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Posts Tagged ‘poetry day’


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

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

Friends,

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


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

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

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


Razieh — characteristic shot


She also stands so silently and often from the side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Miss Drake

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darkredfloweringbush
My hardy bush turns fall colors, next to it the silver ferns have morphed into three plants

Friends,

As of yesterday morning, we are waking to sunlight on the east coast of the US. On Saturday night I stayed up an extra hour to finish a blog, watch a movie, read a poem. Then when I woke I was sure I would feel the light and more warmth too.

How it gladdened my eyes. And again this morning — after I went to sleep at my usual midnight hour and woke somewhat earlier. I so hate the black mornings forced on me in October into November. I cannot forget that when I was young, mornings were not dark in October. What a relief. More living time is the way I feel it, to rise to cheer.

Do you know the poetry of Ann Stanford? I once wrote a blog on her poetry — see my “I’ve discovered another great poet!”; this from the Poetry Foundation.

A modern Georgic:

Dreaming the Garden

It is so comfortable there in the garden
You can wear an old toga — Pliny the younger

It must first of all be fun.
There must be an air of insouciance,
of je ne sais quai about it.
Someone else has already moved the stones,
limed the soil. You have only to turn
the shovel lightly. The rains have left
moisture, but not too much.
You plan the lawn, sloping to the terrace,
the marble balustrades, cracks hidden
under the wash of plumbago.
You are half down the slope. Beyond
are oaks and beech trees surrounding the view
of the lake. Beyond it – the lake –
are mountains – green overlaying the hidden villas.
A single boat loiters among lily pads.

But there is work to do.
You put the shovel deep in and turn
up humus, earthworms, a bulb or two
beginning to send a green shaft skyward.
By the lake, back from the point where the
trees obscure the boat now
a cluster of statues watches the view
from atop the columned wall
above the anchorage.
The boat will be heading this way.

To your left past the maze
the lawn edged by nymphs hip-deep in azaleas,
moves toward the folly.
Beside the stairs to the terrace
geraniums flow out of their vases, pink and lavender.
Off toward the south, aisles of lantana
and cannas, the air harsh where the sun
drags the strong scent from the strident blooms.
But on the right, the cascade
plunges through pools, descends in shallow falls
noisy as a brook. Grottoes and archways span and interrupt.
Dolphins rise from the pool
and a great shell collects
the last outflow, from which it vanishes.

You have done so much this morning —
­two shovelfuls of earth. The third
leads to the clipped ilex on the terrace.
Diamonds, circles of low hedge
hold bouquets. The square pool marks
the heart. Beyond,
water and light make the statues move,
the sky a lake of clouds under the arches by
the shell. You walk under the falling tide
with the nymphs who hold spirals of shells
wreathed in ivy.
You go up the water stairs. Cascades rush by
on either hand. Shade dapples the path.
You reach the main pool:
against the hillside a grove,
in the grove the goddess
white, serious, stone, follows the deer
at the edge of the glade. You have come just in time.

2

Start with the bounds. What’s to go out or stay.
The view you’ll keep, the lake, the fading ranges.
Columns of cypress shield the western slope,
as for the south, arrange a grove of olives.
On the north, white oleander
can form a wall beside the avenue.
Over the walk you put an arch of vines.
You must be firm with space. Even the sky
becomes your own.

Divide the sky, let it be lanes or views,
parterres, or rounds of blue above the pool.
Cut it with branches, winter-white, in shapes
of leaded glass, break it with scattered leaves
into shimmering drops, or panes
between the arches of the hedge, or dark with lines
or circles from your vista under the trees.
You’ve set the bounds, laid out the earth and sky.
Whatever you do, things will not stay this way.

3

It helps if you have something old
to set among the hedges:
say a column topped by a statue of Ceres,
behind her a rondure of privet,
or a sundial on a post of white marble
in the circle of lawn.
Where that pile of native stone backs the fountain
a group of nymphs, sporting jets of spray
from the cascade hidden behind the potting shed.
Some urns of terra cotta
can hold salvia, the yellow anthers bright in sun.
Not too much color though.
Let the subtle glow of marble hold your attention.

If you are fortunate, you will find fragments ­–
a broken head of an emperor
the pediment of an altar
or, truly blessed, a faun
tangled in grape leaves.
Set him among boxes of orange
against the ilex hedge,
the gravel path widening before him.
Even a few broken shards
will enhance the wall behind the fountain.

The past must be used –
the sarcophagi flaunting geraniums ­–
and where the wood overtakes you, a path
through the overgrown laurel
the tangle of oak and acacia
always at war with one another.

4

It rains. The lake drowns in haze.
The grove beside it is a distant country.
Fog moves in billows like nymphs escaped from the fountains,
their white drapes drawn about them.
Rain shoots from the downspouts, jets from the mouths
of gargoyles,
or rolls off the roof, splashing and rebounding.
The terrace is a pool catching the gush of waters
from the mouths of eagles, the vases of naiads,
the horse-maned dolphins of the seagod.
The villa is a fountain, where you swim like a minnow
in the green light of leaves dripping their cascades.

The sky darkens. It is a grotto
filled with swaying moss, the dark niches holding satyrs
grinning as they wave obscene fingers
or sneer at you from the green solace of vines.
The terrace where you dug is mud; it melts
sliding down the water stairs
between the troughs where freshets leap
from banks of honeysuckle.
Water runs between the balustrades
in waterfalls that merge
like the outflow of a thousand breasts
into the great pool on the lower terrace
where the hedge floats like a carved isthmus
among islands of clipped lavender.
Water flows from the boughs of the pine trees
pours from the laurels, circles the oranges, dangles in
narrow streams from the walnuts.
The lake must be rising among the oak trees
making a water temple of the columns by the landing.
The statues gaze at their reflections
pocked by descending drops.
You hear the counterpoint of the shattering cascade
off the edge of the roof, the tattoos of rain,
a slow drip, drop, somewhere it shouldn’t be.
The birds have taken to cover.
You hear no sound
but the steady water music of the garden.

5

But it must make sense. The mad cascade
the storm dropped yesterday has destroyed the parterres.
They are sunk in mud. The stairways slipping with dirt
and leaves.
Everything drips – the eaves, the edges of trees, the hedges.
It was more than a water garden, a meeting of too many streams.
After a day of sun, you can clean out the path
wash off the terraces, put drains where streams carried away

the soil.
But today while the clouds decide whether to go or stay
get to details. What is the garden made of?
Planes, levels, paving, paths, trees and hedges,
low plantings and high, sun and shade, color and light.

Down by the lake already there are beeches and oaks,
a drift of wild cyclamen. Farther up for sun
plant a spread of lantana, a border of lilies,
on the terrace end, magnolias; around the reflecting pool
urns of geraniums, plumbago, purple
bougainvillea, vases of lemon set on balustrades
and hedges of laurel, cypress, holly.
For the old walls, jasmine, clematis, honeysuckle, roses
beside iris and loquat, oleanders, mandarins.
For autumn color liquidambars, persimmons, against the
pine trees.
Pomegranate and flowering thyme,
lavender, shrub roses, fuchsias
and wisteria on the steeper banks.
You will want mimosa and orange trees
the acrid scent of alders by the stream.

But your list is already too long
and you’ve left no room for the kitchen garden.
You have forgotten the plan, the cool laying out of the ground.
You have overwhelmed the garden, unthinking as any god.

Stanford’s is a dream garden out of classical tradition by way of Miltonic-Cowperesque traditions as felt by a modern woman poet. So notice how like in Mary Poppins, our gardener can impose order and peace on the sky. How out the waters of the world everything comes alive — as in Burnett’s Secret Garden. it puts me in mind of Vita Sackville-West’s book-long Georgic, The Land and the Garden (for which I wrote a foremother poetry entry in an on-line festival site — so it was called). And for a picture I think of Emily Carr’s bejewelled Canadian landscapes:

emily_carr_tree_in_autumn_
A Tree in Autumn

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Mine is nothing like this; realistically, one of the sides of my body, the right, is too weak to do any effective digging. Still, my small maple tree carries on thriving and come Christmas I’ll be winding colored lights around its branches. A small sign of continued hope.

midafternoonsmallmapleautumn2016
Yes, that’s a Clinton/Kaine sign you see peeping out from in front of my fence, facing the road.

Miss Drake

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Firebird-640
Firebird at Wolf Trap

Friends,

Mirable dictu is luckier than I, for she has photos of a thriving large bookstore in her area which has been going for decades, and has included as a customer Barack Obama. If you include the DC area as part of my home area, there are a couple of equally thriving, possibly larger bookstores: Poets and Busboys in central DC, and Politics and Prose in the Northwest are two I’ve gone to. They both survive by hosting lecture series, book clubs, poetry readings, and occasionally even a play or concert (on a small stage). My bookstore memories are of vanished bookstores in Virginia and New York City. Second story used to have a bookstore in Alexandria that filled a long block and was two stories high: now there is a modest exterior (unpretentious they call it) and book filled one in DC, in Maryland and on-line site.

second-story-books-interior
Interior of the couple of mortar-and-cement Second Story bookstores left (DC)

I remember spending hours in such places. Then they had no cafeterias, or most didn’t; they were places occasionally to find a treasure I didn’t know existed. I can’t say that I regret being able to locate precisely the book I want from across the world on-line; I do reach much better books, ones I know I want, no comparison with the book I hadn’t expected. But I do miss the older experience, and especially with Jim in another part of the store. After we had had our finds, we’d come together again. Part of the pleasure was that he was there. In a small way Izzy and I replicate that twice a year in the increasingly smaller Northern Virginia Booksale (potlatch) that takes place in the large George Mason Library (nothing to do with the university): we go together, and we sometimes take as long as half an hour apart, and then find one another with our small stack of books and buy and bring them home.

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Lovelybush
This is the way this flowering bush looked a week and a half ago — no longer

It’s been brutally hot for days and days. Ferocious by 2 in the afternoon. Air unhealthy. 118F index (including humidity, pollution and whatever else goes into that number) this past Sunday. On the Saturday night it was 95F (not the index figure, just the plain fahrenheit number) at Wolf Trap park and most people were covered in sweat, some dripping. We had come to hear Prokofiev’s first symphony and the Maurice Ravel Mother Goose suite, as prologue to Stravinsky’s Firebird. re-allegorized as a history of apartheid in South Africa. The National Symphony played achingly beautifully, and the dance, ballet, and symbolic action for Firebird was done by stick puppets and dancers as conceived by Janni Younge and choreographed by Jay Pather. It was a cumulative experience that felt magnificent by the time they’d done. Izzy’s blog will give you a flavor of the music: she admits we both fell asleep near the very end, it was that hot and we had come to the lecture and had had a long day.

The-Kind-Words
The three siblings

During such times one moves from air-conditioned house to car to building (I go to the gym for Body Strengthening 4, swim as well or long as I can — half an hour) and out to movies. The Film Club at Cinema Art Theater (Va) still goes on and this Sunday I saw the best commercial movie-house film I’ve seen since 45 Years, and before that probably last year’s Film Club’s Kilo Two Bravo: Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words. I hope it is released to the general public and turns up at Cinema Art so I can see it again. The reviews I’ve found (Leslie Felperin, TIFF) don’t do it justice.

thefather
They want kind words from him

It is sentimental at moments (it idealizes the family to some extent) but its story of a Jewish girl coerced into leaving her French-Algerian-Arab lover, into marrying an Israeli man, and for years escaping to be with him and (improbably) getting pregnant (three times) to give birth back in Israel. She dies; her husband had left her for a younger woman and discovered he is unable to produce sperm, so we are treated to a half-comic, rueful yet at time deeply felt search by her three children for their biological father. A young woman who has left a loving husband because she’s tired of miscarriages; a young man who is gay but has a child living in another country; a young man who wants meaning and has married a Brooklyn girl and is allowing her and her family into making him into a religious Jew which he is not. He is intolerant towards his gay brother. They and the sister’s husband go in a semi-comic quest for this biological father, and while they do this, they find out more about themselves, learn some humility.

When they find him in a half-abandoned quarter of Marseilles, the biological father (played by the extraordinary Maurice Benichou who has been in Michael Haneke films) is an aging man lives alone with his memories, records and a few books, seemingly poverty-stricken, he will not open his soul (or their mother’s) to them. He will not admit he is their father because (like her sister), he promised not to tell. He asks them, what do they want of him now? It’s a fable against intolerance, nationalism, defining yourself by your religion, ethnicity, status, money. Its greatest line is uttered by Benichou when his biological daughter persists in asking him what is his religion, nationality, and keeps getting a “no” to this one or that (no, he is not Jewish, no he is not an Arab, no he is not French, nor Algerian), he says “why is this so important to you?”

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

Izzy and I have had some terrible troubles with our plane tickets for our coming trips: it appears either we did not see or the times for lay-overs were changed, so that when this week I went to double-check our plane reservations before seeing about getting money to pay for the Cornwall cottage, I discovered one includes a 10 hour lay-over in Reykjavit going to England and the other a 17 (!) hour lay-over coming home. I would travel 18 hours to get to London and we a day and three hours to return. That’s intolerable, especially considering the wretched (abusive) conditions one has to endure. I spent 5 hours on the phone a few days ago uselessly, ending up shaking. To change them I have to pay a penalty and change fee that is higher than the round-trip tickets. So I will probably have to swallow and pay for a second set as we cannot tolerate such a long siege in an airport. What we will do is whatever the cost have no lay-over (one stop) and make sure the time is no more than 6 hours going and 8 back. Maybe we’ll splurge altogether and go during the day.

Corporate1percent
Remind me never to buy a plane ticket when I don’t have to cross an ocean

This is not the first time I have been so cheated over travel in an airplane. When I went to Pittsburgh this past spring I preferred to drive a long drive than take a plane; the only train was 10 hours. I met people there who had preferred a bus to a plane. Again no train was truly available. Robert Louis Stevenson’s words came to mind

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.

And a friend sent me Rose Milligan’s

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to siwm and mountains to climb;
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go — and go you must —
You, yourself, will make more dust.

ClarycatbehindComputer
Clarycat stretched out in the sun behind my computer – she is reading about Tolstoy too

Pussycat stories help because their troubles seem so much less than ours. (It is a literal torment to think what would happen were Trump to win the presidency.) Why do cats not mew after hours of being stuck in say a closet? After many hours, both of mine will hurl their bodies against the door, and even make sounds, wails. But they will not for a mere two or so.

Earlier this week I noticed about 5 in the afternoon I hadn’t seen Clarycat in quite a while; this is not like her. She does not hide away for a long time. Then it came to me she was stuck somewhere. I finally found her in the back closet clinging to my slippers, looking very upset, and she came out slowly. She was shaking. I asked on face-book if anyone had read anything to explain why cats will not make noises within a reasonable when they are stuck somewhere? I realize at first they are usually not upset; they like to hide, but when they’ve had enough why do they stand or sit there silently waiting. Answers ranged from “Our cats are usually asleep for the first few hours. They only yowl when they wake up and decide they’re hungry,” to “Since cats are small they act like both prey and predator. When trapped, prey behavior is what they exhibit, being quiet so a large predator cannot find them. In this case, that is you.” I liked best: “I think they assume that we will eventually rescue them because they trust us.”

I read a review of a book arguing we are not smart enough to understand how smart animals are, and this made me firmer in my idea that in fact the cat is waiting as it sits there looking like it’s waiting for us, even if at length I was thinking this closet is so familiar to Clarycat and that she can hear us outside it, so she trusts all is well. But if it goes o for too long, with her at any rate, it gets too much for her. As reinforcement: once Izzy and I were out for quite a while; we come back and almost immediately hear this noise from her bedroom. Ian was literally stuck in a drawer. He waited until we came home and when he heard us, having been by himself and probably anxious, he began to make hoise and try to get out on his own. He needed help.

Cats are a great comfort. I’ve found their eyes and face lack the expressiveness of a dog’s and was told that their brains don’t have the same direct access to their face and eyes. Perhaps a myth. I do know their whole body expresses what they are feeling and am with Jane Goodall (and Darwin) in thinking the disimissal of close analogies in physical and emotional expression between people and non-people animals is there; it’s not anthropomorphic to recognize this. Maybe people want to ignore this level of the animal because then they are less convenient, more demanding to have around. But they give and mean it.

They’re funny too. When Ian was kitten like Snuffle-up-agus on the old Sesame Street he would hide the upper part of his body under things and thought because he couldn’t see us, we could see him. At some point he realized that wasn’t so and stopped hiding his head and upper body. Children have to learn this and do so very early, as well as where their ears are. But no one cheats them of thousands, no one abuses them on the edge of decency in a plane because thousands and thousands of dollars have not been extorted for a plane ticket.

waze

And I’m not all incompetence: I returned the 2016 garmin I had paid $180 for when I discovered it had become more complicated to program. I could do all sorts of things with it, including take picture, but I do not want to do these other things, only find my way. So instead (as the old garmin does not work right all the time), Izzy and I downloaded a free app called “Waze” onto our cell phones. I take it into the car with a USB cord and have discovered it gives better directions, apprises me if a cop, car standing in the waiting lane, or wrecked car is near. It has funny cartoons too. When Izzy and I finally figured out how to stop it from talking when we’d gotten where we wanted to go by putting it in sleep mode, here’s the picture that appeared ….

sleep-mode

Miss Drake

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NewYorker
Mid-February New Yorker cartoon

Friends and readers,

Above comic subversion, below otherwise:

SHerbertBriefEncounter
Susan Herbert does Brief Encounter (click away for Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard & the film)

On this snowy morning over breakfast I read in the Times Literary Supplement a series of modern sonnets “after Shakespeare.” None matched Shakespeare’s usual depth of feeling, apprehension, word play, but one called attention to a sonnet by Shakespeare which connected back to my wish I could be haunted: No 43:

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed;
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
    All days are nights to see till I see thee,
    And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

And to be candid, Gillian Clarke’s re-write of Shakespeare’s oft-quoted and apparently revered Sonnet 116 speaks home to me more than Shakespeare’s irony over clichéd assertions.

Pull between earth and moon, or chemistry ,
carries the swallow home from Africa
to perch again on his remembered tree,
the weeping birch by the pond. A star
will guide his mate home in a week, perhaps,
to the old nest in the barn, remade, mould
of spittle and pond-sludge snug in its cusp
as the new year in the mud-cup of the old.
Loss broke the swan on the river when winter
stole his mate while he wasn’t looking. Believing,
he waited, rebuilt the nest, all summer
holding their stretch of river, raging, grieving.
    So would I wait for you, were we put apart.
    Mind, magnetism, hunger of the heart.

My mate is lost, stolen from me, not believing, having no hope, I hold on to our stretch of shared consciousness, our nest. The last three lines (where Shakespeare is often weakest, though in the above 43rd not) are where Clarke is strongest.

klibanskating
February’s Kliban cat

Miss Drake

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Another exquisite performance:

Go over to her blog to make comments. There you will find three previous similar renditions of songs

Miss Drake

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FrankCurrituckBenson
Frank Weston Benson, Currituck Winter Marsh (American waterscapes painter)

Friends,

For the past two weeks or so we’ve known some deeply chill mornings and nights.. It’s not been sustained and some days the temperature has reached the 50s fahrenheit, but in the last few days at long last (so to speak) brutal cold. The temperature never gets above freezing (high 28 say) and When the wind is high and my skin burns through my gloves, it makes me wonder why I was missing winter. Yesterday morning, this morning and now tonight it’s been 17 to 18 fahrenheit outside and (I am told by the weather channel on my computer) feels like 1. The sky different shades of blue over the day, from light with pink, to brighter and whiter blues, to twilight and so on to through my window pitch black night.

I know when it’s winter because my cats seek the sun. My beloved Ian pussycat (aka Gingerbread Cookie) sat smiling in a puddle of sun he had to stretch his head to share a small part of the experience. I petted and his smile got stronger. I wish I could have captured it in a photo but words (to me) are still good. He presses his body hard against mine, nudges me with his head, softly pushes back and forth. I’ve used this photo earlier this month but here it can show him putting his face to the light: here it’s a lamp, reflected computer light and a bit of sun all together. Also he’s smiling

IanCookie

ClaryCat on my lap and near the radiator this morning. She was smiling half-dozing but when I put my cell phone camera near her she stopped smiling and looked serious, turning her head to see the device. She is a picture-adverse cat, a private creature.

PictureAdverseCat

Cat friends I can lavish physical affection on, who respond; she will lick me thoroughly occasionally but I’m fondest of moments when it’s sort of perfunctory lick. Then she’s my comfort, he my loving companion in these long days for me, quiet –and at night sad — apud libros (among books).

On one of my listservs a friend put this poem: it’s a translation by Eavan Boland from old Irish.

“This Old Irish poem was written by a monk about his cat, in around the 9th century, and found in a monastery in Austria. (Pangur Bán is the name of the monk’s cat.) Describing the life of the monk in Cat manuscripthis study with his cat as his happy companion, ‘Pangur Bán’ has everything for the cat-lover and book-lover. Just as the scholar goes in search of knowledge, so his faithful companion goes in search of mice. ”

Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;
I harass my beloved page,
He his mouse.

Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur’s choice
Is child’s play.

Neither bored, both hone
At home a separate skill
Moving after hours alone
To the kill

When at last his net wraps
After a sly fight
Around a mouse; mine traps
Sudden insight.

On my cell wall here,
His sight fixes, burning,
Searching; my old eyes peer
At new learning,

And his delight when his claws
Close on his prey
Equals mine when sudden clues
Light my way.

So we find by degrees
Peace in solitude,
Both of us, solitaries,
Have each the trade

He loves: Pangur, never idle
Day or night
Hunts mice; I hunt each riddle
From dark to light.

Eavan Boland (see two more this time rhyming translations and an abridgement by W. H. Auden and creative translation by Seamus Heaney)

Shoreditch

I found Spitalfields’ (the gentle author) blog on Shoreditch the Church Cat a little disquieting. It’s a half-truth that cats adopt people, because the implication is they don’t need us. They do, they have been bred to. The cat shown has clearly sometimes been starving; what’s called his “mysterious” behavior, his vanishings, are an ingrained instinct to protect himself. He has almost no weapons against most creatures who can kill him so easily: only run and hide. Why oh why can people, even the gentlest, not enter empathetically into the worlds of others.

At night as I’ve done every year of my life since I was an adult when we have this cold, I remember the homeless and hope they are being taken in somewhere, treated decently, helped to keep warm.

This Friday we are promised a big snow storm. People are over-reacting and worrying about it. It’s just a prediction, might not happen. But we’ve had so little that they are determined all will shut down as if to make up for the lack of snow days.

I did manage this past Sunday with my friend, Sybille, to see the AvantBard Washington Shakespeare Company’s latest production: an Indonesian-shaped Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Randy Baker: we braved the cold.

picture
The puppets are lacy heavy paper, and look black through the screens; they are manipulated by sticks

The company used Indonesian puppets behind screens for Titania and Oberon and the fairies and once in a while Puck turned into a puppet behind the screen, and during the time he was as “ass,” Bottom did. The play opened with Indonesian music and it accompanied some of the sequences. Shakespeare’s core play proceeds as usual; nothing is cut or re-arranged and it is performed effectively by the actors in front of the sceens effectively: the stark punishments threatened Hermia by her mother (the father is made into a mother), Hippolita’s resentment of Theseus, his bending; the hilarious comedy to the dark traumatic moments in the forest of the lovers and also mechanicals. There is real meanness projected when Bottom is so humiliated. And the poetry of high uplift spoken by Theseus and Puck at the clsoe. The use of the puppets, the soft colored lights, conveys the idea of a strange “other” realm, dangerous and at times cruel, indifferent, mischievous, which in modern productions is hard to get across as connected to the realm of faeries. I wondered who the Indian child Oberon so wanted from Titania was. Modern popular music and a humble peddlar’s cart accompanied the mechanicals; their play within a play was funny to me — the audience did not seem to laugh at that as much as usual. It was too sparsely attended so I hope this small blog will reach someone. A few cavils (to maintain truth is to keep belief): the actor playing Theseus was not up the verse (so some of the poetry was lost). But a strong young actress does Puck (wonderful movement and she speaks the verse beautifully) and marvelous versatility in the actor doing Bottom. If you live in the DC or Virginia area, don’t miss it.

As I walked out, as when I went to hear the Folger Shakespeare Christmas concert, I feel something of the joy I used to when I would go to such theatrical productions with Jim. I saw a little embarrassed Sybille. She had praised the production strongly during the intermission when I had been dubious about the use of the puppets and wishing actors had been on stage for Oberon and Titania. She persuaded me this production went outside Europe and was inclusive.She was with me for the concert (bought the tickets, drove us home). Now in the moments just after the play ended, I said nothing, but she saw it in my eyes, and quickly tried to say how amusing this had been, to bring down the mood. But she herself gave money to the actor at the door and signed a list to get notifications of more plays.

I am registered to go to a day-long series of lectures (2 in the morning, one after lunch) on Vermeer at the Ripley Center of the Smithsonian museum this Saturday.

A 17th-century master of light and color, Vermeer creates a timeless world where the smallest actions take on a beauty beyond their commonplace settings. His artistry rests in his ability to transform a simple daily activity — such as pouring a jug of milk or reading a letter — into a sensitive exploration of the human experience. Though few in number, his masterpieces, including The Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Milkmaid, The Music Lesson and a few dozen more, are considered some of the finest art ever created. Independent art historian Aneta Georgievska – Shine discusses Vermeer’s place within the artistic culture of Holland, takes close looks at some of his favorite subjects and the meanings they possibly reveal, and explores Vermeer’s legacy as reflected in the work of artists and writers from the end of the 19th century to the present.

VermeerWomanwithLute (Large)

I’ll probably rewatch the wonderful film adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with the Pearl Earring (a young Scarlet Johanssen and Colin Firth as the principals)

Cross your fingers for me we do not have a huge snowstorm in DC and I get to go.

That day I shall be hard put to be alone and today try to hope I will be able to console myself by remembering one of the songs I heard and so enjoyed the last happy New Year’s Eve Jim, I and Izzy had

I shore these fragments in the ruins. And it will always be like this for me. I have my books, my writing, my pussycats, daughter at home with me, what I do in the world to reach art, culture, be with people somehow, but it’s not enough to give me meaning. I do not choose to stay so long behind him. The heart needs felt heart loving back — as I said about Shoreditch, the Church cat.

Miss Drake

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4-November-Afternoon-Stapleton-Park-city-scenes-landscape-John-Atkinson-Grimshaw
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93), November later afternoon, Stapleton Park, Leeds (1880s)

Outside an order
I calm within
Yet my soul in shambles

Friends, I wish I could write poetry like this whose lines make beautiful what my haiku condenses:

Crepuscular

(after Baudelaire)

The insinuating dusk, friend of all outlaws,
is here like a conspirator or as a wolf will pause
as it lopes; dark and light pass in the sky’s revolving doors,
our beast’s teeth lengthen like white buds in our jaws.

Twilight, old lover, how I still thirst for you
together with those whose hands can say and mean it too
today we laboured, O blue draught that grants relief
to the mind that is tom at by a feral grief:
the dogged visionary with his forehead of stone,
the screen-shrunk wage slave who straphangs home alone.
Meanwhile, in the infested air, astral parasites
rise like any cufflinked puppets of their appetites
and clatter their plumes on the steel-shuttered shops;
no wind perturbs the streetlights gleaming like sucked cough drops,
beneath which bought love’s flame strokes silver foil
as it releases the antennaed horde of those who toil
along the arcana ofcondemned estates’scrawled stairwells
(writhing like a worin in the city’s poisoned bowels
and turning to its own end all that men can eat,
an enemy assuming that victory’S complete).
Now and then you hear the sizzle of an angel’s wing
from striplit kitchens, the streets’ unhuman yipping,
the tack-tack-tick of the wheels in the gambling den
that flashes and dings like a giant playpen,
while the petty criminals, whose line of business
is just as exacting as a suit’s – and work it is –
are outwitting all locks with agile, godlike hands
so they can join the blazing feast and deck their queens in brands.

In this grave radiance, this fatal Now, my soul
recollects itself as the silent pupil of the whole
roaring vortex where dusk is always coming on,
where night’s trap snaps white necks with teeth of iron
and the sick take the exit for the pit (we’re lovin’ it);
the world is an asylum erected by a scream,
in which each evening one less gouches in his meat
in the comer by the heater where the nobles sit:
all who’ve never known unless in dream
the understanding that life’s holy, mere existence sweet.

— Ned Denny

I lack the actuating power
he provided and must endure
the straining to keep

to (as the man says)
“grave radiance
in this fatal Now.”

Or hold fast.
Jim would’ve put it,
That’s all there is, my you.

PortraitofYoungwomanOftenidentifyasSapphoFrescoPompeii1stcenturyCE
Portrait of a Young Woman, a fresco from Pompeii, 1st century CE

This was playing on NPR on the radio (my mother left me) while I was writing this blog:


Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto 2, 2nd movement — with a montage of landscapes

Nearby, Ian alert, Clarycat snuggling in:

IanClaryJan1

I turn to do bills, then read Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzerald: A Life.

Saturday morning, cool, rainy …
Miss Drake

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