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The Falmouth Hotel

I am not as I have been — Benedict, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, me after six years sans Jim

Friends,

A tout a l’heure. A first photo ahead of time. I’ll be going to Cornwall, starting out May 13th in the afternoon and flying home the 22nd to arrive mid-afternoon. A second time.  friend who will be on the tour with me (I met him last year on the Road Scholar tour to the Lake District and Border country) sent me the promotional photo. Falmouth Hotel, first built 1865, with chateau-style architecture and surrounded by lawn and gardens. A seafront location. I don’t know how I’ll manage to imagine Verity Poldark here … But I can imagine tonight the people who will be on the tour, older middle class people. I have checked out all the places we will visit in Cornwall against a map of the place and will bring a map with me so I can know where things are relative to one another.

I have at long last been diligently reading my books on Cornwall, finishing those half way through, looking at those I’ve finished, trying to make it all vivid in my mind so I have the place and its history fresh in my mind – I will take with me a Daphne DuMaurier novel (Jamaica Inn?), Graham’s Warleggan (Poldark 4), I’m still hoping that Peter Maxted’s The Natural Beauty of Cornwall (he is one of the two Road Scholar leaders) will have come in time. I might best enjoy Bate’s book on Shakespeare, Soul of the Age! (I loved his Future Learn lectures, 1-3, 4-8) but my copy is a heavy hard-back, a beautiful book, but can I lug it? I admit the book that got me through the Lake District last year was a hard-back, beautiful book, Lucy Worseley’s Jane Austen at Home.

One of the real reasons I go away is this way I am with people doing things, looking at the world from a safe vantage provided by Road Scholar and I have gone in August twice because there is no teaching at the OLLIs and most events going on in DC and here in Virginia come to an end, or occur at night and it is so hot here, just about impossible to go out. Looking at the Road Scholar itineraries I found many places don’t have an August set of dates and that was true of Cornwall and I did want to go for the sake of this Poldark project of mine. (That seems to me ironic — and also indicate Road Scholar types don’t worry about when in the year they go. I would have thought August was a vacation time.) So I am making do with mid-May.

All Road Scholar three trips have been to the UK not only based on what I have read but because Jim and I went there once and I’ve wanted to go again or he and I never made it (Lake District). Another motivating force is each year to return to the UK where I met and married and first lived with Jim. England and the countries on these isles have a strong nostalgic memory meaning for me which I’m renewing each year. It’s like I’m going back to him, to where what happiness in life that I’ve know started in England with him in Leeds. “This is where.”


Jim would have picked out this from a book shelf: see John Betjeman at St Enodoc Church, Cornwall

Come on! Come on! This hillock hides the spire.
Now that one and now none. As winds about
The burnished path through lady’s-finger, thyme,
And bright varieties of saxifrage,
So grows the tinny tenor faint or loud
All all things draw toward St. Enodoc.

Where deep cliffs loom enormous, where cascade
Mesembrynthemum and stone-crop down,
Where the gull looks no larger than a lark
Hung midway twixt the cliff-top and the sand,
Sun-shadowed valleys roll along the sea,
Forced by the backwash, see the nearest wave
Rise to a wall of huge, translucent green
And crumble into spray at the top
Blown seaward by the land-breeze. Now she breaks
And in an arch of thunder plunges down
To burst and tumble, foam on top of foam,
Criss-crossing, baffled, sucked and shot again,
A waterfall of whiteness, down a rock,
Withot a source but roller’s furthest reach:
And tufts of sea-pink, high and dry for years,
Are flooded out of ledges, boulders seem
No bigger than a pebble washed about
In this tremendous tide. Oh kindly slate!
To give me shelter in this crevice dry.
These shivering stalks of bent grass, lucky plant,
Have better chance than I to last the storm.
Firm, barren substrate of our windy fields! …


19th century church: St Enodoc, Trebetherick, North Cornwall: Betjeman may be buried here?

And I’ve not given up my dream of a study of Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, working title now, A Matter of Genre.

Speaking of travel, or at least navigation, my garmin is fixed! working again. The man I found to fix it said I must treat it far more gently, and I will. In the meantime I’ve made some progress in learning to use Waze. I now know (more or less) how to get to “where to.” Izy and I did this on Sunday using the Waze to get to the supermarket. But alas I cannot figure out how to shut Waze off. The voice carried on telling me of road conditions.  It kills me how people will persist in saying this or that in electronics or digital things are so easy. They never are to me. I have no intuition and when I do something I must do it several times before the sequence of motions sticks in my head. I assure you I had my heart in my mouth as I drove to the place and tried to find this man without benefit of GPS (though I had taken a mapquest map).

But I now do have two working GPSs!  So one to use and a back up. I should get lost less often and have courage to try again to get to Politics & Prose Bookstore when I come home from Cornwall. I have become a member. I see they have mini-courses all year round, staggered across August too. I shall keep an eye out for a course I might enjoy and try it.

Laura told me over dinner (see below) that the pizza place next door is a where a wild myth about Hilary Clinton and child-trafficking occurring in a basement emerged in brains of impoverished crazed white Americans — Jim and I went there several times after hearing lectures at Politics & Prose — for pizza and to watch a classic movie playing on in a screen above the tables — one lecture I remember by Colm Toibin, who disappointed Jim; Jim had not yet learnt to compromise when you go to a fine author’s lecture for the public generally …

I am told one is paid to teach the courses there, and can see from the site that the people who teach there include people like myself, and I suspect a course once a month or four times over a month on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet might be welcome and go over very well. A new goal … I am well into Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and reading it with the Italian of Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta under the English text. A profound text.


From the film of My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Lenu reading Little Women together (I carry on with Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality about 19th century women writers & artists, two of whom are Louisa May & May Alcott)

I just finished teaching Trollope’s CYFH? and in the class where the institution encourages people in the class to provide an honorarium in cash, I cleared $300. A card with many generous thank yous. At the OLLI at Mason, the last class went very well too. In both I again had my Macbook pro laptop and showed clips from the Pallisers, using the cursor and a scroll along the frame of the in-built DVD, good talk after. The Mason group appeared genuinely interested in my Enlightenment: At Risk course. So I will have plenty of cash to take with me, and I will bring Andrew Curran’s Diderot, or the Art of Writing, at least one book by one of my Booker Prize Short and Short listed books (the course I’ll teach at OLLI at AU in June) authors, perhaps Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 and 1/2 chapters.

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Wednesday was Isobel’s 35th birthday, and so an anniversary for me who gave birth to her too. Yesterday I remembered how on my 35th birthday Jim sent me Johnson’s poem to Hester Thrale:

On her completing her Thirty-fifth Year

OFT in danger, yet alive,
We are come to thirty-five;
Long may better years arrive,
Better years than thirty-five.
Could philosophers contrive
Life to stop at thirty-five,
Time his hours should never drive
O’er the bounds of thirty-five.
High to soar, and deep to dive,
Nature gives at thirty-five.
Ladies, stock and tend your hive,
Trifle not at thirty-five;
For, howe’er we boast and strive,
Life declines from thirty-five;
He that ever hopes to thrive
Must begin at thirty-five;
And all who wisely wish to wive
Must look on Thrale at thirty-five.

I didn’t send it to Izzy because she would not understand it — instead I sent her a lovely Jacquie Lawson card — it looked like a 19th century book illustration in black, white and greys and ivory colors and is gradually filled with colorful flowers, music En Bateau from Petite Suite by Claude Debussy.

I replaced a broken frame and put a photo taken of Jim and I two mornings after we had met, had come together and were living for a week in an attic flat in Leeds. I then realized that in my sun-room I have no picture of him, so now it stands on a medium bookcase where I can see it from my chair as I read. The way we were:


I am just 22, and he is 20. As I look at myself I see the same face that appears in my profile picture. Much smoother, rounder, high cheek bones but the same face, also my hands are the same. Just the color hair. Mine is grey-white now.

But he lost that sweet boy look soon after we came to live in NYC, so well before his thirties. His face no longer so round and flat, his beard much fuller. His very skin color lost the whiteness; I have some intimate photos of him looking very gentle but am unwilling to share these; one close up shows the same features in a face altered by 8 years in another culture:

Tonight we went with Laura and her husband, Rob, to dinner on Friday to Izzy’s favorite restaurant, the Olive Garden on Columbia Pike. The meal delicious, the place comfortable and pretty, we had some cheerful talk — about Laura’s trip to Chicago this spring. She was surprised by the intense cold and wind. The restaurant gives so much (yummy) food that I, Laura, and Rob brought home 3/4s of what was on our plates.

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This Gorey drawing with colors is the April picture in my desk datebook, and now that April’s done and we are into May rains, I share it here: a fair metaphoric representation of humanity too. I have all five Gorey books — Jim enjoyed these enormously.

Thus I conclude on my two beloved cat companions.

One sign of how ClaryCat is now middle-aged is how she now sits or lays calmly in her catbed by an open window which has an awning overawning it, which has 2 bird nests on its inner shelves. Eggs and a momma sparrow with occasional visits of papa appear seasonally. When Clary was young, she be all over Jim’s desk (on which the catbed lays) in hectic excitement, trying to reach the birds and knock down things. Now she sits there and makes little whimpering or squeeky noises. Very alert. She looks out and sees a great deal from that window of interest to her: other birds, squirrels, she follow noises. But just sitting now — staid. She also stretches out luxuriating in the sun in my sunroom for considerable half hours — something she didn’t do when younger. She murmurs at me as we go through our days and nights together. So does Ian when he first turns up (after periodic hiding) again. “Here I am again,” he is saying; he comes up to my chair sometimes and puts his paw on my arm. I’ve read that cats do not instinctively make noise to communicate — it’s their long association with people that prompts this way of communicating.


Clarycat

I so love my Clarycat.

Often when I’m about to go out and I find her latest trophy toy (the tiny mouse has disappeared), a sock with catnip in it (long gone) laid over my shoes. Nowadays she puts this sock where I am or have been just or where something I’ve just worn or read is. She will trot about with it in her mouth, making crying sounds to get my attention, before she puts it down. Just as she used to, her little mouse. Above is a photo of her on the other side of my computer before she stretched out in the patch of white light sun to sleep.

I look at their bodies and see (from books) what are signs of middle-agedness — they are in their early 50s. A pouch; they are no longer that graceful or agile as they run. His face is funny colored and longer. Well look at me — remember the opening of Persuasion; we don’t want to be like Sir Walter, do we? and not realize how old we get. Ian still loves to play and his favorite time is just before supper; he waits by a colorful string attached to a kind of funnel, murmurs at me, and I take it and he wrestles and plays until he has had enough.

They are also wiser, mature in their interactions with me and so am I with them. I shall miss them while I am gone, and they me.


Ian, his latest favorite place high on the cabinets where he can see me and thinks I cannot see him (like Snuffalupagus)

In the long days and nights, my cats’ murmuring at me or meowing in a talking way and my talking in English back to them breaks the silence — mornings I use my ipad and listen to the Pete Seeger channel, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, but just as often Nanci Griffiths or Mary Chapin Carpenter with other women singing country.

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Just before going to bed, I’m watching Andrew Davies’s magnificent Middlemarch (1994) — having finished his Doctor Zhivago (2001). Zhivago done in by war, revolution, his own susceptibility to tenderness and integrity. My favorite line was his stubborn reiteration that what he wanted to do with his life, his hours, was what he could do with it best: be a doctor and write poetry. Leave him alone to do what he can that a few others might value in the world.

I had forgotten the story of Lydgate to some extent: the thwarting of all his hopes to do some real extensive good in the world, to be a scientist, the political and career angle of the book. Davies brings this home so poignantly — also the story of Farebrother. I had also forgotten just how truly masterly is this earlier film adaptation. It is so detailed in the speeches, and they are so intelligently done and pointed. Middlemarch stands out as a high standard: fully intelligent believable thought, these truly well and carefully studied, integrated scenes of several complicated human presences at once are not what’s wanted any more. My midnight project is to go through everyone of Andrew Davies’s films.


Douglas Hodge as Lydgate: young, eager, unbowed — come to think of it like Yuri in Zhivago, he dies relatively young – so here is the pull, why Davies lit on this pair


Juliet Aubry as Dorothea hard at work on plans for cottages for workers

I also read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing bit by bit (after seeing YouTubes of his famous series) and fretted that I am going away for false reasons, allured by publicity pictures of un-reality, desirous not to be left out of this other (luminous?) world. But Pas de fantasie? Last words read by me on some nights putting out the light are words of sex reverie from an Outlander volume.

Ellen

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by Vanessa Bell (I do not know who this is she paints -click on the image to make it  much larger)

Because there’s nothing better than good wine come along.

“Cutters cover,” she said. What an extraordinary phrase, how disrespectful. It was said in a class on August Wilson’s Two Trains Running …. ” by a self-described retired family therapist. I looked over at her from the other side of the room. I had been talking of Risa, the one female character, an African-American woman working in a tiny restaurant as sole cook and dish-washer, comes into work in a dress or skirt that shows how she has cut up her legs. We are not told how, or with what? razor? knife? or what the patterns. I had (I hoped) tried explain that Risa was “practicing self-harm” in order to protect herself, carving out private space in public by doing something which would put other people off. Asserting some autonomy, some self-ownership inside this space, from which she cooked and served others too (including a man who appears to be unable to speak more than one demand over and over). You can make fun: the liberating path of self-abuse, anyone? I also Risa said was a Victorian heroine when the class teacher declared Risa is an “angel.” Shades of Esther Summerson. I talked of self-negation as offering peace.

But then I made the same mistake as I did in the first class where I had talked of self-negation as a way to find some space, escape pressure, and find yourself, by offering the concrete example of anorexia. This for a third time now diverted minds who had not taken in what I said, and a woman was speaking suddenly about her daughter once anorexic but “now all cured.” She began to assert herself over what I was saying about anorexia as an example of misunderstood self-harm as someone who knew nothing of anorexia, so I interrupted with “I was anorexic for five years, weighed 78 pounds.” That stopped her for some seconds, but then she had the floor because I had interrupted her. I rejoined talking of Pazzoli’s study of the family context and a comment one is never cured. I wanted to say “how comforting for you to think she’s all ‘cured.'” But I knew that would be too aggressive.

Then the first woman went back to talking of “cutters” and how Risa doesn’t “cover.” I still don’t know why that was so important: it was as if she wanted to exclude Risa. In a previous class, she said of another black woman character, Beatrice in Wilson The Piano Lesson, a widow, who will not sell her piano as it is an important relic from her past with her murdered husband, “she’s frozen” — she’s not working it out. Working what out? No she’s not frozen, she’s profoundly alive and feelingful.

There’s a limit to how much I want to say about myself in this class. On that last go-round I had said I’m a widow myself; I have to preserve my emotional safety so I said nothing about my personal knowledge of self-harm practices.

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Life has moved on since the last time I wrote. We are coming to the end of spring term and soon (all too soon) I will be gone for altogether 8 days on a Road Scholar trip to Cornwall. Alas it does interfere with two last classes at OLLI at AU and one party-luncheon I like to go to. I won’t go away in mid-May again. But I’ve my two summer courses to teach all set (OLLI at Mason, “The Enlightenment: At Risk?” again, and at OLLI at AU a new version of Booker Prize books, this time short and short listed, for a four week course).

I’ve had a sort of break-through: kind emails from people in my Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? class made suggestions for me on what I could teach in future, and one citing Ivy Compton-Burnett (impossible, I can’t read her as cold and her format of strict dramatic dialogue too flat for me) made me remember mid-20th century novelists and poets I used to teach as I was just then reading (for my Graham project) Grahame Greene’s brilliantly nihilistic Ministry of Fear and now I think to do a course pairing Graham Greene’s Heart of the Matter with Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, two profound novels covering civil, colonialist wars, the profound sorrows of 20th century life and two novellas by them, his Monsignor Quixote (I used to teach this wonderfully ironic text of debate regularly) with her A Time Away (travel book dreaming Rome). I must move beyond the 18th and 19th centuries to material I can teach, love and (who knows or I hope with) appeal to others. (Two other possible authors are George Orwell and Lillian Hellman as a pair, say Homage to Catalonia and Scoundrel Time — such a class would be far more politically pointed).

I’ve had some good experiences outside these places (e.g., Poldark at the Smithsonian, a Jane Austen study day, 4 very high level papers I must write up soon), been out a couple of times for lunch with good people, friends. I did try to persuade Izzy to go with me on Tuesday nights to Gadsby Tavern where they actually do Longways 18th century style country dancing but she does not want it, and my eyes are bad at night driving. I was told about it at that Jane Austen Study day. This morning I’ve decided to try to go myself. We’ll eat early; it’s not far, I know the roads well, it will be light going. The thing is I like to dance, it’s not that far away (in Old Town, so 5 minutes by car and then I park), not attached to a religious group (wow, how unusual), for free, anyone can come (I don’t need to know anyone!). If the people are too young, or I’m uncomfortable in any way, I can just leave early and not go again. If it’s fun, I could try again. Nothing to lose. I’ve never been inside Gadsby’s Tavern.

A friend suggested going to Politics and Prose and seeing if I could teach there — a wonderful bookstore still (buying a good book in my local area has become as difficult as it was in the suburbs of NYC in the 1950s — not only is medicine affected by monopolies). I have enough on my plate, DC far away, tempting as it sounded. I’d be paid … The thing is I am “into” these two places and would not be able to make time to teach a third. I’ve have to give up one and even for money that’s hard for me. It’s so hard to integrate even as far as I’ve managed. But I’ll look. I could try to take a course if it’s not at night. To begin with. My friend is taking a course on Hannah Arendt and he had a Penguin edition of her books that impressed me; he talked of a course where they would read 3 short Diderot texts! where would you find that? I will look on the website and see if I can fit a course in. It needs to be during the day. I need to practice getting there. Finally I need to learn to park. Not impossible obstacles.

I am already reading too many books, articles, sheer texts, watching too many movies, posting too much at one time – loving much of what I get to, but not enough time to finish and write, to get through enough at a time on a single topic thoroughly.

So I asked myself earlier to day, I have to make up my mind what I want to do with my life, and then immediately said to myself, wait, you are 72. Isn’t it a bit late to be deciding. Maybe I should rather give over and stop hoping to produce a book and not worry if I am insufficiently focused …


Nonetheless, trying to fit this in: what happened to American cultural groups who came back to live in London (enslaved people often did manage to free themselves in the higgedy-piggledy of life) — she is a superb writer. I learned about it in a course said to be on British perspective on American revolution ….

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I have had good news: my liver is declared “free of hepitatis C” after a thorough ultrasound. I had been getting impatient not drinking any alcohol, no pills or powder to help against constipation and begun to give in and drink a small glass of wine now and then, and relieve myself once a week.


My favorite along with Shiraz

I have learned something new from my experience: why wine has been around for thousands of years. As I’ve written (too often, but a new reader can land here & people need more to be reminded than informed &c&c), I was diagnosed with hepitatis C four months ago now, and have been taking a pill a day for over 2 and 1/2 (8 days to go) which is costing the US taxpayer (you my friends) $38,000. Yes that’s the obscene egregious ransom for epclusa (it’s called). It makes me headachy, tired, my bones ache, I sleep deeply, but Epclusa seems to have worked — it’s said to have a cure rate of 97%. My doctor said that’s why it costs to much. “Not it’s not,” I said; they do it because they can charge that and no one in congress makes a move to stop them” (well generally several democrats are saying they will institute a single payer system and maybe that will stop this stinging robbery and deprivation of those who are not hooked into some good insurance plan). He made a mild protest but did not speak any more of why the pills cost so much. He did though agree with me that what most Americans seem to drink — if 4 rows of “juice” and “drinks” in a typical supermarket tell us anything.

I have been trying for nearly 3 months to find a substitute for wine beyond coffee, tea, water. What I have discovered is on sale in the US supermarkets of various types is carbonated chemically- flavored highly sugared water, sometimes flavored with concentrate so the manufacturer can call the liquid inside some of the metal cans and plastic bottles “juice.”

Who could drink such crap? Not me. I have found about 5 or 6 real juices in bottles: tomato, prune, pineapple, grapefruit, pear (nectar it’s called). Each made by one manufacturer. I can’t drink prune juice with supper. I have discovered how detestable is coca-cola, and the sodas with carcinogenic sweeteners are sickening. So I returned to wine sops (bread dipped in wine and sucked) as if this were the 18th century for the later afternoon. I have no teeth and can’t do any harder fruit, only soft cheese, soft butter pound cake, soft butter cookies. My doctor told me there are people when told they can eat oranges or some other real citrous fruit but must stay away from the supermarket “juices” can’t understand it. They don’t realize they are not drinking juice from their “juicy-juice” bottles.

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One of the rooms in the bnb Laura rented

Not much of a diary entry, my friend. As spring arrived, I found I missed the perpetual close companionship I had with Jim — looking around and seeing so many who seem to have this in some form or other. I find I crave just that and there is no substitute for its loss.

Izzy and I did not do anything in particular — we hardly ever do for most holidays (Winter solstice holiday days and evenings have been the exception). When Jim was alive in late spring he’d drive us to some vast extent of land, once a plantation, where fox-hunting clubs hold point-to-point races while the foxes breed. They hold elite gatherings in fancy tents drinking champagne and having elegant or American-style hot-dog picnics. The hoi polloi can come in by another gate, for $10 a car and have picnics on the lower ground near the race track. Everyone can bet. Everyone can buy souvenirs in the place where peddlers sell wares of all sorts.

But Laura came over and we planned a new trip: the three of us go to Northern France, we rented a bnb that is just about on the beach of Calais for late August early September, bought the plane tickets so it’s a done deal. We plan to have “stretchings” (Laura calls it) and have day trips (using chunnel) to London, Paris, and the environs here. Jim and I were here and I know it’s Proust countryside too. Izzy is more cheerful than I have seen her in a long time, positively buoyant. I will probably have photos as Laura is very good at taking photos. I took down old CD French lessons and going through them once again.

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Strictly keeping myself to citing just one and one I’ve not cited before or for a long time: Just now most meaningful to me is Ann Goldstein’s translation of Elena Ferrante’s Those who leave and those who stay. I’m that riveted that I bought it in Italian and hope to begin reading the Italian with the English beneath as a crib as soon as my Italian text arrives. I carry on moving through the films of Andrew Davies and having wept and marveled at his Bleak House, am up to his Dr Zhivago.


Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) mourned over, rock by Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin)

Ellen

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From inside the parasol of petals


Bird watching

Dear friends,

What I remember best from last weekend were the traffic jams, the three hours on Saturday it took Izzy and I to get to and from the Folger, in order to attend (10 minutes late because we had a helluva time finding parking and finally getting into a tiny spot) the spring Folger concert. I am relieved to be able to say it was worth it once again: an oasis of Elizabeth song and instrumentals: they had a Renaissance Band, Piffaro, using all sorts of older instruments (including bagpipes), a soprano with a achingly beautiful voice (harmony itself, and projected many moods. It’s the lack of commercialism, of hoop-la, no microphones, the quietude that is so appealing. The exhibit was about food and chefs, and it was salutary to see the perspective was one centered on the people who worked hard to produce a variety of yummy foods, and got very little of what they grew, picked, cooked, preserved, wrote about in recipe books.

Izzy was not deterred, for on Sunday she braved the crowded Metro and walked herself and her trusty cell phone to the tidal basin, and above are two of her photos; below two more


From a distance


With people

I stayed home and fretted over my garden; after paying Rosemont too much and monthly payments, they still cannot be bothered to start coming again, so finally I fired them — and within a minute got an email of them thanking me for my business (relieved to be relieved of it), and phoned my faithful Mr Sotha. The next day his crew came, cleaned up the grounds, mowed, mulched. He must’ve been taken aback when after years of coming here, I began to hire someone new: that was only because I couldn’t figure out what plants to buy or where. The Rosemont people took my neighbor’s ridiculously expensive “plan” for me (meaning to put it into execution) and just bought the flowering bushes, and did make a start. Now Mr Sotha will be back to care for my garden bi-monthly once again, with the difference I am asking him to do the gardening too. He didn’t mind. After much effort (two trips, finding a young man who helped us skip a very long line in Home Depot and put the tree in the car for us), Izzy and I brought home a new tree, my gay neighbor had the strength to pull it out of said car and put it near where Mr Sotha had left the mulch, I phoned, and within a couple of hours, this is the result:


New baby tree

Nothing of course as yet to the pink magnolia tree which hangs from my other neighbor’s house into my garden near my workroom


I never knew what it was — I called it a pink tulip tree until someone told me there is no such thing

I was twice to the Folger, for on Thursday I went again, to a special event for members: at 6:30 pm, they screened Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, and then we had a genuinely intelligent discussion of the play and how it was made into a movie, plus how it fits into Shakespeare’s other plays of violent politically ambitious men: it is unusual in not having a figure of integrity (or attempted integrity, say Brutus) or sanity and humor (say Hal against Hotspur) or wit and humanity (Anthony against Octavius) to match the man of blood and insane militarism. I did say one of the courses I’m attending is one on Lear and the Tempest (the AU OLLI).


Both of these for the colors on the waters and in the sky

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play

I use Shakespeare’s deeply felt poetry as a widow’s poem … Another long-term scholarly friend’s husband died during these weeks, and I spent some time with her.

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I have had another of my desolating losses: this time a long-time Internet friend; again I was wholly unprepared for her decision to drop me, so did not pick up on her attempts to pick a quarrel nor read the subtext of her comments on how much she needed tranquillity after her trip (I had thought she wanted me to write to her) and solitude, but finally I did realize she had developed a granular dislike of me — or thinks I’m a kind of fool who wants to hear from her or others they are like me.  Nonsense nor do I want to be like her (she’s a religious person) or have what she has. I can’t and don’t recognize names of prestigious schools (nor care about them in my life as just beyond me) so when I showed I did not remember that she had gone to one as an undergraduate, she was annoyed. Maybe she thought “see I pay no attention  to her.” I am tired or her condescension to me (I’m now endlessly having to apologize when I have said nothing wrong or untrue or have been misunderstood quite quickly, with sudden hard slaps). Of her narrow definitions of various states of mind or conditions that don’t of course touch her. It may be she saw that she had no interest for real in a project towards publication I had proposed — very unlikely we’d get anyone to publish a book of essays by us. So there is nothing to be gained from me. She has no interest in these group readings together or the discussions, especially when no one appears to see her points. It was a bad sign that when she’d come to this part of the US she never tried to visit me, not so much as mentioned this as a possibility.

This kind of loss happens every couple of years for me. Recently I read an essay which suggested this kind of behavior is common, and in a book by Liz Pryor this is the way women typically end friendships! Maybe.  When the woman does write a frank good-bye it is often harsh, and the actuating motive seems often to be the one is tired of the other person or the other person is not optimistic enough for them or just does not realize she is an irritant. Gets the leaver down.

Yet oddly enough I am down to one friend locally (meaning someone to go out with and visit) and yet am not eager to spend time with her as I know we are not really suited. Nor a man I have now dated a few times — others might see the occasions as date-like.  I have yet to keep that promise to myself and live on myself, my books and writing and projects, and distant friends, continual rounds of pleasant acquaintances when the OLLIs are in session. You’d think I’d learn. I did feel rotten, and bleak, dark spirited for a few days, but growing inured by time, remind myself I am freer, no need to spend quality time writing real letters which I now know were unwanted. I talked with another much longer on-line friend (who I have met in person three times now) about this and that helped.  Let it go said he.  Carry on.  As time passes I find maybe I will now know the relief of silence and not being put in the position of misunderstanding while it’s she who is the narrow dogmatist (is that the word).

I ask myself, what would be the crushing blow? I’ve had one: Jim’s death, from which there is no genuine recovery as to have that I’d have had to live my life utterly differently. Another would be if Izzy were decide to move. I must not depend on anyone so will try to find an inexpensive time away for myself in August using Road Scholar.

So back to my Graham book project (which is coming along, as I’ve now hit on a better Dashiell Hammett kind of book by him, though with another creepy title: Fortune is a Woman). Here I watched for the first time with real interest the famous Maltese Falcon, and observed the sardonic humor of Bogart & weird hilarity over death in Peter Lorre, and was astonished at the way no one talks of how repeatedly the weepy sentimentally gushing women in these turn out to be cold-blooded promiscuous liars and how they are humiliated and punished.


Bogart as the sardonic witty Spade


That’s an imagined image of Louisa May Alcott

I’ll alternate my Anomaly project with other books by women, other studies, and just subjects that are taking my interest (Henry VII from Shadow of the Tower, I’ve gotten a superb book, Thomas Penn’s Winter King and watched his equally astute hour-long Prime video twice). I’m working up a blog on American women writers of the 19th century seeking to create serious art, live independently from another fine book Anne Boyd Rioux’s Writing for Immortality.


Penn and the death mask of the actual Henry VII


as performed with quiet brilliance by James Maxwell — here he talks to the young boy Lambert Simnel, relieved to be made a servant in the kitchen; he does not like being king “so very much” after all. “Like me perhaps?” the king inquires.

Mornings I’m joining in more with discussions of the Poldark and Outlander books on face-book pages. This summer I’ll take an excursion into two biographies of Vittoria Colonna and write a serious review and make a good blog of it. Another old friend, Italian, now living on the island of Ischia suddenly wrote to say how this had come about and remarked too: “the Castello Aragonese has undergone some extensive renovations and restorations in the last decade or so. It now hosts cinema viewings during the Ischia Film Festival, has two restaurants each with a spectacular view, a hotel converted from a monastery, two museums one of art work another of medeval torture devices, and new walkways and gardens. Many can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16T6Do7XXsQ&t=130s. Had I world enough and time and could bear the loneliness, I’d stay home re-teach myself to read Italian and read all Ferrante in the original (I am near through her The Story of a New Name). I shall have to look at Road Scholar and see if they have a tour which includes Ischia.

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Perhaps worth remarking: my essay, “Teaching 18th century texts to retired adults in Oscher Institutes of Lifelong Learning” has been published in the latest Intelligencer (an 18th century newsletter periodical for EC/ASECS) and this morning as I prepared the first of two sets of notes/lectures to teach Can You Forgive Her? with, it has struck me I have 29 people in one class and 31 in the other. Most come, most do the reading. Many participate and talk about the book. At least a few do read the essays I occasionally send out by attachment (like Levine’s “‘Can You Forgive Him?’ & the myth of realism,” and Henry’s “Rushing into Eternity:” Finance, Suicide [and murder] in Victorian novels [especially Trollope’s]. I find this remarkable — people between ages 60 and 85 mostly. I doubt they are coming for me. Worth noting on behalf of Trollope?


Clarycat and Ian in my sunroom: I have decided I love this almost furniture-less room, just one comfortable chair for me, two tables and a rocking chair with pretty blankets and pillow for the kitties — otherwise an assortment of what counts and what is needed …

Izzy and I and our cats carry on our home lives together too. I like to watch them so alertly looking out the window. She works on a new song.

Ellen

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“Daffodils/That come before the swallow dares, and take/The winds of March with beauty” … aka spring. Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (Act 4), once my favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays: I once taught it.

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve rewritten, re-framed this blog so as to give it an adequate framework: recuperating the self:

Get leave to work/In this world — ’tis the best you get at all — Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1853-56).

This morning I took this photograph of some of the daffodils in my front garden — under the miniature maple tree not yet in bloom …. There are other circles of tiny daffodils on both sides of the house (two circles of flowers and bushes are there), and there are some tiny white crocuses in another part of this circle under the tree, and tiny buds here and there in all the plants that survived and have now popped up green … To me they are living images of hope and each individually has delicate beauty.

I need to see them this way.


The British are not the only group of people being forced to leap into risk

For these past two weeks I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that the externals of life have hit me hard: I have been rightly terrified over the coming plane trip since I am flying Southwest: we now know that added to egregious abuse of passengers to wring the last dime out of them, planes are being rebuilt to hold more people and things and thus becoming unsafe.  Then I was reeling after coming home from the AARP having made out my tax forms and uncovered an unexpected and large tax bill such that I must change my withholding on my monthly annuity and social security checks so as to live on less from here on and pay it bit-by-bit over the year. I am floored by the online boilerplate and relieved my financial adviser has promised really to help me do this when I get back from my trip. The obscenely expensive pills for hepitatis C are working (no sign of the infection in the latest tests) but I’m tired, head-achy (have again scraped my car badly), but each night sleep more deeply than I’ve down for years, except when waked by anxiety-dreams stemming from the coming trip- and conference-ordeal, these renewed money fears.

Ian also has had a hard time recovering, in his case from the new cleaning team, with their loud machines and quick work, now here twice and left a truly clean house (for the first time in years my windows are clean); it won’t do to think about the sums this switch cost me. The business is run by women and only works the first 2/3s of each workday.


After a many hour disappearance, walking about so lightly that his bell did not tinkle: he hoped to escape notice and at first would not eat or drink.

So where to find that peace and trust I can live out what future I’ve left in my quiet ways in this house.

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


L. Scott Caldwell, left, and Shinelle Azoroh in Gem of the Ocean in Costa Mesa.

Well throwing myself into what I am capable of succeeding at doing, and thus enjoying. This past two weeks I have taught/led a class of some 23 retired adults reading (apparently with real enjoyment) Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and myself as a class member felt new interest in rereading the first three acts of King Lear and watching the 2008 Ian McKellen version (director Trevor Nunn, with outstanding performances by the actresses playing Goneril and Regan) and the 2016 Anthony Hopkins (director Richard Eyre, with outstanding performances by too many to mention). Despite the cutting, the Hopkins-Eyre one is the vastly superior by original direction and Hopkins’s performance). I’m stunned by Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner Come & Gone, only beginning to realize the lack of fundamental safety, security, ability to accumulate, and radically de-stablized relationships and lives this causes — a journey through the century from an African-American perspective. With my two list communities, I’m reading EBB’s Aurora Leigh, which I know I ought to be more affected than I am, and Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart, which, by contrast, I’m having a visceral personal response to the point I find myself blaming the heroine for not caring enough about her children, for in effect abandoning them, while on what seems a sort of whim at first, she pursues a divorce.

Wednesday I leave for Denver, Colorado, to endure a three-day conference on the 18th century (ASECS) and have my paper, “After the Jump:” Winston Graham’s use of documented facts and silences,” down to 19 minutes. Winston Graham has taken up much of my time therefore, with intervals filled by absorption (when I can) with Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart. I’ve added Somerset Maugham as an author who would shed light on Graham’s peculiar story of a blind man in internecine post-WW2 southern France (the hero stalks a heroine of the resistance), Night Without Stars, and am into Jeremy Poldark, a deeply melancholy troubled yet loving book once again. I now see that the murdered young woman in his Take My Life (I understand the title as a cry of the soul) and this heroine as seeking safety, the first women was destroyed by cruelty, meanness, the tunneled ambition of a schoolmaster; the second rescued as a fellow disabled person to return to quietude in a quiet corner of England. I came to this by watching a modern so-called “thriller:” In a Better World: To call it a thriller is so wrong, it’s hilarious: The film brings out the trauma underlying some thrillers which the thriller distorts in order to sell widely, and there are authors who appear not quite to understand the fundamental groundwork of such texts. I must write this up separately.

I’ve gone on to the intelligent Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies (which begins in the 19th century and takes the story to the 21st) and Ann Rioux’s Writing for Immortality, on four American women writers whose determination to write well for the sake of their art will be explicated as a fight for self-esteem and creating works of integrity, so am now eager to include at least one 19th century American women writer amid my Anomaly women. When I read Traister, I realize I am somewhat compensating for the loss of Jim: in small ways I am learning to live the way she has, learning about a world outside my coupled life. It is as yet on the edges of my existence because I have not managed to hold onto friends or a group of friends locally. Throughout my life with Jim, though, if the truth be told I would have one girlfriend usually, a kind of best friend, and so this pattern is one I know, only now I see this in a different context. I know I am right to value my FB women friends (and men too). I understand Laura’s life choices better too.

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My solitude, my self … at night (when I write these blogs too, gentle reader)


Shadow of the Tower: Episode 4: The Serpent and the Comforter

I’m riveted nightly by yet another episode of the truly astonishing 1970 BBC multi-episode studio drama, The Shadow of the Tower, with James Maxwell — why is not this more famous? A blog will follow when I’ve gone through all 13 hours twice. I started it after it was recommended by an uneven Future Learn on the Tudors I’m following just now.

Episode 4 is a study of people about to burn alive a man who has a set of radical common sense beliefs — one guard becomes unwilling and realizes this is all wrong and so does the king but goes through with it — so it’s idealized but this allows for conversations between the man and guard and king. We don’t see the torture off stage as they attempt to make him recant — just hear it and it’s agonizing to hear and then see all the signs on the man’s body. The real thrust is to shove in our faces at length the deep inhumanity of man to man and also the fierce unreasoning religiosity of the era as a cover up for power plays and fierce demands for obedience to strict conformity. James Maxwell is brilliant as the king throughout the series: witty, somehow likable, warmly human in his closest relationships, subtly intelligent yet peevish, neurotic, but effective, slowly becoming a terrifying inexorable monster to others because he has been given such power

I am also nightly now making my way through all Andrew Davies’s films, beginning with deeply mourning from within as I sit up and feel with Claire Foy’s inch-by-inch agon as she copes with her half-mad neurotic father played by Tim Courtney. Half hour by hour I am her — as I am Lila and Lenu.

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On the Net, I’ve been stirred by the life and work of another woman artist, one I won’t write a blog for (as I would be wholly inadequate) but can here invite my readers to dwell in the Spitalfields bloggers’ essays: on Dorothy Rendell:


Dorothy Rendell, View from Standhead (1955)

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/an-exhibition-of-dorothy-ren…/

Then Stephen Watts, described as a poet and novelist, wrote about her art, the legacy of what’s left:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/the-legacy-of-dorothy-rendell/


Rendell, Studio Parrot (1960)

Now the gentle author preparing for a lecture, shares with us the Rendell’s drawings and illustrations:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/03/12/dorothy-rendells-london/

Her first (posthumous) solo exhibit:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/…/16/dorothy-rendells-solo-show/

The gentle author is pseudonymous; I originally assumed the writer is a woman, but recently I’ve become aware the writer is a man — he has begun to use a pronoun for himself. Also that more than one person writes this blog (Gillian Tindall has written here) — it’s astonishing high quality, frequency and point of view are all outstanding, but also the amount of knowledge displayed. Probably it’s find-out-able if I tried or asked someone who knows people who are part of real art worlds in London.

One we learned in another blog that a pub that has been on the site since the 17th century, with one period of total obsolescene and desuetude (between 1970s and 2000) is now to be razed and replaced with a hideous mall that will look like a thousand others

http://spitalfieldslife.com/20…/…/13/so-long-the-water-poet/

This touches me because in one of my periods of being alive I spent all my time reading and writing about the early modern Renaissance and 17th century. Anne Finch was a later 17th century poet who lived into the 18th century. This blog is or should be of interest to anyone interested in the long 18th century.

Most recently, at and on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry:

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/03/17/dorothy-rendell-at-whitechapel-bell-foundry/


Camille Cottage, Castle Hedingham with red chair (1970)

W.S. Merwin has died, and an FB friend pointed me and others to a New York Review of Books essay-review by Ange Mlinko on Merwin’s life and poetry as that of an whole earth troubadour, who learned his art by the humble practice of learning other languages and translating wonderful poetry in them. I liked this (though I taught myself Italian enough to read and to translate it, and now need to return to it and to French

There is nothing for you to say. You must
Learn first to listen. Because it is dead
It will not come to you of itself, nor would you
Of yourself master it. You must therefore
Learn to be still when it is imparted,
And, though you may not yet understand, to remember.

What you remember is saved. To understand
The least thing fully you would have to perceive
The whole grammar in all its accidence
And all its system, in the perfect singleness
Of intention it has because it is dead.
You can only learn one part at a time.

The ghost of a sestina (invented, they say, by the troubadour Arnaut Daniel) haunts these six-line stanzas, with their repetitions of individual words (though they don’t repeat mechanically at the ends of the lines, as they do in the sestina). What is repeated? Learn, dead, remember, understand. As the poem goes on, it repeats saved, intention, order, passion. Here is the fifth and final stanza:

What you remember saves you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but to hear what never
Has fallen silent. So your learning is,
From the dead, order, and what sense of yourself
Is memorable, what passion may be heard
When there is nothing for you to say.


Merwin in his last year of life

The question is, how to recuperate the self. Mlinko believes translation is the suppression of self and that in poetry at its finest we suppress the self, we make something from nothing tangible or new as I have done tonight: Guilhem IX’s “Farai un vers de dreit nien” (“Sheer nothing’s what I’m singing of”)

This reminds me of Virginia Woolf: she wanted Anne Finch to transcend herself. This is mistaken, or need to be put another way. We can never leave ourselves, but what we can do is throw off the attacks and pressures from all around us (the wolves of society) and recuperate by following our true bends with integrity. That is the work of a lifetime. Finding who we are, and as Pope said, following nature, our nature. Making what we can. Recuperating by flowering out. I can link August Wilson’s plays to Shakespeare’s this way too: although we do not know what was his private life, only that he is incarnate in his plays.


Dorothy Rendell, Jerena at Harry Gosling School (1960): recuperating the self — look how beautifully Rendell has caught the child’s hands, the textures of her jacket and skirt, her body inside them ….

I have taken to going to Evolution Home, a consignment shop for furniture where older things are rescued. I am making my home comfortable by buying appropriate (for my needs) tables, retro clocks, rugs, baskets for my library of DVDS (kindly sent by a friend so that I have such a collection of splendid wonderful movies, often BBC). Rearranging furniture, making corners for pretty things and where I do my work. All recuperating the self, having respect and concern for myself and what I see. I hope you don’t need photos of these, for there’s not much to see. It’s the inward experience behind such changes I’m trying to steady myself with.

Ellen

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She bought a new keyboard about three weeks ago now, and I hope you can hear the difference:

The song comes from a movie called Once, made a couple of musicians who made a movie about how they met and fell in love. John Carney, the film’s director built the movie around this song provided for him by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The song won an Oscar the year of the movie. They made a second album about dealing with fame. The third is about how they broke up.

Here are the words of the lyrics for “Falling Slowly:”

I don’t know you
but I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me and always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can’t go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I’m painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You’ll make it now

Falling slowly sing your melody
I’ll sing along

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This morning I was thinking about earlier stretches of my life. The phrase “long ago” is so common to my imagined conversation in my mind. So long ago Jim and I did this, Izzy would do that. I saw a child walk by from my window, on his back a carry-pack, shouldering a musical instrument. That once was Izzy going to junior high, to high school.

Last night (not atypical day and evening), alerted to it by a book on British TV costume drama I’d been reading, Conflicting Masculinities (one I sent a proposal for on Wolf Hall but was rejected, because I’m not a Brit, have no title or position in a university and my thesis was too much about deeper humanity and attributing the way men are presented in costume drama to an era), I watched Banished, a serial drama which was cancelled but is powerfully about one group of men destroying the manliness and humanity of another group, treating them like enslaved beasts; also showing how one group of people can be so cruel to another when no wider public eyes are upon them. Banished is a parable about how people in our modern societies are now pulverizing the poorer, vulnerable, ethnicities that are not in the majority among them, and refugees from countries these same groups of people are busy destroying so they can steal their natural resources. Unlike Poldark there is no fundamental place, home, knowledge of one another and known community whose interest it is to support one another they can turn to.

Yesterday during the day I read one third of an immensely sad novel, Crossing the River, nominated for the Booker (when it still didn’t accept imitative crap, hadn’t become a sheer advertisement mechanism), by Caryl Phillips. Crossing the River a related book about a white man sending a beloved black man who was enslaved in the US to Liberia (both die of grief as the people they are surrounded by live these punitive lives) made me realize what a fantasy of escape Outlander becomes in this story of Jamie and Claire and Ian making a secure home so readily (he is a wanted ex-convict). I also thought of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people. Phillips’s message is do anything but separate yourself from a beloved and send them somewhere where life is said to be better — all you are doing is breaking your two hearts. I’m drawn to Phillips: born in St Kitts, yet British, he grew up in Leeds, a place I did love.

Both together — serial drama and book — made me think of how I cling to this house as giving me some meaning and safety, not naked in the world among all these indifferent people, and a book about the Acadia diaspora when threatened by “ethic cleansing,”

“Falling slowly” is a song that cries out for help (as some tweets really do). In retrospect, its framing is a young couple who broke up.

It is March now, signs of spring — such a sweet moment from Emily Dickinson: No 1320, just the first stanza:

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell —

How I wish I could find a choir for Izzy to belong to. The only ones in my area are part of churches Izzy won’t go near — and she’s probably right not to, reactionary Catholicism she would be a very much outsider in all ways in. With that man I went out briefly with I saw an episcopal church, almost non-denominational, eucumenical, which had a poster looking for people to join their choir. A modern building, maybe enlightened people running the place. But it’s a 45 minute drive and would be at night so I can’t provide a way for her to get there, if I could get her to go. She did say yes when I showed her the place. Too far. But this is her home too.


Writing Last lines ….

Miss Drake

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Richard Hunt’s Swing Low — a bronze sculpture in the front hall of the African-American Museum, alluding to the song, which carries on “sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home … ”

I love this song, and sing it to myself sometimes thinking of Jim, changing it slightly: “if you get there before I do/Coming for to carry me home/tell yourself I’m coming too; bands of angels coming after …


Cosette finds Jean Valjean working as a peasant again, his death by her side — Andrew Davies’s Les Miserables, 2018, one of the finest film adaptations I’ve seen since his War and Peace and before that Peter Straughn’s Wolf Hall — the scenes of the revolt at the barricades are astonishingly grim, true, ferocious; he shows Hugo’s book centers on “the wretched of this earth” —

I thought of Hamlet; who would keep him in this harsh world to draw his breathe in pain …

Friends,

Another 10 days of winter passed, & few things maybe worth recording happened — living from the shelter of my mind.

A friend’s cat died, Andre by name, he was a rescue cat, now 20, and her grief and my memories aroused in me thoughts of what matters in life: the strength to be kind, to give of oneself and see the other and love and be loved; our non-human (non-talking, without hands) animal friends are so helpless against our convenience. I’ll ever regret I didn’t do by my actually beloved Llyr as I should have: my excuse Jim and my dire desperation at the time, but this will not do. She was able to bury her cat companion in her back yard so she can see his grave from her window and remember what was good. I realize why people when they lose beloved people want the bodies back, if only to protect them. I read to Laura when little Judith Viorst’s The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, where he lays under the flowers at book’s end; my favorite passage was the dream image of him in heaven with the other cats eating cans of tuna.


Clarycat this week; and Ian pussycat too

Email letters from a few friends, a long phone call from Panorea, whom I am relieved to say is doing well after the operation on her spine and we may yet go to Philadelphia Museums together this August as we dreamed of in December; Farideh found an old blog of mine, Sylvia I, 2002, which shows that after all I’ve not changed much.

On the blog I found this poem “from Desk,”by Marina Tsvetaeva, as translated by Elaine Feinstein:

(In a letter she wrote to Pasternak :my desk is kitchen table)

My desk , most loyal friend
thank you. You’ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.

My loaded writing mule.
Your tough legs have endured
the weight of all my dreams, and
burdens of piled-up thoughts.

Thank you for toughening me.
no worldly joy could pass
your severe looking-glass
you blocked the first temptation,

and every base desire
your heavy oak outweighed
lions of hate, elephants
of spite you intercepted.

Thank you for growing with me
as my need grew in size
I’ve been laid out across you
so many years alive

While you’ve grown broad and wide
and overcome me. Yes,
however my mouth opens
You stretch out limitless.

You are a pillar
of light. My source of Power!
You lead me as the Hebrews once
were led forward by fire.

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One of my holds on happiness this week was about 45 minutes of a class at OLLI at Mason where our subject was the texts of TS Eliot, read aloud by members of the group, by himself very ritualistically in a video from PBS (Visions), “The Hollow Men:” it’s a kind of modernization of Dante’s Inferno: favorite lines:

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
….

I had forgotten a line I often recited to my daughters upon leaving the house comes from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (“Oh do not ask what is it?/Let us go and make our visit … “) but my favorite remains: The Coming of the Magi:

That the high school teacher who was leading the class read accurate interpretations from slides, set forth like test answers (desperation, the aftermath of WW2), which she appeared to treat with a kind of philistine mainstream scepticism, drove made me pay attention to the poetry which did speak for itself.  How beautiful and haunting are his lines, the rhythms of them stay in the mind, on the pulses. Other people in the class made intelligent sympathetic observations too.

For the OLLI at AU, I read (skimmed) with a class who met 5 times (I came four) the whole of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I have little explanation for why this un-reconstructed misogynistic violent, atavistic romance material so attracts me, but it did again. I found myself making parallels with so much romance I see today (Outlander has the paradigms), remembering back to other Arthurian books and films I’ve read or experienced. Again a fellow class member seemed to have more true depths in his reading than the person serving as teacher, and allegorized the as “Civilization and Its Discontents:” we are watching so-called civilized (at least controlled ritualized) behavior fall apart into chaos as human nature moves into sheer self-destruction, perversions of natural feeling, or cruelty, obtuseness, ending in wild despair. Consider this engraving of “The Passing of Arthur by Frank Dicksee (1889):

Read with insight and truth to our real emotions, Tennyson can be said to anticipate T.S. Eliot (much influenced by him).

At OLLI at Mason, more brilliant moving sessions on Joyce’s Dubliners from Prof Michael Maloof, whose modernism puts stories of ordinary people into Eliot’s frame; a films about Vivian Maier, more poetry, Elizabeth Bishop.

Only connect ….

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Today the last day, 75 minutes at OLLI at Mason on the African-American Museum, which I know must go to. The docent described what is there, just remarkable, sobering, true, with the a better if neither fair nor good time in general in history, with a few genuine gains since Africans were no longer enslaved; the museum showcases culture too –so modern art, music, film, sport, and African-American 20th century culture. It took from 1915 when it was first audaciously proposed to 2015 to achieve this astonishing place; congress people were most of the time willing to approve, but not fund or do anything constructive: two of the movers were John Lewis and Oprah Winfrey. What a day that must have been on opening with the President himself and his wife, African-American. Not enough such good moments. I am half-planning to go all day Tuesday: it’s a trek, bus, train then walk. But February you can just walk in without pre-buying a timed ticket.

At home, I got back to my projects, the book on Winston Graham and the anomaly: I”m reading a very good historical fiction set in the 19th century by Graham, Cordelia (to be written about separately); and a moving account of Liberty: “A better husband,” single women in the US from 1780-1830 by Chambers-Schiller: inspiring she is, telling of the vocational life of women in the era, their valuing themselves gradually, their lives count, their gifts found fulfillment in reading, writing and also finding places in society where their desire to do good work was not just tolerated but allowed to do actual good, as in Emily Howland.

I watched Davies’s Les Miserables, all six parts, and will watch again in March — from DVDs made from the BBC airing while the PBS versions play on Sunday nights, how they rise up and are murdered for their efforts (as in Chile in the 1970s, as Trump and his vile mignons are readying to do in Venezuela, and he’s doing now on the borders of the US. I proposed to Trollope&Peers that in two summers we try Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris: I read it in French in my twenties and think we as a group have learned how to do long books that take effort and patience together. I’m half tempted to propose Les Miserables, but our list had a hard time with it years ago and gave it up; I know David Bellos’s book, Les Miserables: The Novel of the Century (he wrote an exciting book, truly, on translation I reviewed — Is that a fish in your ear?).  Bellos’s one of these autobiographical meditative reads of wonderful novels might get us through — after or together with Davies.

And I continue with Outlander nightly, solacing myself among its ghosts of devoted fierce love, deep congeniality, Jamie & Claire; they’d give up all in a split second to be together again and they do, repeatedly. And I exercise, listen to folk and country music, traditional (Pete Seeger) and contemporary (Nanci Griffiths) from Pandora; the header line comes from a folk song.

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Personally significant — now I may not die from liver disease or a fatal operation in 15 years:

I was successful in wrenching needed treatment from Kaiser; finally a clinical pharmacist called this Friday and I have begun my pills as of Monday, and my schedule of blood work, restricted diet for now. I discovered Kaiser was indeed stalling and trying to put me off: the pill have a ticket price (wait for it) of $36,000 for three bottles, enough pills in each for three months. My widow’s annuity and social security come to $47,000 for the whole year. Now embedded as I am in “protections,” I can afford these bottles this way: I pay $150 a bottle to Kaiser; now in reality US society is being gouged by the drug companies (read Marcia Angell, “Opioid Nation,” from the NYRB) for these pills through Kaiser, medicare and a web of “financial assistance” it’s called. When I told friends the sum, there was hardly a gasp; instead of got stories of their analogous experiences. Everyone keeps silent, especially when they have not been able to buy or afford the needed medical treatments (opioid victims, people with diabetes, cancer&c): they grow much sicker and die early. I am feeling tired, head-achy and (surprising this!) sleep 6 hours each night, sometimes a light doze but that long …

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And I went out again (probably the last time, as we are fundamentally incompatible in attitudes towards life) with that gentle older man, a concert at his church by a “famous” (a word he kept repeating) group of singers from Yale, called the Whiffenpoofs. I have very mixed feelings about this elite group of 20 year olds.

They were presented to a mostly white, upper to middle middle class audience, many older as somehow not elite and “working hard” earning all their keep. The group was formed in 1909 and following tradition, the young adults take a year off from their Yale studies and are supported wholly by ticket sales. Wait a minute: who is paying the Yale fees? how much are they? The humor and much be-praised group spirit are sophomoric and this time all but one a woman, she has to sing counter-tenor (a falsetto). This was the first year women were let in — Yale did not accept women at all until 1969. They were all in very fancy tuxedos — they did sing beautifully in some style where their distinctly different voices came out as crooning. Nostalgic repertoire with some contemporary music and songs re-vamped interestingly thrown in.

Well, for the first time I had some insight into blackface. Until recently it would appear the all-male chorus would dress up in ballet skirts, absurd wigs, wear make-up as women and have their photo taken, and spend an afternoon “doing lunch.” What is this but unacknowledged cruel ridicule: the group pretends innocence but utter disdain for women (as in blackface lynching for blacks), and as we saw in Kavanaugh, central fraternities’s right to harassment and rape women is part of their obduracy. Scroll down, and see the meaning of blackface.

This new young woman as reported in the Washington Post, is ever so grateful for being let in to these Whiffenpoofs, to Yale, though recognizes “they have a long way to go,” for example, they must change the voices allowed in to include women’s ranges. Sofia Campoamor cannot be as “ordinary” as pretended since she attended the elite Sidwell Friends school in DC. Julie Zauzmor of the Post article, to her credit kept in focus the elitism, asked questions of the religious aspects of this Ivy League college, this 1920s “fun” group.

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Political coda: AOC is now in congress and making beautiful waves for a “green New Deal:” I like her smile, don’t you?

So that’s the news from my desk and the shelter of my mind (a line from Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song”) in Alexandria, Va,

Ellen

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The Great Falls of the Potomac, in Rockcreek Parkway, Montgomery, Maryland this morning


This is probably the best close photo taken of me in years

Dear friends,

I begin by telling you why I haven’t written for nearly two weeks again: it is hard for me to write just now since while I have had some enjoyable experiences to share (see below) or perhaps coming up (if I survive), I am still profoundly worried about this hepitatis C infection. One way with which I deal with life’s experiences is there comes up from my mind unbidden lines from texts that present an analogous situation, appropriate feelings, some indication of a good line of conduct I am able to follow with calm. Most often it’s a Jane Austen line, often half-remembered but enough so I can pinpoint which of the six novels and then remember where it was.

When I go to bed and think about what happened over a day wherein I disappointed myself, I say “I’ll do better tomorrow” or “I’ll try to do better tomorrow,” or even worse (from the viewpoint of originality): “Tomorrow is another day.” Another one where I realize I cannot do much or nothing at all to alter a particular future: “Che sera, sera” (what will be, will be). Upon coming home from a trip “determined, dared, done:” “Home again home again jiggedy-jig.” Upon going out of my house-nest, “Oh do not ask what is it. Let us go and make our visit …

Well I found myself remembering a conversation I couldn’t quite reach in my mind. It has to do with someone pressuring someone else to follow a line of conduct or decision that someone does not want to take and he or she replies to the first person she’s trying hard not to remember X at all (that is what Elinor Dashwood tries after she discovers that Edward Ferrars has been engaged to another women for four years. I felt it was a play, probably a woman or someone who could identify with vulnerable people who can speak with pride, dignity, self-containment. Finally the word “endeavour” came to me as I tried to formuate the line: “endeavour” is not a common word in many individual vocabularies, and google now took me straight to the correct text: it’s from Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons: Henry (Robert Shaw) asking More (Paul Scofield) if he has thought more about his divorcing Catherine and More replies: “Alas, as I think of it, I see so clearly that I cannot come with Your Grace, that my endeavour is not to think of it at all.” I taught and read Bolt’s play many times, watched the scene with Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw countless times with students too.

I am convinced it was Kaiser two or three summers ago when I was sick and had to have an IV when I came to a clinic or when I paid a dentist to put four implants and a semi-permanent denture into my jaw. For the first time too I’ve had an open run-around from Kaiser, where they seem to be stalling before they give me the medicine. I had the x-rays and my liver is as healthy as a 72 year old woman’s liver can be, apparently as yet unharmed. This doctor talked about my liver as people talk about my hearing: “it’s within the range of ordinary and average for a person your age;” on a scale of 1-4 I am in the “1s” – whatever that means. But when I showed up to talk to this specialist I discovered that having an infection of hepitatis C immediately makes the person a suspect — it’s transmitted through drug IVs — not just hospitals use but people take illegal drugs this way. Also that it’s transmitted by sex — this is said in the literature I’ve now read to be rare. I had to submit to half an hour of apparently genial questions and probably now have to have another scan because I did describe my 5 blood transfusions, so she’s giving a more expensive test. She asked if Jim had hepitatis C, she managed if he had other partners. I said I didnt think so to both questions, no symptoms.

She decided (and wrote down on her computer) that I’d gotten it from among these 5 hemorrhages, transfusion and the bad miscarriage I had between 1976 and 1984 (four pregnancies, one small rupture in my colin). This is preposterous. Were I to have had this infection for forty years and drunk the way I have I’d have no liver. I’ve had health assessments after 1984 (when Izzy was born) and no one came up with this diagnosis; Jim had health assessments in the 1990s when he had diverticulitis and no diagnosis for hepitatis C. Obviously I picked it up in the last couple years iatropically — from Kaiser. And she knows it. She is another liar — I’ve seen these liars before in Kaiser; before we went to Kaiser I had no criteria at all even to judge what I was told. Their first interest is their place in the organization. My health comes down low in their priorities.

I was astonished when she then asked me if I wanted to take this medicine, and she asked 3 times. They are powerful over us and I worried were I to get frank I’d be seen as aggressive and not get this medicine. Now I have to wait and get a phone call from a “clinical pharmacist” and she said she had no doubt he would recommend the medicine. But wait, that means he could not – he’s a Cyberus. I almost asked her “Are you doubting my veracity” but I held back. (I dislike so how these medical people have power over us.) Then he phones her, then she phones me, and then the medicine is sent to a pharmacy where I pick it up. Rigarmole or run-around. I’ve had no phone call. The GI specialist nurse has not returned my calls. I today emailed Dr Wiltz, my general practioner and this woman, Dr Chowla. By Friday I shall lodge a complaint they are not willing to take are of me. The price, dear reader, of this medicine is very high in the US. Kaiser would rather see me die

I remember reading how some necessary testing procedure to prevent cancer of the uterus or find it out early was being stopped because it supposedly would encourage girls to have sex – they need not be afraid. And an attempt to re-extend abortion rights has everyone up in arms as infanticide. There is it women want to commit infanticide. No talk about women’s health, whether the child has become severely disabled in the womb..

What the woman doctor is doing is dismissing what caused it — Kaiser — and putting all this stuff in the file about my bleeding history and answers to questions that put suspicion on me or Jim. This business of person phoning me as a way to take care of me is what happened to Jim when he was dying: he was taking a blood thinner and then one day his blood was so thin he was in danger of hemorrhaging from his skin — he was following orders from someone on a phone said to be watching his numbers. That’s how much this man on the phone was paying attention. Then Kaiser tried to bully me into going into the Emergency room at 10 o’clock at night or if it was my fault Jim would die. I said it was not my fault and the last place I was taking him to at 10 at night was a local emergency. You should have seen the weak state Jim was in. They called an ambulance anyway; these guys arrive and when I refuse to let them have Jim, they say “this happens all the time.” I’ll never forget that moment. Kaiser and others play this trick all the time. They said they would never advise anyone to take someone to one of these madhouse emergency rooms at the dea of night who was deeply sick and weak.

Finally a Kaiser nurse came and she had blood supplies and injections. She expected me to be grateful. She was overtime. She said the problem was different people paid for the drugs than the hospital, and each had to sign off on the other as no one knew what the other was doing for sure.

The next day that pharmacist called again and I got on the phone to tell he was a murderous criminal taking a salary for what he couldn’t therefore should not pretend to do, he should be ashamed of himself, for his unprofessional unethical behavior, and never call again. I said I knew they were taping me: well, they were bastards and I’d sue the lot of them. I hung up. We stopped all blood tests and the rest of their shit using this pharmacist. Jim had been calling and cooperating. I had not known about this so clearly. This is the result of privatizing: kaiser is refusing to hire a full time clinical pharmacist. And now I have to accept such phone calls or I don’t get my medicine. I vowed I never accept such phone calls.

Does anyone wonder why the US is 32nd in health care across the world.

I did stop drinking, though my respect for wine has gone up when I looked at supermarket shelves to discover the vile chemically flavored sugared water with addition of juices that are sold — and bought! — by large numbers of people instead of 100% tomato juice, or pear nectar, or pineapple. I had to go to the gourmet section of the supermarket to find decent healthy drinks.

If I can’t get them to take care of me, I’ll ask a few friends for names of doctors and go privately and pay a lot. Shameful disgraceful society so self-deluded and helpless against a ruthless oligarchy using a ferocious military and a 18th century constitution re-rigged by bad faith criminal behavior so a tiny minority of super-rich together with deluded fools and white bigots run the place ….

I have no picture: this is not the first time I’ve been unable to find any picture depicting the poor care the average patient gets from the medical establishment: most of the pictures blame the patient somehow (he or she takes too many drugs) or the insurance or drug companies, not the linchpin person, the doctor. Jim never wanted to leave Kaiser and advised me not to: most of the “care” he and I had outside Kaiser in the US was poor, and over-price outrageously.  The National Health in Britain I found took care of me and saved me once but very autocratic.

The trouble is, how do you find someone else to go to? The reason Jim and I rejoiced at Kaiser was for the first time in our lives we had an array of doctors to go to.  I can think to ask Panorea if she knows  a good doctor of this new friend David. To this day I have no idea how people find doctors. They talk of research, but that seems to be nowadays talking to people (how do they know?) and reading on the Net: these are advertisements.  It was the ridiculous word of mouth that I used before Kaiser and sometimes I got a decent reasonable man but more often the experience was bad — I was fleeced, laughed at, minimally taken care of. That’s the real key to why Jim and I and now Izzy joined an HMO. This is no way at all.

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Laura Linney as Caroline in The City of Your Final Destinationwhich is your Moscow?

Better news is my course for the summer at OLLI at AU has been accepted. Here’s the proposal:

The Mann Booker Prize: short and short-listed

We’ll cover 2 (short) short-listed, 1 (short) winner, & watch 1 movie (outside class) from a screenplay by a Booker winner from an American novel it’s said should have won the prize had it been given to Americans at the time. Our novels: Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop; J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country; Julian Barnes’s A Sense of an Ending, and a Merchant-Ivory film, screenplay Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, The City of your Final Destination (from Peter Cameron’s novel). We’ll discuss our prize-obsessed culture, how the Bookers function in the literary marketplace, & their typical themes, techniques & moods: autobiographical, historical, self-reflexive, witty, post-colonial, mostly melancholy books & films

The last time I wrote it was January 26th, and winter term for the OLLI at Mason had started but all had been shut down because it snowed — and this DC, Maryland, Virginia area goes paralyzed, announces a standstill when it snows, as the local gov’ts will not pay to clear the snow and ice adequately. They get away with this because when the sun comes out, the snow melts. This week we have warmed up and the OLLI at AU has its week of 4-5 day a week courses. It lasts for one week; the rest of January and February includes lectures, special events (one all-day reading of some of Joyce’s Ulysses once again).

I’ve enjoyed two excellent classes in Joyce’s Dubliners, given a professor who seven years ago had Izzy in his class on Irish Literature. When I told her the teacher was this man, her eyes lit up: she gave a paper or presentation on Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September, and he liked it and saw how gifted she is, and after that went out of his way to include her in the class. She was very sad that year, not being able to get any job despite her wonderful degree, so dressed oddly and the classes she went to at night meant a lot to her. She read Anne Enright in that classes; also Joyce’s “The Dead” from the Dubliners. She and I watched a fine film adaptation of Last September with Michael Gambon and Fiona Shaw in feature roles. Now this week I have four sessions on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King: the teacher is too simplistic in the way she presents the material but the class is leading her to talk more deeply of what she knows; it’s late in the day so I can work on my projects, read (see below) — after I finish phoning and emailing Kaiser.


A beautiful early cover for Graham’s Demelza (1940s) — a dream place through a window (the first cover for Ross Poldark is based on a similar conceit)

I am still reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend: how it hits home, how I recognize myself in both Lenu and Lila and something like the working and lower class world I grew up in.  We are still reading Trollope’s strong The Way We Live Now on Trollope&Peers, I listen to Simon Vance reading aloud Can You Forgive Her? and nightly I watch and re-watch Outlander. It is addictive:  at the center is a couple I find a dream image of Jim and I; they are essential a tragic pair that faery romance keeps saving. I work on my Poldark paper for the Denver ASECS; it’s coming slowly and has a title now: “‘After the Jump’: The Historical Fiction of Winston Graham.”


Me standing in front of one of the waterfalls

I will end on another pleasant experience with the man, a widower, I mentioned I went on a date with in mid-January; the second time he seems to be a gentle kind old man, sweet; whatever he was when younger, he is kindly now.  Second impressions are better than first; more knowledge comes in.

I saw his house where he has himself made some of the furniture including beautiful wooden rocking horse for a child. He showed me his late wife’s picture; it is much bigger fine home — with a large room given over to his computer and books, and another for a TV on the wall (so you watch the screen like a movie). He has a garden and two cats. One large lovely long-haired one (many colored)  is friendly. We had breakfast and then there was just time to go to Great Falls of Potomac where I’d never been (indeed I never heard of it before he told me of it. You see it above and a photo he took of me. Here are two more:


A friendly young person took this photo of David (that’s his name) and me together

The park all around this waterfall and ancient rock area was created by Frederick Law Olmsted. So I’ve now walked in four of Olmsted’s Parks: Central Park and Brooklyn Park in NYC, Montreal park, and now this part of Rockcreek parkway. From the site: David told me he took an OLLI at AU course about the geology and history of the formation of Washington, DC a few years ago:

Many people consider the Great Falls of the Potomac to be the most spectacular natural landmark in the Washington D.C. area. Here, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.

This dramatic scene makes Great Falls Park, located just fifteen miles from the Nation’s Capital, a popular site with local residents and tourists from around the world who are visiting the Washington area.

The falls consist of cascading rapids and several 20 foot waterfalls, with a total 76 foot drop in elevation over a distance of less than a mile.

The Potomac River narrows from nearly 1000 feet, just above the falls, to between 60 and 100 feet wide as it rushes through Mather Gorge, a short distance below the falls. The Great Falls of the Potomac display the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river.

Maybe I shall go with him canoeing — if he can manage with a person like me who is so unathletic and nervous. I keep using the word “nervous” of myself as an explanation of this or that but I don’t think he hears me. He bike-rides twice a week.  omg!  I did manage to get lost finding his house — even with a map from Mapquest and my garmin. I explained to him I never learned to ride a bike partly because my father was against it: my father worried I would get killed or in an accident as we lived in the southeast Bronx, hard city. I said Jim had gotten into a bad accident once riding on his bike to the British public school he was a day boy at, and he said he had been twice in bad accidents and once in hospital for 23 days so badly had he hurt his spine.

I realized that he has grasped how unadventurous I am — his wife was a much more daring type; she had a literary degree but she also did many athletic and other things (cooked for example), from a much more upper class background than mine — as he is. Other things about me too. As with women friends I’ve made I cannot know if this will be sustained as a friendship.

He told me of a three week tour he and she did of Italy years ago, and I told him about Jim and my time in Rome for 5 weeks with Izzy and Laura (1993 or 94) where we rented a flat, went out by ourselves for a half a day, and with these children for the other half. That we took a train to Naples and stayed in Ischia for 3 days (I was seeing where Vittoria Colonna lived as a landscape, where she grew up it’s said or visited) and how Izzy loved the beach and made friends with the Italian children with a few Italian words. I still recall her saying to them: Mi chiamo Isabella.

It was warm and sunny and I thought there is much left to live for for me and I hope I get to do it. I will keep trying to reach Kaiser and then complain. I’ve been told how people on National Health in Britain have to wait and wait and some deemed unimportant are thrown away.

Ellen

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