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MeandFriedrichMay2015
Me with friends this a week and a half ago — in DC, in a restaurant near Kramerbooks

Izzy2015
Yvette two weekends ago

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did a diary entry here, and what I most want to tell about are how two movies I’ll See You in my Dreams and L’Intrepido, became interwoven with my thoughts about lives lived in our contemporary world, their aporias, one of which is mine and others not much different from mine after all that I seem to be observing.

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Danner
Blythe Danner as the often wry Carol

I’ll See you in My Dreams, written directed and produced by Brett Haley, the writing with March Basch, the producing with Rebecca Green, is a touching slow-paced, for the most part naturalistically done and convincing portrait of Carol (Blythe Danner), a woman in her late 50s to early 60s who lives alone. As the movie opens, we see her living companionably close with a beloved dog, Hazel; we watch her move through her day from getting up, eating breakfast, playing bridge and going out with women friends in a retirement community near-by, shopping; and having lunch or supper or in bed late at night watching TV or reading, with Hazel always by her side. As is so common in movies made for middle class mainstream audiences no one has a serious problem with money in the movie (no one at risk of starvation, homelessness); Carol herself as heroine lives in a splendid house. Her dog, though, is ailing and dies; we watch her watch him “put out” and then grieve by his side.

ISYIMD_Day_10_64.cr2
With her friends at the supermarket

It emerges that she is a widow of 20 years (it may she is older than she seems as the pictures of her with the husband on her mantelpiece show a woman in her later 30s at least, or 40s), with a daughter (later 20s, early 30s) who lives at a considerable distance from Carol. We get to know her friends; they do not seem lonely but they seek companionship continually. Over the course of the movie Carol becomes friends with Lloyd (Martin Starr) a much younger man who comes to her apartment complex to clean her pool; he lives with his mother (perhaps he has a money problem), does not know what to do with his life; there are no good jobs; he wants to be song-writer and sing but when he and she go to a club where amateurs can get up and sing we find he is bad; she is very good. She sang when much younger with a previous husband or partner. One of his songs though is I’ll See you in My Dreams which gradually becomes the non-sourced background music of the film.

She is urged by her friends to go to a “speed date” meeting (awful, just like men on Match.com), a kind of vast room where men and women sit across a table from one another for five mintutes, get 30 seconds to exchange phone numbers and then must move on. Awful: one man insisted on how he was interested in sex; another asked her interests, another was all upbeat. My friend, Vivian, said this was real; she had gone to such a “meet-up.” One night she and her friends smoke medical marijuana and are embarrassed and frightened when stopped by a police officer. The feel of real life is effective.

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Bill (Sam Elliot) who never lights that cigar

The central motivating incident of the movie is Carol meets Bill, an older man who she is attracted to and he her. They begin an affair, have a beautiful day on his boat, and within a couple of days — while her daughter is visiting her — a phone call to her, tells her he is in hospital. She rushes there but cannot get entrance (not a close relative), but through a stratagem learns sudden death took him. It’s a moment of intense grief, far stronger than she’s manifested thus far, for him (who was alone he said, not married any longer, no relatives — he had begun to ask her to marry him). She returns to the dock where his boat still is

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Some transformation within her goes on; and she talks deeply with her daughter over photos of them much younger; Lloyd returns and they talk of his non-future, clearly though as her friend still. The older self-deprecating woman with a young male friend is a repeated trope from women’s novels.

The ending is her showing up at an animal adoption fair and coming upon a 12 year old dog who looks all forlorn, and adopting him. When the screen closes we see her in her car with the dog at her side, a flashback to her house where we see the dog bowl and toys waiting. She is making the effort again, connecting.

The pace is natural, the dialogue believable, the mood is on the whole one of qualified hope, sturdy going on, sweet at times. What I especially liked was it appeared to go nowhere. The movie action often contradicted or prove wrong typical advice Carol is given (she should immediately “get another dog”).

Of course I utterly bonded with Carol — as did my friend, Vivian, who did not at all nod off or fall asleep (which she sometimes does when she comes to the kind of movie I like best to see).

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Antonioalbanese

L’Intrepido did not get as postive reviews apparently because it did not come up to Amelio’s other masterpieces in the estimation of film critics. I saw it as the first of this summer’s once-a-month Sunday morning movies introduced by the Washington Post film critic, Gary Arnold. He told us a great deal about the man’s live and career and afterwards there were quit a number of intelligent comments made by the audience members about the film.

It is also about someone living alone, also older, but a man, and living in 21st century Milan. The translation of “lonely hero” is not literally accurate: the title emphasizes the man’s courage, his intrepidness. The film was said to mirror the job situation in Italy, as desperate as our own and many another society where “austerity” measures have cut into the fabric of social services (to allow the wealthy to pay few taxes) and laws have allowed companies to take their businesses to where they can pay very low wages and enforce poor conditions on the workers. So our hero, Antonio Pane (the second word means bread) survives by hiring himself to a man who provides “filler” occupations to people who come to him; he gets the salary and pays them — when he pleases. Antonio has a son who seems to be doing fine at first: at university, a musician, but as he tells his father, it is one thing to do splendidly in school, it is quite another to succeed outside in the marketplace world. The son seems to be someone making money and being kind to his father; it is a hard relationship as they live apart, the son sees the father as a failure who is in need of basic things like socks, daily money. The family is broken up. Antonio’s wife is said to now dislike him, be estranged from him. It emerges thought that that the son is subject to panic attacks, cannot compromise to produce goddawful loud poor music, and has a hard time finding a place in a orchestra. Antonio’s wife long ago left him for a man who seems to be making a lot of money producing fine goods: when he finds Antonio a job, though, it’s a false business, a pretend shoe-store which is a front for drug or other illicit traffic. Gary Arnold said Amelio’s father had early on deserted him and his mother.

This is a world where people are disconnected much more badly than Carol’s world. Again and again in passing he makes conversation, starts relationships and they are broken off because he does not return to the job the next day or consecutive days. He lives alone in a small flat — as it seems many do in Milan. The film needs a stronger fantasy element to give us the required uplift — it is an art film but is made to reach people. In the second half of the film Antonio takes increasingly harder jobs; when his son collapses, he takes over and plays a saxophone in his son’s place until his son gets the strength to come on stage and we see in the son a forlorn Christ-figure, the next generation:

hisson

Instead of silent, downtrodden, desperate, he becomes a man determined to do no harm and help others. His life is meaningful. He will not take a job delivering a boy to a man who is said to be his father and is not. He finds comfort in working in a library among books.

Among those he meets and passes conversation and time with in the later part of the film are two women much younger than himself, one taking a competitive exam where he is taking one. He allows her to see his answers. Of course neither of them gets any response back from the testers – nor the hundreds of other people taking these tests. The other is doing hard menial work of the same filler kind and he takes her out to lunch. There is a parallel of Carol and Lloyd here. The girl seems to confide in him, but she suddenly goes wild and hastily flees him. The next thing we hear she has killed herself. but he has tried. When last seen he is walking on some high bridge looking cheerful; he turns round to smile at us, content with his lot.

The profound inhumanity structured into the way our economic relationships are conducted, family distancing, our autonomous, anonymous cutural worlds, the theme of this movie, is sidelined, and we end up in a kind of Voltaire’s Candide (without the overt violent wars), where survival means hope. One of the audience members mentioned Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times but the movie is meant to be much darker than that.

For me the question at the core of both films is how do people endure it? It being life. The answer is not quite that they find someone to love for real who loves them as these relationships support but do not sustain continually and it’s that that’s needed.

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This past week I became a lady who lunched: I went out three times to lunch or coffee with someone and one night to dinner. For example, this past Wednesday I met with two women who were in my Barsetshire class this spring at the Olive Garden. We had unlimited soup and salad and stayed talking for more than an hour and a half. On another day it was Noodles and Company, pasta and wine, and afterwards I helped a friend try to conquer the kind of questions GREs pose for those wanting to be accepted into a graduate program. Sophie took some more photos, one of which captured me in the midst of my library at an angle that caught a sense of the books in my house much more accurately than usual: A Library: A House of Memories.

I found four Wolf Trap shows to go to: with my neighbor across the street we’ll go twice, John Foggerty one June night in 2 weeks and the Piano Guys another August one, and take picnic suppers; with Yvette to the Barns at Wolf Trap for Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and a 20th century opera by John Corigliano, Ghosts of Versailles (characters include Marie Antoinette) on two Sundays; maybe we’ll take picnic lunches. I took my car in to be fixed, a long day where this friendly mechanic (I’ve gone to before) showed me what was going in with the car when it was hoisted up. I went far less to Dance Fusion and water-aerobics than I thought I would: I couldn’t find time and read for my projects too — though I did go twice and the classes were crowded. I’ve given up on core: too hard for me and not any fun.

Yesterday part of our day Yvette and I put our cats through the ordeal of going to the Vet. We had outwitted them by keeping the carriers hidden until the last five minutes and cornering them in my room where there is no place to hide. The minute Ian saw the carriers he emitted cawing crying sounds, which he kept up all the way there, at times while there and all the way home. Clarycat squeezed down in her carrier and was not eager to come out. We had been made to wait a long time — there were some very sad looking animals there as well as one poorly dressed older woman in bad health. So the Vet made up for this by an extra careful visit, looking over them, and for the first time I witnessed nail clipping: well, Clarycat growled fiercely while it was happening. When we got home, she growled warningly at Ian to keep away; he remained hidden for two hours. It has taken over 14 hours for them to behave more tranquilly again.

ClaryCloseUpMay2015
Does she not look a little grim?

Three times now after going to bed between 12 and 1, I’ve woken after 8 am in the morning. That’s a powerful lot of sleep for me. It means I’ve been super-tired from the effort of living.

So I asked myself, How do people endure this, meaning life? Yesterday it came to me that what I need as a widow is peace of mind, quiet within me to keep at bay the aporias. I no longer have a beloved and cannot replace him. Nor will daily structures and routines (I used to feel I so relied on), and goals (to give meaning) replace a loving companion. Is it for Carol has her dog, Antonio going out every day (he puts it this way)? My cats? Carol is lucky to have those friends, her money, her cherished memories; Antonio his even fraught relationship with his son and a wife who does not forget some obligation. I have some friends, two daughters cats, my memories, books, enough money, but I find it hard to realize his death; it sinks in deeper and deeper. One basis for me could be contentment within the environment Jim and I made together, this world of my house and books, with the car and enough money to take me here and there. How does one achieve peace of mind? Accept what is and don’t yearn for what cannot be.

My books for pleasure and interest are of the type Jim would have appreciated: Jenny Uglow’s In these Times: Living in Britain Through the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815; Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian as translated by Fredericka Randall (a masterpiece of the type of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, only deeply liberal, pro-Risorgimento, set 1790s to 1850s), and I hope to begin soon the suffragette Constance Lytton’s Prisons and Prisoners (a memoir). I’m listening to Simon Slater read aloud all of Mantel’s very great Wolf Hall. All of them I would have talked of to him.

Miss Drake

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Mourka
George Balanchine with Tanquil’s Mourka

    Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will
— Steven Dunn, poet

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve written no content since October 19th because I’ve been that discouraged and disheartened: teaching is not going to be for me what I had hoped. I had not realized what a hard prescription is Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.”

No one who reads this blog will believe I’ve been putting up a brave front, but I have. So I must fill this blog with other lives, other adventures.

One of Gary Arnold’s recommendations (from the Sunday once-a-month film club I’ve been attending) was Afternoon of a Faun. I watched it two nights — using a DVD from Netflix and want to recommend it strongly.

It’s the story of one of the central ballerinas of Balanchine’s life: at the height of Tanaquil’s powers, dancing extraordinarily at the American Ballet Theater, and married to Balanchine, she came down with polio. She spent time in an iron lung and never regained her ability to stand much less dance.

afternoon of a faun 1
Dancing Afternoon of a Faun

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A more classical ballet symphony

It’s very much a woman’s film: a sensitive retelling of this woman’s life from the time and milieu of the 1950s in NYC and the building of American ballet theater: Le Clercq had a ballet mother who had come from a middle class family and enrolled her daughter in the Manhattan ballet school at Juillard; Tanaquil caught Balanchine’s eye one day in the corridor after she had been thrown out of the class. He discovered the way she danced suited his ballets exquisitely well. She collapsed suddenly in one of the Scandanavian countries. She was 26. After this terrifying ordeal, from which she came back in part sufficiently to sit comfortably in a wheelchair and allow him to try to manipulate her into standing, dancing once more. She could not. Surprisingly (to others), Balanchine was far more loyal to her than one might expect, stayed with her much longer,

Together

HelpingHer

but eventually he tired of trying to bring her back, saw it could not be, and moved on — as they say — to Suzanne Farrell. Took Farrell over, married her; yes Tanaquil was very hurt. She then lived alone for 25 years, never remarried. The story of the movie is done partly through interviews with those who remained her friends, including a rival of Balanchine’s, Jerome Robins; a loyal friend, Patricia McBride, another Barbara Horgan. Exquisitely appropriate film clips as it moves back and forth through older memories and then forward through her life. Tanaquil did have enough money to live a physically comfortable life in a fine apartment in Manhattan; we see her at a picnic with friends; and she publishes a book on her life with her cat,

Mourkabookcover

reminding me of Doris Lessing, Olivia Manning, Marge Piercy, Elsa Morante and Remedios Varo, and their books and poetry and pictures of cats, only the photos I could find were all of Balanchine and Mourka.

Late in life the African-American dancer turned choreographer, Arthur Mitchell, who ran the Harlem ballet theatre was willing to give her a job teaching ballet classes and mentoring individual ballerinas there — from her chair.

Teaching

It’s the story of a disabled woman’s life. She is photographed in all its stages across the film, and looks as poignant in her later years with her hair thinning and her body increasingly frail as she does at the start. There was something ethereal about her wiry strength when she was young, and when she ages there is something plangently ethereal yet strong from her waist up and through her arms when she ages.

Ethereal

A touching and yet real account of the life of artist bereft of her gift. Gary Arnold connected it to the film Casa Verdi — the realities of lives in the “high culture” theater and the aftermath when they can no longer exercise their talent.

How difficult it is to claim one’s right
to living honestly. The honesty
you taught was nothing quite as true
as death, but neither was it final
—–Rafael Campo, poet

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Fence

A absurdist funny (if you are not involved) story of a friend’s fence. Let’s call her Sharon: Sharon lives in one of these controlled “developments” of townhouses which allows a Homeowners Association’s petty tyrants to reign supreme over all that can be seen outside of the houses. Sharon and Don’s fence needed replacement and because they have cats, they decided to have a fence precisely 6 feet high (the highest allowed) to try to keep the cats inside their back garden/terrace. After it was built with a shed attached to one corner, one of the people in the area snuck round and measured said fence and discovered it was 6 feet 3 inches or so and reported this to the HOA. You’d think Sharon and Don had committed a felony. What power the HOA has over them I don’t know. All this is about more than property values (money); it’s about insisting on a narrow image of middle class respectability. It’s about those given petty power.

The situation was most people have fences of 5 feet and the previous fence had been 5 feet. So this was daringly unconventional. Sharon’s mother-in-law was actually going to go round the fences in the compound and measure others to show others were slightly over 6 feet. That is, she was willing to think and act the way this HOA did. But such measurings got nowhere. So should they pay to cut it by 5 inches along the top — expensive. Finally it was decided to bring in dirt to raise the level of the ground.

I’ve been told there are communities where you are not allowed to have a line of rope to hang your clothes out in your backyard on a sunny afternoon. Rules for how many bushes and how high and where. If you can have a basketball circle. It seems to me this kind of thing also shows insecurity about class, for the higher and richer and bigger the houses, the less you see people allowing others to police them in this way.

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Why I wanted to escape experience is nobody’s business but my own,
but I always believed I could if I could

put experience into words
Now I know better.
Now I know words are experience
—– Vijay Seshadri, poet

And pictures and colors. Don’t miss Michael Gorra deep into green.

Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo

Miss Drake

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