good health. I’d adopt a dog if Izzy would agree (she won’t) — see my motto above.


A very intense Clarycat — who might not take kindly to another species of rival

Gentle reader, I hope you are doing something fulfilling during this cold and dark time; something you consider good work, keeping in touch with friends, staying well. Trying to make your surroundings pleasant to your eyes. Seek that contentment available to you. Keep loneliness at bay. I echo Garrison Keillor’s old three-part salute.

Ellen

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My cottage home this bitterly cold windy snowy morning. I’m glad I own it. Glad I live here, how it looks inside, filled with books and many beloved things, memories, with my cats (another order of being). Warm, lit. That my daughter has evolved it into her home too.

Gentle reader, have you considered how museums have become community centers — they really have. The Met in NYC and the National Galleries in DC and London function that. Crowded with people. I realized this for the first time when I read an unkind passing statement — but insightful — a few years ago by Suzy McKee Charnas in her Vampire Tapestry where the vampire stalks museums because they are a place where the public is not excluded most of the time and lonely sensitive souls are to be found on off days. She put it in a way that made me dislike her — but then it was her nasty vampire being so scornful. I reacted the way I did because I am one of these people who found herself by going to a museum – and theater too. A Future Learn course I took online showed that museums are well aware of this function, or they took it on as a way of getting funding.

So this winter solstice we again went to a museum. I’m not sure they will not become a more all-embracing community center than movie-houses as these movie-houses are bought up by monopolies and become increasing experiences of coercion for someone else’s profit. It’s also true that while theaters build a niche group of people who come expecting the same kind of experience, different plays attract different audiences, and a theater after all can play but one play at a time. For Christmas and Boxing Day and again New Year’s Eve, Izzy and I found ourselves in the midst of crowds of people like ourselves participating in this said-to-be communal holiday in two different movie-houses, one of them at a mall; in a museum; and then a vast theater house, the Kennedy Center, which had no less than 5 entertainments going with sold-out auditoriums. I’ll move from the most enjoyable to the less so, so gentle reader if you feel this is going on too long … I wind the reverie to a close with music, ice-skating, and chequered hope.


Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past

I’ve known the Kennedy Center is a community place for a long time now. One summer they hosted original Sondheim productions all summer plus movies of older ones, and various related shows and by the last week, the place was so relaxed with people making music everywhere. Everyone is comfortable there partly because they are part of the same economic and cultural group and feel the others will not shoot them down. If you have the price of the ticket, it’s a good place nowadays. Not Trump’s America. Izzy and I went to the theater lab where I saw The Gabriels last year and this past December Liv Ullman’s Private Confessions. The two and one half-hour performance was titled Twisted Dickens as performed by a group called The Second City, a comedy club and playhouse group of artists who do improv, sing, dance, act, write. Very creative group. Their story-line was a hilarious and serious too parody/enactment of key moments with key characters in A Christmas Carol. The real defense of this story is that it continues to provide a living relevant framework for our modern feelings and experiences. In this case a reworking of many Christmas motifs and familiar re-tellings and moments from other popular movies and shows or icons. Each actor played about ten roles. My favorite moments included two appearances of the distraught George Bailey (the actor personated Jimmy Stewart from It’s A Wonderful Life), snow in his hair, trying to explain about Mr Potter and Uncle Billy and the $8000; he is last seen seeking “Clarence!” Clarence!”; the young woman who did a very funny Tiny Tim; the actor who was the audience member complaining, the actress-singer who was slick witty Dolly Parton with an elegant cigarette. A poor suffering governess. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Present (the actress playing Dolly Parton in a sexy cocktail dress) were got up unexpectedly, but the Yet to Come figure was swathed in black (from the 1951 Alistair Sim film).


Charlie Brown dialogue

Many modern references. One character is seen coming home, picking a bill and finding it’s from Comcast double charging him because they sent the bill late. That got a wide laugh — so my experience of having this happen to me three times (!) and each time hours on the phone, getting enraged is common. John Lescaut stayed with the single character of Scrooge and now and again there were clear references to Trump such as the horror everyone feels when they think he might tweet. Blessedly he never does during the performance. Characters are often desolated. There was a disquieting five minute debate by Charlie Brown characters on whether Christianity should be brought up: the thrust was we must not leave Jesus out (really) but also include Muslims and Jews. There are more than 3 religions in the world. Written by Peter Swinn and Bobby Mort, directed by Frank Caeti, starring beyond Lescaut Carisa Barreca, Aaron Bliden, Anne Bowles, Paul Jurewicz, Eric M Messner, Tia Shearer. I noticed audience members were dressed in all sorts of ways, and here and there a person alone.

We went downstairs in one of several packed elevators to see and hear the ball begin but did not stay. I would have loved to dance the way we used to when Jim was there. Still I wanted to see it again and remember. The last time we were there was 5 years ago with Jim: Elvis has left the building!. We then drove home and I watched my last Christmas movie for this year: Love Actually. For the sake of Laura Linney’s performance, Emma Thompson on a lobster in the Christmas pageant, Hugh Grant’s fantastic silent dancing, and Bill Nighy’s impeccable parody of a rock hit, Christmas is All Around Us (which is no longer on the Net so I can show only


the opening of the movie …

On Boxing Day, Izzy and I kept up the custom we began with Jim in the mid-1990s of going to a museum. Most years there are block-buster shows in the most famous ones: this year was no different: it was Vermeer and his contemporaries at the National Gallery. We had decided to try another museum — Washington DC is a city chock-a-block with museums — and since I’ve started to go to some through the Smithsonian programs, I felt we ought to try another. We went to the National Portrait Gallery. We had not been together ever.

We wandered around the vast place (it’s really two museums, one for portraits and the other “about America”) I again went through the Sylvia Plath exhibit to give Izzy a chance to see it; we looked at American art of the 19th century, historical pictures (which we talked about as Izzy knows a lot about American history), Matthew Brady’s photographs from the civil war — there the point made in part was how much of war-life was sitting and sleeping and living in a state of waiting; and then the horrific deaths in vast conflagrations. The National Gallery is never as mobbed at the Metropolitan Museum on Sundays or holidays, but still far more hectic in feel than this Portrait Gallery and we enjoyed this place because it was much quieter. Less people vying to see. The cafe was outside, and they had two large shops, one just books.


One of the less familiar images

Oddly one might say (were one naive) the one encompassing truthful exhibit they had was not advertised: on the second floor tucked up in a large corridor and corner with a couple of rooms was an exhibit about Marlene Dietrich: her life, her career, her art, many photographs, some famous, iconic, some I’d never seen before. It was honest: we see her bourgeois family, a photo of her looking somehow wrong in a picturesque conventional girl’s dress. I did not know how she married a wealthy man early on, and importantly a film professional; how heavy she was originally, that she trained as a violinist, grew up in the thick of the Weimar era, or anything about a daughter who meant a great deal to her (but is nonetheless bitter) from that marriage. It seems she was more of a transvestite than I thought: dressed as a man far more often than I realized. In her phases of female or feminine sexuality, there is more variety than one realizes too: she could be conventional as well as startlingly beyond what’s acceptance, funny as well as gypsy melodramatic.

She was at first a cinema hit but when the studios put her in films for a more general American audience, the films flopped. She returned to Europe. There were hand-written letters by her: she had many lovers, sometimes several at a time, among them Erich Maria Remarque and Edith Piaf. She became expensive to hire you are told — so in Touch of Evil (late Orson Wells) she is the charismatic presence but it’s a rare later appearance. She traveled around (presumably for much much less) during War World Two entertaining troops. There was a TV with clips from many movies and her life to: one of her throwing chairs at a young Jimmy Stewart in Destry Rides Again. In the 1970s she moved to Paris, bought an apartment and basically lived out a quarter of a century in seclusion (hardly ever left the flat). There were audios where one could hear her husky voice. Downstairs in the bookshop a very fat book about her by her daughter, Maria Riva, by no means balanced in approach.


Another: aboard a luxury cruiser

It is a shame or loss that this exhibit is kept half-hidden. We were handed for free a seven page essay in a pamphlet plus photographs from the exhibit. Her life, what we were seeing, explanations of the photos. She was an important individual of the 20th century and belongs in this Portrait Gallery museum, but not hidden away.


Here’s the corridor in case you happen on it

The National Portrait Gallery had advertised (among a couple others, all large, much blander) as the Christmas exhibit (though the word is never used as it is not yet publicly acknowledged how many people spend the Christmas day out of the house), The Faces of Battle, on US soldiers’ experience of war since 9/11. Said to be poignant. It was a long corridor of photographs and in separate rooms, photographs, paintings, instalments, films made by artists who had acted as reporters and accompanied troops in Iraq, Arghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries where the US is openly at war. John Keegan’s book as alluded to and there was a sense in which you were shown what contemporary war is like: bombing and guerilla actions as well as interactions with civilians. The concentration was on the faces of these men and women, many now dead. They looked variously exhausted, stiff with trauma, glum and steadfastly enduring what they had to (stoic), carrying a lot on their backs, dirty.

Jun 29, 2009 – Kandahar, Afghanistan – Out of breath, US Army Spc. Larry Bowen age 26, sits shellshocked in a ditch next to his machine gun after a frontal assault on an insurgent position in close quarter fighting during an operation that lasted over several days in the Taliban stronghold of Siah Choy in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
(Credit Image: © Louie Palu/ZUMA Press)

One room had pictures of the rooms of those who were all now dead. Very revealing — many were clearly of young men who had wanted to come there as some glorifying images showed. Sexy pictures. Flags. They were no longer naive in the photos. Agons in some of the photos. Some moving pictures showed the absurdity of some of the practices done. One problem was, What were they doing there not mentioned. There were many references to the bombs or guns that had killed them when they were going out on duty — but not what that duty was. We are told these men were blown up entering a private house but what were they doing entering that house? what was their purpose? Where was their rage as they killed? They came to inflict to seek out and destroy and if necessary kill others, do terrible damage to a groups of people the US gov’t and/or its allies and its donors want incinerated. Had the exhibit had twice as many rooms and shown the horrors inflicted on the Afghans, Iraqis and where the US is there by virtue of its money, supportive planes and boats, and arms it might have brought out the full horror of what this has been about — since 1947.


Reading — not quite the faces of battle

As to our usual movie and meal out in an Asian restaurant on Christmas day, Izzy and I are very fortunate to live near four movie-houses which are semi-art places or not controlled by the AMC distribution ownership of movie-houses corporate monopoly. All four are stand-alone theaters — not inside a mall. Two in DC. There a fifth complex of such places in Bethesda (American Film Institute is the movie-house name, nearby is a playhouse and near that a concert hall) but it is very far for us to go. Unfortunately, the two in Virginia are now practicing the ceaseless feed of clips or films between the “feature” (i.e., the one you paid to go see), but they are in much better taste, not so loud, and do not go on for so long and so endurable (occasionally interesting). One of these, Angelica Mosaic Theater was playing I, Tonya (click for excellent review), Christmas day.


Margot Robbie in a narrative segment

It’s a film very much worth going to see. Vivid, direct and combined documentary motifs (the actors faced us on chairs talking to us) with storytelling – at its best it recalled Cathy Come Home (not often enough) and was about class and violence, competitive aspiration and family life and malls too in America. How badly educated we are becoming; Tonya’s problem was she couldn’t present herself as fake genteel, as upper middle class virgin. She didn’t have the money to hire costume-makers. Her mother worked as a waitress, left by her husband early on; a cruel treacherous woman; all Tonya ever learnt was through bullying or harsh denigration. Her husband came from the same punitive milieu. So they broke directly through a crucial taboo in sports and directly assaulted the competition. The pre-feature film was about an artist in Eastern Europe, and the whole building of the theater, which has a cafe, is large and so one does not feel packed in. We enjoyed ourselves because we could relax. I figured out a way to drive to this theater using the streets; Izzy helped make sure that we didn’t lose our sense of geography as to where the parking garage was in relationship to the movie-house.

We then went to a Chinese restaurant we’ve gone to each Christmas since Jim died — we had gone with him there only twice. It’s small, inexpensive, with good food. No pretension. Usually it is so busy and it won’t take reservations for two. But if you get there at 4 as we did, there are far fewer people and we were served quickly. Isobel is is deeply engaged by ice-skating, blogs on it, studies it, we are going to Milan this March to see the a World Championship week of ice-skating so we talked of the movie in the context of her knowledge of the sport and its history.

Perhaps the less said on 70% of movie-theaters today, all AMC owned where the experience is more of a herd of exploited units in atmospheres of anomie created by discomfort, noise, the awful neon lights, techniques to make everyone competitive, where the theater itself sports as advertisements and trailers clips of high violence, torture, killing and coerced sex. But I feel I should not leave out the other movie we saw and this context. No fun to be had in such a place — the people you see on the lines to get tickets, in the theater space have determined faces (I had almost said slightly grimaced), which is why increasingly people prefer to shop online and watch movies via streaming online and DVDs. To go to such theaters and such malls is to voluntarily go to the equivalent of an airport; the movie-house auditoriums are transforming themselves into caste-ridden (assigned seats will soon become differentially priced) airplanes where you are forced into experiences you don’t want.


Streep and an actor playing a friend-reporter associate – you can see the emphasis on their upper class ways

I like to as truthful as I dare in this autobiographical blog and one’s awareness of the existence of such places influences how one feels nowadays about movie-going and its context, hence its penumbra of significance. That the Kennedy Center and the museums are still good places is why the particular exhibits or shows can speak to the individual who goes of civility, of assumed values of kindness, courtesy, companionship. We made the mistake of seeing Stephen Spielberg’s The Post in such an AMC theater and mall on the day before New Year’s Eve. You can read my review and a linked one (scroll down) in my original political Sylvia blog. I need to see the film again.

I wish for all my readers a good year to come where we all weather somehow whatever economic social and political damage is thrown at us all. Among Trump’s very first acts was to cut the food stamp program, to slash at the agricultural department. He didn’t tweet or boast about that.


Randall Enos: repeal, replace …. yes that’s the bipartisan (fool!) Obama — no it’s not a post-racist world Dorothy

I drove a friend to a CVS last night. It was in the dark and I couldn’t drive much better than she. She needed her allergy medicine, a nose spray and pills. The price of the nose-spray was $213.00. Suddenly up $175 dollars. She had had to change medical plans because of Trumpcare hitting her early. We left without her getting that needed stuff. “Reform” nowadays means changing the rules to let people die, take all opportunity for good education from them, unprotected from debt collectors (college students’ attempt to get help from the Education department are stacked up and shelved) — that’s the reverse definition that began with Bush fils. Trump reforms to allow predators to do what they wish. Until Trump is impeached, we are stuck in a hope mode: hoping no nuclear war, knowing that we are regarded by the Republicans the way they regard the colonialized exploited people outside the US borders: with utter indifference to our welfare, so much possible collateral damage on their way to become yet more obscenely rich. Let us hope we survive with our lives and friends’ (I include family in that word) lives and comforts and work and homes we cherish intact.

The last three days have been dangerously cold — dangerous for the large population of homeless people in the US. Temperatures well below freezing, high winds, snow. I took the photo of my house this morning. I was thinking maybe I ought to begin to sign Ellen at long last, but I think I’ll keep the slight distance and original framing of the blog (meant to be far more comic than it has turned out) this pseudonym provides.

No sensible cat would go out to rub itself against a snowman. I was equally mad (as in mad cats and human staff go out in the midday freeze) as I forged forth kitchen ladder-chair in hand to take colored lights off and out of intertwine in the outside tree yesterday afternoon. This Kliban cat is from this first week’s calendar desk-diary. I had thick gloves on too, and my pussycats, Clary and Snuffy, watched from the inside warmth by the window.

Miss Drake

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Photo taken by Izzy from the 2nd tier of the opera house at Kennedy Center (where we were seeing An American in Paris)

Where does Christmas occur? for those who dream. First we must define what we mean by this word. It does not occur in the events we experience outwardly but the feeling in an individual heart that gave rise to a willingness to go to them and (if you are very lucky) a good feeling while you are there and just after.


An American in Paris: Gene Kelly hero (MeGee Maddox as Jerry Mulligan) and French ballerina heroine (Allison Walsh as Lise Dassine)

Yesterday (Saturday) Laura came over around 11 and she and I and Izzy proceeded to the Kennedy Center to see An American in Paris. As a story it has great problems: a re-make of a 1951 movie clearly devised to showcase Gene Kelly’s extraordinary presence, dancing, it suffers from the Hays Code so the males are emasculated and females child-like.

We were bored by the first tame act but somehow momentum was built, it emerged one of the three males absurdly in love with the heroine is homosexual (Henri Bauel played by Ben Michael), the second more than physically disabled, probably Aspergers (Adam Hochberg played by Matthew Scott), the heroine herself a Jew whose parents were murdered by the Vichy-Hitler regimes, and the grand moneyed lady had a brain (Milo Davenport played by Kirsten Scott), and they all began to dance these entrancing absorbing numbers with a large troop of dancers. Meanwhile Gerswin’s music took over the brain. The great hall was beautifully decorated, the terrace so pleasant by the water.

Then we had little trouble getting to a very good Asian restaurant where Laura’s husband joined us, we had Peking duck and exchanged gifts. Drinks. Good talk. Hugs when bidding adieu.


Marley’s ghost visiting Scrooge (Alistair Sim)

The night before (Friday) I’d watched the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim. We are observing Christmas on Trollope and his Contemporaries by reading Dickens’s tale for two weeks and then Margaret Olphant’s Beleaguered City (another profound ghost story). I’d finished Staves 1 and 2; my reaction I felt I had read these lines hundreds of times before. I haven’t. It must be that bits are quoted so frequently. The air is filled with phantoms. One “cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below upon a door-step.” Sim is wonderful at irony and sarcasm and succeeds in undercutting somehow perfectly the emotionalism of the film. He makes fun of the ghosts at first; he produces wry comments; he is shy over his new found joy. While the first ghost’s journey is fully done, and the second graphically vivid, the third is scanted and the lesson too self-centered: Scrooge fears he will die, a desire for love is re-awakened, and pity.

Still I found myself crying suddenly and strongly suddenly at moments of great power from Alistair Sim’s performance (his face is so mobile, his eyes) in the context of an older aesthetic of civility, kindliness, humaneness.

As ever I paid attention to last part when he sees the older Alice in the workhouse: I used to have a fantasy I would go to homeless shelters where they do lunch on Christmas day when I was alone but I’ve discovered in DC at any rate, you have to register online to do that, tell about yourself (I suppose that makes sense but the form is intrusive, seeking to know my status) and now this year pay $50 — with nothing on the website telling what the $50 is used for.


Jimmy Stewart as suicidal George Bailey

And then last night (back to Saturday) I dosed myself further with the 1945 It’s a Wonderful Life. I was again moved and entered into the fiction. Like Alistair Sim, Jimmy Stewart’s deeply emotional and distraught presence was essential; he was supported by a cast which was allowed (more than the British actors) to have their intense moments of near suicide, several famous names: Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence, the angel who wants his wings and speaks over-voice, Lionel Barrymore as Mr Potter (Scrooge as capitalist); over-voice was important, Donna Reed as the wife and Gloria Grahame as the promiscuous woman.

Living in the Trumpian American that has been created by 50 years of propaganda (since 1947 — the severe control to prevent anything cooperative, socialistic in the least begins with the McCarthy era) and is now triumphing I saw something I had not before: before I concentrated on the fallacious nature of the bargain: George Bailey is made to experience the world as if he had never lived and all else the same happening the same way. The way the film is discussed is it teaches us that each individual matters.

Now I saw the overarching larger story: what is shown is when the Building and Loan association is not there to give reasonable loans, gradually the town’s life is destroyed under the cruel infliction and imposition of Potter’s ruthless high rates of interest, low paying jobs, no social services. Not only is there no lovely set of houses for the average person. The center of town is given over to drink and whoring and violence, and people behave angrily and suspiciously because it’s each person for him or herself in this capitalist environment. The movie shows us not only the results of this tax code in a few years but how it came to be: the mindset engendered by 50 years of propaganda and insufficient social services and destruction of union. I’m not exaggerating.


Scrooge stopped short by death (Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come)

So as opposed to the Christmas Carol, which is about an individual, George Bailey’s life and choices are about a whole society his behavior and norms fostered. Unjust economic arrangements are central again and again. Capra said he got many letters of people upset that Mr Potter is allowed to get away with stealing the $8000 which Uncle Billy misplaced. The fable shows that George doesn’t erase ruthless capitalism, he ameliorated it. I was impressed by how much better everyone behaved to one another when all were doing better and/or well.

We might ask what should a good Christmas story or movie have? Anthony Trollope argued it should exemplify charity. Of Trollope’s Christmas stories my favorite is The Widow’s Mite. I recommend it, and ask if you think the moral is the one I conclude Trollope turns the old parable into. When giving it matters not if the gift takes anything from the giver, what matters is to give something needed to the person given the gift. He reveals the self-centered fallacy at the heart of the fable. See what you and if you agree with me.

The idea of a miracle is more to the forefront in both A Christmas Carol and It’s a wonderful life. Both have ghosts; Clarence does not look so different from the ghost of Christmas past. The 20th century fable has other people seeing Clarence.


Henry Travers as Clarence explaining himself to George

Capra’s movie also uses the of two realms of time going on at the same time and since George’s nightmare doesn’t last it’s a fantasy, but it does use the time-traveling trope with its improbabilities and deeply structured “what if” idea — in Outlander the heroine, Claire, again and again fights against history and fails to stop happening whatever was destined or already happened. I was happy to notice something else not emphasized enough: it is Mary who saves the day. While George is off with Clarence, she calls Uncle billy, finds out what happened and she goes off to individuals and customers and everyone asking for help. George’s happiness in life is also attributed to their relationship.

A parallel incident in Winston Graham’s 1977 The Angry Tide: there is a run on the bank engineered by the ruthless capitalist banker, George Warleggan. So instead of paying the miners the salary Ross had been gathering for them from profit, Demelza ostentatiously puts it in the attacked bank, and, this explained, the miners accept the way the people of Bedford Falls do — for a while. A week later Ross comes home and with his high status, maleness, abnd good will engineers a consortium of banks to overcome Warleggan. But the idea of the people helping the man who was providing a good life against the establishments’ wishes is in both books. This latter is not a miracle though and thus not a Christmas story?

Ghosts. Traditionally Christmas stories use ghosts, and I have been reading Tyler Tichelaar’s exploration of real ghosts testified to in the history of Marquette, Upper Michigan (Haunted Marquette), spiritual mediums, haunted institutions, people to whom great cruelty was done. Appropriately or serendipitiously, Victorian Studies for December published something highly unusual: a funny scholarly article, Victorian Studies, 50:2 (Winter 2007):

Aviva Briefel in “Freaks of Furniture” writes about critical appraisals in magazines and periodicals of the popularity of ghost stories and séances. It seems that people were worried lest readers and the public become afraid of their furniture. And indeed Briefel quotes articles and letters ordinary people wrote about their fear of a piece of furniture; that some chair or bureau or lamp was not to be trusted to sit there unmoved. Things were behaving badly in some Victorian households. How spectral displays of objects got in the way of servants doing their jobs. Tables were particularly aggressive. Photography had begun to be used by spiritual mediums – Tyler’s book records some uses of this – the light in the center of the photo which seem inexplicable. This was seen by some as “excess energy” we could put to better use. Of course some is direct parody: Punch published a directive telling prospective customers they need to “carefully source” their stuff before buying it. Scrutinize it, find out its history, how it had behaved in previous houses …

Of course it’s skeptical but it also shows how this belief in ghosts and presences was pervasive. In my case I have never seen any furniture or other object in any house I’ve lived in act up, much less in similar ways. When I was very young and lived with my father’s sister (my aunt) and her children, these children did play mean tricks and once the trick was aimed at me. I was terrified and they didn’t reveal this trick until my aunt came home and discovered of course what was occurring. Because of such experiences (there were a couple of such) when I read of tricks played on some specific young person in a family — say in Smollett or Burney or more recently Waugh or Anthony Powell — I am not amused.

There are powerful ghost stories from the 1930s — I could cite them if anyone is interested, where the event is a mean trick. The person is fooled, but then what happens towards the end is suddenly the trick is real, and some real revenant punished someone hard. One of these was called “It,” and the idea of the story was to reveal to the reader that these games with an “It” in the center are left-over scapegoating rituals. Sometimes I’m glad I was an only child. These Christmas stories can turn mean.

But there is another sine qua non, a very different kind of Christmas event to hallucinatory movies, riveting musicals, transformative stories: the Christmas pantomime and music hall antics in taverns and theaters. These connect to traditional plays (as in the medieval Second Shepherd’s). A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful have very comic moments. Clarence is oddly hilarious.


Albert Coia and Tracey Stephens (Miss Florrie Ford)

Today at 3 Izzy and I re-found Metro-stage. A flyer had come onto my stoop about a month ago: once again Catherine Flyte, impresario, was staging Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush, this time in Alexandria City. I phoned, reserved with a credit card, took down the address, and trusted to my garmin to get us there. We were getting nervous as the garmin kept disagreeing with our paper map but as we drove up, both of us said, Oh, we’ve been here before — with Dad. I felt happy that Izzy remembered so well a moving play we saw here years ago, Sea Marks with Michael Toleydo and Catherine Flyte as an aging fisherman and lonely woman finding love again. I have a still from it on my wall today.

Jim and I used to go here justthe two of us occasionally for rarely-done plays too: we saw Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. It’s a small theater-auditorium in a plain small building at the end of a residential block of attached houses, very suitable for intimate plays — and shows. They had only the one piano.

Then we looked at our program and there was the unique Albert Coia, still alive and doing Mr Bertie Ramsbottom, and routines like “The Night I appeared as Macbeth:” he didn’t get the laughter over how he had missed Bill’s [Shakespeare] being ill, much less dead, that he should have. No one can do British music hall the way he does — or Catherine Flyte as the aging Fairy (“Nobody Loves a Fairy”) and the schoolmistress putting on play with young children. Izzy said it was 1994 that Laura interned at the British embassy and we saw a genuine full Christmas pantomime: “Little Red Riding Hood,” complete with two dames, and then in 2001 that we saw this show with Toleydo himself as Chairman. He made me laugh that time until I almost couldn’t stop.

This time Brian O’Connor was Chairman. I again found parts of routines hilarious that around me other people were made uncomfortable by (some of the numbers are very salacious: “Spotted Dick” and “Me Little Yo-Yo” for male performers and “Please Don’t Touch Me Plums” for women). To some in the audience this was like Gilbert and Sullivan to the audience I was in 4 weeks ago: another culture. Still it draws people wherever it plays.


This is not the one we saw but a version of it I found at YouTube

Well there was “Champagne Charlie is my name,” “The Road to Mandalay or Come into the Garden Maud” mashed into “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God” (a man speaks Kipling like lines and behind him is a woman whose arms do much work about his body), other routines (“Christmas in the Trenches”), altogether some 30 songs, in bits, as choruses, with audience singing along or in competition, continual moan-and-groan puns, questions and answers, interruptions, repetitions, a soprano (Katherine Riddle as Miss Daisy May), a wonderfully resonant baritone (Bob McDonald), sad songs (“In the Bleak Midwinter”), gay (“Let’s All Go Down the Strand”) and longing — many from World War One: “It’s a long way from Tipperary.” Christmas crackers were pulled. This iteration has been very favorably reviewed and it was (alas) the last performance for this year.

So another outward manifestation of Christmas is (to quote the reviewer) is “soothing the soul” by “spending a couple of hours laughing in the dark at silly jokes and stomping to give your approval.” Something cathartic.


Again this is not from the Gershwin production we saw, but is Judy Garland singing on the radio one of the songs we heard (“Not for me”)

When we were at the Old Bush and Bull and Izzy was singing sitting next to me I heard her beautiful soprano voice so clearly and knew it was superior to anyone else’s in the row; and when we returned from the Asian place after Kennedy Center she had such a relaxed tone in her voice, it sounded so harmonious and easy for a moment. She has had Christmas happen to her this year.

Miss Drake

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