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Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall’


The Falmouth Hotel

I am not as I have been — Benedict, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, me after six years sans Jim

Friends,

A tout a l’heure. A first photo ahead of time. I’ll be going to Cornwall, starting out May 13th in the afternoon and flying home the 22nd to arrive mid-afternoon. A second time.  friend who will be on the tour with me (I met him last year on the Road Scholar tour to the Lake District and Border country) sent me the promotional photo. Falmouth Hotel, first built 1865, with chateau-style architecture and surrounded by lawn and gardens. A seafront location. I don’t know how I’ll manage to imagine Verity Poldark here … But I can imagine tonight the people who will be on the tour, older middle class people. I have checked out all the places we will visit in Cornwall against a map of the place and will bring a map with me so I can know where things are relative to one another.

I have at long last been diligently reading my books on Cornwall, finishing those half way through, looking at those I’ve finished, trying to make it all vivid in my mind so I have the place and its history fresh in my mind – I will take with me a Daphne DuMaurier novel (Jamaica Inn?), Graham’s Warleggan (Poldark 4), I’m still hoping that Peter Maxted’s The Natural Beauty of Cornwall (he is one of the two Road Scholar leaders) will have come in time. I might best enjoy Bate’s book on Shakespeare, Soul of the Age! (I loved his Future Learn lectures, 1-3, 4-8) but my copy is a heavy hard-back, a beautiful book, but can I lug it? I admit the book that got me through the Lake District last year was a hard-back, beautiful book, Lucy Worseley’s Jane Austen at Home.

One of the real reasons I go away is this way I am with people doing things, looking at the world from a safe vantage provided by Road Scholar and I have gone in August twice because there is no teaching at the OLLIs and most events going on in DC and here in Virginia come to an end, or occur at night and it is so hot here, just about impossible to go out. Looking at the Road Scholar itineraries I found many places don’t have an August set of dates and that was true of Cornwall and I did want to go for the sake of this Poldark project of mine. (That seems to me ironic — and also indicate Road Scholar types don’t worry about when in the year they go. I would have thought August was a vacation time.) So I am making do with mid-May.

All Road Scholar three trips have been to the UK not only based on what I have read but because Jim and I went there once and I’ve wanted to go again or he and I never made it (Lake District). Another motivating force is each year to return to the UK where I met and married and first lived with Jim. England and the countries on these isles have a strong nostalgic memory meaning for me which I’m renewing each year. It’s like I’m going back to him, to where what happiness in life that I’ve know started in England with him in Leeds. “This is where.”


Jim would have picked out this from a book shelf: see John Betjeman at St Enodoc Church, Cornwall

Come on! Come on! This hillock hides the spire.
Now that one and now none. As winds about
The burnished path through lady’s-finger, thyme,
And bright varieties of saxifrage,
So grows the tinny tenor faint or loud
All all things draw toward St. Enodoc.

Where deep cliffs loom enormous, where cascade
Mesembrynthemum and stone-crop down,
Where the gull looks no larger than a lark
Hung midway twixt the cliff-top and the sand,
Sun-shadowed valleys roll along the sea,
Forced by the backwash, see the nearest wave
Rise to a wall of huge, translucent green
And crumble into spray at the top
Blown seaward by the land-breeze. Now she breaks
And in an arch of thunder plunges down
To burst and tumble, foam on top of foam,
Criss-crossing, baffled, sucked and shot again,
A waterfall of whiteness, down a rock,
Withot a source but roller’s furthest reach:
And tufts of sea-pink, high and dry for years,
Are flooded out of ledges, boulders seem
No bigger than a pebble washed about
In this tremendous tide. Oh kindly slate!
To give me shelter in this crevice dry.
These shivering stalks of bent grass, lucky plant,
Have better chance than I to last the storm.
Firm, barren substrate of our windy fields! …


19th century church: St Enodoc, Trebetherick, North Cornwall: Betjeman may be buried here?

And I’ve not given up my dream of a study of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, working title now, A Matter of Genre.

Speaking of travel, or at least navigation, my garmin is fixed! working again. The man I found to fix it said I must treat it far more gently, and I will. In the meantime I’ve made some progress in learning to use Waze. I now know (more or less) how to get to “where to.” Izy and I did this on Sunday using the Waze to get to the supermarket. But alas I cannot figure out how to shut Waze off. The voice carried on telling me of road conditions.  It kills me how people will persist in saying this or that in electronics or digital things are so easy. They never are to me. I have no intuition and when I do something I must do it several times before the sequence of motions sticks in my head. I assure you I had my heart in my mouth as I drove to the place and tried to find this man without benefit of GPS (though I had taken a mapquest map).

But I now do have two working GPSs!  So one to use and a back up. I should get lost less often and have courage to try again to get to Politics & Prose Bookstore when I come home from Cornwall. I have become a member. I see they have mini-courses all year round, staggered across August too. I shall keep an eye out for a course I might enjoy and try it.

Laura told me over dinner (see below) that the pizza place next door is a where a wild myth about Hilary Clinton and child-trafficking occurring in a basement emerged in brains of impoverished crazed white Americans — Jim and I went there several times after hearing lectures at Politics & Prose — for pizza and to watch a classic movie playing on in a screen above the tables — one lecture I remember by Colm Toibin, who disappointed Jim; Jim had not yet learnt to compromise when you go to a fine author’s lecture for the public generally …

I am told one is paid to teach the courses there, and can see from the site that the people who teach there include people like myself, and I suspect a course once a month or four times over a month on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet might be welcome and go over very well. A new goal … I am well into Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and reading it with the Italian of Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta under the English text. A profound text.


From the film of My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Lenu reading Little Women together (I carry on with Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality about 19th century women writers & artists, two of whom are Louisa May & May Alcott)

I just finished teaching Trollope’s CYFH? and in the class where the institution encourages people in the class to provide an honorarium in cash, I cleared $300. A card with many generous thank yous. At the OLLI at Mason, the last class went very well too. In both I again had my Macbook pro laptop and showed clips from the Pallisers, using the cursor and a scroll along the frame of the in-built DVD, good talk after. The Mason group appeared genuinely interested in my Enlightenment: At Risk course. So I will have plenty of cash to take with me, and I will bring Andrew Curran’s Diderot, or the Art of Writing, at least one book by one of my Booker Prize Short and Short listed books (the course I’ll teach at OLLI at AU in June) authors, perhaps Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 and 1/2 chapters.

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Wednesday was Isobel’s 35th birthday, and so an anniversary for me who gave birth to her too. Yesterday I remembered how on my 35th birthday Jim sent me Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale:

On her completing her Thirty-fifth Year

OFT in danger, yet alive,
We are come to thirty-five;
Long may better years arrive,
Better years than thirty-five.
Could philosophers contrive
Life to stop at thirty-five,
Time his hours should never drive
O’er the bounds of thirty-five.
High to soar, and deep to dive,
Nature gives at thirty-five.
Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at thirty-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from thirty-five;
He that ever hopes to thrive
Must begin at thirty-five;
And all who wisely wish to wive
Must look on Thrale at thirty-five.

I didn’t send it to Izzy because she would not understand it — instead I sent her a lovely Jacquie Lawson card — it looked like a 19th century book illustration in black, white and greys and ivory colors and is gradually filled with colorful flowers, music En Bateau from Petite Suite by Claude Debussy.

I replaced a broken frame and put a photo taken of Jim and I two mornings after we had met, had come together and were living for a week in an attic flat in Leeds. I then realized that in my sun-room I have no picture of him, so now it stands on a medium bookcase where I can see it from my chair as I read. The way we were:


I am just 22, and he is 20. As I look at myself I see the same face that appears in my profile picture. Much smoother, rounder, high cheek bones but the same face, also my hands are the same. Just the color hair. Mine is grey-white now.

But he lost that sweet boy look soon after we came to live in NYC, so well before his thirties. His face no longer so round and flat, his beard much fuller. His very skin color lost the whiteness; I have some intimate photos of him looking very gentle but am unwilling to share these; one close up shows the same features in a face altered by 8 years in another culture:

Tonight we went with Laura and her husband, Rob, to dinner on Friday to Izzy’s favorite restaurant, the Olive Garden on Columbia Pike. The meal delicious, the place comfortable and pretty, we had some cheerful talk — about Laura’s trip to Chicago this spring. She was surprised by the intense cold and wind. The restaurant gives so much (yummy) food that I, Laura, and Rob brought home 3/4s of what was on our plates.

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

This Gorey drawing with colors is the April picture in my desk datebook, and now that April’s done and we are into May rains, I share it here: a fair metaphoric representation of humanity too. I have all five Gorey books — Jim enjoyed these enormously.

Thus I conclude on my two beloved cat companions.

One sign of how ClaryCat is now middle-aged is how she now sits or lays calmly in her catbed by an open window which has an awning overawning it, which has 2 bird nests on its inner shelves. Eggs and a momma sparrow with occasional visits of papa appear seasonally. When Clary was young, she be all over Jim’s desk (on which the catbed lays) in hectic excitement, trying to reach the birds and knock down things. Now she sits there and makes little whimpering or squeeky noises. Very alert. She looks out and sees a great deal from that window of interest to her: other birds, squirrels, she follow noises. But just sitting now — staid. She also stretches out luxuriating in the sun in my sunroom for considerable half hours — something she didn’t do when younger. She murmurs at me as we go through our days and nights together. So does Ian when he first turns up (after periodic hiding) again. “Here I am again,” he is saying; he comes up to my chair sometimes and puts his paw on my arm. I’ve read that cats do not instinctively make noise to communicate — it’s their long association with people that prompts this way of communicating.


Clarycat

I so love my Clarycat.

Often when I’m about to go out and I find her latest trophy toy (the tiny mouse has disappeared), a sock with catnip in it (long gone) laid over my shoes. Nowadays she puts this sock where I am or have been just or where something I’ve just worn or read is. She will trot about with it in her mouth, making crying sounds to get my attention, before she puts it down. Just as she used to, her little mouse. Above is a photo of her on the other side of my computer before she stretched out in the patch of white light sun to sleep.

I look at their bodies and see (from books) what are signs of middle-agedness — they are in their early 50s. A pouch; they are no longer that graceful or agile as they run. His face is funny colored and longer. Well look at me — remember the opening of Persuasion; we don’t want to be like Sir Walter, do we? and not realize how old we get. Ian still loves to play and his favorite time is just before supper; he waits by a colorful string attached to a kind of funnel, murmurs at me, and I take it and he wrestles and plays until he has had enough.

They are also wiser, mature in their interactions with me and so am I with them. I shall miss them while I am gone, and they me.


Ian, his latest favorite place high on the cabinets where he can see me and thinks I cannot see him (like Snuffalupagus)

In the long days and nights, my cats’ murmuring at me or meowing in a talking way and my talking in English back to them breaks the silence — mornings I use my ipad and listen to the Pete Seeger channel, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, but just as often Nanci Griffiths or Mary Chapin Carpenter with other women singing country.

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Just before going to bed, I’m watching Andrew Davies’s magnificent Middlemarch (1994) — having finished his Doctor Zhivago (2001). Zhivago done in by war, revolution, his own susceptibility to tenderness and integrity. My favorite line was his stubborn reiteration that what he wanted to do with his life, his hours, was what he could do with it best: be a doctor and write poetry. Leave him alone to do what he can that a few others might value in the world.

I had forgotten the story of Lydgate to some extent: the thwarting of all his hopes to do some real extensive good in the world, to be a scientist, the political and career angle of the book. Davies brings this home so poignantly — also the story of Farebrother. I had also forgotten just how truly masterly is this earlier film adaptation. It is so detailed in the speeches, and they are so intelligently done and pointed. Middlemarch stands out as a high standard: fully intelligent believable thought, these truly well and carefully studied, integrated scenes of several complicated human presences at once are not what’s wanted any more. My midnight project is to go through everyone of Andrew Davies’s films.


Douglas Hodge as Lydgate: young, eager, unbowed — come to think of it like Yuri in Zhivago, he dies relatively young – so here is the pull, why Davies lit on this pair


Juliet Aubry as Dorothea hard at work on plans for cottages for workers

I also read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing bit by bit (after seeing YouTubes of his famous series) and fretted that I am going away for false reasons, allured by publicity pictures of un-reality, desirous not to be left out of this other (luminous?) world. But Pas de fantasie? Last words read by me on some nights putting out the light are words of sex reverie from an Outlander volume.

Ellen

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My front yard this morning after a night and morning long rain of icy-snow — daffodils in snow!

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you — A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh [he speaks for me now when I think of Jim whose Latin copy of this book I have in my house]

Friends,

About a month ago I wrote about an Iranian film by Ashgar Farhadi, English title, Salesman (2016); I praised it highly and urged people who wanted to begin to learn something of Iranian and Muslim culture to see it. Last week I watched another earlier film by Farhadi, A Separation (2011). It won many awards, and is a better film because it’s not shaped by a “whodunit?” format (who assaulted the wife), and there is no climactic pathetic denouement. In this case I had rented a DVD which enabled me to change the language so I could listen to the actors speaking in French and as the film went on began to pick up a good deal (as I cannot from Farsi) partly using the subtitles. Reviews more or less uniformly credited the film with presenting a portrait of a modern nation during a troubled period attempting to live under Islamic or religious law


The opening shots: the two are facing the judge, she reasoning with him …

The story is quite complicated because so much nuanced reality is brought out: we have a couple whose marriage is shot; Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran in order that her daughter, Termeh (Sarian Farhadi) be brought up in a culture with different norms; Nader (Payman Mooadi) sees his father’s needs as primary (the old man has advanged Alzheimer’s disease). When she files for divorce and it’s not granted (her complaints are said to be trivial), she goes to live with her parents as she does not want to leave without her daughter. Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout Muslim woman desperate for money to stay with his father and care for him all day; the work is arduous, she has a small daughter with her and it emerges is pregnant. He comes home in the middle of the day to find her gone, his father seeming near death tied to a bedpost to prevent him wandering out of the house, and a sum of money equivalent to her salary gone. He goes into a rage and when she returns and has no explanation, he shoves her out of the house. A little later Razieh’s sister informs Simin that Razieh has miscarried. So this is the core event about one quarter into the film. The rest is consequences.

Razieh’s husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), a violent man initiates a prosecution for murder. A long series of scenes brings a number of witnesses to a judge (a teacher, neighbors, the daughter) and among other suspicions, it may be Hodjat hit Razieh, she may have gone to a gynecologist on her own (regarded as very suspicious); we learn Hodjat is vitriolically angry at his lack of a job and incensed at his wife at every turn (she never asked permission to work), and he is pressured by his family into accepting “blood” money, only to lose it when Nader asks Razieh to swear on a Quaran that she believes he caused her miscarriage. Razieh cannot get herself to tell a lie lest God punish her. Continual bickerings go on, the judge’s attitudes towards the men (Nader begs the judge not to jail him), the inflexibility of the laws, all around these people the busy streets, cars and bikes everywhere, the run-down buildings, the expensive schools (with girls kept in), everyone else seeming to be on the edge of quarreling, male shouts, women in burkas following behind men in modern clothes; little girls with covered heads following the mother. As with Salesman, these people live in these tight-knit groups, almost never apart. As with Salesman we see how human nature works its way through and is exacerbated by Muslim norms. No one is seen as criminal (in the way the man who assaults the woman in Salesman is). The film ends with similar ambiguity: it seems the old father is dead, Simin is again asking for divorce and permission to take her daughter out of the country; this time divorce is granted and Tehmen is asked which parent she chooses. She won’t speak in front of them. We see them waiting on the opposite side of a corridor with a glass wall between them. The film has come to its end.


Razieh — characteristic shot


She also stands so silently and often from the side

The characters are granted a depth of psychological reality, the circumstances fully developed sociologically and culturally; it’s superior to the American trilogy I saw in January, The Gabriels, because there is no urge towards allegory; you cannot fit what is happening into a particular political point of view. For my part since the wife was not centrally part of the action much of the time, I didn’t bond with her as her intimate self was not seen; it was Razieh who occupies the center of many scenes of around whose conduct or presence everything swirls. One is driven to enter into the mindset of this Muslim woman who herself tells as little as she can get away with.

I mean to rent his The Past next. This also a critically-acclaimed film, and it too can be listened to as a French film with subtitles. The very least one can do now is to try to understand Muslim culture in the middle east. I have read the monster who is now the US president is hiring yet another 10,000 immigration agents to prosecute the military action of ejecting 11 million people from the US, and banning as many Muslims as the law allows him to from ever entering.

I’ll mention in passing that on Saturday night I managed to drive to see at an Arlington Theater a black spiritual music rendition of Sophocles’s third Oedipus play as The Gospel at Colonnus. I say manage because when I arrived, I discovered the wrong address, a different theater had been cited, and to go I had to rush out, using my Waze software on my cell phone (programmed by a young woman at the box office) following directions half-madly (it was dark and I kept not being able to read the street names so missing turns) to reach another theater where it was playing. For similar reasons to A Separation, everyone, especially everyone of white-European heritage should see it.

I got there late (really just on time with several others rushing over) and one of the ushers actually helped me to a much better seat as I could not see from the back, and then another patron exchanged seats with me so I could have a chair with a back (I do not look young or strong, gentle reader). It’s not great, but the depth of earnest emotion and intelligence, the strong reaching out in song, the beauty and well-meaningness of the anguished lines and powerful acting (they gave it their all) should be experienced. It’s not Hamilton but surely some of the feeling of a black ensemble was so analogous. They wore typical suits one sees young black men sometimes wear, church gowns for the choir, Ismene and Antigone exotic kinds of headgear with gorgeous gowns, the preacher well preacher-clothes and Oedipus clearly blind, a heavy man, with gravitas. I feel so profoundly ashamed to be a white person living in America today and stood to applaud as my way of endorsing all of us to live as equals, equally safe together.

So much harm is planned: to deprive 24 million slowly of health care. To cut off mental health services yet more. Many more people will now kill themselves: separated from their families and friends and lives with no recourse or help; snatched out of churches, streets, for paying their taxes; isolated. At least three Muslim and/or Indian people have been shot dead by white supremacists. Bomb threats and desecration of Jewish graves and institutions occur daily. The Ku Klux Klan wants a public rally in a major town center in Georgia. LGBT people and children in public schools now going to be subject to bullying and given less funds. This is what Trump and his regime (this is no longer called an administration) want: the Syrian president directly murders, bombs, tortures people who live in the land he wants to control; this new rump are more indirect but just as unfazed, unashamed and determined. Destroy as far as they can a whole way of life. I’ve known for a long time the Republican point of view is one which disdains compassion (why Bush fils called his brand compassionate conservativism); their scorn for protest is caught up in the word whine. Joy only for the super-rich. Beneath it all hatred for people like us.

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Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) (1995 Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

This has been a very stressful week. My doctor suggested to me a 10 hour trip was dangerous; consider the 8th hour of driving, consider, he said, the 9th; how easy to tire, how easy to lose your way, and then tired and anxious, it’s a risk; even a 5 hour trip on two days was something I needed to think about and plan for by being sure to have a comfortable place to stay overnight half-way. Then when I finally looked again into taking a plane, I discovered that there was one flight to and from Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday it occurred half an hour after I was to give my paper; and I had to go through Expedia to buy the tickets. And someone from the conference drive there to pick me up and deliver me back. I worry about my cats again as a contractor and his workmen may be here while I’d be gone for 4 days. I might have to board them. Still, I almost bought that ticket but was advised by the conference head as “an older sister,” maybe not. So I finished my paper, “Ekphrastic Patterns in Jane Austen,” and think it is splendid and sent it to the organizer of the Jane Austen and the Arts conference at Plattsburgh, New York. She offered to read it aloud, sparing me a difficult arduous trip.


A watercolor by Turner of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth (as in Persuasion)

I am turning my attention to my teaching, delving the Booker Prize phenomena in the context of modern book selling. I might set aside some of my on-going projects — though I will still write a full summary review blog of an important book, Julie Carlson and Elisabeth Weber’s Speaking of Torture and feature it in my central blog as something I can do against the present deeply harm-causing regime.

I am seriously thinking of trying a new book project, even begun work on it: a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark books and by extension, the films; and am doing preliminary reading before writing his son to see if he would be agreeable to such a project and if he would help (for example, I would need to see Graham’s letters or private papers, the life-blood of biography). I would focus in the second half on his Poldark novels, so relationship to Cornwall, and finally the films.


The lizard, full sunlit — a paratext for season 2 of the new Poldark (2016)


One of the actresses’s cloaks …. for Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson)

The man I hired as a general contractor has begun work on my house, and already the porch is at long last enclosed by four walls, and has two windows which match the other windows in front. The whole process, all that needs to be done, will take about 2-3 weeks he says. (At most?) My beloved cats have to be put away once more in Izzy’s room while he and his workmen are about.


Kedi (2017, film about hundreds of thousands of Istanbul cats, genre: post-modern historical)

So I end on another film I saw with Izzy and my friend, Phyllis, this Sunday. I liked it so much I’m going again on Thursday with another friend, Vivian: Kedi. Kedi is ostensibly a film about the thousands of cats who live on the streets of Istanbul. We are told the story of at least 20 different individual cats and/or groups of cat (mother and kittens), usually (this is important) by the person who is providing food and care and often affection. The emphasis in some stories is the cat, in others the cat-lover and why his or her deep kindness and the good feeling and love he or she receives in return. I imagine much filming was necessary to capture the cat’s lives, and real social effort to get the caring people to talk to the director and film-makers .The film tells as much about these individuals and why they have taken it upon themselves (some of them go to vets for medicine or seemingly regular check-ups) to keep these cats alive and thriving — as far as one can thrive while living on a street: most of the adult cats look thin, and the babies are tiny, feeble. It’s really about Istanbul and its culture: vast areas of the city are impoverished, people living on the edge in a modern city. Erdogan’s name everywhere. A thriving garbage culture. The sea central to the feel of the place: I remembered reading Orphan Pamuk’s wonderful book about this world of Istanbul he grew up and lives in now.

It’s a movie made out of a deeply humanitarian spirit: real compassion for those who need the cats (the cats are therapy for some), identification and pity for some of the cats’ actions (one grey cat never goes into the restaurant, just bangs on the window in his or her need, stretched body reaching as high as possible). One of the sweetest moments (for a person like me who values language) was when one of the cat-caretakers in talking of the cat says in the middle of his Turkish a word sounding much like our English meow. So to Turkish ears cats make the same sounds. We watch cats doing all sorts of things, climbing high, fighting, eating, drinking, seeking affection, seeking prey, far too high up on a building, hiding out in cardboard boxes set up for them. By the end the cats are us; they stand for our own hard and at times fulfilling existential lives. I loved the one man on the ship who said he was so grateful for his cat’s love. Another who felt some divinity in the whole experience of life with cats in Istanbul. I, my friend, and Izzy were touched, vivified; for myself I knew some moments of shared joy as I watched so that tears came to my eyes. I just felt better about life after it concluded.

Of course I told Izzy about Christopher Smart, wrongly put into an insane asylum, treated cruelly, his only companion, a cat, Jeffrey, and read aloud to Izzy the famous lines:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.


One of Laura’s cats looking at her with loving eyes (very well taken care of)

Miss Drake

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EllenCornwallAugust2016
Myself standing on a cliff not far from our Padstow cottage

I do like to be beside the seaside — John A. Glover-Kind

Dear friends and readers,

For a long time now I’ve wanted to go to Cornwall. I date it from my first reading of Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. Perhaps it was the chapter on the pilchards coming late to the coast

They set off for Nampara Cove shortly after nine. It was a _ warm still evening with the three-quarter moon already high. In Nampara Cove they dragged their small boat from the cave where it was kept, across the pale firm sand the sea’s edge. Demelza got in and Ross pushed the boat through the fringe of whispering surf and jumped in as it floated.
    The sea was very calm tonight and the light craft was quite steady as he pulled towards the open sea … They skirted the high bleak cliffs between Nampara Cove and Sawle Bay, and the jutting rocks stood in sharp silhouette against the moonlit sky. The water sucked and slithered about the base of the cliffs. They passed two inlets which were inaccessible except by boat at any tide, being surrounded by steep cliffs . . . She had only once been out in a boat before.

I had never felt immersed in the natural world of Cornwall in Daphne DuMaurier’s novels the way I had in Graham’s Poldarks, where Graham seems never to have Cornwall as a place far from his consciousness. For Graham Cornwall is not just some rural fantasy backdrop, a historical setting which becomes archetypal, but a concrete beloved place whose rhythms, human patterns, particular way of life figure forth an ethical meaning dear to his heart about human and British past and present.

So they all went to look, at least as far as the stile leading down to the beach; further it was unsafe to go. Where the beach would have been at any time except the highest of tides, was a battlefield of giant waves. The sea was washing away the lower sandhills and the roots of marram grass. As they stood there a wave came rushing up over the rough stony ground and licked at the foot of the stile, leaving a trail of froth to overflow and smear their boots. Surf in the ordinary sense progresses from deep water to shallow, losing height as it comes. Today waves were hitting the rocks below Wheal Leisure with such weight that they generated a new surf running at right angles to the flow of the sea, with geysers of water spouting high from the collisions. A new and irrational surf broke against the gentler rocks below the Long Field. Mountains of spume collected wherever the sea drew breath, and then blew like bursting shells across the land. The sea was so high there was no horizon and the clouds so low that they sagged into the sea (The Angry Tide).

Here is one of many photographs by Simon McBride, from the first edition (1983) of Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall, of the north coast above Boscastle (which I and my friends visited), called Crackington Haven:

NOrthCoastaboveBoscastleCrackingtonhaven (Large)

Nevertheless, DuMaurier’s and other evocations of this edge of a sophisticated world, its (nowadays) holiday periphery for those lucky enough to have money and the wherewithal (time, a car) to get there, had had their effect. In her non-fiction today you peer through railway viaducts, in the best fiction, a deeply melancholy distraught past to the quiet of an aloofness, unpeopled ridges of the world at the edge of dangerous seas, neolithic and slate stones, bent trees, canopies of wild flowers, Celtic crosses and churches, walls built as a needed defenses:

enchantedcornwallboatundrtree

At age 10 or 11, I fell in love with the Arthurian matter (stories of Arthur, Guinevere, followed by Tristram and Isolde) because of the pictures; in the summer of 2004 Jim and I had dragged our daughters up and down hills (following Jacquenetta Hawkes and other Arthurian naturalists and geologers) seeking Cadbury, what’s left of the dungeons of medieval and early modern kings (like Richard III):

enchantedr3

We’d locate plaques, or some small landmark confirming this is an as yet unearthed archaeological sites, or remains of monasteries on top of hills (now I know that is what Tintagel is). Jim liked the poetry of Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells (Betjeman was born in Cornwall) and would read to me poems like “Trebetherick” aloud to me

We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.

Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea,
Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.

From where the coastguard houses stood
One used to see below the hill,
The lichened branches of a wood
In summer silver cool and still …

Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat.

But when a storm was at its height,
And feathery slate was black in rain,
And tamarisks were hung with light
And golden sand was brown again,
Spring tide and blizzard would unite
And sea come flooding up the lane.

Waves full of treasure then were roaring up the beach,
Ropes round our mackintoshes, waders warm and dry,
We waited for the wreckage to come swirling into reach,
Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and I.

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blesséd be St Enodoc, blesséd be the wave,
Blesséd be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee …

One of Betjeman’s poems I had printed on Jim’s funeral cards.

I had read Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: the Stephens family holidayed each year in St Ives, and her famous novel is set on a coastline there (though I did not find an evocation of Cornwall by her that I remembered until I began to read her short memoirs, e.g. “A Sketch of the Past” and life-writing pieces):

lighthouse
Hamlyn Bay, near St Merryn, Lancarrow in a cottage not far from Padstow where I stayed with friends last week (8/24-8/31).

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A few tellable moments:

Another English friend (so many of my friends are English, live in England, with whom I correspond here on the Net) had told me to walk past Padstow into a long lane that takes one into an estuary which by boat can lead to St Enoch and then Bejteman’s burial place. My friends were agreeable but because of time constraints (it takes time to drive to each place), we contented ourselves with walking in the town, along the harbor. I climbed on a wall across the way from the town called Rock, and watched people take hour-long “cruises” around the bay.

I and my friend, Clare, went into the Lobster Hatchery and a good art museum (beautiful local scenes of Padstow), which I’ll talk about in separate blogs devoted to the various remarkable places. (This blog is a general account situating what’s to come.)

Similarly we made it to Fowey, a town perched on the side of a steep cliff; you almost have to hold onto the shops as you walk down to the waters where many private boats are harbored.

Here’s the estuary from Fowey which we managed to drive too, and where one can take to the house DuMaurier rented after Menabilly, Kilmarth: again we didn’t do it, not enough time, and wow were those streets steep.

Estuary (Large)
(from DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall)

From there you can reach Menabilly (Du Maurier’s Manderley today), though as it’s still in private hands, you cannot visit; you can also take a ferry to Kilmarth, the house she rented after she was forced out of Menabilly (Manderley’s legal name) when her lease was up (and after she had invested considerable money fixing what had been utterly derelict). We didn’t have the time, so again I perched on a wall and looked outwards to see the people taking hour-long “cruises” in the bay and imagined Du Maurier’s house.

In Fowey we did find two good bookstores (they still exist in England, though far fewer than once where there, and small most of them), where I purchased The Daphne DuMaurier Companion, a very good collection by Sarah Waters, Claude Berry’s old substantial county book, Portrait of Cornwall, and an absolute treasure I will be using for my blogs on this coming season’s Poldarks: Debbie Horsfield’s Poldark: The Complete Scripts, Series 1: what a revelation I have had, learned how much better a set of films the scripts call for, it’s nuanced, the characters developed far more slowly and fully than the mini-series director and producer permitted and some of the actors were able to realize.

I took snaps of people bathing and boating wherever they could, as Clare, I and her partner, Mark ferried along from Truro to Falmouth and back again. At Falmouth we saw the remains of a once vital government port (badly bombed by the Germans as was Southampton), and a maritime museum which has become a child’s playground in its effort to make the shipping and industrial history appeal broadly:

Ontheboat
On the two-hour (each way) ferry

Fromtheboat
We saw many boats, some working fisherman, some leisurely yachts

We saw people boating, one man pulling his three children behind him on a speech motor boat, they holding onto a large raft for dear life. Fishermen in alcoves. It was in these waters that I felt myself here alone now, a deep sense of how here my life’s great adventure began when I married Jim and now I was back, standing there alone. I used to stand on my spot in the world by Jim’s side, now I must stand alone. That is the meaning of the photo at the opening of this blog, of how I was holding myself firm.

I like to read archaeological post-modern musings like Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of the Place, this one too in Cornwall, in ex-mining country, and desperate political polemics like Rob Shields’s Place on the Margin; Alternative geographies of modernity, with its chapters on “the true north” in the UK, the “North-South” divide, Margate and other marginalized places from the viewpoint of marginalized people. Shields reprints semi-facetious cartoons

marginsbathing
This “papa sees us bathing” reminds me of Orwell’s postcards in his depictions of popular culture

and quiet illustrations: This one puts me in mind of how people in NYC will sit themselves down on stretches of grass by a highway or under a bridge and picnic too:

marginsbathingillustration

I took snaps of people swimming and lying on beaches by walls, on the edge of whatever body of water they were near (and water is everywhere seeping in close up in Cornwall), or picnicking by some old building now transformed into an inn or hotel or tourist attraction:

peopleenjoyingthemselves

I had not realized until this visit how Cornwall is a seashore of jagged edges, a land of slates that dug into china clay pits turns lunar, how it’s an edge, one of the sophisticated world’s peripheries not too far for its denizens to reach. LeCarre has lived here for years (his residence a well-kept secret). (On the way home because I had bought Economy Premium, not quite the abusive conditions of sheer Economy I was able to watch the astonishing Night Manager (HBO mini-series which mixes the best of recent Shakespearean actors, with BBC stalwarts), and noticed (as I have many times before) how magical in LeCarre are the words, Devon, Cornwall, as a places to refuge, hide yourself in.

EdgeofWorld

It took five hours to get there. When I told a friend on the Net (she lives 10 minutes away from me by car) the trip to and from, door (mine) to door (this cottage) took well over 30 hours, she remarked “You could have gone to Australia for crying out loud..” Much of this is the train wending its way through this country around its coast, and one knew this was Cornwall when right below there were these steep steep rock cliffs, from which were growing ancient dark evergreens, with the sea just over an expanse of land and further rocks. One can see how a flood, a strong snow storm, ice, could cut this place off, at any rate for a day or so.

This keeps out day-trippers, but there seems to be real snobbery about the proliferation of cheaper eateries, stores selling junk memorabilia, or ice-cream, (I admit) awful (from the outside) looking bungalows. They do spoil the atmosphere if you are seeking silence and solitude. Not just around the most famous landmarks (Tintagel), and the over-praised St Ives — you must hunt out the exquisite art shops, and artists’ studios, the museums (of which there are many), between the usual eateries, cheap shoe shops (yes even here).

But these are as natural as drain pipes installed all about another famous site, St Michael’s Mount: this photo was taken before the causeway filled with water (as it does daily)

StMichelsMountacrosscauseway

Here’s one my friend took of me half-way up that stupendous climb inbetween bouts of people climbing between her and me:

BetweenDrainedatMountmichel

So humanly speaking what I liked best about the famous Jamaica Inn were the cheese-filled Cornish pasties they served. I like the traditional spicey-oniony-meat pasty, but prefer the cheese

JamaicaInn

The inn itself is a fine restaurant, next to which a museum is not about smuggling so much (though it tries, and is serious about the dangerous conditions of smuggling, why done, and has a good film) as a site to show us aspects of Du Maurier’s life and family and books. I can grow weak with hunger if I go too many hours with no food, and the pasty afterward cheered my body and heart.

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Shall I say what it’s like to be in these towns whose primary business is now tourism in summer, and what they connect to at the center through educational institutions: it’s as if some cataclysm has occurred in a world of violence and hard work for most. All the reasons for the vast fortresses and shipping, mining, agricultural work except sheep, and cows (which I saw in abundance) have gone. What’s left is all of us, the 99% wandering about these sites, passing time as (if we are lucky) we have income from where we lived in the centers of finance and social services. The remnants of the past have become the settings for costume dramas set in the past. Or we imagine the back-breaking, youth-destroying work of a mine, or the horrifying punishments meted out in prisons — alas, in the US prisons today privatized are in some ways actually worse than Bodmin or Launceston.

The past is a leisure activity; landscape places to play and muse in: We walked along many a beach, on cliffs, my friends standing together on the same one I am photographed above from:

Clareandmarkoncliff

Mark is an excellent cook. All good men should be.

There are extraordinary and ordinary sites to visit in Cornwall: Greevor Mine, first opened in the 16th century and kept going until 1987; an afternoon exploring Landhyrock House (basically now an later 19th century mansion) and another afternoon at Trerice (a more modest early 18th century variety of manor house): both of these were filmed and inspirations for the 1970s Poldark mini-series.

LanydrockFrancisBassethouse
Lanhydrock House was Francis Basset’s house where the characters dine at a political gathering and Demelza is momentarily bewitched by the poetry and romance of a young romantic nephew Hugh.

We went to the manor house of Trerice which was the model for Trenwith in the first season

Verityaskingforhelp
Norma Streader as Verity asks Robin Ellis as Ross for help in meeting Captain Blamey: in the background you see Trenwith (Poldark mini-series)

Bodmin jail, a grim place where you are allowed to gather the horrific injustices and devastatingly hard conditions prisoners lived and died in, and by contrast, the juvenating St Juliot’s Church, where Thomas Hardy met his wife Emma, and which he renovated:

Here is a lovely photo of perpendicular Cornish gothic in churches, a window, used in the 1970s mini-series (the window of the church where Dwight Enys marries Caroline Penvenenen. from the 1983 Poldark’s Cornwall) modelled on such a church:

StWinowsPerpendicularCornishGothic

Here’s a photo of my friends sitting on bench just outside the St Juliot’s church, which is still offering services for parishioners and help-group support for the bereaved:

clareMark

From the height of deep mining in the later 18th and early 19th century the southwest coast has many ruined towers and engine houses. It is well ever to remember how dangerous mining was and is, what hard work. A few of the last men who worked in these mines are now guides at Greevor (which nowadays also hosts a Poldark day where employees dress up as Poldark characters and perform 18th century activities for visitors).

An extraordinary good exhibit of paintings, at Penlee House, in Penzance: Encompassed by the Inviolate Sea, from which I show here but one of many pictures:

EncompasssedbyCliff

some by a superb Pre-Raphaelite John Brett, famous ones by Stanford Forbes, though I was dismayed to discover out of many rooms, but three pictures by women, and only a print of Elizabeth Forbes Armstrong in the woman’s bathroom:

We did not neglect the Eden Project;a high ideal of environmentalism is often found in the good tourist sites:

EdenProject
A modern sculpture

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As during the five weeks in 1994 when Jim and I and our daughters lived in Rome in an apartment and used buses, trains and a boat to visit other nearby places as well as the sights of Rome, not to omit one memorable three days in Ischia, so in Cornwall in 2016 when different parts of one large place are built centuries apart, I feel I’m in a palimpsest of time, in its layers. In one room one can find objects from the 6th through the 20th century, each there not to represent some era, but to function today, as a chair, a sculpture, a bed, toys, gardening implements, and forms of guns. I saw from our car, Bronze age Cornwall:

BronzeAgeTombCornwall1700-1500

Elizabethan and 17th century Cornwall:

GodolphinHouseCornwallblog (Large)
Godolphin House (these pictures are from Winston Graham’s mistitled Spanish Armada: it should be called “The Spanish Armada as experienced in Cornwall”)

It was last year when I and Izzy returned from Leuven, Belgium, instead of returning to London, we took a detour to Exeter, and for two days then with my friend, Clare and her partner, we exhausted ourselves doing much in such a few spaces; it was Devon, though, and (I have a customer — stage voice) while we ferried across, and explored one castle-cum wealthy man’s estate. We decided to return next year if Clare could rent a cottage; she did.

This past week was a summer holiday, a summer vacation for me. All summer long here in Alexandria, Virginia, the heat has been intense; for a few weeks it was continually over 100 if you include the “index” (how it feels). Consequently I went out little, evening for Wolf Trap, once a week during the time I was teaching, out to a movie with a friend: it could have been winter. In Cornwall I sat on beaches and watched people swim, got my shoes all muddy, felt I was among people enjoying the summer.

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As one should not ignore what is going on around one in the here and now at any site (as a 13th century manor house is now a post office), so the traveling experience matters too. This is where ordinary people come up against the power of the corporation and the wealthy of our world. We are endlessly scrutinized, photographed, surveyed: the theater is now there for “security.”

So, as those who read this blog regularly know, I was fleeced by Expedia (ultimately it was the airlines who collude with these middlemen): paying my bills today I had the mortification of seeing how much I lost and on top of that what I had to pay for a non-stop ticket direct from the airline.

The price for me of such experiences is such ordeals and the anxiety I experience coming up to travel and stress I experience during (I’m not much on contingencies). Since I was flying British Airways I did note for the first time two planes (one going to the UK and one coming home for me to the US) which had an upstairs and downstairs utterly cut off from one another as far as passengers were concerned. Upstairs was first and business and other levels of super-expensive decent treatment. We downstairs were not permitted to see the disposition of space and service up there. We had some version of business class: it was seats that looked like time capsules facing one another, that came with tables, turned into beds but no room to walk about. Both ways I paid for Economy Plus or Premium, and was not treated abusively. Soon after we were seated, we were offered drinks, amenities in the form of hot towels, newspapers, free films, blankets, eye-covers, two lavatories. Further back the seats were smaller, very uncomfortable they looked for sleeping on night flights or a 7-8 hour day trip.

I have seen this before. What I have not seen is planes where I’d say over half the people were paying the huge prices. When it was time to line up, it took a long-time for “priority” people to be seated. They were more than half the plane. Hitherto recently I have flown airlines like Southwest (where once an obnoxious lead stewardess actually forbid people to use the bathroom for quite a time, and did it as if it were a joke) or Icelandic and thus perhaps been among a preponderance of people flying as cheaply as they could.

No more or never again and some such words for me. Either I buy a ticket direct, or pay a travel agent, or stay home. Inside the US when it’s feasible, drive, or as a second choice, train or comfortable bus, if there is such a thing in this land of inbuilt humiliations of crowding and long waits while one watches other people sail through– even on the highway due to the way E-Z pass is administered and the way far more lanes are offered to people with E-Z passes than people driving “for free”.

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Back to what we like to dwell on, one motive for going, the moments by the past where it can speak to us, and offer some meaning to existence by its attachment to some pattern. For me these come from books and humanized landscapes

flowersongrave
Fresh flowers on a grave in St Juliot’s churchyard which I’m glad to report has community services, which include grief-support. The church built first in the 15th century, its gravestones go back to the 6th century (Celtic crosses)

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there. That is, I suppose, that my memory supplies what I had forgotten, so that it seems as if it were happening independently, though I am really making it happen. In certain favourable moods, memories — what one has forgotten — come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible — I often wonder — that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them? … There … are the garden and the nursery. Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound. I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen to the past. I shall turn up August 1890. I feel that strong emoition must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves again attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start (Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being)

Sylvia

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TheDuckwaterbirdpond
Duck and waterbird pond at Saltram House

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d bring together in one blog the photo-essays of Izzy’s and my trip together:

Photo Essay #1: We were 3 days in Leuven for a Trollope conference, and she wandered with an alert eye after reading about the place: Leuven is a city of churches (still under the influence of the Catholic church — we stayed at the Irish college, a catholic institution there since the 14th century); of waterways, and despite the bombing of World War Two many of the patterns of the older streets and buildings still stand. Others have been built to fit into the ambiance. They have squares in the center and a friendly street life outside restaurants and cafes. I walked with her the first evening.

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/trip-photos-blog-1-belgium/

Photo Essay #2: The Leuven Botanical Gardens. Izzy’s time there under trees — it rained and makes for misty strangely lovely photos — don’t miss the strange statue where we see hands and head peeking out of the ground:

LeuvenBotanicalGardens

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/trip-photos-blog-2-leuven-botanical-gardens/

Photo Essay # 3: Devonshire and Cornwall. As Izzy says, we visited many places. Berryhead, Exeter estuary, Saltram House (a separate blog will be devoted to that), Plymouth, ferry ride to Cornwall, Edgecumb formal gardens in Cornwall (below part of a stairway/balustrade), Labrador Bay: to quote my friend, “ships gathered there to go to Labrador to buy salt cod and to take settlers there. This was a very common occurrence and was an important trade for South and East Devon ships. Finally, a 14th century Romanesque church and environs … represent only some

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/trip-photos-blog-3-devon/

Izzy’s delightfully wry photographic essay on our exploration of Saltram house while we were in Devonshire. She picked out just the right object and details about it to characterize the experience:

Saltram House: an Georgian-era aristocratic house near Plymouth, originally owned the Parker family, eventually the Earls or Morley, but given up to the National Trust in 1957. The furniture and other contents were given up with it, so they too remain on the house, which is now open for visitors to tour. Although that does necessitate some of the rooms being kept relatively dark to preserve them, enough so that I wasn’t able to photograph everything.

Although even before buying tickets in what had once been the stables, one is treated to the sight of a duck pond, filled with a crazy amount of ducks of different types:

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/trip-photos-blog-4-saltram-house/

Her fifth and last photo-journal blog of our trip: London. Alas she did not take any photos for the second day (which she and I spent together), but she snapped away on the first: Camden Town and St James Park where it is necessary to take as many photos of water-fowl as possible

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/trip-photos-blog-5-london/

Camden
Camden

Miss Drake

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