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Posts Tagged ‘punitive culture’


Mid-career — say the 4th or 5th season — the father-daughter pair, Sam Stewart [Wainright] (Honeysuckle Weekes) and Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen)


One of the last moments of this long-running series (began 2001, finally ended 2016)

I have been writing about Foyle’s War for some weeks now, watching & re-watching, and reading about the 8 series for some months, and originally intended to write one last blog tonight. These are seriously anti-war semi-historical mystery-thriller (seasons 1-6) and spy (7-8) DVD videos, from a beautiful box set I bought myself. I will write my last for now a few nights from now.

Dear friends and readers

This fourth of July in the US there has been another mass killing — during a parade somewhere in Chicago a man with a war weapon came along and began murdering people swiftly — as opposed to the way some weeks ago now now an 18 year old man executed slowly over an hour a group of children and their teachers in Texas some weeks ago, and some weeks before that a white man murdered a group of mostly elderly black people in a small grocery store because they were black.

Police literally shot to bits (rained bullets from high speed guns) a black man who was guilty of a minor traffic infraction. 60 shots. The white man who had been planning his massacre for weeks was just “taken into custody.” How is this?

It is no longer acceptable to use the word woman or women — you can be called out for complaining about being erased — while laws criminalizing pregnancy and women who get pregnant are now spreading across the US.

The heat in Alexandria today was so bad that after a longish walk in Old Towne, then supper, exhausted also from weeks of stress which makes me wake at 4:30 am (if I’m lucky enough to sleep 4 hours from midnight on), I fell asleep for 3 hours.

There are now 6 very bad people on the Supreme court who are busy making it impossible to do anything about gun proliferation, misogyny reaching new levels of cruelty, repression and absurdity, and climate catastrophe because (as they know) the congress is paralyzed due to an irrational custom called the filibuster where a group of people representing a minority of people in the US can stop all good or socially beneficial legislation. In their planned next step they are going to make it easier for states to prevent people from voting, to throw votes out, to do whatever any powerful group within a state wants to stop democracy from functioning.

Seven years ago now I posted on this blog what I thought was an appropriate video to watch during this yearly marking of the day in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was written, or published, or somehow made official. Appropriate then, before Trump took office as POTUS, it’s equally so tonight as the people in Ukraine flee their homes by the millions because Russian soldiers with ferocious weaponry and bombs are grindingly destroying Ukrainian city after city, and murdering as many Ukrainians as possible so that a very small number of Russians can take abolish a culture, take control of a land and its resources and use it to enrichen themselves further.

Zinn’s topic is “the three holy wars:” the American revolution, the civil war and World War Two:

Zinn points out that all wars consist of the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers (often thousands and thousands, millions sometimes) of people for uncertain ends. Maiming of thousands and sometimes millions more.

War is a top-down exercise; it cannot be carried on by any group in society but those who have their hands on great wealth, law and courts, power to make millions of people go out and kill others lest they be killed or imprisoned for not doing so. And so when the war is done very little reform the average person wants is achieved. After the Revolutionary war, very wealthy people made the constitution about property. After the civil war slavery was turned into state terror and semi-slavery for black people. Did World War Two end fascism? Not at all; turns out fascism lay low for a bit, and then emerged slowly again and eventually became strengthened, with new means found. In between war and passivity – or the stranglehold we are seeing in the US today in gov’ts, there are a thousands of possibilities to do good, and occasionally some good is done.

Listen up.

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For myself I have come up against the effects of Covid among the people I associate with: most of the people at the two OLLIs where I teach are still resisting coming, or have become unwilling to come, in person to classes or events. This is part of the bad effects of zoom technology. There are good ones (e.g., virtual conferences from far away).


Helen McNicoll, In the Shadow (or Shade) of the Tent — French Canadian painter, turn of century, found on the Net …

A week ago, the last Tuesday of June, at OLLI at AU for the fourth and last session of my Retelling Traditional Tales, just one person showed for my class. There were originally 8 registered. Two never showed; after two very good sessions; for the third, we were down to four but still a good session.  The one woman who showed for this last time and I had a good time one-on-one going over the second half of the book. I learned from her how hard Christa Wolf is for an average even good reader. She had not realized as a reading experience the two last essays of Cassandra and Four Essays were traveler’s tales. She could not see the funny and interesting adventures because she got bogged down with that Wolf was reading (Wolf’s talk about her reading and her thoughts about her reading vis-a-vis the time in Athens and Crete) so that’s part of what happened — she called it a “very literary text.” I could never have learned this about her reading experience in a zoom.  So I could not have helped her  She then said very interesting things about what she did understand, and I think had the two people I mentioned come they would have too. But these two central people had summer activities, one wrote me impertinently about watching the Jan 6th hearings, and 3 just vanished.

The larger or wider problem: in the wing of the OLLI at AU building I was in, I was the only teacher and class there. No one in the hitherto lively social space. I have been telling myself this is the result of fear of catching Covid among an elderly population & summer activities. I didn’t want to face what a friend told me flat out:  “it is just so much more convenient” to join in online. She herself had not registered for my class because it and getting there and coming back would have interfered with two classes online. Another friend registered for my OLLI at Mason class says when she comes she misses a very interesting class (more than mine?) that starts almost immediately after mine. It’s 45 minutes each way for a 90 minute class, she also said. I know one has to structure one day around coming if I go anywhere.

Well I almost switched to online for the fall. I went to the OLLI at AU office and offered to; I asked if half-way through the fall could she (Lesley is the person in charge of this) tell me if there were more in person courses for the spring, and she said 2/3s of the classes in the fall are in person. 5 of these hybrid, all the others just in person. I, just for myself so want to be in person, relented and agreed to come in person. I noticed none of the people blamed me — that would have worried me — I get very good evaluations in the fall and spring and my numbers were fine. This weekend the staff at OLLI at AU sent me a special thank you for coming in.

I have over these 8 years of teaching at these OLLIs twice seen a class fall wildly off — when I tried to teach the later Virginia Woolf (her books just did not satisfy and were too hard for the people) and when I tried the gothic in OLLI at Mason the first time I taught there:  in the case of the gothic I chose online texts and discovered these people won’t do that; they’ll use a kindle but an online text they want to print out. This was also the full 8 years ago; I was in bad state from just having lost Jim and I chose modern gothic texts.  The idea these people had of the gothic was they were going to read Hawthorne and Poe.  Of course the blurb told them otherwise. To me as a teacher there is no comparison to teaching in person and online yet I admit I too can enjoy zooms as a participant and my every-other-week Trollope zoom could happen no other way (it derives from the London Trollope Society) —

but I do need to come in in person in this summer. Otherwise I’d be alone most of the time — it’s not good for me. I become very melancholy.


One of last moments of 2018 Woman in White: Jessie Buckley as Marion free at last …

I have had two happy in person teaching experiences (90 minutes) this summer at OLLI at Mason — our subject is Collins’s Woman in White; there are 9 registered and 8 showed the first and second week. Practically all spoke; they spoke to one another; everyone seemed interested and enjoying our talk. But I worry about this Wednesday. One woman has already said she has a conflict (a summer invite) and I’m not sure this friend will make it. She doesn’t really value literary learning. The buildings at Tallwood are all deserted, no one in the hitherto crowded social space, no one sitting in the chairs placed out there for people to talk — as once people did. I was told the day before a class was held where 27 people came. The staff were ecstatic.

I went to a retirement party at OLLI at AU the week before and while there should have been more people there, those there were so glad to be there, and there were enough people so that a real party atmosphere ensued: wine, good music, talk. I’ll go in person to the OLLI at AU happy hour next week. So I shall carry on trying. I cannot help them in the evening or night. I can’t drive in the dark.

Another angle: as an Aspergers person I am often desolate, unable to socialize, to break in, finding that I have not been able to sustain a relationship (Mary Lee cut me off when her husband died because she knows I’m an atheist and think Jim doesn’t exist anymore and she can’t take that it seems), but this is my latest version of a lesson that teaches me that NTs don’t want to socialize either, or not in the ways I do or for the same reasons quite (in gatherings exclusion plays a larger role too for NTs too, the awareness of who is excluded and that you belong).

I do like to tell some good news. So Good news! for me. I’ve discovered a way to get myself to write legibly again. For a number of years now I’ve been often unable to read my own handwriting; well the other day I experimented in forcing my hand to write the letters slanted to the left instead of the right. I was taught when very young I must slant to the right, but quickly I knew as a kind of trick I could slant the letters the other way. Well I’ve begun to do this and I find by forcing myself to do this I write a round and legible script. I write the letters out again. I’m experimenting with my stenography but the problem is Pitman sten attaches specific meanings to when a stroke is to the left or right so this probably won’t work. But it is good news for me. I just have to remember to write slanting to the left (or backwards). It is strange for me to look at because the letters come out neatly on a line even when there is none there.


Baby William a very few days old

And Izzy and I have bought two return-trip plane tickets to go to Toronto, Canada, the second week of August. Thao had her baby, now 3 weeks ago, William. Thao lives in Canada, where the gov’t is still run by sane people sanely. She has reserved for us two “suites” (rooms) in her condo building for 3 nights and 3 days. So we will visit. Izzy has been to Toronto once — by herself many years ago when she was doing her Masters Library degree at the University of Buffalo. It was her first trip alone: she stayed two days, explored the vast interesting city a bit, went to a museum, to a park and then back to Buffalo. She took photos too. For this past weekend it seems that Laura went to Colonial Beach, Virginia, a vacation beach spot where she and Rob enjoyed themselves. I go with the friend who said people were choosing online experiences to the National Building Museum to see the Folger Company do Midsummer Night’s Dream in mid-July (lunch out before).

I started my Anne Finch work today, once again, this time vowing to produce the review at last. (I’ve made arrangements to try to give a paper on manuscripts left by Jane Austen and Anne Finch at EC/ASECS this October.) The last two days I’ve pulled the inbuilt calendar in Woman in White out for about 2/3s of the book! Soon I’ll put that online too.

So not giving up. Neither daughter is likely to ever get pregnant — this is nowadays a cause for rejoicing.

It is frustrating to me to have collapsed so this evening. Izzy and I had walked for an hour in Old Towne, up to the Potomac and back to my car in the deadly heat of 5 o’clock. Stubbornly I then watered my new plants and flowers — put in by Rosemont at last so I have six pretty beds of plants and flowers around the front lawn again.

I began this blog leading up to Howard Zinn; I end with Robert Reich, showing us that of course Democrats can pass bills protecting reproductive and voting rights. Why aren’t they?

Ellen

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I have learnt since Jim died, always knew, I would be very lonely were I to have to live alone. Not only do I have Izzy with me but during the day I maintain contact with lots of people on the Net — through the listservs I moderate, on the FB pages I join in on, even twitter I have a few acquaintances now. Then there are nowadays these zooms. People respond to my blogs; sometimes even now to my website. So I’m rarely w/o company.  Hardly ever, if you include Clarycat, ever by my side.

Dear friends and readers,

A sort of milestone. If 3/4s of a century is not a milestone, where are milestones to be found.? I am amazed I’ve reached this age, but here I am. Above you see the silly present I bought for myself. This must be my third doll of this type:  Colin, my penguin; a doll I bought at the Native American museum who I was also charmed by; and a silver Christmas squirrel.

Saturday, November 27th, I bought sweet Rudolph while wandering around the local CVS pharmacy waiting for Izzy to get her third booster: process includes presenting an identity card, her vaccination card, 5 minute wait, and then the vaccination jab, then fifteen minutes more. We decided not to wait until Kaiser called her (they had said soon, but no appts offered) when we read of Omicron Covid. The name is ominous. While there, I counted 7 people arriving, waiting for, getting jabs, waiting 15 minutes again. There was one who had just left. As we left, I saw another person coming up. A steady stream for this pharmacist.

November the 29th was a cold and short day, but pretty. I managed to be happy a good deal of the day — it was a kind of work but I did it. Many wishes for a happy birthday to me on FB and a few on twitter. some with real warmth. I put on FB this poem by Johnson to Mrs Thrale which Jim once wrote out to me:

Oft in danger yet still alive
We are come to seventy-five!

Remembering when Jim copied out Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale ….

Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at seventy-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from seventy-five …

Mrs Thrale had been pregnant by that time 10 times. By age 40 I had had three hemorrhages, two as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. In the evening Laura came and drove us to Il Porto Ristorante. Laura is now mature and she showed us a good evening. We had good talk, my central dish lobster in creamy sauce with pasta (I didn’t eat enough of it), and then a walk by the Potomac. Since I can no longer drive, I go out at night very rarely. Thus it was a treat. I remembered the last time I had been in Old Towne late at night: one summer night with Vivian where I had had to park the car in a difficult space. Vivian is gone now. Here is Izzy’s photo that morning.


Getting ready for work — she is looking more like a traditional librarian every day.

In the mid-afternoon I attended the Barchester Cathedral Trollope Society zoom: John Christopher Briscoe has imagined a history of Barchester Cathedral from Anglo-Saxon era through the Roman into the English gothic and then 19th century. He’s an architect and historian, used picturesque drawings of cathedrals (with cats) from the Anglo-Saxon to the 19th century eras. The charm is also Mr Briscoe is a fan of Trollope’s and has done this out of love for the books.


An original illustration of M.R. James’s story, “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”


Clive Swift playing the central role of curate

Afterwards much talk of (among other things) other writers who have written up cathedrals. I mentioned Joanna Trollope as someone who might have — under another pseudonym, Caroline Harvey, she has written stories that are take-offs from Trollope — she uses Trollope characters’ names. They are sort of sequels — sequels come in many varieties; she updates, but then also uses the clerical milieu for similar sorts of psychological-social stories and uses names of Trollope’s characters transposed — there’s a Mr Harding and an Eleanor &c&c. One person said there is a cathedral in her The Choir and it’s based on several cathedrals in England (especially Rochester); that’s written under her own name of Joanna Trollope, and is an original fiction.

I also remembered that M.R. James, a writer of uncanny unnerving ghost stories — truly finely written, subtle – has one set in a Barchester Cathedral — “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” it’s called; it was adapted by the BBC for an hour’s film and starred Clive Swift who played Mr Proudie in the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles. Some of M.R. James’s books are beautifully produced — lovely paper, illustrations, introductions, the lot. Jim enjoyed them mightily and bought the beautiful books. He read aloud a couple of the stories to me.

I have Joanna Trollope’s The Choir and will read it next: there is an audiobook still available on CDs, & there was a film adaptation. I started it last night Very readable in her usual way. You can recognize her too. Hers are stories that deal with the social-psychological traumas of the 20th century, which are also political issues too, using the troubles and contradictions of middle class family life in milieus that recall Anthony Trollope’s.

Trollope’s Orley Farm is the next “big read” for the zoom group; it will start mid-January, and I did volunteer to do a talk on Millais’s illustrations — I wrote about the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels in my book, the chapter I’m most proud of, which was praised by Mark Turner (a respected Trollope scholar). Dominic Edwards promised he’s do the necessary for the share screens.

As I described above, evening Laura came and we went out and we did have a good time. She is now grown up at last. She is leading a happy life for her, but she knows she is not developing her talent for real. She says there will be no great book — and no children. So she lives with her choices. She has a full social life with Rob. She tells me some of their friends have died and it is NOT unusual in the US for adults to die in their 40s or 50s — overwork, despair, sickness not treated or badly treated. The US a cruel society to its ordinary people — unqualified uncontrolled capitalism (now in danger of creeping into dictatorship of a religious-based fascism).

Another reminder of Jim that day: Stephen Sondheim died. How Jim loved the music, the lyrics, the books, the full-blown musicals. We went to so many; one summer the Kennedy Center became a temple to Sondheim, and the last night there was spontaneous singing groups around the building. For two Christmases in a row I bought Jim Sondheim’s memoir as edition of his musical scripts, photos, writing all about them. Here’s the blog I wrote about 2 months after Jim died: I begin with Into the Woods.

And then a clever parody:

This is unfair but funny. It is true this is the kind of Sondheim song that gets to be very popular and that people try to belt out or listen to Elaine Stritch belt out (or Bernadette Peters croon), but he is far more varied than that. Still Alan Chapman has caught something; on Sunday Lin Manuel Miranda led a group of singers and actors from Broadway to have a songfest on Times Square.

The Chapman seems to me hostile. “On an Ordinary Sunday” made me choke up because it is about what a New Yorker walking in Central Park might see on an ordinary Sunday. I remember the first time Jim, I & the girls saw the musical — at the Arena, the astonishment at the picture, and the beauty, harmony and hope of it all … the poignancy of not appreciating the little joy we have in life.

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Not done yet. Yesterday I had another rare treat: went out with a friend to lunch, to a restaurant of the day time type which caters to “ladies who lunch,” and the food was a wonderful half sandwich and cream of tomato basil soup. Afterwards we went to see Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. I admit I wanted to see my heroine-actress Caitriona Balfe, and knew Ciarhan Hinds might steal the show. He did, but Judi Dench was given the central moments for her speeches. My review:

Alas, it is not a great film — Branagh just never seems to reach that point of direction, conceptions, work a writer  where the film transcends. And it is also over-produced in the way of most movies that turn up in movie-theaters. The movie must jump out at you viscerally; the audience must feel there’s nothing too subtle for you here, not to worry. It’s being over-rated but it does have power.

The problem is what’s interesting; Branagh pretends to be doing a 1950s movie in part. It’s not only in black-and-white, but done on built sets. This reminds me of Hitchcock, but it’s not to have total control — it’s to convey something about the 1950s. I’m not sure it convinces because of the modern over-producing — despite heroic efforts to make a period film, to recreate  the 1950s visually, by sets. The acting by Balfe, Hinds and Dench (she is given less but what she is given is central) terrific — I almost didn’t recognize Balfe as her voice is so different from Outlander. Maybe she over-does the working class Irish accent.


Caitriona Balfe as Branagh’s mother and Jamie Dornan as his father — enjoying dancing on an old-fashioned rock ‘n roll dance floor

Critics have said it’s too distanced but I am not sure they said why or how. One example, throughout the movie we see famous 1950s kinds of movie (maybe 40s) on the TV set. Several against violence but I suspect they are Branagh’s favorites. He is there as a little boy and we see how smart he is (there are literary allusions) but the how much movies meant to him is kept detached from him. The movies are just part of what is watched. Well at one high point of violence, we hear strains of High Noon (which we’ve already glimpsed on TV); this breaks the suspension of belief, and I think destroys the scene which is not over-the-top in emotion. We needed to be left in the scene to made to care.

It is also somehow upbeat with the opening in color of modern Belfast and the closing. And the fable itself which has the most purchase on our emotions through Balfe’s irrational attachment to Belfast – she should want to get out. The theme is a contrast between those who leave (and all they gain, including the child Branagh who grows up to be an actor, director, movie-producer) and those who stay (the grandparents who must).  Branagh’s father, the husband of the film has a job in London and he’s been offered help to transfer. Only because he is in danger of his life if he doesn’t join the Ulsters and his sons too does his mother agree to go. All her roots are in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I remembered how I hated coming to Virginia and understood why even if NYC at the time was a terrible existence for us I found myself so isolated alone an outsider here, and still am.

But then cannot have a downer or it won’t sell. So we return to the tourist and rich part of Belfast at the end and Dench’s stoic endurance as she stays,  now a widow. The film is dedicated to those who left, those who stayed and those whose lives were suffering and ruin. A charitable way to see this is Branagh thanking his parents.

It has an archetype:  Cinema Paradiso, where a similarly appealing boy-child finds comfort and meaning in movies and grows up to make it big in the industry ….  Will we never stop focusing on the troubled background of white successful males … ?

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I have been reading away, wonderful deep fulfilling books by Iris Origo, Christa Wolf, and on them: my winter course will be a continuation of last spring: 20th century women’s political writing. Both trace the rise of fascism, and the thwarting of women, the limited roles allowed them – much more. Latest iteration:

Retelling Traditional History from an Alternative Point of View

We will read two books which retell stories and history from perhaps unexpected and often unvoiced points of views. In War in Val D’Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943-44, Iris Origo (British-Italian, a biographer, and memoir-writer, a literary OBE) retells the story of World War Two from the point of view of a woman taking coping with war as experienced by civilians as the chatelaine of a large Tuscan estate. Then Cassandra & Four Essays by Christa Wolf (a respected East German author, won numerous German literary-political prizes) the story of Troy from Cassandra’s POV, no longer a nutcase but an insightful prophet written after the war was over, with four essays on a trip the author took to Greece and her thinking behind her book. The immediate context for both books is World War Two: they are anti-war, and tell history from a woman’s standpoint, one mythic, the other granular life-writing. I will also recommend people see an acclaimed film about the GDR’s Stasi, The Lives of Others (available on Amazon prime): the heroine’s story is partly based on the life of Christa Wolf.

The heroine of Quest for Christa T is Christa Wolf, and also the Lila of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which I have at long last finished reading, but by no means finished writing about or reading her (next The Lying Life of Adults). Ferrante’s rage ignored by the muddled critical Ferrante Letters. Of course it’s all by a woman. Deep alikeness and despair extends to Hannah Arendt, Bachmann’s Malina, Anna Segher’s The Seventh Cross. Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44 the male equivalent of War in Val D’Orcia.

Alas, omnicron-covid is making the spring look more problematic at OLLI at Mason, where I have been surprised to discover the people are not eager to get back in person, so I said if my spring Anglo-Indian novels gets less than 10 registering in person, I’ll switch to wholly online, and learn about hybrids by attending one in the spring. It looks like at OLLI at AU, doing it in person is what’s wanted. The two places differ: unlike OLLI at AU, OLLI at Mason cannot get academics enough to truly teach a literature course for 8 weeks. My zoom chat tonight with kindly Aspergers friends we all talked of the uncertainties to come, worries about omicron …

How did I get here? I never expected to but I do understand more now.  I am 75.

Ellen

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Seen on twitter

Friends and readers,

The past couple of weeks may be divided into four themes. My yearly October memories, sad now since Jim died October 9, 2013; autumn events, like conferences, Laura and Izzy going to New York City for five days of fun and ComicCon in Manhattan; planning for next spring and summer courses and this term the wonders of Trollope’s masterpiece, The Prime Minister (I never realized before quite how brilliant and absorbing it is); my usual latest books (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) and writing (“A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen” for EC/ASECS) and continued investment in Austen, her movies and JASNA politics: and the recent very worrying political developments. I usually reserve the last for my Sylvia I blog, but tonight I’ll write about the coming immediate elections (one here in Virginia for governor may, frighteningly return us to a Republican leader who supports the openly destructive vengeful Trump) as I experience it — because it seems to me we are seeing an open repeat of the post-Reconstruction era where White Supremacy and ruthless political reaction is taking over parts of the US.

I wrote about nearly all of this on Facebook and twitter which have now assumed a kind of public short diary entry function for me — to remember for this blog and to express myself to others.

I began the first commemorations on October 3rd: My beloved husband, to whom I would have been married 52 years ago (Oct 6th, coming in 3 days) would have been 73 years old. Here’s a photo of him taken when he was probably 63 …

I re-shared the obituary I wrote for him. He was beloved by all three of us — and Clarycat. In my sadder moods I worry he didn’t know how much I loved him. But I think he did when his mental health was strong. People were very kind. October 6th, would have been Jim & my 52nd anniversary; we married a year to the night we met (so 1968 to 1969). In remembrance one of his favorite poems, one he’d quote once in a while, by Basil Bunting, a Yorkshire poet, a book of whose poems I bought for Jim one Christmas:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!
— Basil Bunting

More favorite poems, one brief lyric he wrote himself, some favorite songs, and Clarycat as she was when she at the time was so deeply attached to him (she is the kind of cat who attaches herself to a special person and stays around that person all the time; now I am her staff (pun intended): Poetry and Song

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Outlander — poster for 6th season, a key sentiment for me for my love of the series: they will be together forever come what may (as in the haunting song, Never My Love) — I put it on a wall in my workroom

What a splendid time Laura and Izzy had in NYC. I read their tweets as (for example) Laura attended the Outlander session (the only actor there was Sam Heughan, together with key producers and Diana Gabaldon — all else zooming in); Izzy walked on Highline Park (near where their hotel room was), they ate out, saw many amusing sights.

They visited the 14th street subway station to see the Live Underground statues:

Laura has lifted my heart by saying yes, she’d like me to come with them next time they go to the city. I’d like to try again. There’s some life in the old girl yet. I enjoyed her homecoming tweet:

Maxx jumped on the counter while I was prepping dinner and knocked a bowl off the counter and it shattered.

Dinner was then delayed by 15 minutes while staff vacuumed and mopped the kitchen.

His Royal Fluffytail was most displeased.

Welcome home, me.

I spent about three weeks altogether with Austen’s novels and a set of very good books on them and the topics of personal and real property in her life (she had so little control over anything), space (ditto). I re-watched in binge ways the 2009 Sense and Sensibility (Andrew Davies, featuring Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Dan Steevens), the 1996 Persuasion (Roger Michell, featuring Amanda Root and Ciarhan Hinds), Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home, Amanda Root’s At Home with the Georgians; I’m now into 2008 Lost in Austen, Guy Andrews wrote it, and I swoon with Amanda [Jemima Rooper]) I’m not sure I realized how much this travel back in time enables a serious critique of the characters as conceived by Austen (hard and mean Mrs Austen, irresponsible Mr Austen), a critique partly meant by Austen herself.


Anne and Wentworth coming together in a sliver of space and quiet within the crowd ….

I enjoyed reading Wilkie Collins’s No Name (so there’s another Collins’ novel I’ve managed to process) and see what a strong male-type feminist he is, partly enthused by a class I’m attending at Politics and Prose via zoom with a very bright teacher, and so put in for a summer 6 week course at OLLI at Mason in person!

Sensation and Gothic Novels: Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 weeks) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text to R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (2). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel, and how both evolved out of the Victorian era: what are their characteristics? how do these overlap & contrast; how do the genres differ. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest (I think brilliant) BBC 2018 Woman in White serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 Mary Reilly film, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton


First shot of Jessie Buckley as Marian Halcombe

I admit I so much more enjoy these serials and film adaptations of novels than the famous “art” movies we are supposedly studying in my Foreign Films course this term: the teacher carries on unerringly choosing these masculinist films (400 Blows, Fellini 8 1/2, King of Hearts), but even when the film’s center is a woman, Bergman’s Persona, she is kept at such a distance, cold and strange. I have dropped two of the courses I intended to attend — I grow so impatient with moral stupidity (how arrogant is the hero!) or complacency and conventional religious assertions over Oedipus in Oedipus Rex after the night before I’ve watched the old BBC 1980s Theban play with Michael Pennington playing the role so brilliantly, movingly, so shattered holding onto dignity. Claire Bloom as the mother forced to give up her baby only to find the gods have a wonderful joke of returning him to her. Who says Euripides is the more subversive?  The teacher makes good comments: how astonishing 15,000 men watching, all men actors, and the center a woman (I thought of the marginalized cripple Philoctetes). Enjoying Smithsonian lectures very much thus far — on Notre-Dame de Paris, moving account of the life and work of Van Gogh, now a series of musical concerts with Saul Lilienstein (he is aging but still so fine).

So my nights and days pass when I am at my best or luck in. Kind friends’ letters, poems sent me: a new friend made from Trollope zoom has organized a meeting: we are to meet with a few local Trollopians here in DC in November in a park one Sunday morning. Bad moments too, anxiety attacks: worry over bills, comcast (the bill never came; no use phoning them; did the check arrive? who knows?), the computer mysteriously shutting itself off so I babysit it for a couple of days. I remember what a desperately unhappy teenage-hood I experienced: came near killing myself at age 15. Literally took decades to come away from all the inward destruction of what was best about me and throw off bitterness and resentment. What’s not gone yet is the later results of that teenage-time in my life’s occupation, as a mother. What ever proliferating harm class contempt, predatory male heterosexuality do.

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Serious worry about the coming election at 5 in the morning, when the sky is dark:

I’m up early because I got out of bed as I was worrying about some serious developments happening which I daresay, dread, will affect the coming election. I probably will write a blog about this and put it in my Sylvia I because it’s my own POV and is about what I see affecting ordinary life which I’m part of. It seems for fear of losing many of these GOP people are running not only on the lie that Trump won but with the determination to rig the election if they are in a GOP controlled state (through votes out, refuse to certify) and if still the democrats win refuse to accept the results. This is what Trump wants; he wants default, he wants to see the US govt as we know it now destroyed. He made speeches openly asking for this — the last one in Iowa where GOP is dominant (Trump did win the state and the machinery there is GOP). If you stop doing elections fairly and stop accepting results, the US gov’t is over. It is true that in numbers there are now more democrats than republicans but since so much is gerrymandered, the electoral college and way senate is set up, GOP could still win “legitimately” — but they may not and that’s not enough for them.

There are Republicans now telling fellow GOP people to vote democratic on the issue of democracy. But not enough will do it. I have one of these angry faced women in my OLLI at Mason class: she is a classic white middle class GOP person voting for Trump. There are 3 males in my OLLI at AU class (uncomfortably to me but I ignore it) who look all iron indifference at any mention of women as a subject class — just bored silly and oh no that cop who murdered Floyd he did not lean on the black man’s chest the way is claimed (very unusual for any literature class I’ve seen in either OLLI and highly unusual for me to have so many males and they don’t go away) — in local neighborhoods I see red signs. Izzy says locally people don’t like Terry McAuliffe, a long time democratic political person. I don’t know him — I think of how we talk of politics in the class on The Prime Minister and realize such meditations make no transfer for most people to their lives.

Some of this was put on PBS last night – segments about how the GOP is now determined to rig the elections to come to win — and 90% of those calling themselves Republican are pro-Trump. It remains to be seen how people will vote of course. He is not literally on the ballot and it’s hard for me to accept that a huge minority of US people would vote Trump in again — his presidency was a disaster because of his treatment of COVID and because he was dissolving all agencies insofar as he could and setting up a kleptocracy. But they are (I think) determined to put down all social changes so as to keep a white male supremacy in charge — these people do not want the infrastructure bills — they don’t care if a huge number of US people live in hard poverty because they think only this way can they keep their privileged lifestyles. They want to see woman kept subordinate

Stupid stuff in a way shows this serious riff. It’s serious because Trump for example would end social security. He’s shown out: stop the central funding mechanism. Really put the US back to pre-1920 — I would not put open concentration camps beyond him — prisons are now partly that. Which stupid stuff. Well was yesterday Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s day. Biden signed an executive order calling Oct 12th Indigenous People’s Day. But he did not end Columbus Day. In NYC Columbus Day had become fraught years ago when the people living there started having 2 parades: one down one Avenue by Spanish people and another another avenue by Italians. Now you are getting demands not just for celebrations of Indigenous People but demands that Columbus Day be abolished. It was apparently signed into law by FDR — in the same era as these Confederate statues went up — and it was backed for years by Italian-American and Catholic groups who made Columbus their patriotic symbol. The man was a cruel thug, a thief, cruel beyond speaking (see Even the Rain), was failure in what he tried, but then was followed by similar Spanish behaviors (he was funded by Spain), he would not have regarded himself as Italian; he was Genoese. It’s all bogus history what’s said — many of these statues have been taken down in the past couple of years. US people are regularly refusing to recognize one another’s symbols and it is true progressive do want to change the way history is taught because what was taught was nonsense and validated great cruelty.

I tell the above because I think it indicative.

Yes maybe a civil war is coming. See these GOP governors resorting to ending all vaccines, literally amassing troops. AT core it is money for it began in the 1980s when the corporations put their money behind Reagan and the tax structure was altered dreadfully and it’s only gotten worse since then. Biden was to return to pre-1980s but is taking baby steps in that direction and he can’t get that passed. This propaganda on behalf of forcing women to remain pregnant when a man impregnates them, white supremacy, tyrannical police are what they (the wealthy and smart) have used to push fascism in its primal sense (states run by corporations and military) into now near wins if you rig the elections.

Biden of course was put into power because on the area of foreign policy he remains a modified colonialist, imperialism (he keeps up all Trump’s sanctions thus far — on Cuba which Obama was changing, on Iran thus far which Obama was changing, and on Venezuela where Biden is in the position of claiming the legitimately elected socialist president is not legitimate – he is still deporting these non-whites in big numbers, still building and expanding private prisons. He would have a qualified imperialist state where the people within the US would live decently: the GOP and corporations are no longer compromising and want the whole world to be impoverished to keep themselves in great wealth. The EU are a bunch of bankers. But he is law-abiding and within the US and for other peoples round the world is trying to re-spread social people-centered democracy

So there’s where we are — I am – on this October evening.


Autumn Woodland by Mark Preston

And dreams as reality: this comes from the long hours alone. I sleep but 4-5 hours a day. I get up and at first am drowsing and what happens is some dream I’m having is taken by somewhere in my mind to be real. In the afternoon my mind recurs to it. And I dream it again at night. Only if it lasts until wakefulness in the morning do I realize this is not so. For weeks I’ve been dreaming I’m writing a book on Austen; there is an author I’m dealing with, a publisher. Often the figures of these dreams come from movies I’ve been watching of late and so yes I’ve been steadily re-watching favorite Austen movies. This is innocent, non-hurtful dreaming, obvious wish fulfillment but other fragments are of the type I can’t tell about.

From Lost in Austen: she watching (Amanda in lieu of Fanny Price); a male figure emerging from the depths of consciousness (Mr Darcy), the used-up book dropped by a fountain (in the movie a Penguin copy of Pride and Prejudice)

The following morning into early afternoon: What I especially love about my Sylvia II blog is it allows me as far as doing such a thing in public is possible (I can’t openly discuss sex, nor specifics about individuals nor names) express my grief and occasional happinesses.

I now realize this coming weekend when I’ll be attending the EC/ASECS virtually, is also the first in-person JASNA in three years. I couldn’t go anyway as there is a conflict; I’d hate the hotel and the times I went to Chicago to conferences, disliked it. Once Jim and I went for our 39th wedding anniversary and explored the city, and we did enjoy it — except for that anonymous granite lonely hotel. But I am excluded regularly now because there is no reason to include me — no patronage, no title, no business I’m running, and so on, and I’ve written reviews which didn’t please (& I don’t fawn on people), gotten into miscommunications with the business DC group (enough to remind me of how I felt about feminism in the 1970s — for middle class snobbish ambitious privileged women). The last three times Izzy was hurt — she went out of her way to register promptly and saw herself put back again and again until of course there was no room. Years before I had bitterly complained and that was why we were allowed in. The price is very high. The dinner is a display of who you know. But Izzy has loved Austen (like me) and written fan fictions, enjoyed some of the lectures and the dressing up (the last time she bought herself a splendid hat) and conquered an original trauma over the ball so that she got to the point she stayed to the end.

Why do people love to exclude others — I regret that my daughter is excluded — and so enjoy getting back? I’m sure there are hundreds of variations on this story when it comes to conferences where exclusion patterns do not cost organizers anything. This is the reality of JASNA.

Ellen

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, drawing gazing on a Devonshire cliff (2009 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies) – a very favorite still for me

Friends and readers,

To one such as I most of whose working life — child, adult, and now older widow – has been spent in some version of school, there’s no firmer sign of fall than the “term” (or semester) is about to begin. Online OLLI at AU, three courses beyond the one I’m teaching, one on foreign films, one on race in America, from end of Reconstruction to 1965, and a third on the Theban Plays. Online at OLLI at Mason, one course beyond a repeat of the same one at OLLI at AU, Anne Bronte’s magnificent feminist The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begin on the same week. From Politics and Prose a week after that one 5 session cours on Wilkie Collins’s No Name with a superb teacher who enabled me to read Collins’s Woman In White some 3 years ago now. By October I hope to have enjoyed at least one of several sessions/lectures (a combination of books, art, music, architecture) I’ve signed up for online at the Smithsonian. The course I teach, two sections in effect, will be on Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5) as qualified by a book of Victorian Women’s Writing, edited by Susan Hamilton, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minor — the groundswell of proto-feminist essays and columns as the century evolved (on work, law, custom, the quality & circumstances of real women’s real lives)


The Pallisers, Episode 20, the two friends, Duchess & Mrs Finn, just before they meet Ferdinand Lopez who quotes a Swinburne poem at them, which Mrs Finn knows well is homoerotic (Susan Hampshire, Barbara Murray, Stuart Wilson)

The sky is darkening quickly just now (7:49) so you would not be able to see my new chrysanthemum bushes (4 larger, two dark colors, and 4 small around the miniature Maple): faithful watering twice a day, early morning and dusk has brought out more of the poppies (I put a photo of one of the bushes on the last diary entry) on my several bushes of these, and red berries on the holly (are they?) bushes

I did manage two more in-person events. Both rejuvenating and linked to the coming term. I had a late lunch with another new friend, a scholar-acquaintance this time, Maria Frawley who taught the Middlemarch at Politics & Prose this summer — the store slowly coming alive again. It was quite a trek to get there & back once again. Another happy couple of hours. I think I’ve gone to lunch over these past 6 weeks something like 10 times! (I haven’t told them all). I’m a lady who lunches. DC itself filled with traffic jams.

Then this past Thursday, the Pizza party across the street from OLLI at AU was to me delightful. These are people I’m comfortable with. I’m also respected by them — as I never was when I worked at universities as an adjunct (for over 30 years). Not invisible any more. Only 30 allowed and I recognized three people I also have seen and one person talked to at Politics and Prose too. I had found a small parking lot where I could park for 4 hours for $12 so I could have peace of mind — it’s an area where the city tows you away if you violate parking regulations, which are strict and user-unfriendly.

The last time I was in a group of people like this was Dec 2019, the OLLI at AU Christmas party. Then we had a band and dancing. I began to wish I had registered for the one class in person that attracted me but there was only an hour between its ending and the beginning of the class I teach at OLLI at Mason so I did the right thing.

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But what is heralding fall emotionally this year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There has been a pouring out of memories, on twitter, on News programs, emails, blogs, news-sites, newspapers. One of the more powerful and poignant was written by the gentle author at Spitalfields. My comment to him (he didn’t let it appear):

It is untrue that the world was changed by this single event. It was and remains an incident on an on-going cruel capitalist world, however scary and unusual on who was killed; a circus symbolic spectacular stunt pulled off by people who loathed the US for its imperialist and colonialist policies and actions; it was a horrific tragedy for those who died and all those connected to them; for those who became terribly injured and sickened working on the site in the days that followed — and were often refused decent health care because that would make it obvious that that NYC, and the stock market should have shut down for weeks. It made manifest what was and still is the underlying realities of US political policies.

The world did not change even if some of the policies of these gov’ts did. The Internet has changed some aspects of the world in this time of the pandemic but by no means the basic attitudes of the right wing capitalists who seem to hold the real power in any situation..
After 9/11, many corporations and individuals went on to make a lot of money in Iraq and Afghanistan and the real individual particular states who were involved (Bin Laden could not have done it just with with his Al-Quaeda — Saudi Arabian groups were part of this) were never exposed.

So here’s mine, all too ordinary: as has been true for most of these catastrophic world-as-village events, seen at one time on TV, and now this PC computer, I was at or near home, leaving a dentist’s office a little after 9:30.   I had felt suddenly & seen a commotion, excitement among the other people waiting, and asked the reception what was happening. I was told airplanes were hitting the World Trade Center!  I am ashamed to say I dismissed this as typical of this gullible receptionist. Could not be.

I went out to my car and found myself in a mounting traffic jam, so instead of 5 minutes to get home, it was 20. The phone was ringing as I reached the door, and I ran in and picked up, and it was Jim, in a drawn voice, “Not to worry. I’m just fine. I’m in the basement of the Australian embassy where we were all told to go, and scary huge men armed heavily are filling the building.” He had to get off his flip phone, but said quickly “put on the TV, CNN.” I did and I saw the first of the two tall buildings sliding down. Horror, shock, as I saw the fire line in the middle, and the camera switching way below to see a man shrugging intensely.

Soon from CNN I knew a story of  these two planes and that there was a third that hit the Pentagon. As it happened the library was hit — since rebuilt as a small annex where Izzy works today. I went onto the Internet, queried friends at C18-l and read the name of Osama Bin Laden as the perpetrator for the first time. I had never heard this name before.

The rest is quickly told. A phone call from T.C.Williams telling me the school was in “lockdown” and of course “not to worry,” as the young adults would probable be let out at the usual time. Another from Laura, frightened; she surprised me by coming over about two hours later with Wally (with whom she was living at the time, and whom she would marry the following year). She needed to see me and Jim and the house and that all was the same, as it ever was. The news shows had less news as time went on.

Two friends called for the first time in years to express anxiety over Jim.  I said he was not in the Pentagon that day, and my cousin contacted me.  The next day I did have bad pains in my chest, suggesting I was experiencing more stress that I admitted to myself.

I did think to myself what Susan Sontag wrote in a newspaper and was castigated for: “well, what do people expect — the US for decades stops social democracies, foments civil wars, pulls off coups, creates situations where no young native men can get a good job and itself bombs, strafes, this is the afflicted world hitting back. But astonishment at the audacity and effectiveness of this plan to take down the center of capitalism (Wall Street has no such hubristic building), of the US military (the magically numbered Pentagon), and a fourth plane (never hit) to set on fire and destroy the central imperialist house in classical style, painted white … ”

Now 20 years on, two horrible wars later, instigated by George W Bush and his cronies and associates in crime (making oodles of money as unscrupulous oil and other corporations), carried on to no reasonable purpose (at least in aims originally by this crew), hundreds of thousands of people killed, untold billions spent, with “surges” by Barack Obama as president in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then the institution of these inhumane murderous drones aka killing people without trial and often getting “the wrong target” so even the last day in Afghanistan a whole family was murdered, the US support of an utterly corrupt puppet regime in Afghanistan, laying waste a country and leaving a life-long psychological maiming of countless young adult Americans — I met two of these when I taught in the years past 2003 – a young woman and a young man.

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Last night I re-watched a candid history for a second time, with informed (insofar as he could) and perceptive and humane analysis, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. He streamed it from his corner of YouTube. In my judgement it should be required watching for everyone. Wikipedia offers a precise accurate summary.

I want to call attention especially to the unknown and uninvestigated business and political connections between Bush fils and the Saudi Arabian ambassador and gov’t leaders, to how most of the “terrorists” were Egyptian or Saudi Muslims, to the creation of an atmosphere of fear and dread around the US by Bush’s gov’t for two years in order to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 but has vast oil fields and Saddam Hussein, who disdained Bush senior. The years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where the US built up the origins of the Taliban (to defeat “communist” Russia). The lying forms of recruitment, the horrific treatment of Afghans. One scene stays with me that flashes through: a beheading of a man in Saudi Arabia. The legless young men in Veteran’s hospitals whose funds Bush was cutting.

Three other films to be watched in order to learn what happened and what the war in Afghanistan is rooted in. 9/11’s Unsettled, is second in importance because of its perspective: the first responders. Alas, apparently not being distributed anywhere I can find. This is about the thousands of people who grew very sick, and developed serious diseases in the time after 9/11 when they worked at ground zero with inadequate protection, and within days Wall Street was opened again, a local high school, Stuyvesant, because what was wanted was to be seen to be carrying on making money. And to make money. From Rudi Giuliani to Christine Todd Whitman, ironically the head of the EPA, what was then wanted was a cover-up and not only did the US health insurance companies fight back and refuse to pay for people’s treatments and injuries, refuse to acknowledge they were the result of 9/11, those who protested were maligned and punished. Read the story of Joe Zadroga, after whom one of the bills to provide for compensation was named, his wife, his father. One of the important reporters on the stories was Juan Gonzalez.


Lisa Katzman

The third is a Netflix serial, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, directed by Brian Knappenberger. This is an unflinching look at what was done by three administrations, but especially Bush, where the incident was used to extend surveillance, legitimize torture (Black sites), the nature of the Patriot Act, what came from it, Guantanomo, and again Drones.

There is a fourth, a Frontline series on PBS too: American After 9/11, directed by Michael Kirk. There is no reason anyone in the US should be ignorant of what happened, how it relates to what came before, and how it relates to how the GOP went extreme and is following Donald Trump (if it can and it’s going far) into destroying the US democracy, such as it still is (very oligarchic) and was (thoroughly racist, punitive in outlook, deeply anti-social individualism promoted).


Also talking about Biden

This might all lead to my reader wondering why I insist 9/11 didn’t change the world. It happened as a result of all the US gov’t had done since 1947, and the reaction to it was to intensify what led to it. 9/11 was the result of what the world had become since WW2 and the reaction just intensified those conditions and attitudes of mind towards empire and money.  I’m now thinking of the GOP efforts (thus far successful) of stifling the vote, and on that you can read Heather Cox Richardson and listen and watch over many days and weeks. Here is just one

A graver and more overtly political blog than usual. But it’s appropriate. Not to say anything would be deeply wrong, reprehensible to me who does care about what happens to myself, my family and friends, all the people I know, the thousands and thousands inside the US whose destinies are intertwined with mine, and by extrapolation (since especially since the pandemic) our connection to all those vulnerable and powerless people who are not making oodles of money but at risk or suffering badly because of the people in these gov’ts, their allies, their donors, and parties’ behavior. Silence could be construed as consent.

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That’s a volcano — the islands are volcanic

To return to my small life among books. Although it fails to bring me in, Edward Douwes Dekker’s Max Havelaar, a mid-19th century Dutch novel has taught me more about colonialism’s workings, how it’s done, than any single book previous: stunning cruelty of the Dutch in Indonesia and all around India, the southasian pacific. The brave life of the introducer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

I attended a Bronte conference last Saturday, wonderful, and I’ve yet to write up my notes, which I’ll couple with a couple of Gaskell and Bronte sessions from Gaskell house, and a May Sinclair session at Cambridge (profound talk, Sinclair also much influenced by the Brontes). I promise myself I will write up a blog about the Brontes, Sinclair and Gaskell next on Austen Reveries.  I’ve been astonished by what I’ve found in Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, reading it daily with a group on FB – I certainly will write about it, together with John Caldigate, as unexpected radical social, justice and sexual politics.

I carry on reading Anne Finch’s poetry, going more thoroughly immersed into it, so that my old inner relationship with her is returning: extraordinary masterpiece Poems never published by her; and Poems she chose to publish or let others publish. I will read or read in the important books about her once again. And I listen on to Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, even poorly translated by Anne Goldstein and dully read by Hillary Havens, I am so drawn in I am continually thinking to myself well I would do that but not this. They are both me, Lila and Lenu. Ferrante hates fascism and misogyny (they are one and the same she says in her Frantumaglia

Good Heav’en I thank thee, Since it was design’d
I shou’d be fram’d but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu’d from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow’d they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they’re deny’d, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display’d
And in retirement I can have the shade.
— Anne Finch, early in the first ms book

Ellen

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From the New Yorker, by Carita Johnson

Part of the joke is the Bergman films: this low anguished voice muttering on and on, mad figures in black-and-white, outside somewhere, old man in meadow, girls by the sea or by trees, old women in beds, a figure shrouded in black playing chess; deserted streets, ticking clocks, crosses carried by quiet medieval-dressed mobs crossing bridges … What’s a cat to make of this?

Friends and readers,

We all need hope, we need reassurance. As yet the election of Biden has held fast, the courts, the state legislatures have all held to the law and order and truth; the only mobs and violence have happened one Saturday when a group of horrific Klu Klux Klan types of white man in suits rampaged through DC looking for someone to fight/kill, and finding few targets defaced Black churches and burnt their Black Lives Matter signs. Now Trump and his junta are at it again, threatening a coup of January 6th in congress, backed by violent mobs invited to come to DC.

How shall we keep our spirits up? to get us to January 20th when we hope to watch Biden and Harris inaugurated into office and the Bidens move into the White House that or the next day or so? With their two dogs, Major Biden and Champ, and their First Cat, a rescue animal


Read his or her message to us in the New Yorker

He is moving in January 20th. He has outlined his strategy: When Proud Boys and such-like Trumptrash ilk go low, he’ll go lower: right under a nearby bed. Let us hope (rely on him also) to sniff out any remaining rats.

I suggest we all make a list of 10 good things that happened to each of us this year, ten events that made your or a friend happy, gave you joy, pleasure. Here are mine:

1 Biden won big;

2 Laura & Rob know great joy from adopting adorable loving active kittens;

3 I found fun in London Trollope Society and pleasure in many sorts of zooms & online culture (I did a live video talk!);

4 I taught wonderful Bloomsbury in novels & pictures this past summer;

5 I did read some wonderful books, lately Harriet Walter on acting Shakespeare (Brutus and Other Heroines), Carol Rutter’s wonderful actresses on acting Shakespeare’s women (Clamorous Voices), the book’s editor, Faith Evans.  Then Anna Jameson’s Shakespeare’s Women, Loraine Fletcher, Honor Killing in Shakespeare (she really reads Shakespeare from a vitally alive thoughtful feelingful woman); returned to reviewing the new standard edition of Anne Finch’s poems and reading the two new literary biographies of Vittoria Colonna in Targoff and Musiol’s books;

6 my cats crossed a threshold of becoming overtly loving as I reciprocated better;

7 the fifth season of Outlander, & I watched all 4 seasons of The Durrells, all 7 of A French Village (in occupied France);


Keely Hawes as widowed Mrs Durrell

THEY are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
— Season 2, Episode 4 of The Durrells explores the nature of a widow’s loneliness & grief (not well understood) through Louisa Durrell’s case, and the story includes a fraudulent spiritual medium, Louisa’s relationship with three men (by this time), her children, theirs with her and one another, not to omit Aunt Hermione (Barbara Flynn) come for a visit. Towards the close Keeley Hawes reads aloud the above poem by Edward Dowson

8 I was able and continue to be able to stay in my house with all Jim & my things around me still, with Izzy staying well and keeping her good job as librarian remotely;

9 people were remarkably resilient and resourceful during horrific pandemic, even in US where their fed govt has been taken over, corroded, ruined by a remarkably evil man;

10 I cannot think of any more because over 330,000 people in the US died (millions elsewhere), economy is tanked, evictions near for millions, and at the rate the vaccines coming from Trump & Junta we’ll reach immunity 10 years, but remember No 1 which Heather Cox Richardson reassures me will be realized, with a new POTUS, and decent competent people in charge Jan 20th of US for better or worse this powerful nation-state, with much riches now kept to a few but hope this will change somewhat …

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Rituals together every year can and do help; they embody hope, perpetualness, a stability and order, security into the future. That’s why putting up the tree, exchanging gifts, or whatever you do each year matters. So this year again watch a favorite movie or movies — as we cannot go out lest we spread the disease and sicken ourselves – let us stay above ground!

Marley was dead, to begin with …


Scrooge dancing with Fred’s wife … a polka

Earlier this week I watched the 1951 Scrooge — I didn’t realize it was not titled A Christmas Carol (they used to do this sort of thing, mistitle classics as if that would make the film more popular?) — with Alistair Sim. I had read Margaret Oliphant’s ghost story riposte; nonetheless, I wept and wept towards the end. With a kind of painful joy — worried the old man would not be forgiven. It’s wonderfully witty too. See my blog. I felt similarly towards the end of the 1945 It’s a Wonderful Life! (with of course James Stewart and the old MGM crew, Capra doing it) — my younger daughter, Izzy, and Capra’s beautifully socialistic angel film, on Christmas Day. I had forgotten I admit how small a part in time the Clarence segment is against the whole film; it’s only the last quarter or so. I found myself moved to tears. It’s more relevant than ever. Mr Potter is now a (weak) stand in for Trump (who just cruelly threw a wrecking-ball at any security or peace those dependent on gov’t in some way [and who is not?] needs). I had forgotten how Clarence appears only in the last quarter or so of the movie. All an apparition? a bad dream? No one takes it that way but you could.


Clarence, Angel (second class) listens to the distraught George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart)

Modern day re-makes have no idea of how to come near these because the emotions brought out are positively discouraged, even sneered at in our culture. Yes great performances, but no actor would be permitted or dare to show such anguish, such joy, such social feeling — it’s as if we no longer understood these feelings. But I don’t think that’s true because there are two films of Dickens that come near — though shying away from total immersion: these are with respect to Dickens books (whether faithful or appropriated) the 1999 David Copperfield (BBC serial, with Bob Hoskins and Maggie Smith), and at moments the 2002 Nicholas Nickleby (Douglas McGrath, wonderful cast).

Then we had a Zoom with Laura and Rob, and exchanged presents (they had sent ours to our house; we had sent theirs to their house). Then Izzy and I had a steak dinner …

I did miss Boxing Day. I didn’t expect I would miss the second day of Christmas as so often the first has been a trial. But what a let-down to just go to the supermarket the next day. Whatever smidgin of magic is left from early childhood hadn’t a chance. And, Izzy and I, — with Jim, have gotten so used to this second day. Around 2000 Jim, I, and Izzy, went to Paris for 2 weeks in the course of which occurred Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. It was partly to break a pattern of very bad Christmas days — we did a totally different set of things. Paris is not closed on Christmas day at all — or it wasn’t in 2000. An open market had a lovely French Christmas roll cake; we went to the theater; walked … Thereafter at home, here in Alexandria, we had Jewish Christmases: a movie and a Chinese meal out (mostly Peking Duck); then the next day, a museum trip.

And now tonight. I watched the Metropolitan Gala from Germany, two Italian tenors and two Black sopranos, one a beautiful young woman from South Africa. I didn’t care for the first part (about an hour) where they did Donizetti as if they had to prove how brilliant singers they are but were not permitted to sing anything truly moving, but the second half was traditional Italian songs (the kind Pavarotti used to sing), haunting tunes from The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus (the bat!). Tears came to my eyes again.


The Met has not been generous with allowing clips of this concert onto the Net so here is Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau in a softly intimate rendition

Now at 10:30 pm for the first in my life (74 years) there is no mass crowd in Times Square! I looked on TV and it’s nearly empty. I have been on Times Square on New Year’s Eve at midnight twice (with two different husbands), and have wandered through earlier in the evening a number of times. I am told that the clock will still come down at midnight but we must watch it on TV or some Internet channel — to be safe and help others stay safe.

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A 1950s cover and price …. — it is still in print with a cover that appeals to audiences today


Recent cover — a much less silly version of a romantic male, more a man of sensibility (like Hans Matthesen whom I loved in Davies 2002 Dr Zhivago serial)

Rituals include remembering back. An FB & Trollope friend posted a photo of a set of very old-fashioned Christmas classic books for children (or just the 19th century good ones that ended in children’s hands, some of which are also reading for adults). He said he was reading through them (they included books like Treasure Island, What Katy Did, Water Babies), whereupon I made a feeble quip: “Very virtuous.” But then I told a memory that often lingers in my mind because it is how I first started to read the English classics which have been so influential in my life:

Another thought: I first became acquainted with, well, read British classics because my father had sets of books which looked like that. They would be a soft hard back, colored brown or some other serious color, with silver or gold lettering. Memory is treacherous but I think he told me he bought them from the Left Book Club when he got into his teens. He kept them all wherever he moved. It is a sad conclusion: but Trollope was in none of these. Austen, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Brontes, RLStevenson but no Trollope. Perhaps he was considered too “adult” — without adult meaning sexy or violent. Another neglected author was Elizabeth Gaskell. I first become acquainted with (there I go again) Trollope as an undergraduate in an American college classroom (Dr Thorne); I first heard of and then read Gaskell at Leeds University; one of our “set” books for the third year (the one I placed in) was North and South. The influence of such sets of books for more working class and lower middle American children may be important — but it was the Left Book Club that offered them very inexpensively.

I hope I am not writing too much here. I looked at the spines and some are books I identify as for adults (Lorna Doone), or the kind of book that really is for adults but has been relegated to school reading (Silas Marner). I find I have not read a lot of them (just an impression) and my surmise is that shows I’m not British so many were not available just like this (for example so much Kipling), but also around 11-12 I switched to supposedly adult books brought into the house by my mother who joined a Book-of-the-Month club and there I read books like (wait for it) Gone With the Wind, by pseudonym authors (Frank Yerby) and voyeuristic semi-salacious (Peyton Place, probably around age 12 to 13 or so), historical romances.

In more chat I had to confess I’d never read Forever Amber, or God’s Little Acre. But I do remember to this day a historical romance set in the Highlands of Scotland (!, yes even then I was allured by books about Scotland), The Border Lord, whose author’s name started with Jan, but maybe it was a pseudonym. Within minutes someone told me the author’s name was Jan Westcott, and the book a perfectly respectable researched fiction; Westcott makes wikipedia, The Border Lord her first bestseller. I didn’t write that I wish I could remember the title or part of the name of another Book-of-the-Month club set in Italy, about a peasant girl called Pia. I read that over and over, & identified with this girl consciously; now I guess I knoq I also identified with the upper class Anglo-Italian narrator (a precursor for me of Iris Origo). In our ends are our beginnings. My mother persisted in throwing out these books. I tried to stop her but she’d throw them out when I wasn’t around. She sometimes overtly hated the reality that my father & I were reading people, we did it “all the time” (angry tone of typical quarrelling) instead of the kind of socializing she wanted from us. So the book is lost; it too harbors what I would read and study still.


The 1920s Everyman — noticed it’s packaged as part of a set of elite elegant beloved books — Dent then as found in Penelope Fitzgerald’s wonderful The Bookshop.

I will be watching the 1983 BBC Sense and Sensibility scripted by Denis Constantduros later tonight: I am up to episode 6-7. It is very good if you give yourself time, patience and are willing to enter into the dramaturgy of the era.

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Their closest physical moment: Miss Kenyon (Emma Thompson) attempts to make Mr Stevens to show her what book he is reading (Remains of the Day, 1992)

I am now reading for my coming teaching this winter and in the spring (and even thinking ahead for the summer. I finished Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans and realized I cannot put it across to a class. How to explain this wild post-modern post-colonial parody of a 1930s female detective story morphing into wild gothic parodies (a la Radcliffe around labryrinths) and finally a spy story of horrific violence and betrayal. Then I watched the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala The Remains of the Day, and knew I loved it, understood it, can explain (as there is rationality to explain), the film being better than the book. Here’s my new blurb:

Two Novels of Longing

The class will read as a diptych E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989). Both examine class, race, war, fascism and colonialism; family, sex, and property relationships from the “empire’s center,” England, from a post-colonial POV. The core center of both novels is the human needs of their characters against capitalist, gender- and class-based backgrounds. I suggest people see on their own either the 1992 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film Howards End (w/Thompson & Hopkins) or 2015 HBO serial, Howards End (Kenneth Lonergan w/Atwell & Macfayden); and the 1993 Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala film The Remains of the Day (also w/Thompson & Hopkins). We can ask how ironic romances can teach us fundamental lessons about how to survive and thrive in today’s worlds.

For summer, though I love it, I doubt the class will love Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival — I identify with his outsider meditations, and longings to belong in my uprootedness, and especially in England, but will they be able to cope with these meditations. I tried In a Free State, the Booker Prize winner, and discovered it’s painfully racist: if I were a Black person reading this satiric comedy by supposedly naive Indians seeing Black people for the first time, I’d be electrified with mortification. So I switched to Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this Carribean Leeds man in the first place. I also loved his Cambridge, and am now set to read two more: The Lost Child, a sequel to Wuthering Heights, perhaps The Final Passage. I’d do Andrea Levey’s Small Island but it’s too long for summer. So, with my blogs (e.g., on The Crown) and other projects (women’s poetry once again), and for two very different list communities reading Trollope’s The Three Clerks, and Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Diary, I have not lacked in things to do … Lucky me, to belong to two OLLIs and have made so many friends on the Net.

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Dear readers, friends, I end here. I’m trying to think how to pass the last hour of this profoundly dangerous year for us all — and we are by no means out of danger yet — another coup will be attempted Jan 20th, a variant of COVID 70% more infectious is spreading, and as long as Trump and his vicious crooks are in charge you may be sure nothing will be done to get the vaccines to the average person for months to come … (forget the ordinary postal mail, and the poor post office people until the Trump rats can be removed). We may be sure Biden and his wife will go on no killing sprees (such as Trump has and now pardoned people committing massacres, a woman who set a dog taught to be vicious on a homeless old man, like to do).

Here is one of their Christmas messages to the world:

We must carry on — there is no other choice. Not give in, not give up. There is harm in not hoping, in resigning and complicity and good in holding onto our moral compass as we enter another cycle of seasons. Let us remember E.M. Forster’s What I Believe and his adjuration: we with those like us can slip under the wire, form small groups of decent ethical people, sensitive, for good arts, true beauty, a pro-social democratic multi-ethnic, racial, religious secular tolerant world; the gate is opening again and we must be alert to go through to prevent it swinging shut again.

Ellen

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Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), The Library (illustration for a magazine)

Delightful to me to be on an island hill, on the crest of a rock, that I
Might often watch the quiet sea;
That I might watch the heavy waters above the bright water, as they
Chant music … everlastingly … — St. Columba 521-597 AD

Dear friends and readers,

A couple of days ago now, the current loathsome criminal wielding the powers of POTUS, USA, realized his plan to stage a coup and stay in office would not work, and the female slime who calls herself Emily Murphy, a political appointee at the head of GSA, the agency which manages the transitions of power from one executive administration to the next, began to disperse moneys and allow Biden’s people to come into the various federal agencies, to start the process.

Trump has not quite given up as yet, is still trying to pressure local Republican figures to ignore the popular vote and have their electoral college choose him, is still going to court with absurd claims of fraud, and worse, doing mean, spiteful acts to hurt the American public (moneys already approved by congress to help people withheld, more environmental damage, more sabotaging foreign relationships), but Biden has now more than enough numbers certifying him President Elect. We will have Kamala Harris, a wonderfully effective, intelligent, energetic woman as Vice-president. (Will wonders never cease?) One way or another Trump will leave the White House and office on January 20th, and Biden take his place.

My worry over Izzy and my dependence on checks from the federal gov’t, distress at the thought of what another four years of foul fascism would bring in US cultural life as well as economic and other pragmatic conditions of life for 90% of US people, are now eased; we will return to an improved version of the Obama years. We will not lose our Post Office, maybe it will emerge a more efficient place.

My inability to sleep other than in segmented ways (3-4 hours at a time), had become no more than 2 hours at a stretch for the last week, and now for 3 nights I’ve managed 5-6 hours. I also had good news about these tests over my momentary amnesia from (I’m now sure) stress and tiredness: four more tests turned up not an iota of seizure or anything physically, neurologically wrong. I need not be afraid to drive as long as I’m rested and now so much calmer. I am understanding what I’m reading better again.

I’ve been trying to think of something cheerful to say here for this holiday and find I can’t quite get up to true cheer (the situation across the US is still too dire, help on the way but not here yet — too many empty chairs, too many tables bare of enough or self-bought food), but I can do peace and relaxation while waiting. I know I need to rest.

So, over the next couple of weeks (until sometime in early to mid-December) I need do nothing at all towards my teaching, which starts again in mid-January as for the first time since I started at the OLLI at Mason I am teaching during the winter term: “Two novels of longing in an imperial age:” E.M. Forster’s Howards End and Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, one a novel of manners from the center, the other a mystery thriller from the periphery (there are 2 movie adaptations for the first, 1 for the second), nor am I going to trouble myself over due reviews or long range projects until mid-December.

So today I began a book I’ve longed to indulge myself in: Lachlan Goudie’s The Story of Scottish Art. In case you haven’t noticed I love to read Scottish literature, watch movies taking place there. Very pleasurable and as Andrew Marr says: “an exhilarating big-picture, and often surprising account of Scottish Art.” I also love art studies.


William McTaggart, Summer Sundown (one of the later 19th century painters covered by Lachlan)

I finally finished the brilliant The Woman’s Historical Novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000, by Diana Wallace, and will chose one out of the several I’ve noted down and read that during this respite time too. I don’t know if it wasn’t the most moving book I’ve read all fall. Probable Penelope Fitzgerald’s Innocence, a historical novel, just, set in 1950s Italy, a continuation of what I’ve been watching in A French Village.

And V. S. Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival, how I loved its evocation of place, the landscape and depths of past time all around Stonehenge, where the hero rents a cottage, trying to find where he belongs, seeking an identity as sure as those he dreams local English people have all about him, from growing up in a world where all stay put, know who they are, for their culture is so long established (it feels like it cannot dissolve by lawlessness into a complete lack of safety), their felt home is constituted, rooted within them, seeking relief from migrancy. I did read Naipaul’s A Bend in the River in a class on colonialist and post-colonialist writings.  Also some of his essays.

Jim knew migrancy but wherever he was he knew who he was, and could ever make do — a fire in the fireplace and he scrambled eggs and made soup when we would lose our electricity in the early years in this house together. I shall never leave it now (my social security will not be taken from me, and the post office not dissolve away before our very eyes). I know I should read A House for Mr Biswas, but it is so long and would not connect to Jim. I often prefer literary criticism so I’ll start Michael Gorra’s After Empire (on Paul Scott, Naipaul and Rushdie).


A photo of Stonehenge Laura took during a trip-time she, Jim, I & Izzy took in summer 2005

I am sad to have to continue being alone, once again during these US ritual holiday times, but that is nothing new to me. We will put lights on our two miniature magnolia trees in the front yard, and buy a decorate a tree once again this year by the first weekend of December.

This morning I was thinking mad thoughts about whether to pretend to myself Jim is next to me all day would not help me to find more pleasure in the moments of my existence to come. I could imagine myself confiding in him again, try to remember his smiles, his validating attitudes. I will be 74 (!) on November 29th, and surely I’ve endured enough of life’s changing beats for 7 years without him now.


This is a photo of me taken by Izzy last year by our tree

I’ve just finished watching the ten episodes of the fourth season of The Crown; the electric spark brilliancy of the first and second season has been relit, and I will re-watch the 3rd season and see if I can blog on this pair as I did on the first two seasons. Last night I watched the very last episode of A French Village (my second slow time through, reading the highly intelligent Companion volume as I went): tears came into my eyes at the death of the series noble hero, Daniel Larcher, and his last dream of his brother, Marcel, come to take him to paradise with the utterance, he, Marcel, remembers how Daniel took a beating for him — all his life Daniel carried on taking beatings for others. I felt like I sometimes have after I’ve finished a wonderful long novel, so sad it’s over and I must put my imagined friends away.

I so immerse myself in these kinds of films it’s like I’m with people at night — I watch on my computer, so sit up close and it’s a large screen. Take The Crown 4:7, whose theme is how badly we as a society treat the mentally disabled or troubled; Helena Bonham Carter is known for acting in films which showcase this idea (55 Steps), and here she showed how bare and hard she finds her daily existence, luxurious as it is, and her own choice (she could not bear to give up her title, place by her sister, numinousness, ease, and these wonderful vacation times in glorious landscapes). Tom Burke was wonderful as the friend who has chosen the priesthood to get through the rest of his life – what a fine actor he is (I first saw him in Davies’s 2015 War and Peace).

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain —
for the reed that grows never more again
As the reed with the reeds in the river …
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What more is there to record for tonight? I read half-way through in the wee hours before dawn (on one of my segmented sleep nights), Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Story (much praised in the media, by critics) and am astonished to report that after a period of sleep-away camp where at age 9/10 to 12/13, where Ernaux is raped, harassed, publicly humiliated in ways that make me think her autistic, she declares how wonderful this experience was. How much it has strengthened and taught her and of course influenced the rest of her life. Is she batty? I find this to be the strongest text of denial that I’ve ever read. Did she after this go on for her promiscuous life? I think immediately of Jean Rhys and the traumatic nature of her life. Who could enjoy and triumph out of such harrowing? I don’t remember this being Jean Rhys’s take. I also recently watched for a 2nd time the ending of the 4th season of Outlander (“Never my Love”) where Claire is assaulted and raped and the incident is kept out of focus except to show the effect on her face and body, and the framework is anything but how empowering this has been (nor is the episode voyeuristic). I tried The Americans and it too social sadism We are now flooded with supposed reformist texts where the matter presented to us is voyeurist violence; is it a next step for the victim to assert how wonderful it has all been? The characters in The Crown, in A French Village, know better.

Never forget: the world does not have to be as it is.

Ellen

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A November Sunset (idealized) by Lucien Pissarro (Camille’s son, his years 1863-1944)

Friends and readers,

I’ve blogged on Heather Cox Richardson‘s How the South Won the Civil War and a talk I heard her offer in conversation with Joanne B. Freeman at the Politics & Prose bookstore. But I have not given her the credit and platform (insofar as I can do such a thing), she deserves. She apparently talks twice a week, Tuesdays with a slant towards immediate politics, Thursdays, with her slant towards history. All talks or chats (the word lecture is nowadays a “no-no” seen as grim scolding) are a mix of both. I have linked my FB page to hers as a follower and I will check and listen twice a week, and when they are as good as the one this past Thursday I will devote a whole but short blog to her.

Tonight she was extraordinarily pellucid and strengthening. She got close to demonstrating that there will be no coup by Trump & his junta before January 20th. One factor here is the military will not back him: they told him so this past summer.

She argues what is happening is Trump & Republicans are siphoning off funds to pay Trump’s debts, to set up a news channel for him, and to cushion the RNC. All his appointments are always all about money and so these new ones: all that he is doing militarily is done with a view to selling off parts of the US gov’ts technology to his corporate friends to enable them to make big bucks. It is not just a con game: Trump is also getting attention for himself, which is what he wants, thrives on. He may move to running a TV channel. She acknowledged he has a genius for media presence.

She then took us back to 1986 when the Republicans put in place the earliest legal acts to take power from congress and switch it to the executive office so as to rid themselves of all progressive legislation from the 1930s through the Eisenhower years. She shows that the claim made in many circles that the election was close is not true: Biden won handily, but the claim that this is an acutely polarized country where equal numbers of people voted for Trump and the Republicans is not true. What happened was they were very successful in a myriad of methods of voter suppression, which have not been given adequate explanation anywhere. Among other things, hundreds and more of mail-in votes arrived too late to count. What is astonishing is how the democrats nonetheless won with an undefeatable margin (stop crediting Shields and Brooke as a place for good information and insight; they are not).

Finally, what she had to say about what Biden is doing is very reassuring. So let me see if the video comes on.

Let us hope very hard her first “demonstration” is accurate. I am still not sleeping more than 3-4 hours a night.

I will not cease my autobiographical blogs, but I find I can make an entry at most once every two weeks. I don’t have the strength to remain what’s called “sensible” (the way HCR does) nor have that much new about myself to report, though today I do have a small but significant item (see directly below). Plus I have over these years since Jim died, used this blog to tell of what books, videos, and other things of interest I read, watched, participated in. I’m now going to read, watch, and listen to Heather Cox Richardson twice a week.

What is this item: I’ve had half the tests that Kaiser decided to give me to see if there is any serious breakdown in my systems that led to my mind slipping for a couple of moments now two weeks ago, and these show no abnormality at all. So what I was experiencing was intense stress and loss of sleep, almost wholly related to what is happening over the election & Trump and junta’s attempts to set up dictatorship.


For Caturday, Laura’s photo of Maxx all playful

Ellen

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Ian seven years ago — non-human animals are subject to people


One of my two miniature magnolia trees has unexpectedly bloomed …. as are all plant-life

Friends and readers,

Times being what they are, I have had another “cultural experience” which so stands out and seems to me so important I would rather devote another shorter blog to trying to disseminate it than telling my good friends and kind readers here about my doings and feelings in the last couple of weeks. A previous movie of this type (protest) was 55 Steps: about an autistic young woman who had to fight not to spend her life drugged in an asylum. IN that movie Eleanor had to be rescued from the medical establishment; and in this, it seems planet earth needs to be rescued from many of the apparent environmentalists, not to omit the ruthless industrialists, corporations of all sorts: Moore and Gibbs show that in fact solar and wind energy are not sufficiently reliable or strongly generative sources of power for most contemporary uses, and project after project, concert after concert, institution after institution are in fact relying (in the background) on fossil fuels. When there is a substitute for the fossil fuel, its combustion — like the destruction of vast forests, to turn them into chips to be consumed as energy, the seaweeds of the ocean — so called biomass — leaves a vast wasteland that disrupts and destroys ecosystems. Capitalism had bought out the environmental movement, and is now turning so-called “green” projects into huge profits. So it’s the same billionaire groups devastating the earth with a false front.

Like another movie I wrote about this past week, Come What May, Planet of the Humans has been almost uniformly dismissed, and/or disparaged by professional critics. The most demoralizing parts of the film are where Moore and Gibbs show Bill McKibben, Al Gore, and other gurus, and various institutions (Sierra Club) in collusion with the worst people (supported by companies run by the likes of the Koch brothers, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg). The critics are writing for the news media which is either funded by the open ruthless capitalists or treated with awed respect as those these environmentalists can rely on to help save the earth.

The argument of this movie is people across the earth have to consume less and have to replace what they consume in the length of time the consumed it; we have to bring out population growth down too

Do watch. The film reminds me of a couple I saw years ago on fracking.

A rare favorable film review by Dennis Harvey of Variety.

But poking past the disillusioning actual results of many such much-ballyhooed ventures, Gibbs finds reason to doubt even the good intentions theoretically at work. He’s unable to find a single corporate entity worldwide whose claims of “100% renewable” energy usage are accurate.

Meanwhile, a greenwashing surface too often hides old-school environmental destruction, polluting and profiteering from the usual billionaires. In “Planet’s” cluttered survey, there ends up being dismayingly few degrees of separation between the actions of the ostensible “good guys” (Al Gore, Sierra Club, Tesla, environmentalist Bill McKibben, etc.) and such familiar baddies as the Koch brothers, Goldman Sachs and Big Oil. Indeed, a little digging often reveals they all appear to have signed on the same dotted line.

There was an attempt to remove the film from YouTube (The Guardian). Those who outline objections to the film as about obsolete conditions, as misleading, or untrue, never answer the charge that “green” companies are fronts for old-fahsined “destruction, polluting, and profiteering,”. The objectors call Moore and Gibbs simplifiers (a no-no); in an article in TLS, the conservative reviewer says you can’t get along without capitalist methods; Moore and Gibbs’s facts are of some years ago, not today. This is not true.  Moore & Gibbs are up-to-date. They include recent controversies: peoples driven off their land or their land destroyed, their waters polluted. To conclude, here is a thoughtful adjudication between the two “sides.”

There is a problem here — asking us all — especially the middle classes in the more fortunate parts of the globe — to consume less. I live in an environment which is super-hot in summer. I could not survive without air-conditioning. The only places food is available is from local super-markets or farmers’ markets. I have to buy water, gas, electricity from the capitalist monopolies in my area — like this internet connection. I have to have my grass mowed or my neighbors can & will have me cited. I don’t over-consume that I can think of except for plane trips — planes use up inordinate amounts of energy (fossil fuels). Or not deliberately. I own a small car because I am most comfortable driving a small car and ther are but two of us. So perhaps that is why the film has not been popular (able to sell itself). We can as political people try to vote for those in power who will ameliorate the increasingly destructive conditions. I would have to reread AOC’s Green New Deal now to see if what she intends is really what she thinks.

Ellen

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Seascapes — Sara Sitting (I am not sure about this title or artist but very much like the image)

On morning early this week (Sunday) I remembered when in the mid-1970s Jim and I lived on Seaman Avenue in Manhattan (200th street, below the Cloisters hill) we would summer time on Tuesday and Thursday take our dog, Llyr, and drive to Jones Beach in the morning. There was a beach where dogs were allowed. We’d bring coffee & croissants for ourselves, water and biscuits for Llyr. We’d go in the water, stay close to shore (no life guards). Those were happy mornings long ago … I thought of this as I saw my neighbors, two married gay guys taking their dog to a nearby private pool …. the difference between now and then — includes then it was public beach, now it’s an expensive private pool. I did long to get out of the house, go to where the horizon stretches out and stand by the world’s waters — thus the above image by Sitting

On another I woke remembering a dream Laura outlined at the end of our time with Izzy in Calais last summer: upon retirement, she’d buy a second house for her and Izzy in Florida or some warm place, & they’d live there winters; and the present house I occupy summers — though now I’m thinking it’d be a bit hot here. They could sell my library and go to Vermont. I ahd found the idea of them together when I am gone comforting. I would not worry so about Izzy and feel better about Laura having a good companion

My image for this was Beatrice Potter’s Two Rabbits because Jim as a boy read the Potter books and even into his old age would suddenly quote from a scene or refer to Jemima Puddleduck or wry Potter characters

Last The comet. I am told there is a comet in the sky just now. One night around 10 pm Izzy and I took our binoculars and went for a walk around — that’s when the sky is dark where I live. We didn’t spot the comet — I don’t know what to look for. But we did see a sky filled with stars. Not strong as light pollution is too pervasive but we did see a sky just twinkling with many little lights. And a couple of stronger ones too. A comet apparently looks like a moving star ….

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been almost three weeks now and I’ve made no entry because during mid-day I’ve been busy (driving myself to work on my Anne Finch review, immersed in the true wonders, good values and texts by and about the Bloomsbury group), and at night so tired, watching A French Village (up to season 6 now — what an education about real life politics during war), and as usual often melancholy, depressed, so worried about this endlessly spinning out calamity (COVID19, the devastation of unemployment deliberately spread by Republican-Trump policies) and how it might affect Izzy and I. But I do have a topic to share and performers to recommend: my education in the context of the US educational system generally speaking, and (among others) the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Douglas.

Last week was the time OLLI at AU runs its “July Shorts:” these are courses which last just one week, and take place anywhere from 3 to all 5 days, about 90+ minutes each meeting. (They do the same kind of thing in February each year.) I could not myself teach such a course, and even going to them when it means driving there can be too much of a burden. Last week it was just sitting in front of my computer three times to participate in a four time course on the American education system (or some such title) so I registered and zoomed in. The two men leading the discussions, lecturing presented excellent material: good information, thoughtful commentary, genuine explanations for phenomena. I had to miss the fourth, because it took place in precisely the same time as each week I once a week give a course at OLLI at Mason on the Bloomsbury group: 90 minutes on the status of teachers K-12 (low, 80% female and white still) and the history and developments in chartered schools. While I trust my every instinct to distrust privately funded (you must pay as a parent to some extent) this is a means to destroy public education, to turn desperately needed good education into profit-making ventures (like medicine), and to pull in taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to support turning schools into places with a false appeal of supposed choice and exclusionary policies — while I am distrustful I would have liked to hear an unbiased account.


A Community high school

Their over-riding theme was the need to make the system far more equal for everyone; as presently conducted the way US education works, its effect, is to increase the inequalities or (to be more frank) set up inequalities among children from day one, reinforce class, money and other social disadvantages. To produce badly or uneducated children whose whole outlook is shaped by narrow ill-informed prejudices. This is achieved (it’s wanted) by a mechanism or reality which lies at the core of all US inequality and social ignorance: residential localism. All education in the US is controlled locally, by localities; the schools are funded locally (by a town or at most city), with some controls placed on what they can and should teach and how they must behave by state laws. The state provides funds too, as does the federal gov’t (8 to 15% depending on how poor the district is, so the poorer get 15% or close to that, and the richer 8% or close to that). Any change in this is fiercely fought. As with the delivery of medical services in the US, the whole thing is endlessly fragmented, done differently in different states, with endless pockets of people in effect isolated from others — even nearby. This is exacerbated by he complete divorce between K-12 and post-secondary or higher education. The two groups run on different tracks, and both are (as a result) somewhat hostile to one another due to caricatures.

The public picture of schools in the US is distorted and falsifying — especially in the post-secondary area where education is suddenly expected (by many Americans) to directly lead to or produce jobs. It does not. Parents and students are paying for a certificate in an area of knowledge; nothing more is (literally) contracted for. The picture the public has as de rigueur or common is a four year college aspiring to at least look like Harvard, small private campus college, or state-supported be-prized institution measured by the US News and World Report. Only 17-18% of young US adults go to a four year college. 80% of young adults are enrolled in some form of publicly-funded post-secondary education, many of which are community colleges, which are weak on needed vocational training and apprenticeships. The fancy internships for upper middle professions are found in the 4 year institutions (and pay nothing). The average student is 27 and the majority are female, perhaps married, with one child. She is looking to “better herself” in the commercial marketplace. As to elite schools that are written about so much (this is the public media pretending that the small middle class is pervasive) less than 2% go to colleges like Harvard, Stanford — and where my younger daughter went, Sweet Briar (she had what was called a complete scholarship so it cost each term about what George Mason did for my younger daughter six years before).


This is a private and charter school — all white

K-12: 11% of children to teenagers are in private schools, of which 9-10% are religious schools, aka schools run by overtly religious groups (or in the south where there is more than a pretense a Christian academy for whites — these sprung up after Brown v Board of Education). The children of upper class and middling parents are taught self-esteem, self-assertiveness, how to cope with others and negotiate your way through life, to be pro-active for individual initiative at home; they have books at home to read; by keeping them away from the rest of the population, you leave that rest to become unexamined obedient instruments of capitalist enterprises — with the emphasis on obedience to group norms and acceptance of punitive measures to keep them that way. They are not to expect “perks” like art classes, music, shop, Advanced Placement (with better paid teachers) where they might learn what are their particular gifts.

The way the game is kept this way is fragmentation — the same thing is done in the area of US medicine (and now we see how US medicine is delivered is horrifyingly inadequate if there is any question of truly serious illness in the population). Those in the richer districts do not want to share their money with others. Most married Americans with children chose where they live in accordance with the schools available in the area. There is a tremendous gap between governance (those who govern, school boards) and anything to transform achievement gaps. No comprehensive school services across many districts (like social workers, nurses)

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Duncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street

All this for four days and watching what the 40 or so people in the class looked like as they listen, what they said made me remember my own experience. In fact my education enabled me to escape a stultifying working class background, and today still (even after Jim’s death 8 years now) live a life of the mind immersed in high culture in a comfortable house with books and nowadays computers. I am not altogether an anomaly because between the years 1946 and 1970 other trends and left-overs from the FDR era mitigated some inequalities, plus the way to be promoted and thought well of is through academic style tests where your ability to cope with language and math (symbols) are tested, your ability to memorize and what you have read and studied made the groundwork of the tests. On all these I did spectacularly well — as did Jim. Jim got 800 on both GREs to enter graduate school; I got 800 on the English and 798 on the math, at which he quipped: “Ellen was always weak in math.”

I know one of my prides is this education of mine: that I have a Ph.D. is central to my ability to hold up my head. I know how I was relieved to go to grade school to escape my parents’ house with their continual fierce fighting and the tensions and miseries of poverty and anger and frustration. It was a mecca. I know that once I got into my senior year in high school and throughout high school, college, even graduate school, I loved going to classes. In talking on FB of what colleges cannot do to set themselves up to teach students kept socially distant I remembered how for a year at Leeds University (for which I won a scholarship, my year of study abroad where I met Jim) I was given a tutor one-on-one. We met once a week to talk and together study Chaucer and medieval English and French romance. How scared I was at first of the professor; how young she was with a silver urn. I read so carefully each week. I also had wider tutorials with 4 students to a lecturer. Then Izzy at Sweet Briar had similar experiences.

But I also know what I didn’t learn. As I sat in a public school in the southeast Bronx where the majority of students were African-American or hispanic, I was put into a tiny group with “real books” to read – sometimes I was a group of one. The others were reading workbooks, Dick and Jane; I was reading books like Mary Poppins. I spent some of the day making posters. But I learned no manners, my accent stayed thoroughly southeast Bronx, I never took in groups of attitudes I encountered for the first time at age 10/11 when my parents moved to Kew Gardens. Ever after I was something of an outsider. There I was in groups of children with abilities like myself only I was behind in math and science — and no one took the time to teach me fractions, long division, how to do percentages. I still stumble and only my test taking ability, memorization, and ability to work out what a paragraph wanted got me though the Regents. We did have Regents in NY state so the high schools were forced to have teachers who did spend each year covering the curriculum for say chemistry or European (called World) history.


Another Duncan Grant — this time of Vanessa Bell painting, David (Bunny) Garnett reading, studying

Jim went to a “public school” in the UK — these are private schools for the elite — as a day boy in a different colored shirt (to show he was there without paying) because he did so well on the 11 plus, it was called. But he was merged with upper class boys from age 11 to 18 and that enabled him to know how to negotiate and cope in a managerial position, at conferences, he understood expectations. He had a silvery pure prose — from years of learning Latin and translating back and forth from Latin to English. He hated his school at times – he was caned five times and still had the welts on his hands when he was in his 50s. Like me in a different way an outsider, his politics he said were philosophical anarchy. He was deeply sceptical of all professions of ideology.

College came to me because I was living in NYC where it was basically for free. I had to come up with $25 a term. I got in through the night school. Never took an SAT exam, but within the first term, got all As and so switched to daytime college. Jim’s fees were paid for by the state — the Clement Atlee reforms were still in place. I know now how odd it is for me to be proud since I never went to a name school, cannot tell of knowing this or that person, but my expectations were so low to start with, and it’s what your expectations are as you start out that you measure yourself.

I did hold out. I refused to sell myself – I would not spend my life in a 8 hour a day 5 day a week job to make a higher salary. I was able to do that by being married to Jim and accepting that we would live on less, have less things people admire in our house, or clothes, prestige house. And it is chancy but then had I spent my life working at what bored or irritated or embarrassed or was trouble for me I would not be any safer as to money. To be truly safe you must be very rich in ways Jim and I (he with his gov’t job where he was promoted based on his intellectual abilities) never came near. And we spent what we had, I still do what is coming in, to enjoy life as we went along. We did do traveling as I have done since without him. I shall miss going to the UK if this pandemic makes it impossible for me to return to Europe safely. I was comfortable in the Scottish culture and norms; each time I returned to England I felt such cheer to think this is where he was born, where he became what he was. He valued me for what my education had made of me or what I had done with it to make myself what I was and am when we met at Leeds and throughout our lives together.

I did grow irritated at the course because when I would speak I could see that what I had to say was not wanted. Many of the people wanted to pretend they were for equality more than they were and they wanted to remain upbeat and talk of hopeful changes. One of the two leaders twice told a story of a teacher making a home visit and how the hispanic family all came out dressed just for her. I had a home visit when I was putting Izzy in the pre-school: the two women I learned later wrote up a very hostile description of me and my house (all the books offended). It seems Jim and I were at fault for my daughter’s disability. Others kept talking of how important success outside school, in businesses, was — in ways that showed they had no idea this is the kind of thing that cannot be taught. It is social cunning imbibed from your family habitat. I told a little of my experience in a southeast Bronx public school – it was not appreciated because it was downbeat. One was to be constructive. Large abstract pessimism is good, not local true-to-life anedote which exemplifies stubborn real obstacles.

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So this piece of genuine autobiography in the context of a course I just took has taken me time to write and space to do it in. So I shall save for next time some of the wonderful books I’ve read these past 3 weeks, movies, art works looked at, music listened to, Laura’s kittens, and end on music and comedy. Now just onto experiences I’ve had I would not ever have been able to without so much coming online — ingenious people determined to reach everyone at home, to socialize, to make money in their professions.

This past Saturday I took a chance and paid $20 to listen to Jonas Kauffman in concert from the Met. At first I shuddered at the hype introduction, over-dressed woman, and began to fear this would be glittering commercial phony-ness, but bear with the opening 8 minutes, and they leave you alone to listen and watch. An hour and 20 minutes of moving magnificient songs from this handsome and extraordinarily talented actor-singer. Sometimes he was in an old (Baroque?) Bavarian church, and sometimes it was clips from him in costume in a opera. I just love his “Pourquoi me reveiller?” I learned to like and to appreciate and love opera through my 45 years with Jim. The songs sung made me remember our relationship

And then Hannah Gadsby. I have joined online an aspergers group I could never have reached, am attending regularly and making a few acquaintance friends I look forward to seeing again. We talk about things I have trouble with and am given good advice. How to stop interrupting people at the wrong time when I am just trying to join in. What I’m doing wrong? — I am not recognizing their flow of talk and its origins and understanding where it will subside. They meet once a month to discuss a book or movie or person who is known to be autistic or writes about the condition.

It was 10 at night and I had been thinking somehow that I had not laughed in a long time. This is probably untrue. Only I couldn’t remember any true exhilaration either — well only inward exhilaration. I had promised for a coming Zoom session to watch Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedienne “out”as autistic and lesbian. I did laugh and she made me feel better. On Netflix: I’d say I laughed more during Nanette because she did startle me, but the second,Douglas, with her dog as its center, was brilliant. I gathered from both “autism is seeing what no one else has noticed” and autistic people because we are different and vulnerable are more patient, tolerant, accepting of other people in all their variety Here is a clip from Douglas:

What awoke me to a certain cheer was my thought a way to understand her is: :if I can stand life on these terms, amid these cruel and inane absurdities, so can you.” Douglas contains one of the most brilliant exposures of quite what we are looking out in some of these fossilized religious devotional pictures. Hardly anyone really looks at them.

Then I read into a new humane Guide to Aspergers Syndrome by Tony Attwood arguing strongly the label should not be dropped. It is a different quality of disability but nonetheless disability. Nanette closes with her re-telling how she was attacked at a bus station.


Izzy’s new chair

While we are on this subject: this past Sunday Izzy and I managed to find a store Jim used to take me to to buy decent well made furniture — wood mostly. Izzy badly needs a new chair and I could use a small table in the kitchen. What a time we had! Very nervous trying to remember the name of the place and then the street. All I could think was chair store and Edsall Avenue. Well google and mapquest finally turned up a photo of the place that I recognized. I find things out by pictures. So, armed with 2 printed out mapquests, and Izzy programming Waze (then plugged into i-something or other, after which we turn off Godsford Park music and voila there is that lady’s voice), we made it. We have figured out how to put Waze to sleep (not to quit it, that’s not possible apparently)

I did get confused coming back and was nervous the whole time. My mind continually slightly flustered. I had not been out in the car to a new place in quite a while — I cannot find the category for this in Attwood’s book — it is probably under movement in space but there is nothing specific. I have hunted in the book. But Izzy bought a pretty ivory colored wood chair. She looks so comfortable in it. Here is her latest song:

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I never was able to find the place near us where there is testing for COVID19. I did discover that in the Alexandria there are places where you can be tested nearly for free, several cost starting $50, and many many more $150 – $300. Nuts. Why do some cost $300 — luxurious surroundings? But why try for anything labelled $150-$300? I have to find the place too. Of course Kaiser will test us but we must have symptoms to be eligible. She is to go into to work at the library this coming Thursday and may start going in once a week. She has fashion masks, santizer, and I have ordered a face shield for her.

Have I mentioned this time yet that I believe unqualified uncontrolled predatory capitalism everywhere in our lives in the US is at the core of the failed society of the US we are now experiencing — one result of this is thousands and thousands of deaths because we have no central govt that wants to do anything but exploit and abuse us. So another result of the miserable state of education across the US today and I end where I began this diary entry blog.

Ellen

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Statue of Julian of Norwich by David Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral

Friends and readers,

When I saw the above photo I felt nothing in visual art came so close to expressing the emotions appropriate to what has happened in those countries where over the past couple of months the coronavirus has been allowed to spread, sicken and kill thousands upon thousands of people. Where 1 in 4 in the US who previously had a job, income, is now unemployed, countless millions not knowing where their next payment for rent is coming from, as another countless line up for bags of food.

She caught my eye because on Trollope&Peers we have been reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, and I had just finished the long chapter describing in detail the 15th century cathedral, with all its figures and characteristic elements and ornaments as yet semi-intact. It accompanies a story in the Times Literary Supplement (May 15 2020, pp 24-25) where the essayist, Stephanie Sy-Quia, tells the story of Nana, her grandmother’s life, which included a period as a nun, and another studying for an advanced degree where Nana wrote on Julian of Norwich; Sy-Quia is helping her mother to move the grandmother into a retirement home, and they are conveying a bookcase full of her favorite books to be re-read and re-read (see TLS,Books to End a Life with“). The grandmother is fragile, not far from death is the feel, and there is a meaningful conversation before Sy-Quia must leave her there, the essay ending with these words: “That’s how I like to think of her: on her balcony in the sun, book in hand, intermittently sleeping.”

Hugo finds in the chronicles and figures of stone that make up a centuries-old building meant to be a haven the meaning Nana finds in re-reading (among Nana’s listed favorites) Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. This week I turned back to the beauty of Roger Fry’s philosophy of art and found some humor in the divagations of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights‘ satire on airplane flight: from Godzone:


I prefer the French title

Tokarczuk works at not to write a book that can be labelled woman’s novel (horrors!) but in some of the many interwoven stories (the book is the closest 20th century book I’ve seen to Orlando Furioso), we are back to a female narrator who is a version of the authoress. First some funny vignettes depicting the “safety rituals” in airplane terminals (“they confiscate her nail clippers, and she laments the loss, because she’d liked them and had been using them for years” — I lost a favorite barret that way) as well as the “plastic airplane food,” but soon we are into her email – which she can still reach: “if you are not on the Internet, you don’t exist” (tonight the Burney Society opened a page on FB and a page on twitter and asked us all to click “like” and become followers. And we get a story of a love affair. We learn it was 3 decades ago at the time she was involved in “taking part in a massive program aimed at eliminating pests” (weasels opposums), anything that makes human beings sick. See that. Prophetic. Written before this present pandemic: she goes to the doctor and they do everything they can which appears to be “scanning everything they could” (in her body), diagnosing it all and sending her home.

She has a gift for light lucid prose and her translator, Jennifer Croft conveys how extraordinary it is such a massive machine with so many people can behave like a bird. She does make a mistake: she seems no to be aware of how noisy, crowded, overlit are airplanes; she is in the middle seat of a long row of small seats and all we are told is she is “uncomfortable.” That’s all. How about the skin of the next person near yours? She falls asleep, watches her screen with complacency.

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Lindsay Duncan as Anna Bouverie

These last two weeks I finished the spring courses I was attending on-line, carried on reading for my review of the new standard edition of the poetry of Anne Finch, and towards the course I hope I get to teach “on-screen” so to speak starting this Monday. I was beginning to feel some courage about it after a group training session two weeks ago and then a one-on-two 101 session with a generous-hearted person who will be co-host with me, until today I was among 5 people who were not sent the promised codes to open the meeting as host. I emailed several times and got no answer by phone either. People in the class told me they got the class invite so the course will go on, and I assume they do mean me to teach it this Monday starting 1:45 pm. As my co-host told me, “It’s on them, their responsibility to ensure that we are up and running no later than 1:40.”

I’ve been reading Framley Parsonage with an on-line Trollope Society book, as well as mesmerized by Joanna Trollope’s The Rector’s Wife, at the core of which is a modern re-write of the Rev Josiah and Mrs Mary Crawley story, and have been asked and delighted to say yes to give a twenty-minute talk on the Crawley pair. I’ll do him as Trollope’s Jean Valjean, and end on Joanna’s updating of the abject woman. does justice to the inner workings, modern style, of a rector humiliated, not promoted &c&c while at the same time showing us the Mrs Crawley figure, an Anna Bouverie (the Madame Bovary allusion is there as contrast) trying to build a life for herself of some liberty and finding out how hard that is.

I realized today that the Lucy Robartes’s journey-ordeal where she risks her life to nurse the ailing unto death Mrs Crawley (from the endemic typhoid is as relevant today as the Crawley one. Lucu’s story is not carried over except perhaps as part of Anna’s perpetual working hard for everyone else, high good-humored intelligence, and wry scepticism towards self-destructive self-immolating choices

I also hope to join in on three courses online at this OLLI at AU, which sound very appealing: four sessions on good or classic American films (last night I watched City Lights, the first, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, and was absorbed and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would); on American artists in Italy from the mid-18th century to World War One (I’ve long read about this topic and have two sets of marvelous picture and essays books on this English-speaking ambivalent art scene in Naples and Rome); the last on modern American poetry, 1940-2020.

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A new French law requires masks be worn in certain public spaces, but it is still illegal to wear religious attire that covers the face

None of this pushes away from my mind the bleak world not far from my neighborhood, seeping into it in fact. I chose David Holgate’s figure because she is also wearing a scarf. In this now literally sick world I abide in objects take on symbolic value that is as pernicious and counter-productive as the groups of people in this country who support the criminal con-man Trump. I am speaking of course of masks, surgical face masks, which all medical authorities and people who know anything about these coronavirus say, together with washing one’s hands, can go a long way to stopping the spread of this virus. I wear a mask over my face, wrap a scarf around my head. From a young child I have had ear-aches if I go out when it’s at all cold or windy without a hat or scarf around my ears. But I also like to wear a scarf, a head kerchief. Jim used to worry my more Muslim-like ones (two presents from students long ago) would attract hostility.

Well, now Trump has managed to politicize masks as well as scarves so not wearing a mask becomes a political statement showing your strong support of Trump and all his policies and attitudes (among them hatred for all people of color, including people of Asian descent), your disdain of fear of the virus and behavior shaped by concern not to spread it to others or catch it yourself. This intersects with attitudes towards the police, towards law, towards violence, towards women. The result is a witches’ brew ready to explode into mobs of armed thugs (these include military style police) destroying non-white people, democrats (yes), gay people, Jews, women seeking liberty for their bodies. Not to wear a mask, or wear one made to look like a flat cut up and you are marked as Maga — something to be proud of, especially if you don’t get sick; you want to work as opposed to these sniveling non-person immigrants whose deaths don’t matter.

This is in the autobiographical mode so here’s what happened to me this morning as I walked to the post box to return a DVD in order to get a DVD of Temple Grandin (for a zoom meeting this coming month with a serious-minded aspergers group). I went with my mask firmly in place and a kerchief on (have I said I wear a kerchief to protect an inner ear which hurts if I go out without a hat or kerchief until it’s very hot). A woman who lives in one of super expensive houses dotted all over my neighborhood (this one the result of a ridiculous renovation which made it into a one will walls of glass, appropriate to standing on a cliff — seeing its absurd transparency, they put curtains everywhere and filled their yard thick with greenery) was across the street with her daughter, both w/o masks. They are the Greenwich, Connecticut type republicans, part of the wide swathe of seeming reasonable people are callously cynically supporting Trump to keep their taxes low and make an American which serves them (hand and foot). I stopped and looked at them sort of pointedly. The girl went back in the house. I then carried on (of course no talk; we’ve never been introduced that I can remember – this place is filled with snobs), put my DVD in the post box, turned round to walk back and the woman was just putting her mask on as if she had not seen me

Fuck these people. They voted for this man. He has now attacked free speech, what he threatened to do before he became president. Before he won he said he would change the libel laws insofar as he could in an effort to end free speech. So twitter rightly at long last marking his lies and incitements to violence are his excuse, and he has a sycophant lawless Attorney General behind him. Net neutrality went when he took office. Read what is happening in Iowa, Texas, meat-packing factories where workers were forced back into lethal situations. People sickening every where and the death rate goes up. 40% of deaths are still whites

Governor Northam has not sent police out to enforce much of the closing of shops and I’ve discovered many did remain open — especially those run by people who dress like the Trumpite-base types. There was an incident where police were sent to stop a large party in a white neighborhood and it was stopped, the people were indignant and it made the papers. I think the purpose of the masks is twofold: they do stop the virus and if you wash your hands a lot that helps. But it’s that Northam wants to make a point life out there is dangerous and you must do all you can to avoid sickness. He is a physician and democrat. Trump by carrying on not wearing a mask does politicize it and the South Dakota governor can cry all he wants, and plead with his state citizens to wear masks to protect others, but Trump wins. Not wearing a mask says this is silly or it’s courageous or there is nothing else to do (nonsense – we could support all workers and businesses all summer with the money now given in billions to corporations with democratic consent). That woman didn’t want to wear a mask. It’s a bother – and she allows her daughter not to wear one. Like (my guess about her) she couldn’t give a shit what Trump is – she wants all the money and privilege she can have, she banks on being white to make her less likely to get sick because of how and whom she lives with.

A friend (white) told me someone in her community (or on the Net in a group she’s in talked about this) called the police when someone was not wearing a mask. Someone else defended this person for calling the police. The person defending was then subject to loads of abusive emails calling her a Nazi and threatening her. Now it’s been shown by numbers since masks started in this pandemic that far far more black people are stopped by police and their mask demanded. I would myself only call a cop if I felt my life so directly in danger that I was in less danger from the cop — I’ve tried to teach this formula to Izzy who twice has been badly bullied by police since they don’t understand disabled (autistic) people, and once it seems almost came near arrest for jay-walking. I would approve of the person calling the police on principle but in reality myself never call a cop for such a purpose. Once in my neighborhood Izzy was bullied on a bike by two black children; one of the women in one of the houses looking on called the cops: I was told later they visited the black people in the next impoverished neighborhood and those children will never be back her. How peculiar I felt to have had Izzy’s disability turned into a weapon against black people. Look what happened to George Floyd. I grew up in the Southeast Bronx and know police there were utterly involved in the drug trade. Yes as a white woman, especially now I’m older white cops have identified me as “like my grandmother,” and not that long ago I had an encounter with one where he became hysterical because I did not obey his every utterance and got out of my car. I was at risk for my very life. So police in the US are not simply instruments of peace, law and order because they have been given license by Trump to kill and by the society to imprison vulnerable people for a long time with impunity.


Temple Grandin

Here is where the US now is, and I live in this edge toppling us into a fascist (goes without saying I suppose) dictatorship. A calamity of such a magnitude that it has driven people into their houses — it’s a kind of paranoia turned into a way of life. The EC/ASECS group met in a zoom and while we are determined to have some sort of conference, it seems that in October the wisest and most possible thing is to do it virtually. I enjoy my Aspergers group which meets more frequently; in two weeks we will discuss the excellent movie, Temple Grandin, and whatever of her books and essays we have read. For me it’s Animals in Translation and one on how women experience autism.

More of the way the virus affects just me and Izzy:

In this conversation Fauci talked about reasonably efficient and continual testing before letting students back on campus this coming fall, with intervals of 2 weeks and then tracing and when someone falls sick, isolating them.

We had heard that over this week Alexandria and other Northern Va places would be testing for coronavirus for everyone. We were told places to go but they were all only for one day at a given place and for a limited number of hours (start at 10; I forget when ending. We were unable even to get in. The one nearest to us was disorganized, far too many people, far too few officers and people doing the work.
The fuller story (for those into details): I tried to drive Izzy and I to a testing place, worried lest we catch the virus going for testing (we washed our hands, wore masks), worried about waiting for hours and so on (I brought 2 books, she had her cell phone), but none of this happened because I failed completely in finding the entrance that the police wanted cars to come in from. In all the years I’ve lived in Alexandria, Va I always came in from the front entrance or a back street near the front entrance (Duke Street), never came to the Landmark Shopping through a Van Dorn entrance. I could not picture it; Van Dorn as far as I can picture it is a very busy 3 lanes on either side highway type street. I had no idea how to find this entrance. They just shooed us on and there was no sign anywhere for how to get to the Van Dorn entrance. I discovered I had forgotten my cell phone, could only picture and mass transit junction where the other entrance was said to be (and a different shopping plaza right off it). Well I drove home, located cell phone (whew) but then found that for Landmark Mall (where the testing on my side of Alexandria was said to be) there is only one address. The one I tried to come in at. When I tried to google other entrance, the name Van Dor landed me with instructions to to the plaza. So we had to give up. There was no way someone like me could find it. Izzy was disappointed.

Not near enough money, thought, organization put into this testing. Then what about tracing? Of course what is needed in time appointed encounters and this is available only through your doctor. We are told soon state-wide testing will be offered to people past 60 and people beneath a certain income (to try to reach hispanic and African-Americans). Tomorrow we will see our friend, Monica, who works 7 days a week, 2 in a supermarket, but now gets off every other day during the week.

We spent the rest of our Memorial day our usual way. She wrote, drew (she has taken courses in drawing and art now), practiced and sang her latest musical composition, watched TV, participated on the Internet. I read, studied, posted, wrote. Both of us our usual routs on just about all the days of the years (except when she goes out to work, I out to teaching, courses, museums, together to plays &c). Also we exercised, & separately walked in the neighborhood. At night I watched half way through the excellent 1990s BBC series, The Rector’s Wife (featuring a favorite actress of mine, Lindsay Duncan, when young) and all of Carrington (Jonathan Pryce, Emma Thompson). Our cats did their things too. Had Jim been with us, our day would have been similar — only with his witty presence to inject gaiety into our hearts.

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Matisse, A Young Girl Reading (1905)

The news is not all bad as some large percentage of the US population — a majority in fact, though their votes are nullified, they are disenfranchised, gerrymandered out of counting, are against this kind of fierce overt capitalist militarist state. I am not alone in calling for a boycott of all airlines. Now! I don’t understand why people are getting on these airplanes where, far from social distancing, people are packed in as closely as ever. If all Americans refused to get onto these planes until the seating arrangements were changed to at least allow some separation, the airplane people would change their planes. Boycott these bastards who got billions from the gov’t to tide them over ….

Some are still leading decent lives in their solitude attached to the world through zooms. My older daughter, Laura, and her husband, Rob, have adopted (bought) two kittens. This past year they lost two beloved cats to death and the cat that is left to them (they began with five) has been as lonely as they. Here they are, sweet tiny baby cats: at first very frightened upon coming into their new home:


The vanilla ginger tabby, Max, the greyish tortie, Charlotte, clinging to one another

Here they are the next day in Laura’s workroom, her office mates. It didn’t take them that long to decide that they belong where Laura is.

My grandchildren have four paws.  And in their honor, last Caturday (a couple of days before Laura and Rob went to pick them up) I wrote this on face-book:

From ‘Penguin Handbook of Cats. The care and training of kittens:’

“Talking is, I think, particularly important. Talking from the very beginning of your acquaintance helps throughout the cat’s life … I have always made a great point of talking to my cats from kittenhood onward, and very soon they have come to know the different tones of my voice. All my cats have talked back to me, and most of them have started to do so almost at once. This initial conversation does make a great different in a cat’s life … ” Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald.

See you on-screen, the new salutation …

Ellen

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