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Gentle reader,

We begin the new year with a new rendition of a song by my daughter, Isobel,

Here are the lyrics.

There are many customs for bringing in the new year. One I’ve followed before is to sum up my best reading or watching experiences, which have turned into an account of what I read all year. The truth is I don’t distinguish last January from the year before, and so much gets mixed up in my mind. I’ve felt, though, that so often these lists become modes of showing off, or people find turning outward to account for the book to others.  One also cites books that one can explain, explicate, or describe in public. I hope to escape that this year, but egoistic as it sounds, just list a few that meant a great deal of me, spoke to me personally as I watched or read, what I learned most from.


Jean Argent, Alice through the Looking Glass, at Guildford castle in Surrey

This year I at last finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet; I would become so involved I would get angry at Elena for doing this or that (leaving a fine man for a husband for a selfish liar for a lover, deserting her children for years) or feel so deeply for Lila though I knew she did not want my pity. I realize the four big books may be a partial collaboration of Anita Raja with her husband, Domenico Starnone (not that he wrote it, but contributed as a dialogue with her). She is foolish for refusing to come out since this allows the awful people to besmirch her when she has translated, learned and taken so much from Christa Wolf, whose work also astonished me this year (Patterns of Childhood).

I just loved the depth of feeling in Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows. an autobiography of herself as a product of her central grandparents, parents, background, education, all leading to marriage, the war (WW2).

A new 19th century author and new book for me was superb: one of the friends of Charlotte Bronte who moved to New Zealand for most of her life, lived and worked there and towards the end of her life returned to Yorkshire to live upon her considerable savings. Her family had had money to start her off and keep her going in hard years: Mary Taylor’s Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 Years Ago. I also delighted in Us, the book, by David Nicholls; it was the British serial on PBS that brought me to it (favorite actors, Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves), but the book was so much better, I just laughed and laughed. I thought to myself Laura would never believe this. I read it twice in a row.

I learned finally how colonialism works, how the system is put together and how it starves and kills the native people it preys upon in Eduard Douwes Dekker (brave and remarkably selfless) Max Havilaar, or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.

I watched and re-watched the exquisitely or quietly funny and subversive Biederbecke Tapes, 3 seasons, written by Alan Plater, starring my favorite Barbara Flynn. I mean watched and re-watched, bought the novelizations …

I returned to loved topics and authors: I was mesmerized by Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, fell to crying over the movie. I practiced (so to speak) more immersion in E.M. Forster (latest Damon Galgut’s convincing fictionalized biography out of Forster’s fragment, Arctic Summer). I can even now learn and love good books on Jane Austen: Sandie Byrne’s JA: Possessions and Dispossesions

I’m still busy falling in love with Michael Kitchen and Foyle’s War I’m only in the 6th of 8 seasons and must re-watch at least twice more before thinking of writing about it.

I admitted to myself that had I encountered Gabaldon’s Outlander, the first four books, and the first two seasons shaped by Roger Moore at age 13-15 I would have been enchanted, and faithful to texts, and actors for life. Like the Winston Graham Poldarks which I discovered in the 1990s, these books came too late, 2015, so I am not up to quite the same intensity of impressionability. Nonetheless, I don’t do too badly. I love the scenes best when Claire and Jamie are in bed together, or talking, or alone doing things together. As a second narrator, I am very fond of Roger Mackenzie Wakefield.

What teaching did I enjoy most? in the end Trollope’s The Prime Minister; throughout E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day plus all three movies. What class did I truly enjoy to be in? Maria Frawley’s Middlemarch (I re-read that book for, would you believe, fourth time!) and of course that magically true film adaptation by Andrew Davies. The Cambridge lectures on weekends mid-day on Woolf, one on Forster. I must not forget Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (her whole oeuvre) and Alan Parker’s Come See the Paradise, seeing both the result of Leonard King’s astonishing movie classes.

Will this do?

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True Grit up North (a winter scene) by Geoff Butterworth, watercolor, 20th century

Then there are New Year’s resolutions. Try to maintain cheerfulness. You will feel better from this and other act better towards you. Practice self-control. Ditto. Not to get angry or resentful over those who do not ask me to lead groups or do talks because I have no titles, no fame, only 2 unimportant books, was for many years an adjunct (one of the dalits of academic life).  Remind yourself continually how much work these things take, and how you don’t need it, are not paid.  And any I just got $290 as honorarium from people at OLLI at AU for class on The Prime Minister. In the US the way you are shown you are approved of is people give you money.

Vowing to stay calm is easier said than done — for today I did panic or the need to resolve what to do in spring became too strong, my worries over getting it, the chest pain near my heart, in my right upper arm.  Or transmitting Covid to someone else. I thought about how badly I drive nowadays, even in daylight I must exercise caution. How much time it takes to drive in, out, park, and how useful the time to do my reviews and projects.

So I switched and now will be teaching online this spring and take only online classes once more. No one in either place seemed to think I made an untoward or inappropriate or unfortunate decision at all. They switched for me immediately. Now there’s another classroom freed and my place in in person classes can be taken by others.  I regret this a little, but I’d never forgive myself if I brought infection to Laura and Rob. I don’t like uncertainty, the waiting was too much. I worry about what happens in hospitals, which places I loathe anyway. (See Hospitals in serious trouble at DemocracyNow.org).

PBS says what a mystery it is so many US people are again dying.  They can only reference (it seems) unvaccinated!  No it’s the miserable lack of a health care system that will not bankrupt you and is there to care for you for real

So it’s done. Maybe I’ll try in June to come in person after seeing what happens in the spring. At OLLI at AU I’ll miss the coffee times together, the chat before and after class. It is harder to make new friends unless you are literally there, zooms are not conducive to making friends — except I made a new one this year, Betty, through zooms including at Politics and Prose.

I do suffer from sad and angry thoughts — especially when I wake in the morning. This is a central way I experience my depressive state. When I go out among people, the experience (somewhat abrasive but cheerful and often people act in a well-meant sensible way) and perspective (what they say, how I do take it most of the time) is enormously helpful. The long hours Jim would sleep meant that mornings were then the worst of these experiences (feeling bad at my life, that I’ve never come never an achievement others truly respect, never made money, that people reject me and I can’t figure out why — my experiences from autism) had no counter; he’d get up, and make comic and ironic comments and set the world in perspective for me again. Most of all he was there, and I was never as afraid of anything when he was here with me. But I worried so about ending up in a hospital, dreadful places in the US in normal times. And causing Rob or Laura to get sick.

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How did we manage Boxing Day, after all? bring the new year in?


Izzy and I on Boxing Day, in front of the tree at the new City Center in DC, Laura taking the photo …

I have not yet made it to the National Gallery this year. For the second day of Christmas, Laura invited Izzy and I to go with her to see Joel Coen’s Macbeth, then afterwards home to her house to one of Rob’s magnificently yummy meals, opening and exchange of presents. I had the happiest day I’ve had in a very long time. The movie was not exactly subtle; much was cut, a character was added or totally changed, but it was effective film. I thought Brendon Gleeson as Duncan the most human of the characters, and allowed to deliver the best performance.

On Laura’s lawn Rob had gotten some sort of Marvel dragon figure in green hugging a Penguin. Would you believe? I met her cats — I missed their kittenhood. Maxx is smaller and more delicate than I imagined, and Charlotte looks bigger than she is because she’s a long hair (like him). They are healthy happy cats. I had a whiskey and ginger ale with the meal plus wine so was a bit dizzy for the presents ceremony. Driven home, we were back by 9 and I finished out the evening with Shadowlands, and felt good uplift.


Maxx in a new blanket

We tried for a repeat performance on New Year’s Eve night. Before Omicron Covid emerged we had bought tickets to go to a stand-up comic night with John Oliver at 7:00 to about 8:30; then we figured we’d have dinner there, and go to the gala ball. Arrive at the hall and immediately you’re on line for checking vaccination cards and no one is to be without a mask. Each person got a blue paper wrist band who passed through. We did walk about and onto the terrace a bit. Laura had gotten us box tickets so we were four to some extent away from others. It was fun to watch the people. It was not crowded in the garage nor the convention hall but there were people enough to people watch. I’m not sure Laura has ever been to the ball, but we were thwarted. Caution (the Kennedy Center does not want to be known as a bed of disease) closed the restaurants and cancelled the ball. It was a bit of a letdown and sad to have to turn round and come home, but then we couldn’t have been safer the way the thing was done.


John Oliver — not the greatest photo — he told us he has two small children, and the difficulties of filming the show from home with them in the next room …

It is telling the difference between Oliver on TV or the Internet and live at Kennedy Center. First the audience is bigger and not self-selected in the same way. People were there to be at the Kennedy Center, to be out at New Year’s Eve so his humor was not quite as strongly directed, more muted. I think being live also made him more careful. His themes were relevant if you thought about it through the jokes. How US people defy reality while British people swallow it down. He told of how he became an American citizen because he became aware in Trump’s regime how fragile a hold on staying for a non-citizen resident is a green card.

We were dropped off again around nine. Kisses and hugs with promises to see one another again soon. Indeed they were here this Saturday and discovered my DVD multi-region player was not working because two plugs were loose. So I put my new one away for a rainy day. They mascin-taped the plug strip to the wooden furniture right behind the TV instead of letting it lie on the floor behind and taped the plug below too Now I must keep the cats away from behind the TV too. He didn’t need a tool to pull the stand from the Christmas tree, and I have put it on the street now (sad each year) for to be picked up in due course. They were here for less than 20 minutes but for me brightened my day considerably.


Charlotte in a bright red blanket

I admit I recognize in myself at long last material to become an enamored grandparent, but it is better for them to remain childfree — for both their health and their pocketbook. They need not worry when he doesn’t work because of Covid, and just rejoice he is the safer. Some 12 people came down with Covid where he works about 3 weeks ago; he had been off for 2 weeks before that. I have told here he has had cancer so is vulnerable to Covid.

This time I was watching the film adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and M.R.James’s Stalls of Barchester Cathedral for the Twelfth Night blog I have since written as a Christmas miscellany of sequels to Anthony.

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Izzy and I made up for not going out to a movie on Christmas Day the Sunday after, January 2d, by going to see the new West Side Story. A brief review:

The new West Side Story. I retract my comments in my blog, based on what other people said and reviews, — To be sure the New Yorker critic hated it.  Brian Tallerico of Egbert.com is fairer – it is a modern mesmerizing.

This is to take back the dubiety I expressed over this movie, partly the result of reading reviews, which I now find obscured and did not give accurate detail, and memories of the previous movie, which movie I remember thinking poor and miscast in all sorts of ways. People were saying not much had been changed. Don’t trust reviewers (say she smiling).

Izzy’s eyes were shining soon after it started; she was thoroughly engrossed by the time Maria and Tony had met at the dance. The actress playing Maria can sing and looks right – so young, the actor doing Tony not a thrilling tenor but he looks right and plays it poignantly; he is so well meaning – as does the actress playing Anita (she is a genetically Black Puerto Rican woman – they have updated it for our era. They have an equivalent of Romeo and Juliet saying a sonnet in turn.

A lot is different, and especially the last third which is not wholly original as the Spielberg and associates went back to Shakespeare. Instead of a quickly truncated ending after the rumble, we have our Romeo (Tony) making his way back to Juliet (Maria’s) bedroom and a night of love-making after he confesses he murdered Bernard. The murder was his rage at Bernard murdering Riff. All with knives. Anita returns after a hard night identifying Bernard’s body and we get the duet of the two women about how can anyone love such a murderer? This song was hypothetical in the original. “I feel pretty” is replaced to after the rumble and the murders.

Rita Moreno’s (Valentina) role improves and makes more Shakespearean the story. She is Tony’s mentor, owner of a drug store who has given Tony a job after a year in prison. Then he comes to her after murdering Bernard. She comforts him; he believes he and Maria can take a bus far away. If only she will fork out the money. Then she stops a rape of Anita come to deliver a message from Maria, with my favorite lines of this movie: these white men are all shits, they have grown up to be rapists. But Anita enraged, lies and says her message is Maria is dead. Valentina is driven to tell the frantic waiting Toni, he rushes out only to see Maria coming with her suitcase, but Chino behind kills him with the gun.

There is a deep anti-gun visual theme of this movie. Bats, razors, even knives do not do as much immediate quick damage.

Finally both Hispanic (Puerto Rican) and white men lift Tony’s body to take it to the hospital. Then Moreno as an old woman sings “here is a place for us — the last song of this movie. Pitch perfect, not over taxing her voice at this point. The whole thing is more upsetting than the original play or movie. The setting of slum removal to replace with luxury apts and Lincoln Center is meaningful. They have made too pretty, too symmetrical their 1950s sets but I recognize these places — I grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s.

The New York Times liked the modern ambiance. The Washington Post critic loved it. I agree it is a rethink.

What is it that the witches in Macbeth say? the charm is wound up, read for another year of diary entries …


The Guests (Russian, later 19th century/early 20th)

Ellen

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Roubaix, Northern France (2008)

“I enjoyed the hard black Frosts of last week very much, & one day while they lasted walked to Deane by myself.” — Jane Austen, Christmas, 1798 (for other simple accurate perceptions)

For my part, since when I was very young, in my earliest years (before 6 or so) encouraged to believe, or not discouraged from believing in, a magical being who brought presents, and a little later had the reinforcement of the Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the idea of a special day of good will towards all (until say 11 or so), I have never been able to drive out of my head the sense of something special about this day somehow, a time, desire for, acts and words of good will and hope. Decorate somehow or other, eat together if possible, drink, maybe exchange gifts (?).  Before Covid and my loss of my ability to drive at night, go to the theater.  What else can a fervent atheist do? …

Dear friends,

First, reassurance: we didn’t do too badly … but the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay …

Morning we were very pleasant — what we as a pair always are on Christmas morning. Wished one another happy Christmas, I hugged her thoroughly. Had solemn and older folk celtic Christmas music on radios and/or panora ipad.  Our plan was out to peking duck (for me eggplant dish on side) and then maybe to Cinema art, but already we were weakening, as we agreed the reviews said this iteration of West Side Story was tedious  (see my retraction). I had yet more personal mail from sending cards and my own Christmas letters to others; then I was reading Henry James’s Spoils of Poynton – a work of genius, yes, and about possessions, Possessions, with brilliant depths of varieties of painful feeling circulating in those byzantine sentences, not actually obscure as in a novella.

We finally agreed to set forth by car (PriusC) at 1:15 lest the restaurant be socially distanced and w/o reservations not be able to get in. It’s a small not-glamorous place but does serve peking duck, is real and good Chinese food insofar as you can get it in N.Va. Well, traffic rather light. We get there and place closed, Owner Himself standing in front with a table with white cloth and flowers, a line of people who has ordered fine meals the last 3 days. Hmmn. I had made one worrying mistake driving even though in the light — drove over curb. I did not see it.

So we went back home and look on computer. Most Asian restaurants doing take-out, or delivery, the very few open demand reservations. Our usual take-out locally, Ho’s, declared open and serving early, take-out and delivery.


Classical pastoral in Fantasia (1940s)

We ate usual lunches, and sat down together to watch Fantasia. Very creative and beautifully played, but somehow obsolete a bit. Disney’s conductor worried lest we not be comprehending.  The imagery too innocent, too limited.  Especially little Cupids overdone. Best parts the unicorns and centaurs, flowers, abstractions. Famous: Mickey Mouse as Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Very curious antepenultimate ballet of hypopotamuses, tigers, and elephants: somehow a gay aesthetic running through this queasy comedy.  I understand this film (like It’s a Wonderful Life) a commercial flop at first. Maybe still?

Well, worried lest Ho’s super-busy, we order by 5 — I’d had enough of Spoils and began one of my favorite re-watches, Huston’s The Dead. Seen many times. Read, taught to several classes

But by 6 he’s not here; suddenly a phone call, he’s phoning us, and are we 303? no, 308. We go outside and see man wandering about our block, having knocked on 310 — he was getting close. That’s our gay neighbors. He was hired just for the day.

So we do have a jolly meal, and I opened a wine bottle. We talked and ate for nearly an hour. Then said Merry Christmas and she went to nap.


Huston’s The Dead — one of three dancing sequences; we get poetry, piano, the feast …. & aging & vexation

I turned back to Donal McCann’s great peroration at the close of The Dead.

A few light raps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right. Snow was general over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead — James Joyce


In A Christmas Tale, the two young children put on a play, parents help, grandfather watches ….

Then, what the hell, I put on Arnaud’s Desplechin’s nearly 3 hour A Christmas Tale — it’s a wonderful ever so complicated movie of a large in name and reality of culture contemporary Catholic family. Autobiographical. I still haven’t gotten all that happened — my third time through at least. Cats settle down too. I enjoyed it very much — you are intended to enter into it fully — four or five phases of ritual activity held together by family traumas acted out, get togethers. Several moving and believable stories, including hard estrangement in which you see both siblings are to blame. I was utterly immersed, involved. Characters take time out to go walking in snow, and there are flashbacks. Camera takes us to all sorts of places in the real Roubaix — beautiful photographs of center of Northern French once industrial town with decorated lit tree.

Chief story the mother (Catherine de Neuve) has terrible leukemia, fatal, and needs bone marrow transplants, a grandson (had been put in a child’s special school but will not go back by the end — breakdown) and the wayward son are compatible (the one rejected from the family for 6 years because of the older sister’s dislike of him); and he takes on the dangerous painful position.

End of movie, operation is as far as can be told success. In some form or other all are united variously and separately and all together too. Each person has behaved naturally in and enjoyed what he or she could. (See my blog and wikipedia linked into comments.)


Abel (benign and intellectual paternal presence) and Junon (Mother of all)

Then I watched PBS’s Dec 24th half show, back to bed and books, fell asleep. By that time Izzy up for a number of hours and watching her favorites.

Today Laura comes at 11:30 and we do this again with her. She does have tickets in hand for the Macbeth — Rob will drive us to DC and pick us, we eat chicken at their house and they don’t want to risk inside a restaurant. They are back to being careful; she tells me she now has a stash of tests in her house. Big pile.

12/26, around 9 pm I also watched “In the Bleak Mid-Winter, a Foyle’s War episode taking place over Christmas 1943 — for another blog.  I’m noticing how the sets are marking time and this one is 1943: the kinds of murders that take place are involved in what were the criminal and anguished activities emerging from the phases of the war.

As you can see, gentle reader, this year I have let go and simply done what is available to me to immerse myself.

Ellen

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Alistair Sim as Scrooge dancing with his nephew’s wife at the close of the 1951 film of A Christmas Carol

“A Poem for winter Solstice”

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

— by me, written in 2017

Dear friends and readers,

I truly meant to lead off my near Christmas diary blog with pictures of this year’s tree, of Colin, my beloved glittering penguin once again, which pictures should include our new presence or Christmas stuffed or pottery animal, Rudolph, but before blogging tonight, I decided I would give in to the time of year and watch the first of a series of Christmas movies I own. Where to begin? my oldest favorite, one that used to terrify me when I was not yet adolescent, the 1951 Scrooge (only recently have I realized it’s not titled A Christmas Carol).  Not totally to my surprise I found that as soon as the ghosts began the going back in the past, I began to cry, and then on and off I just cried, and cried, and cried, and when I was not crying, my face became suffused with tears.

I have so many favorite moments; to echo Amanda Price in Lost in Austen about Pride and Prejudice, this movie contains for me places I know intimately, that I recognize so many now still, the words and pictures are old friends. It’s like, with Scrooge, I’ve walked in, feeling there with Alistair  Sim. I watched other movies on Channel 9, Metromedia, in NYC in the 1950s, over and over (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Public Enemy No 1, with James Cagney, Talk of the Town, with Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant, and at least 10 more) but this one has stayed more in my mind, perhaps because it was repeated year after year. It is a refuge movie because Christmas time is for me so hard to get through.

In then looking for a few stills online to share, I discovered the ones I wanted to show were those of Scrooge delirious with joy, suddenly released and half-hysterical from years of self-flagellation turned against others — with his char-woman, with the boy sent to buy a big turkey, most of all with Cratchit and Tiny Tim, who “lived” … I had to many. I also begin to cry when I remember Jim reciting the final lines one Christmas Eve when my parents were here, with a drink in his hand, “God bless us everyone.”

And yet those moments of trembling with fear and joy don’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the embittering ones in the first sequence (the last part of “the past”), the harrowing and scathing ones in the second (this boy is ignorance, this girl want), and the fearful scenes of Death in the last — of which my favorite is Alice grown up and old, oblivious of Scrooge, serving people in a workhouse. What has her life been?  So here is the whole on YouTube, which I urge you to watch if you’ve never seen it, or re-watch if you haven’t watched it in a long time:

The poem serving as epigraph is one that face-book sent me as a memory from 2017. At first I could not recall who wrote it, and it took a bit of time for me to realize it was by me. I don’t recall writing it — and the use of the verb “wash” is not satisfying. I should have a stronger verb there. But the sentiment is mine. I am explaining why I am so addicted to historical romance, historical fiction films, film adaptations of older books or books set in the past, and still at this time, Outlander:

I see Gabaldon’s books and Roger Moore’s serial (I name him as the central guiding presence, the “showrunner”) as at their deepest when they touch upon how Claire is beating death by going back and forth from the 20th to the 18th century. She is living among ghosts become real when she time-travels and then choses to remain among those people and places our daytime reality would look for in graveyards and find out about in old books. I’m told Gabaldon has yet to explain the appearance of the Scotsman Highlander in the first episode of the first season (and early in the first book):

is it Jamie come to claim Claire? in some mix of non-parallel years (the series use the conceit of near precise 200 odd years apart for the two time zones we experience)? for if it’s years after marrying her, it would be say in the mid-1770s in the UK and US while it is 1947 in Scotland.


Jamie (?) (Sam Heughan?) glimpsed in the darkness, a dark shade


Frank (Tobias Menzies) under an umbrella in the rainy night, unnerved

I was much moved today when I came to the end of Iris Origo’s deeply felt autobiography, Images and Shadows, a book vivid with viscerally experienced life, precise as reality gets, but born out of memory, and about herself as a descendent of two families of people, product of several different worlds, groups of friends, the history thrust upon her of the early to later middle 20th century, mostly in England and Italy. She ends also saying that her dead are with her, that

“I have never lost them. They have been to me, at all times, as real as the people I see every day … “

Maybe that’s why she excels at biographies of people who lived in the past. She quotes Edmund Burke to assert that “society” or “life itself” is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

So here is this year’s tree decorated: our eighth since Jim died — or entered his deathtime, kept with us in our memories, and as long as this house exists in its present embodiment with me living the rest of my life out in it.

Here is Colin once again waving to passersby (a present bought for me by my neighbor, Michelle, now, sad to say, gone from the neighborhood, having separated herself from her long-time partner):


He stands on a ladder I place in front of a window facing our front yard so he can be level with the window and be seen

And here is a beautiful Christmas card sent me by my long-time friend, Martin, from England, picture by Annie Soudain, called “Winter Glow: in the photo it’s sitting on my woodblock kitchen table whose true color is a dark honey brown (not yellow) in front of the above tree:

Because of this gift, I was in the post office (now, as you will recall, run by a criminal-type businessman determined to destroy it as a public service, and fire most of the workers who are not white) by 9 am this morning and sent it off and bought 5 sheets of ordinary stamps and 10 stamps said to be good for anywhere “overseas” (so Europe if I get any more paper cards from friends there). I had intended to send electronic cards to everyone but those few relatives and friends I have who are not on the Net, but have found that I have more than a few, and some of the Net friends are still sending paper cards. All placed around the piano (first my father’s, then Jim’s, now Izzy’s). I reciprocate Christmas cards.

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So what have I been doing and thinking since my birthday? I have been reading away towards my course on Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia by reading other books by and about them, immersing myself once more in the later 17th and early 18th century worlds of Anne Finch for my review (and myself), and Hugo’s Les Miserables (stunning masterpiece but enormous) in a superb translation by Christine Donougher.

I’m reading towards a revision, a Victorianization so more thoughtful and thought-out and widened version of that paper, A Woman and her Boxes (Jane Austen).  It’ll also be about how much a woman could claim for real she owned personal property, how much personal property meant to women, and space.  These are issues in George Eliot and Henry James.


They are enacting people posing for a picture: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell

I am mesmerized and in love with Foyle’s War (actors, scripts, programs, everything about them — I bought the 8 sets in a box, with lovely pamphlets as accompaniment beyond the features on the DVDs) – I love it for the ethical POV that shapes it, Michael Kitchen is my new hero, and I am drawn into learning about World War Two yet more. I read as a Trollope sequel, Joanna Trollope’s The Choir, which now I have the DVD set of, and will soon be watching at night.

I’ve gone to two museums with my new OLLI at AU friend, Betty. I attended two fine zooms, one from the Smithsonian on Dylan Thomas’s life and poetry, and one from OLLI at AU on Frederick Law Olmstead, the author, Dennis Drabelle, of a new good book on him, The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks, the kind of book one can buy for a Christmas present. I told in the comments about how Jim and I had been to the Olmsted park in Montreal; they spoke of Olmstead’s fat acccurate book on the cultural realities of life in the south in a slave society (very bad for most people), which I own and know Jim read.

Two wonderful zoom lectures from Cambridge: one on Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and the other on her first novel (one I love), The Voyage Out, as a result of which I bought two more books on Woolf that I hope to read before I die — years before that I hope. And a new image by Beatrix Potter, one I never saw before: a mouse at work threading a needle, which I am told comes from The Tailor of Gloucester. Is it not exquisitely because and full of love for animals and art:

Did I say I got excellent reviews from the people in my class on The Prime Minister for this past spring? well, I did. The best I’ve ever had. The class predominantly men. I got myself to write the blog I knew I should comparing PM to The American Senator.

Some troubles: paying bills online, fake emails from cheats trying to lure me into giving away financial data; now my ipad won’t recharge, and alas it looks like my multi-regional DVD player has died (I shall try to find someone to come and to fix or to replace it). A few zooms with Aspergers friends have helped me endure the aloneness more readily (sharing our experiences, talking and getting some intelligent advice). Worrying about Omicron covid: should I go teach in person in the spring after all? I have two serious co-morbidities.

So what does one write diary entries for? be they on face-book and what came into my mind that morning or I did the day before presented succinctly, or be they this kind of wider survey. A need to testify? A need to make my life more real to myself, to write it down so as to make sense of it, to remember (Jane Austen’s birthday) and record and thus be able to look back?

An interesting talk in London Trollope Society zoom last Monday. Out of a site called Reading Like a Victorian, an American professor, Robyn Warhol, showed how it was possible for 19th century readers (with time & money on their hands) to read synchronically several Victorian masterpieces at a time. I doubt many ever did that, and from experience know it’s hard to get a college student to read in an installment pattern.

For me for today the way she opened her talk was intriguing: what has happened to TV serial watching since people no longer have to watch a series week-by-week but can receive all episodes at once. She suggested something is lost. I know when I taught Phineas Finn (and also Winston Graham’s Poldark) we talked a lot about instalment watching. In watching Foyle’s War for the first time, I make myself wait 4 nights before watching another episode. They are not meant to be watched night after night or back-to-back (shover-dosing it used to be called). Through instalment reading, the diurnal happenings of one’s life get involved with the serial.

Izzy tells me recently DisneyPlus has been putting one episode a week on of its new serials, and then the viewer can see them in a row or however. I think people appreciate the series, remember it better and more by doing it apart in time, in patterns. How many people here when a new series “comes out,” watch the episodes over a couple of nights or stretch it out to feel like instalments? How many when you are reading, find yourself putting the books in dialogue? I am doing that with Christa Wolf and Iris Origo and Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is Anita Raja, the translator of Christa Wolf into Italian, and to read The Quest for Christa T is to read one of the sources of the main transgressive character, angry and hurt, Raffaelle Cercullo, aka Lila, in the Neapolitan Quartet.


A cat bewildered by snow

Also to learn what I am thinking and feeling. To reach out to others? Why do I want to do this? why explore my consciousness insofar as I can bear to tell truths about myself to myself — and others (thus self-censoring or judicious veiled language required). Why did Woolf, Burney, Wolf (One Day a Year, 1960-2000), Origo, and many male writers do this? Henry James and Virginia Woolf were getting up material for their novels. I am getting up material for essays. To invent a life you are not quite living (Burney fictionalizing away) or put it together in what seems an attractive experience ….

Enough. I hope for my readers they will have a cheerful and good winter holiday over the next few days, not too fraught if you are with relatives, don’t ask too much of yourself, stick to routines or a series of habits you’ve invented for yourself over the years, keep to low expectations, and oh yes remember not to blame yourself and that whatever happens is not to be taken as a punishment (however religions have set up & supposedly made sense of reality that way).


Scrooge on Christmas morning, delighted to find he’s in time

Ellen

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This year’s Christmas tree — we bought, put it up and decorated it today

because she does life all by her-
self, and she only talks to dogs [cats] and to the
desert — Alice Notley

Dear friends,

The Christmas season is here but, as a couple of friends’ letters and cards showed me, for many people the experience will be unlike the usual one, of significant get-togethers for as many as several days, of travel, of shopping amidst tight crowds. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade occurred but with no audience in the streets, much shorter, and several acts pre-recorded elsewhere. Virtual concerts, Christmas get-togethers, on-line plays, movies, will characterize the experience of those who know enough to take COVID’s dangers seriously.

For Izzy and I who tried to be cheerful and jolly through going out to the Kennedy Center or like venues for plays, being with people, a restaurant meal with Laura and her husband, Rob, it will mean foregoing such events. Laura says we’ll four get together via zoom and have our gifts mailed to one another and unwrap together on zoom, eat briefly, and wish one another a good Christmas day and coming year. Otherwise it won’t be much different for us, if you factor out how Izzy works from home everyday.

For myself something has now gone wrong — a few nights ago I began to feel around my chest a dull pain, sometimes hard ache, sometimes worse on and off and as if my muscles are being stretched. It’s like someone has installed some weights on my chest in front and back and pushes at them, or there’s this wire going round my rib cage and it’s being pulled. I have had muscle spasms in my chest area for years and I got these too. Wednesday night I slept but two hours because it was that bad or I kept waking up. It seemed to let off once I was walking or sitting up.

Later that day the pain returned so even though I had phoned my doctor and gotten an appointment for Monday as the earliest free slot he had, I phoned Kaiser itself, and the advice nurse told me to come into Tysons Corner Urgent Care. Laura was able to take off in the later afternoon and so we went and spent several hours there. Laura has to wait outside in her car.

It has taken me three days to recover from that exhausting experience. I had a battery of tests, including a CT scan where through the veins a dye is pushed and it makes one hot in the central cavity of your body. The doctor found nothing “obviously wrong.” I now know what is mean by “weakness in the chest wall” which is the explanation Dr Villafuerte gave me years ago when I had bad spasms in my chest: an aneurysm in my aorta sounds scary. He said if it became larger I might have to have heart surgery, and would have to weigh the dangers of not having the surgery against the dangers of hemorrhage.

My diagnosis of myself had been shingles.  This kind of pain — around the chest is what Jim had 30 years ago — only very hard pain. At that time I & the two girls all caught chicken pox; the doctor said it was from him.  But several people and this doctor ruled shingles out as I’ve no rash, no temperature, the pain is not frantically excruciating — I merely feel a kind of heavy pain around my breast bones or ribs as I’m typing. It tires me out and makes me do everything slower. I also do keep falling asleep at night. I still have not eliminated the possibility of shingles in my mind. I also have (sorry for this frankness) bad gas, and acid reflux and wonder if digestive problems are involved. I hope it’s that for I now have looked up bone cancer, and the symptoms fit. I am worrying because the pain persists.

I have a memory that the doctor said I should try to avoid stress. Ha! The last time this happened — I had to go in to Tysons Corner Urgent Care  for pain in my chest, 7 years ago when after Jim died, I visited NYC by myself and went to a Trollope dinner, and found that I came home totally shattered – the doctor said I had “to let go.” She meant of Jim. How do I let go half my identity? My sense of safety, security, memories, identity if you will are wrapped in this house; it is my past, my present and what future I have. I will hold onto it with or in the last breathe of my body.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Aunty Em says to Dorothy, “There, there, lie quiet now. You just had a bad dream.”

I read in newspapers that “soon” vaccination will start.  But I also read the Trump administration has no plan for distributing the vaccine and has far far fewer doses than was pledged several weeks ago. No surprise there. The US hasn’t got a sound universal medical system that I know of from which to distribute vaccines.  My hope is Biden indeed becomes president and then there will be a plan and vaccines will be distributed somehow or other (though many different places and organizations) fairly, and I have a hope of a vaccination say before June. If I’ve not had one by May I will cancel the Road Scholar trip to Ireland once again. I worry they will try to take the fare from me if I wait any longer ($2025).

Tomorrow I go to the doctor. I’ve now paid three bills by credit card because the paper bills did not come in time, opened up three websites where I now will be billed electronically in two of these cases. Again I hope when Biden comes in, the post office will go back to its previous schedules and I can change this billing back and write checks for all bills and use the mails as I have done all my life previously. Slowly slowly the shit hits my small fan as all the terrible things Trump & his junta have and have not done affect me and Izzy personally.

This is my main news for these two weeks.

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A family tree of the characters in Song of Solomon

As to books, movies &c

I have been reading freely, came to the end of another two very good non-fiction books: Judith Bennett and Amy M. Froide’s Singlewomen in the European Past, 1250-1800, and Claudia M. Thomas’s Alexander Pope and his Eighteenth Century Readers, read over the last month and one half Toni Morrison’s Sula and Song of Solomon:

these are admirable, brilliant novels, vatic poetry at times, telling the true condition of American Black people as I’ve never seen it done before, addressing especially the POV of Black women, but I cannot say I enjoyed them, and will read no more of her novels. I will reread Sula again some time in the future, for I did admire and could The Bluest Eye (it’s influenced by George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss!), and Sula is close to it in technique, feel, the center to both is a woman narrator. try to write separately about Song of Solomon: the archetypes Black women use are quite different or responded to different from White (if I capitalize black I must capitalize white) women, and I’ve thought part of my inability to feel the way the book expects me to feel is the Ophelia figure, Hagar, the young woman the hero, Milkman, has fucked, and now wants to get rid of, who (Hagar) clings to him, goes mad, kill herself is regarded with an alienated lack of sympathy. If women chose characteristically to present their stories as daughters or mothers, Morrison writes from the mother-older woman POV, and her mothers punish their children harshly — I can understand why, almost to protect them, but the text is too pitiless, and the voodoo style magic realism horrifies me.

As to movies, YouTubes and the like, I loved a film adaptation of Trollope’s gem of a masterpiece, Malachi’s Cove, am watching Season 3 of The Crown (it’s much better than I thought when watched slowly and alertly using DVDs — see Seasons 1 & 2). I am listening to the second volume of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, The Story of a New Name read aloud very well. I omit my incessant re-watching of favorites.

Late at night reading and bonding: I’m making my way through the Outlander books, truly reading them silently to myself a couple of chapters a night (I have the first 6) and just a couple of poems by Alice Notley from her mysteries of small houses. Notley’s poetry speaks home to me. They are too long with irregular stanzas to type out, but here’s a paragraph from “The Obnoxious Truth:”

To be in the true thoughts you must forget …
possessions, of course, I don’t want them anyway
looks except as expressions of good feelings
sex except as it happens
talent except as it performs without causing envy
run the risk of being the only person around who’s scrupulous
they hate you …

Can you be how you want despite others …
I may seem insufferable to you, I want to live in true thoughts …

On twitter someone declared: You are now cursed with the job that the main character has in the last movie/TV show you watched. What’s your new profession?

I replied: I am Claire, Jamie Fraser’s wife and I work for Mother Hildegard as a nurse in the L’Hopital des Anges in Paris in 1743. Not easy work either — though it has its compensations.

I had 56 birthday wishes on FB and many of those people are friends by most criteria; Laura and Thao sent me lovely electronic cards.  I read my latest good art book, Lachlan Goudie’s Story of Scottish Art and re-began Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival.  Two blogs, one on Tina Blau, Austrian painter, and the other coming, on Harriet Walter, actress: both of them kept going, true in their thoughts, living on themselves, feel in love with a new actress playing the partly deaf, coercively hospitalized, and finally escaped and herself, Princess Alice in The Crown: Jane Lapotaire.


At a recent Edinburgh Festival

I shall carry on: this week I will force myself to rewrite my review of JA: Arts and Artefacts, and send it to the editor; and I shall begin reading towards my winter OLLI at Mason course (I called it “Two Novels of Longing in an Imperial Age”) and first book up is Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (I loved it the one time I read it).

Ellen

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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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