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Posts Tagged ‘Elena Ferrante’


I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle standing stones on the crest of a steep green I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

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You can’t be forever blessed ….

Dear friends and readers,

Summer is undeniably here now (I went swimming in our Alexandria Community Center this afternoon), and I’ve kept up my usual busy schedule, trying to join in where I can. It seems to me I’m in yet a new phase of grief or living without Jim. Time is a tube I move through, some strange fantasy place, the time as this tunnel of space all around me, that itself has a floor that I keep moving on like some amusement park walkway. I wonder where I am on this road as I carry on. How far I’ve gotten. How far to go. It is continuous and feels slow during the day and yet the days, weeks, months now whizz by. No one to put the burden of being alive off on, no letting go, sharing it, but by myself to keep it up. For me being alone is tiring.

The lone widow. Vedovo parlando. Companionless. Above the women in Calendar Girls (one of my favorite movies, among the first I ever bought a DVD for): the movie shows us their individual stories and most of them are alone when we meet them (prophetic): that’s why the WI means so much. Divorced, separated, with a daughter, a few with husbands with whom there is little companionship. In the gym where I go, at OLLI, the women outnumber the men 4 to 1. (True, the manifestation of gender is skewed as many men don’t join such groups.)

Since I last wrote this way, I’ve been to Wolf Trap twice more after I so enjoyed Garrison Keillor’s last Prairie Home Companion show. I heard — barely saw — Jackson Browne with my neighbor-friend, Sybille. With her I buy lawn tickets and when we start from home, we have to leave too late to get a spot on the lawn near enough to see the show. I did buy a picnic supper for the first time in my life, and am glad to say it went over well with her (I managed to buy what she liked, a kind of pasta salad with artichokes in it, zucchini grilled, melon and other fresh fruits, white wine). The star singer was Jackson Browne. I recognized some of his music from the 1960s, beautifully played and sung, though it brought back no specific memories. These older and some new and latest songs testify to his having a humane outlook; he was biting over the monster Trump. But neither he or his band were varied enough to entertain or hold an audience for two hours; I thought he made the mistake of telling a story of how people fall asleep at his concerts or after the break don’t come back. It was a chilly night, and while, luckily for me, I had brought a sweater, my friend hadn’t, so we left early — and instead of an hour and more wait to get out of the park, it took five minutes (although we were not the only people leaving early).

I’m going again with her this coming Wednesday to (I hope) see as well as hear Bob Dylan. We decided to meet at the park so we can get there much earlier to be part of the lawn where we may see him and the stage.

paulSimonandband
Paul Simon and his band Monday night

With another friend who doesn’t mind spending more to sit inside the structure I saw and heard Paul Simon. I again succeeded with the second picnic supper I bought: she really appreciated all I tried to do (I bought a slightly less elegant sort of meal, and brought ginger ale and bread) and enjoyed herself I could see. I could get tickets we could afford only at the back and at the top, but we could see the stage clearly. Vivian pronounced them “very good seats,” and said she liked how we saw the stage immediately. I put one of his older songs (above) which he sang recently at an award ceremony; he ended his concert with that. And I was thrilled and moved as I seemed for a moment to be transported back each time he sang one of his and Garfunkel’s famous tunes. Jim and I were among the enormous crowd in the 1970s when he and Garfunkel sang in Central Park.

Yet I have to admit his new music is remarkable, it’s of this decade, edgy, menacing, filled with tunes and folk songs from Africa and other non-European cultures. A couple of members of his band played solo with strange-sounding instruments as well as the usual guitars and cellos — it was intensely rhythmic, alive. The band was compelling to listen to. Some of his new lyrics are timely-bitter: in one he gets locked out of his own concert, and cannot get back in because he lacks a magnetized wristband. He can be so comforting but this night rather than the anguish of existence as he and his partner once did, he brought out what troubles us in reality.

typical
I will go all around the mulberry bush with the orange and silver lines when I can reach them instead of my usual blue and yellow lines

I have one more lecture at the Smithsonian for this summer: an all day, 4 part marathon (so to speak) on the Beatles. Wish me luck that I get there. I should as although starting this Tuesday, the two trains which go into DC from where I live will stop at a Virginia stop, and passengers must get out, go downstairs, and take a shuttle bus to a stop far away, just outside DC, and then resume travel again. It may take me more than as hour rather than the usual half hour to get to the Smithsonian, but given it’s an all day event it’s still worth it.

But I won’t be going to the Capital Fringe Festival this year as just about all the programs are an hour long and some might take me as long as two hours to get too. Four hours travel for an hour event which might not be that good would be an ordeal. Maybe it’s just as well since last summer and especially the first after Jim died I forced myself to go well outside my comfort zone to find places. Maybe I was proving to myself I could carry on living the life I did with him in part. I have yet to learn what parts of that life I want and can enjoy and what parts are too much for me — that I don’t enjoy them without him, or maybe (as it sometimes feels) at all.

Self, self, self. What I should be saying is this disgrace, that a major city in the US has an subway system which has become dangerous because no money has been put into it for upkeep shows just what “inequality” is about. The 1 to 10% pay no or little taxes and live with every luxury. I’m told I should take alternative routes. An Uber cab would be $70 into DC. I don’t have a chauffeur. And Mr Trump promises to cut billions more from corporate and wealthy tax-payers. Paul Ryan’s great agenda for which he endorses Trump? he means to destroy Obamacare, Medicare, erase Medicaid, and smash social security to bits.

john-singer-sargent-robert-louis-stevenson-and-his-wife
Sergeant’s portrait of Stevenson stalking across the room, Fanny lying on the sofa wrapped in an extravagant outfit, between then an open door, a stairway, a dog at the threshold

I did manage to get to a marvelous lecture on Robert Louis Stevenson though. It took four trains and getting a little lost at one point, and two trains back, but they came quickly and travel time was still less than the length of the lecture. It was by Stephen Arata, chair of the University of Virginia English department, and chief editor of a complete edition of Stevenson slowly coming out. When they finish it will be 39-40 volumes. I don’t know if I can convey it: I took copious notes.

Stevenson is just so much more than the famous boys’ novels and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; he’s a writer of exceptional versatility and range, a virtuoso style, just under the surface acerbic, uncanny, unsettling, himself an intense spectral creature whose life was one long illness (he seemed to come near death so many times – he coughed blood all his life), yet he lived vibrantly in Edinburgh, across Scotland, London, France, the western US, and at the last the South Sea Islands. Arata talked of his travel writing, essays, remarkable stories of moral ambiguity, dark, letters, and in finally post-colonial condemnations of the way native people were treated. Of course his wife, Fanny Van de Griff Osbourne was part of the nearly 3 hours; her first husband alcoholic, violent; their affair in France, his crossing in steerage in an emigrant ship and train. Her son by her first husband became close to Stevenson in later life. He had illuminating photos of Vailima (the vast mansion he had built for himself and family). In the question section he talked of Stevenson’s relationship with other Scottish writers (including some words of praise for Oliphant’s Beleaguered City)

Stevenson’s texts hold a special meaning for me. My father would read aloud books he longed for me to like — because he liked or respected them. Among these were Stevenson’s “The Sire de Maltroit’s Door” and “A Lodging for the Night.” And when my father died I said over his grave the poem Stevenson had engraved on his

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me: 5
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

We had the second film for the film club: LeCarre’s Our Kind of Traitor, which I’ll re-see Monday (see Anthony Lane or Manohila Dargis). One could could read it as LeCarre for Brexit. We are in the vile world of the super-luxurious 1% making these global deals whose billions of dollars are (in a speech by Damien Lewis as our moral spy) the product of of millions of people’s blood and misery. It has not been understood but then neither was A Most Wanted Man.

Teaching is an important resource — I now recognize many of the people in the class. Many have been with me for more than 2 courses now. I find I have to refer to the 1st three Barsetshire novels (spring 2015) and Framley Parsonage (last summer) as we move through The Small House at Allington.

Small victories: I’ve begun going to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday once again. A thriving place. I’m now buying only free-range chickens and pork, and I buy from a stand of a local Maryland farm. I buy peaches, tomatoes, and find English cheese too (imported). Lettuce. I find in the supermarket that nowadays there are vew few fruit juice drinks. Much seems to be chemically flavored carbonated water with blended flavors; it tastes metallic. So I bought myself a six-pack of genuine pineapple from Amazon; I can find in Whole Foods Ocean Spray real grapefruit juice. I mix them together in a glass, put in ice and voila, something I can recognize as juice and drink, not over-sweet.

DavidCase
The cover of the CD cassette case for David Case’s reading of War and Peace

Days I read away; nights I watch movies. I have now gone through the 20 episode War and Peace by Jack Pulman, and the 6 episode War and Peace by Andrew Davies, and have begun listening to the novel as translated by Constance Garnett and read aloud so well by David Case. In two weeks we are on Trollope19thCStudies going to begin a long-time slow reading of War and Peace, with people invited to read biographies, criticism, watch movies. I mean even to write a blog advertising this to see if we can get other people to join us (for the first time in a long time I’ll do this).

I started to listen to this ahead of time: my text will be the Maude translation as revised by Mandelker and the new Oxford text/edition I have is unbeatable. Not just maps, but wonderful notes which bring home to me how much the novel is also sheerly history and how truly intertwined with history the story and characters are. It’s remarkably intricate. By reading the notes in the new Oxford you can a history of the period focused out of 1805 — the allegiances, the alliances. The focus is Napoleon in the notes as he is the pestilential mover here — reacted by utterly self involved inadequate people. The great man of the book, the General who does all he can to avoid killing and destruction, Kutusov, is as yet just mentioned in passing (Frank Middlemas was superb in the part).

I wish Case were reading aloud one of the other translations than Garnett: as I listen and them maybe compare I discover she is often general, or doesn’t name a character where Maude/Mandelker does. The latter text is more precise; it’s as if Garnett did not expect the reader to pay close attention to the history, to really take the novel to be part history. But I do love Case’s way of reading, his voice. I don’t feel so very alone because I can listen to DVDs in my car. The person reading the book meant for me to hear him or her. For a very long time I’ve used DVDs of great books read aloud this way (also good ones), even when Jim was alive. It has filled my world with presence. How perceptive Penelope Fitzgerald was when she names her book about the BBC radio Human Voices.

AsNatashaMoragHood
Morag Hood as Natasha takes us through her long growing up into when she’s a woman: she is unbearably moving at Andrei’s dying scenes (W&P 1972)

Still as I’m listening to this previous text, I find it’s all in English. I peeked at Maude and some of the text is in the original French (with translations into English at the bottom). It’s such a different experience and differently valuable. For now I’m comparing the novel to the films. I find that Tolstoy’s text is so much harder, so much less sentimentalized than either Pullman or Davies (very humane, adding kindly touches, making the characters so much more loving) and so much more there than Bondarchuk — from Anna Pavlova Sherer, the maid of honor to the Empress whose party begins the novel — a cunningly political woman, a fixer in social life, to say (importantly) Andrei Bolkonsky. The latter in all the film is made so much nicer, kindly really; we never know why he is so depressed quite. Davies’ hints that his wife, Lisa is so dumb and boring but not that Andre is just killed inwardly by this arranged marriage. He is so bitter and she is so desperate: she is characterized/compared to desperate frantic poignant animals; he is so bored, he is so frustrated, he hates the social life he finds he must go through. Tolstoy brings out how arranged marriages ignore the reality of marriage itself really so sharply this way. It is probably not acceptable to bring out this level of reality in a marriage in films: it makes this reader remember all the repressions one must practice, all one must give up to remain at peace in a marriage. I had to do that too.

I writhe with tears, my face suffused as James Norton as Andrei dies slowly in Davies’s film. I’ve watched it four times.

AndreiandMaria
Andrei (James Norton) and his sister, Marya (Jessie Buckley) (W&P, 2015)

I’d like to go to a beach but have no one to go with. This is a place swallowed up by developers except for the parks set up in the early 20th century. So to go to a beach one must drive a full day and stay in a cottage – say Maryland, say way out in West Virginia, Delaware. I have to remember that except when we were in New York City and went to Jones Beach (a pretty place) on Tuesday or Thursday morning, setting out at 8:30, taking our dog Llyr who loved to play near the water and was allowed on one beach, one beach we found a long time ago in Rhode Island, once in Quebec, most of our attempts at beach-going were a misery. I have little tolerance for tourist traps. He had this super light skin and was in danger of burning so on a beach he’d lather up and sit under an umbrella covered with towels. He would go in the water briefly and rush back to the umbrella.

We did try some six times: we drove all the way to Maine twice, once to Mount Desert Island, telling Izzy we were following one of her novels where a characters’ family who live in Princeton, New Jersey, go to Mount Desert Island (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing). We enjoyed that first time because the island was so quiet; we heard the loons. We three went twice to Vermont to stay in a Landmark trust house and we swam in a lake twice that week. We enjoyed best again the first time. The last time Jim and I went to the beach with both daughters once again, it turned out such a misery (I can’t tell how this came about, why), that he came down with excruciating pain in his upper thigh, and insisted on himself driving us home on the third day.

At first we hated the heat in Virginia and DC intensely — it is often ten degrees higher than NYC. How I envy the British whose weather I look at daily too. Gradually we accustomed ourselves, but we escaped to England a number of times once we had the money because there we could enjoy walking in the middle of the day, exploring landscapes, the beaches. otherwise went on long drives to plays in the Berkshires each day almost. Once to rent a house near Glimmerglass and that went well. Him, Izzy and me. We saw all four operas and we took long walks. The year he was so sick, he had planned a four day excursion to New York State near Glimmerglass, booked for a room in a pretty hotel, with tickets for 2 operas and 1 concert. We would have been gone 4 days. By the time that August rolled round he was deadly ill and there was no way he could make it, much less enjoy anything at all.

I have read half-way through Elena Ferrante’s La Figlia oscura (The Lost Daughter), Italian in one hand and English underneath as a crib. I just tonight realized it’s about a woman who goes to the beach alone one summer alone. She left her husband a number of years ago, and while she had two of her daughters with her at first (and acted abjectly before them, allowing them to use her as a doll — oh that makes me cringe, I’d never), they moved back with their father. A third has estranged herself altogether. But the novel itself is about her time on this beach, watching a family, and in her flat marking papers and grading for a course she had just finished teaching, and reading for her next course and dreaming, thinking, feeling. I’ve not yet finished. She steals the cherished doll of one of the children on the beach and has just been found out. The picture on the cover is the back of a doll with her dress opened at the top — like a patient in a hospital.

sous-le-sable
Charlotte Rampling, Sous la Sable (her husband just goes missing)

The whole of the painful focus has been on her past, on the cruelties and stupidities and also occasional kindnesses of the life she sees before her. But now I think maybe Ferrante should have focused on that beach time itself, the stillness of the air, the water, the courage to be there and then in that room. That’s what Jenny Diski might have done. Ferrante’s novella just misses greatness because it’s not on the past in the present.

Most of my time I’m here alone in my small room with computers, my good friends on the Net and my loving, playful, patient cats nearby — to keep me imagined company. I re-watch Calendar Girls (whence my new header) and Miramax films (Remains of the Day this week) very late at night. I find it so stressful to go to a new place or in a new way I’ve not been to or done before. This does not get any better. I drove to DC yesterday (Thursday), a trial run to see if I could do it, and became so nervous I took a turn I should not have and got a ticket from a police officer. Very distressing. A warning to myself not to panic and also take the Metro when I can or don’t go. Thus no Fringe Festival. No beach without a friend.

I should not forget before I seem too much to lament my lot: in 1916 on July 1st, something like 60,000 people were killed at the battle of the Somme. How could this happen? how human beings behave like this? How account for time and change from then, these years since, the horror of that day repeated in little endlessly. Have I said both War and Peace films I’ve been watching are deeply anti-war?

The sounds of silence …
But we’re all right …

Miss Drake

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