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outsidechristmastree

Friends and readers,

My week of mostly quietly reading, writing in the new world order unfolding all around me, included two masterpiece books I can write briefly about here:

Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge:

By the time I came to the end of the perhaps nameless woman’s journal (and I only realized she had not named herself or had anyone else called her by her first or last name in the last few pages), I felt in a state of terror. Realistic terror, nothing supernatural here. 2/3s of the book an uncanny imitation of an upper class white woman come to live in the West Indies on a plantation where black people are being worked to death, or savagely used for sex, flogged viciously. It’s hard to put why the single word I’d use most strongly is terrifying since so much is left out. We often don’t know why something happened. Phillips imitates diaries in leaving out significant information in the way diarists do. Things suddenly happen without explanation — like Emily (she may be naming herself in her last sentences) is suddenly having sex (an affair) with the white overseer of the plantation she’s been sent to by her father. Quite why we don’t know: her explanation to report on the plantation doesn’t make sense as you need to know something first and clearly she is utterly ignorant of businesses and slavery and plantation life in the West Indies. Maybe her father did this to force her to accept a much older man he wants her to marry whom she is to marry when she returns (and why she realize she doesn’t want to).

The terror insofar as I can account for it does not come from what these human beings are doing to one another or forced to allow others to do to them. It’s presented so prosaically and the white woman repeats the worst ugly cliches about black people — that they deserve this treatment is what her words all amount to, are not worth any other. comes from the evils of slavery which this book has uncovered more than any other I’ve read in the sense of more deeply. It sounds so obvious but what Phillips makes you realize is the true evil of slavery is that the worst aspects of human nature emerge from everyone (slaves and owners, and non-owners and free or partly free black people, and whites in indentured servitude alike) and there is no control, no law. Law is a sham when at any point someone can murder someone else with impunity. White owners can blog a black to death or hang them with them having no recourse (if there is a pretense trial, it’s transparently ridiculous). This leads them to want to murder anyone and everyone who hurts them back. Or at least enough slaves or half-slaves. Everyone lies too, nothing to be depended upon.

So a white woman who has been so foolish as to go to bed with a white man without marriage (unacknowledged desperation) and offered to stay longer and lost her respectability as lost what little safety net she had. Much as I’m led to dislike the unnamed diarist or Emily the terror is for her, as she feels it.

The first text I read which brought all this home to me was Fanny Kemble’s journal of her two years (1839-40 or so) on a South Carolina plantation run on slave labor. Rice the crop. The last two chapters on women: how they are made playthings for violence, scarred for fun, whipped, gang-raped, and then expected to breed; after the birth of the child, forced out within a week to work from dawn to dusk. Mary Prince’s diary tells of how for 12 hours in row 6 days a week she was forced to work in salt waters. Made her blind. Cambridge shows us what life was life in extermination camps too. Today in US prisons. The analogy with the US today is in fact striking. A lawless lying president. Police in the streets permitted to kill with impunity. Fake news that leads white men with assault rifles to come to “self-investigate” and kill people in a family pizza place in Washington, D.C. I begin to be paranoiac and wonder if Trump is manufacturing more fake news to shut down the internet. Now we hear of fake news about Iraq making some of these followers want to go there and kill people.

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, especially the central section, Time Past, all about death, dying, disintegration, creating both artificial objects and natural ones as animate

The front “story” is like The Years: the text focuses on what is surrounding description, context, the weather, in most novels: nature, natural forces, the weather, air, light shade, with almost as an afterthought, bits of plot, and what are they? death. there is the sudden sentence that Mr Ramsay stretched out his arm and of course Mrs Ramsay wasn’t there “having died suddenly the night before.” Suddenly their daughter Prue is getting married and all say how wonderful, but then we are told in afterthought fashion she died in childbirth (indirectly said).

While there is no ghost in the manner of M.R. James or psychological projections, the whole section is haunted with the presence of Mrs Ramsay: the house is empty because she’s not there. The narrator slips into third person indirect every once in a while and we are in Lily’s mind or near Mr Ramsay’s or the housekeeper Mrs McNab dusting under the empty beds. That last is so characteristic of Woolf: she usually has some old impoverished woman about. She suddenly turns her mind to Andrew, blown to bits on a battlefield, died immediately she says, relieved to think so.

On one level it’s an ode to Mrs Ramsay, to mother. The lead-in to the central section is Mr and Mrs Ramsay in bed, he reading Scott’s The Antiquary to reassure himself his kind of writing and his hegemony with Scott not superceded, but the emphasis is on the death of Steenie – sudden, grieving his frustrated-in-life father so, for many one of the best passages Scott ever wrote, and the sonnet by Shakespeare that Mrs Ramsay quotes is also haunted, “as with your shadows I did play – the lover is absent, has gone, and you are left darkling and deeply at a loss.” Mr Ramsay apparently doesn’t approve of his wife’s pessimism. There is a luxuriating in death as release at last. And we catalogue the dead (for Mr Ramsay goes too) – there’s a futility in all human beings do is one part of the feel.

The film adapted from the last two of Proust’s novels, Time Past, was one of Jim’s favorites: he’d watch it over and over again.

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My beloved well-taken-care of Clarycat photographed in the room where I read these books and type on this computer this week ….

Abigail Tucker’s The Lion in your Living Room:

among much twaddle (the sign you have a book meant for a popular non-reader is that you are given only a couple of nuggets of information or insight every four pages or so lest that reader be intimidated by “too much density”) she is on about how house cats became domesticated by interacting with human beings chasing the same food supply (meat) and what a tremendously successful species they have become. There’s a downsize to this as one could take away from this book, cats are a danger to the earth as this all too numerous predator. She writes in this non-focused meander so her perspective has a way of oozing in unintended directions. She also does not want to offend her readers’ pride so the deep reason we like cats — because they love us, cling to us, create a private hidden world of play, physical affection, interspecies communication omitted.

In Ian’s mind you see he and I are together for say several hours. He is nearby, in various postures close, he does small things, puts out a paw once in a while, when I get up, he follows; he makes a meow; he jumps on my lap, squats, then turns and pushes his whole body against my chest. We are together. Clarycat is just loving me on and off all day. Once in a while she retires to rest in another room or rests in her catbed as you see in the photo. This aspect of the cat Tucker doesn’t acknowledge. They are not lions in living rooms. They are domesticated small feline deep companions.

ianthismorning
Ian this morning, walking around breakfast things, nearby his catnip mouse —

He likes to play with toys still. A small catnip mouse has been a great success. He pushes it around the house with his paw; he has a small bird with a rattle and feathers on a string that he pulls about with his mouth. then he stops and wrestles with it.

I mean to write much more at length, separate blog, on Margaret Oliphant’s The Marriage of Elinor, Jane Hill’s The Art of Carrington (to say nothing of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, book and 1972 BBC mini-series).

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chestnuttreesatlouveciennes
Camille Pissarro — Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes — it’s 20 degrees outside as I type this

So, outside activities: Three times to the gym in the morning for “body strengthening” classes (a large bunch of older people first semi-dancing and then semi-exercising with chair, plastic ball, weights and stretch chord) at a gym. I put up that tree at the top of this blog. I climbed a ladder thinking to try to put the lights into the higher branches, but realized I’d fall so gave it up. My across-the-street neighbor helped me put a cap on my outside faucet lest the pipes freeze

I have a volume of poetry by women which is titled The Widow’s handbook. It’s very fat, one or two poems each poet. One of the many things it taught me was how varied widowing is — some women lose their husbands to death as early as their 30s (not just an accident but illness) and there’s a great variety of circumstances as well as how he left you. Some husbands don’t tell their wives the truth and she finds herself badly in debt or without a pension. There are devastating reinforcements. The book is organized so as to begin in grief, show some interim time and then the last more upbeat.

I’m finding I can hardly believe 4 years have gone by. They felt in the experience but swift now that it’s 4. When I first was widowed I knew a woman who was so hurt when I seemed to imply that after 4 years she should be doing something other, moving on; now I know I was naive and why she was so hurt.

I came home yesterday late afternoon to discover that my machine had updated itself, and would no longer support “safari” and my gmail was gone to pot, back to some incoherent html system. I emailed my IT guy in a shaking panic and he sensed I needed him NOW. Came right on, and within half an hour I was using a new browser, Internet Explorer, with all my stuff from safari transferred over. I’m having some minor trouble with Yahoo as not all my mail is going there, and each time I come on I must fill in my password once again. But I can live with it. A huge glass of wine gulped down while I watched him. It calmed me, I was able to cope then. He said, “Good way to begin Friday night, Ellen.” I wasn’t so sure.

I had seen a remarkable film, Manchester by the Sea, well worth going to (I became so involved I cried out at one point). Tides of grief the reviewer says. It is a relief to see some accuracy in depicting the economic and social lives of average Americans today, only it’s fake because no one anywhere isn’t white and none of them are overtly desperate for money, or even complain about their status, no one angry but our hero.

The US situation is hard to capture because it is so complicated and made up of so many peoples who are not integrated together, but exist as separate ethnic and other groups, each in tiny world of family, few friends, long hours of work, moving with and to jobs: but basically, reductively, there seems to be a vast body of people living on the edge of economic disaster, just making ends meet, and needing to borrow — sometimes larger sums, but often just using credit cards to do that,”maxing them out” as the vicious man at the head of US power urged his salesmen when they were pressuring people to go to Trump university. There is another group where people seem comfortable, not in debt, have savings, even investments, and houses and cars, but take away some social benefits (pensions) have the stock market collapse and are up shit’s creek. Can’t make ends meet. Evicted, have to move. Now there is a tiny minority of very rich, say 10% and they are not at risk and they want to take back whatever they supply to the others. Massive cuts to social security starts the game. If they manage to do that will there be finally a civil war, an eruption, a revolution. It could go to bring an even more rightist to power as people are so self-centered by every instinct. People don’t revolt easily either; they don’t want to put their lives, their bodies on the line. It’s so easy to kill someone – and with a gun it’s nothing. As yet his Trump followers liking his tweets (oh yes) and only beginning to murmur as they see themselves individually betrayed here and there — like putting in charge of treasury the Goldman Sacks man who was known as a foreclosure “king:” (didnt go to jail for false foreclosures but others did, he just grew richer).

And otherwise Trump leading the pack to “drain the swamp” into which he is stashing alligators. Take away the little people have beyond the bits they can earn. You’re right that they are dependent on consumers buying but do they see that. Apparently Assad thinks he need not have any people in his country. They get in the way of extracting oil and selling it for huge profits. The man put at the head of Labor apparently has said robots are much better as workers at his fast food restaurants; they don’t get sick, don’t ask for vacation, smile at customers, are efficient, never complain. So he’d like to replace as many workers as possible with robots and what does he care of they die of sicken or distress (having no access to medicine, or having it are hounded for debts). Suicides among white women in their 40s going up; life expectancy of US people going down. Minority rule. He and his “mad dog” military demonizing Arabs and Muslims in the ongoing colonialist grabs of oil and natural resources, selling arms (LeCarre’s Night Manager was my topic in a previous diary entry). The real voting choices of the majority stifled, nullified.

The real problem with the movie Manchester by the Sea on its own terms (not its political inferences which are important) is that Kenneth Lonergan thinks in order to make people sympathize with someone going around with such a hurt in him is he has to invent this devastating loss. The hero is responsible — it was an accident but he had been drinking hard, enjoying as it’s said the company of friends over billiards to 3 in the morning, and left the fire on (as his wife insisted she could not bear the heat high in winter) in the fireplace, went out for more beer, and came back to find his home a furnace and his three children dead. But in truth all one needs is to be alive, go through life, see others and be treated by them in various ways for say a few years of teenagehood. Abrasive aggressive and mockery and coldness when I tried to confide, another person telling yet others what I said and a third shocked – you don’t tell such things. Such one small moment. And one can go through life with this terrible hurt within. The hero does have it well before the accident: we see in his eyes how he yearns and how he is rejected — by his wife in bed, by others who don’t understand.

Today Izzy and I saw the HD screening of Kaija Saarianho’s L’Amour de loin (love from afar), libretto by Amin Maalouf. I’ll write a separate blog for this: it was remarkable, taking within its allegory Tristan and Isolde (especially in an 1890s version by Joseph Bedier, in French), the dying fisher king, Aymntas (especially in Wolfram’s Parzival), fear of existence itself (dying and living) so retreat into dreams. Yet it was deeply reactionary: the chorus allowed to bring only parts of their bodies and heads out of some constrained barred area. The worship of the supposed numinous.

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Tomorrow is Sunday and I used to put a poem on this blog every Sunday:

Women
BY: Yannis Ritsos,

translated by Ryan Bloom

Women can seem a world away, their sheets smelling of “goodnight.”
Setting a small loaf of bread on the table so we don’t notice the distance, don’t feel them
missing.
We understand, though, that we are to blame; we rise from our sleep and say:
“Let me burn the flame tonight,” or “You’ve worked too hard today.”
We strike a match; she turns, drifts slowly out of sight, her gaze
inexplicably fixed on the dull kitchen light. Her back,
a bitter slope, bears the weight of death:
family dead, her dead, our own death.
We listen; ancient floorboards creak under her footsteps,
dried streaks of water stain dishes in the dish rack—listen…
there’s the train come to take our soldiers to the front.

What women are enduring everywhere in these crazed wars making terror: Yemen, Syria. What can one begin to say or feel that’s adequate to the case. I began this blog with terror; I had some reference to a cunning clown and his henchman and the immiseration of vast numbers of disenfranchised people I end on horror, dismay, should we not feel helpless rage.

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A photo of a dog and cat huddling together on the streets of Iraq this week

I live vicariously too, gentle reader. My social life is getting on the Net, seeing letters from friends and answering and feeling so grateful when they do answer. One group reading group I manage to stay with by having two other people support it who I can write with. Others I look in on. Blogs where I see others like me spend most of their hours among books. Face-book chatting with like-minded people. Twitter hearing how others are reacting to the day’s news or moments of their outward social lives, what they have just read. Just a thought he or she had.

I do love my long hours with books and writing. I love the movies I spend time watching. I see people from afar and a couple close who live my way. I finally understood what went wrong between me and that women Clare Shepherd who I visited for a week in Cornwall and tried so desperately to be friends face-to-face and living around. The thing, the area that made us friends is a self or experience that comes out in writing and from a distance. When encountering one another directly, a very different self comes out and that was one when both of us saw neither of us could relate to.

And how do you get through your days, gentle reader?

Miss Drake

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The coda song and dance this morning at the Dance Fusion workshop at the JCC:

I stretch my body into the music and fling myself through the steps and gestures so as to become the music and words. I think of Jim: I’m reaching out to him, and would carry on loving him for a thousand years, but mercifully my span is going to be more like 10-15 at most.

Sylvia

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The best thing all those years was sleeping with him
side-by-side. Falling into peace, warmth.
I started in April ’68. I’d go
into his room, unheated but for that
smelly black box one fed shillings into.
There he’d be, fell asleep so easily.
I’d lie next to him, and fall asleep too.
Except for rare times, a few days, weeks,
that’s what I did each night for forty
six years. I occupy half a bed now.
(Prompted by Mandel’s “Sleeping in Half a Bed,” for which see below)

… it’s the loneliness … the lack of a person, a partner … Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, from Graham’s Warleggan

Dear friends and readers,

Monday early morning at the Dance Fusion class: for the last three weeks we ended on this song and music, with a difference, we do not dance to it as performed by these exquisite musicians, The Piano Guys:

And so time passes.

Mid-morning back from Dance Fusion: Listening to Timothy West read aloud Framley Parsonage as I drive about. This is the 4th Barsetshire novel I’ve listened to in a row. I have to admit West is just inimitable. I haven’t been able to listen to Case in such a long while it may be I’m forgetting his exquisite control of tone (especially the sardonic and the gentle) but West seems beautifully suited for this book. It was David Shaw-Parker I was listening to for The Warden and while he was good, he was not quite as good Simon Vance in conveying nuances and depths of emotions (for Dr Thorne), and at moments S-P lost lines of ironic comedy (became too bland). West manages to imitate tones of real life in this novel. It seems to me ordered to write another Barsetshire book, knowing his career could be made or lost on this text, Trollope moved to do strongly and thoroughly what he does best — how it feels to be alive in everyday life. He slowly builds a picture of each character lovingly in this minute context as well as the map of the place. I find myself thinking were there a film adaptation that had this kind of conversation with voice-over remarks for a narrator, it would indeed never go off the air. The illustration below is by J.W. North, idyllic 1860s style, good for the outward ambiance of Gaskell’s novels too …

JWNorth2

I got “my” letter from the Folio Society offering to sell me one of a limited printing of DC (1980 copies) for $295. I would bring it up on the Trollope face-book page but I’m often all at sea there. I don’t know what is socially acceptable to say or not. In fact no one replied when I mentioned it, cowards all, shamed?: how money is the great measure of people and they dread admitting some costs comes hard. When a publisher prints a limited run, does that mean there will be no more printed just now? surely not for quite a while. That’s part of such an extortionist scheme.

The price gives me pause even though it’s a beautiful book, has a side book about it, took the individual doing it so many years, and so on. I know that it was hard to find a publisher (I would not have thought it would be but it was) for this new text by Trollope. I can buy it on the installment plan. At least make them wait for their money.

A friend replies:

I’m damned if I’ll pay GPB 175.00 plus GPB 27.50 delivery for what should be a $40-$50 book, no matter how elegant. The GPB 200 total is about as much as I paid for my total collection of 47 Trollopes.

I once spent $300 for a set of 6 volumes, an autobiography of an 18th century actress, the actual 18th century rare book. I put the first two volumes on the Net — scanned them in and annotated. I stopped because ECCO at that point put onto institutional databases a huge number of 18th century books printed in the UK including that one. Of course you have to belong to an institution to reach it, but the work was too much and I left the first two volumes there for public readers at any rate.
Except for that one I’ve never spent anything like this for a book buy.

I know that Prof Armanick did all he could to interest Broadview and other academic-style presses in this project but each time got nowhere. The truth is there is no good edition of Jane Austen’s letters – the one sold is bad, just take it from me — so these supposedly super-respected authors are not valued when it comes to anything in the money world it seems. My friend was suggested the Oxford paperbacks might pick this up eventually or quicker, say two years, The Trollope Society. And I saw it. John Letts told me (long ago) how the two publishing ventures are closely tied. I have some Folio Society editions of Trollope that I bought used — modern illustrations in them and have read the Trollope Society has a vested interest in this new text.

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Next morning, the 17th, around 9am:

I look out at the world from my eyes and wonder at their power. Here are my hands, there my body, and the pussycat snuggled into my shoulder.

It’s been about 8 inches of snow here in Alexandria, but since no one has plowed even a little I’ll never get the car out today. The weather not to go above 20. No sign of any movement either. JCC and Fed gov’t closed — the two places Izzy and I go to. The consensus in this area now is if we have snow and ice, do nothing, close everything, it costs less and we all get to stay home with our cats (or dogs or books … at our computers).

I write because just now man who lives in a super-architecturally built house (it looks like some glass place meant for a cliff only it’s surrounded by bushes and a brick wall) is walking through our blocks with his super-expensive snow plow plowing the sidewalks. what has come over him?

But Aaron, the friendly young black man from the low-cost housing on the side of the hill, is here again, come to the door, and offering to shovel the snow from my sidewalk, from stoop to all around the car, and then sweeping feathery remnants off the car. I have the usual $20 for him. I may agree to let him do some useful jobs this spring as a handyman. I used to have two Irish guys who would show up regularly a few years ago. Went back to Ireland before its economy collapsed again. A parable somewhere here of US life.

From my Net-friend, Camilla on facebook, a dreaming image of an idyllic moment: but the window, flower, snow outside, the woman a silent presence within, all characteristics of women’s paintings

Rabe
Carole Rabe, Red Lily (contemporary painting)

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2/18/15, around 5 pm

I have a great hate for the violent. The violent are the sick of the world — Watch on the Rhine, Dashiell Hammett & Lillian Hellman

So now the sick and corrupt movie-makers have added to American Sniper, Fifty Shades of Grey, or how lure a lonely child into accepting physical and emotional sexual abuse, reviewed here by Gail Dines. Is US society one where we can assume a worship of US male violence and is deeply suspicious of all social good?

OnfiftyshadesofGrey

Today I read 2 great screenplays:

Dashiell Hammet’s Watch on the Rhine (1943-44), out of Lillian Hellman’s stageplay of the same name. It’s sometimes said the screenplay is really by her too, and not much different; not so, the screenplay because it moves outward to depict the Nazis in the US not far from the Farrelly home has a sharper political context, and much dialogue that goes much further about what has led to the rise of fascism. The stageplay remains on the level of personal integrity; the screenplay turns a story of ambivalent integrity into a larger political parable about how the sickness of violence and (a side issue, small but there), sexual exploitation is a part of that.

Train
Yes that’s Bette Davis and Paul Lukas

The last time a movie like Watch on the Rhine could probably have been made is the 1980s; since then this kind of decent feeling and this kind of analysis (first intensely discouraged as speeches at the end of movie, once commonplace) would be laughed at, derided, dismissed. It was nominated for Best Screenplay by the Academy Awards, but was beat out by the success of the exotic romantic Casablanca.

The truth though is these are “doctored” scripts: Gassner and Dudley have themselves written out and supplied, elaborated upon what is seen and what the actors enacted, and offered further thoughts as part of description. Nonetheless, it is a screenplay: concentrated, freed of time and space, assuming visualization, moving in on captured shots, and close ups — intimate relationships with characters one can never have on the stage.

Frederick Raphael’s Darling, described as a depiction of a woman who rises in life, procures wealth and status by selling sex, and at the end finds the life she’s obtained hollow. It’s a kind of exposure of the myth of Dolce Vita, from the outlook of Room at the Top and Saturday night and Sunday morning, direct British realism about the working class. I chose it because it not only won the Best Screenplay Award at the Academy in 1965, but as I looked through my volumes of scripts, I remembered when I first met Jim he said he was enamoured of Julie Christie, thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and named Darling as his favorite movie.

I’ve discovered it’s about an amoral young woman who is promiscuous on her own terms, sees ugly things going on among the exploitative upper class and shrugs, and takes advantage of a young man, Robert, who she leaves her husband for; she aborts a pregnancy and keeps returning to him, keeping having affairs as she moves “higher” and “higher” in films until she marries an Italian count and has children by him. Meanwhile Robert, the male protagonist is deeply hurt and embittered but takes the punishment until near the end. Here the script is not doctored but what was probably the final shooting script before the cut and it must be said that one shot of Julie Christie’s hard face, her unacknowledged driving ambition makes the meaning of the film. I found myself revulsed by the character; Raphael has written a powerful screenplay.

JulieChristie-Darling
Very later 1960s hairdo

I now wonder who Jim identified with. He was 20 years old. Did he then triumph in her supposed success? As I read I discover as a screenplay it has an unusual number of setting, camera angle, and editoral-actor directions, because what’s wanted is a film with a certain pizzazz of style, of mood and I suppose savage ironies.

I did discover something interesting — to me. There are more screenplays in my collection by women than I had expected; at the same time often a woman will write one screenplay and then no more, while individual men are called upon to write a screenplay again and again. Also it’s not uncommon to find that among the few screenplays by women they are of books by women — like for example, Buck’s The Good Earth. Both genders equally write screenplays out of their own books, one I mean to read today is Jan Struther’s Mrs Miniver — though she was cut out of the screenplay which was revised over and over again, by among others William Wyler. Finally in general American films come out of popular present books while English overall still turn to 19th century books and classics much much more …

My collection thus far; the fat books to get are by Gassner and Dudley, and by Garrett & co.

IanFebruary2015
Ever nearby my unambitious Ian

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Late at night, Wednesday still:

Freezing cold, going down to single digits Fahrenheit, with high winds. I feel for the homeless and hope they are all in shelters — Alexandria I know has two and a sort of bus that goes round picking people up if they will permit it.

A poem by Charlotte Mandel from Life Work which seems to record her early widowhood.

Sleeping in Half a Bed

The one at home had sunk a central niche
after decades, and besides, we had room
for luxury of queen-size level-pitched
space to drift creating separate dreams.
A dozen brass-railed beds, tufted mattress
shown on each, sanitarily zipped plastic.
To bed ourselves in public embarrassed.
The smart saleswoman left us breathing-space.
Horizontal side by side, shoes pointed
to the ceiling, we tried them all in turn.
Too hard-too soft-until at last joindy
knew-just right, bought it even when we learned
the high price. We slept enfolded, or side
by side, our comfort true, until you died.

Miss Drake

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Batessittingwithotherself

AnnaListeningIntently
Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 7: to Bates to talk with Anna is like talking with his second self, she sits listening to him intently (Brendon Coyle, Joanne Froggart)

The cup that cheers but does not inebriate (Jim quoted Cowper’s lines countless countless times when we drank tea and coffee together)

Friends and readers,

Another of the songs we dance to at the Dance Fusion workshop, this one the antepenultimate, three from the last, when we are “slowing down:”

Jim and I had known each other about 3 weeks (this would be later October/early November 1968), and had been in one another’s company constantly except when we fell asleep or had to be parted for the night during the 2nd two weeks. (This went on until I took to sleeping in his flat nightly around April 1969, because next to him in that unheated room I would sleep through the night.) At the end of the three weeks, he said to me he would have to be away for a day or so. We were on a landing in a stairway in the house of Colesbrooke View (student housing):

“How,” he half-teased me, “would I get along without him?” There was a serious tone too, as if he felt sure how much I valued him.
To this I reacted with a comic defiance, tartly, “I’ve gotten along without you for nearly 23 years thank you very much, and I probably can manage another night.”

47 years later, really going on 48 (he’s been dead a year, 2 months, and 11 days) I remembered that conversation as the dance teacher let this one play and we began to imitate her modified Broadway routine for this number. He was right. He had “gotten under my skin” and by the time we married was “deep in the heart of me.” I understood the danger, the risk of the way we lived but for me

I’d sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear
Don’t you know you fool
You never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time I do just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin …

Don’t you know you fool, you never can win. How could I wake up to reality?

I was awake to it, terribly so, the terrible nature of nature all 46 years.

My father used to wonder at how the men he was friendly with in Bronx Crotona Park liked Frank Sinatra so much. He’d hear their admiration when he’d go to its decrepit handball courts of a Sunday and watch young Spanish men playing handball with his aging white working class male friends (once they brought a cement mixer and attempted, with the help of the younger men, to mend the courts).

“He can’t sing.” “He’s not a dullard, you can see that in the movies he’s been in, but his stuff is so cliched and delivered with the wrong emphases.”

This song is typical Sinatra. This one like Bobby Darin’s intensely sad song about the little girl who froze to death making artificial flowers, at its close turns into this big band extravaganza of high spirited loud beating expansive rhythms. Nonetheless, or because of this sudden turn into exhilaration, one experiences what Austen caustically referred to (with considerable knowledge of this state of mind) “moments of precious, invaluable misery” (S&S, Chapter 44, of Marianne Dashwood),and both songs function deeply in the heart of me.

I apologize for the stills from Casablanca; it’s the least objectionable YouTube of this song I could find. I’d have preferred the more genuine feeling of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson Brief Encounter (but have no DVD); so, as you see, I offer the 2014 alternative, the inimitable Brendan Coyle and tremblingly proud Joanne Froggart of Downton Abbey as Mr (John) and Mrs (Anna Smith) Bates’s relationship from Downton Abbey. They’re our real surrogate hero and heroine.

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Establishment shot of conferring scene: far shot of their cottage from the outside

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She pours the comforting tea

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They begin to talk and at the close are back to dreaming of the house they will have together in their later years … don’t you know poor fools …

Well, we couldn’t win. He wasn’t physiologically strong enough — poor diet when young (very poor parents, working class English diet, lived in freezing dank cold) and was one of those who succumbed so helplessly against illnesses. He writhed with his diverticulitsis; the nightmare of medicine kept him away from it and until the fear of death tricked him into agreeing to a massive destructive operation, he refused major surgeries: “I’ll just kick this can down the road a little more; take pills again …”

I would sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of the warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats how it yells in my ear
Don’t you know you fool
Ain’t no chance to win
Why not use your mentality
Get up, wake up to reality
And each time I do just the thought of you
Makes me stop just before I begin
Because I’ve got you under my skin
And I like you under my skin

“I will go to sleep now. I wish I could sleep never to wake up again.” “I have the same prayer for myself. This is a very terrible world. To live without love in such a terrible world is really hard and sometimes impossible.”

Sylvia remembering her admiral, with Clarycat sat clingingly into my lap, her paws clutching at my robe

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From Sandy Welch’s film adaptation of Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: the disabled Jenny Wren

Dear friends and readers,

Very Dickens, I said aloud. Appropriate for this season and time I felt:

Alone in the world was poor little Anne
As sweet a young child as you’d find.
Her parents had gone to their final reward
Leavin’ their baby behind.

(Did you hear?)
This poor little child was only nine years of age
when mother and dad went away;
Still she brav-el-y worked
At the one thing she knew
to earn her few pennies a day.
She made artificial flowers, artificial flowers,
Flowers for ladies of fashion to wear;
She made artificial flowers, you know those artificial flowers,
Fashioned from Annie’s despair.

With paper and shears, with some wire and wax
She made up each tulip and ‘mum.
As snowflakes drifted into her tenement room
Her baby little fingers grew numb.

From makin’ artificial flowers, those artificial flowers
Flowers for ladies of high fashion to wear.
She made artificial flowers, artificial flowers
Made from Annie’s despair.

They found little Annie all covered with ice
Still clutchin’ her poor frozen shears
Amidst all the blossoms she had fashioned by hand
And watered with all her young tears

There must be a heaven where little Annie can play
In heavenly gardens and bowers.
And instea-a-ad of a halo she’ll wear ’round her head
A garland of genuine flowers.

No more artificial flowers;
Throw away those artificial flowers,
Flowers for ladies of society to wear.
Throw away those artificial flowers,
Those dumb-dumb flowers,
Fashioned from Annie’s,
Fashioned from A-a-a-annie’s
Des-pa-a-a-air.

Clare3summer2014
From Clare, Summer 2014

Sylvia

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Dear Friends and readers,

At dance fusion workshop this morning and a couple of weeks ago, this song came up and we danced to it. I was there for the first time in 2 weeks, and though the song was still part of the routine, the teacher had mysteriously dropped four Beatles’ songs part of this particular set. The song bought back unspecific memories of intense enjoyment dancing with Jim:

and so I remembered this song whose full lyrics I never looked at before, all I remembered was “buttercup fill me up, and “I need you so,” “I need you more than anyone darling, you know I have from the start …” and such lines would sound in my inner ears at high moments with him:

At the end of class I did have to endure all these cheerful wishes for a good holiday — or that was the dominating consensus. The teacher refrained and just remarked we would not have class next Friday. Last night I made a mistake last night of going to the Haven to listen to a presentation. That’s the last one of those I go to (so car liberty has downsides). I should have known better; Jim would have warned me against it. Platitudes ending on exhortations not to hurt other people’s joy. Right. But I did dare to drive there at night and met someone from the grief support group I attended last spring. She said two of the people there, an older man and a younger woman (statistical probability exemplified here) are now “going out with one another seriously.” They were not inconsolable it seems.

My win? I got from the DMV three days ago a brief letter (not even 8 by 11 in size) saying I had fulfilled all “medical requirements” and no further reports would be asked for. They wished me “continuous safe driving” from here on in. It only took nearly $5000, going through 2 lawyers, being part of an HMO which enabled me to reach several doctors readily and take tests, back and forth on cabs, much stress on phone. The last set of reports had two doctors’ describing me (no medical condition whatsoever, cause grief, endless tests are dangerous from the radiation &c&c) and my regular doctor was franker too (doubtless tiring of making out forms). The lawyer said the description was such it would help us win a hearing and the DMV would not want such a hearing. I’m told that of those whose license is suspended (and it’s not done to all people, unfairly upper middle class men are rarely suspended I’m told — as forsooth they need to drive), most lose it for life if they blank out for however small a period.

Cover

Having gotten it I celebrated by a scavenger hunt in my car. While at JASNA, I received by my cell phone a message from British seller telling me he had just cancelled a box of CDs recording Timothy West reading aloud Framley Parsonsage because the credit card I had on file doesn’t work. (If you knew how hard it is to get good readers reading great books since Amazon invented the thieving tricker of audible.com and bought up many many such recordings from Books-on-Tape, Cover-to-Cover, Blackstone’s even). This credit car number had been cancelled because it had been hacked into, and I had to wait until I got home to try to reach him and make him understand. He did. But mailed it “registered mail,” doubtless meaning well. I go to NYC and package arrives on my stoop but postman takes it back to post office as label means I must be there. To get my hands on it took 3 trips to two post offices, 2 phone calls and 1 supervisor and finally a man going in to their den and finding it in a bag. The US post office has gotten worse since it’s been under fire from Congress — trying to destroy and then privatize it. And changes in it make it more “independent” each office so now one post office doesn’t know what the other is doing. I’ve now bought myself Dr Thorne, from Downpour which still sells CDs, MP3s (so I can listen in my car), where people get on the phone to help you buy your product. Not West or David Case, but Simon Vance who is an intelligent reader at least and does the reading dramatically. Somehow it has always meant much to me to have this reading aloud in my car as I drive: it makes time not just endurable but pleasant.

Then I bethought me I’d find where to park in Shirlington on weekdays: it’s a theater which genuinely plays the best movies available in the area (it does not reach for the NYC and LA first run or older film, nor Wiseman for example). It took a good deal of searching out, but I found a place set aside for the Shirlington theater on the second floor of a garage not far off. I saw Laura Poitras’s CitizenFour. It was a freezing cold day and to take a cab was to stand in the cold waiting for a cab 10 minutes each way, and Uber cab has a hard time finding the theater whose address is misleading.

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Poitras and film-colleague at a first showing of CitizenFour in NYC

CitizenFour is chilling, a sombre piece. That it’s by a woman and shows a woman’s perspective is one source of its effectiveness; I notice the reviews are ignoring this and wonder if Poitras’s other films have failed to call attention to her by anyone but gov’ts able and willing to harass and threaten her. I’ve now made her The oath, the second of the trilogy, my next choice on Netflix: it’s about the man who became the chauffeur to Bin Laden and was imprisoned, tortured, but is now freed because his lawyer was able to win a court case about how to define terrorism — aiding someone tangentially is not enough to label you such it seems.

What sobering is the power of the people running these gov’ts and how easy it is for their agents to survey, arrest, and lie about it. Poitras’s use of clips from the mainstream media (CNN, Fox, NBC, MSNBC, even one from PBS) makes them stick out as gaudy circus material in comparison to her quiet palette. Snowden appears to suggest that since he is now not in a terrible prison for life, nor was tortured, nor is set to be executed, he has won sufficiently to encourage others to join in. It’s true a kind of network sprung up to help him: human rights lawyers, people with access to other people who got him on a plane and took him to where the US could not reach him and now by chance the resurgence of the cold war has led the Russian gov’t not to extradite him. Julian Assange’s wikileaks’ connections played a role: he is still in that Equadoran embassy. He has his long-time girlfriend living with him and the last scene of the two of them is through an apartment window where they are boiling water, perhaps for sphagetti? The closing scenes shows how dangerous all they are doing is for them. We see Glenn Greenwald telling Snowden about a new or other whistleblower and he writes the man’s name down on a pad with a pen; then he tells him something else by a pad with pen. Snowden does not say anything more than emit sounds of surprize and startle. The room they are in could be bugged.

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One response to this movie could be to stop posting, stop blogging, silence yourself utterly — obviously that’s not mine. The news organizations which back or backed Greenwald, MacAskill are under threat but carry on because not to do is is not to exist and that’s my excuse for carrying on too. One almost does not know what to say: yes all your records are available to the US gov’t. Internet providers comply; if they don’t, they are supenaed and forced to hand over mountains of signficant data (like someone’s email, passwords) or shut down (as Lavibit courageously chose to). One learns about the British counterpart, especially CGHQ (is that the acronym), which has been doing its work far more broadly for more years than the US; which I remember Jim talking of when he went there once: Portsmouth is not longer a place where people mess around in boats much, he said. Big Brother has gone digital? David Bromwich’s essay.

There is a passing discussion of liberty which one lawyer says is now unfortunately defined as privacy: that’s a real loss as what’s at stake is more than privacy. The eighth amendment (saying gov’ts haven’t the right to confiscate or hold back your access to your money or property before a trial) is gutted. The way in which the actors in the film communicate is on black screen with white letters on the Net. The last time I saw that was 1993-95 the first two years when Jim and I were on the Net and that’s what the screen looked like when I sent messages to the original Trollope list and Austen-l. He had to type in strings of number and letters every once in a while to do this, and we used a phone line made available somehow or other from Mason (as an adjunct I did have that “privilege”).

Not over-stating what happened to me — I see the behavior of the DMV to me and what they were prepared to do to make me comply (put me in jail for a non-harmful act when I committed no crime) as the non-technological world supporting the technological nightmare the movie demonstrated exists. We are a society that incarcerates people upon first impulse, punishes them, immobilizes them, set up economically to make jobs insecure and get people to move about to take any where they can get one. set cities up to keep people apart (Atlanta, Georgia), pass laws to forbid improving public transportation (in Tennessee). Caroline told me of being a court (for something else) and seeing four desperate men with lawyers waiting for DMV hearings.

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The new landscape

Next week I’ll see Kill the Messenger at Ballston, with a typical review by Rolling Stone: to me it’s about a man murdered once he fell into obscurity. I’ve been reading Trollope seriously as a political writer (he is extraordinary if you think about the implications of his texts) and guess he would have seen that as central to the film’s message.

Miss Drake

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Friends (I hope) and readers (few but valued),

Every three weeks we change our set of dances, and our new one began today. Keri ends brilliantly each time: lat time it was I will survive, before that Stand by Me. This 3 weeks Piano Man:

We do quite a dance to this. 18 bodies moving in stretches and waves … Mirrors all around.  Keri said all we needed was strobe lights; since these are not in the budget we contented ourselves with simply shutting the bright light down …

Sylvia

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