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houseproud
From Edward Gorey’s The Bug Book

Friends,

It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I last wrote. Although, as I reported, in the snowy ice cross-hairs of Snowzilla 2016, social life had not come to a standstill, Edward Gorey’s memorable tale where this dire reality had indeed come to pass has been much on my mind. You see I had a partial renovation done for one part of my kitchen which occasioned other gaps and slips of my mind. I had some computer renovation too. It was all very stressful for me to do this without Jim. Comically my Ian cat during the whole thing looked like I felt. Nervous wreck, his body somehow tight and his tail never up it seemed for days on end.

IanNov2015 (2)

I may not have reported that some 3 weeks ago my 23 year old dishwasher died, that I attempted to pay for a new one to be brought to my house and installed by Home Depot, but that just as had happened some 10 years ago when Jim tried this, the delivery and installation men said they could not install it. Last time the machine was bought from a fairly small store and Jim was convinced we had been over-charged and lied to, and had a helluva time getting our money back.

This time the workman explained to me what Jim and I knew to be true: that our somewhat renovated 1947 pipes in the kitchen were not up to code and needed to be rebuilt first. He did take the new machine away. The good news was that the third of the kitchen next to the outside grounds had not been flooded because water was seeping in from outside, but because the old dishwasher was leaking. This means that I do not have to pay to have an outside wall and new disposition of the grounds outside done to stop flooding when I come to fix the rest of the kitchen.

Then Caroline gave me the name of a reliable plumber and I bought another dishwasher from Home Depot for this plumber to install; the blizzard got in the way but this past week 2 and 1/2 days saw two men in my house for hours rebuilding pipes and installing this dishwasher, re-attaching the washing machine, putting good pipes under the sink. They did it all at long last. The dishwasher fitted in. The washing machine works right now. Separate pipes for all three, proper ones under the sink, and then all linked together. They also saw that a pipe for heating was not right and fixed it so no carbon monoxide can came out — it hadn’t but the way it was set up it could.

It was all uncertain if this could be done. I felt such anxiety over the sums paid, sums refunded, paid again, the size of the new dishwasher (would it fit? in the house? in the space?) and then rescheduling that can only be gauged by revealing how my male cat, Ian (Cookie) outwardly suffered. He hates strangers walking up our path, and having them in the house making huge noises is excruciating. He no longer spends his existence hiding out under beds and in drawers, he is used to enjoying his cat life, and did not retreat. Instead he spent the days with his tail down or tucked under his legs; he sat with his body in a kind of pyramid, rocking slightly near my chair, he seemed to shrink to 2/3s his size. He had a plaintive look on his face.

In some moods he seemed to me a comical image of myself while the stress was very real too.

I have never wanted a room that looked like a magazine but did want something sound. And now I had this soundness in the kitchen. What need more? Sometime during all this I remembered Gorey’s The Bug Book and the unfortunate black bug who I had felt sorry for. I realized I had missed the point, been misinterpreting it all these years.

This neurotic tragedy all began when a group of red, blue and yellow bugs, who were all related biologically, genetically and by temperament formed a community whose most salient characteristics were that they were house-proud (and polished the blue bottle in which they lived on both sides), spent most of their time together, pensively on leaves, were (as it were) invaded by a black bug who attempted to make friends:

sociallifecametoastandstill

When Jim and I read this aloud to our older daughter, Caroline, when she was around 9 we left her to work out that the moral of the story was not attack your fellow creatures publicly with personal remarks:

bigblackbug

But upon returning to said story and rereading, I began to feel the mischief lay in the house-proud and consequently exclusive nature of the differently colored bugs, which the poor black bug was unable to articulate since all the bugs thought these behaviors unquestionable. Had he been able to say, No, I will not spend thousands and thousands renovating my bottle, or painting its outside in an exquisitely fashionable shade, perhaps they would simply have scorned him, turned away, and he would not have been smashed to smithereens but rather living today.

I likened the story for the first time to how way back in 1993 when the dishwasher which died had been purchased when we renovated out kitchen, put in heat insulation in our attic, pulled out all the casement windows and replace them, a new heating system, central air conditioning, re-landscape the outside so it was no longer a swamp with 7 trees, each the contractors had wanted me (and Jim) to do far more. Their mantra had been, this is not quite the fashion. People coming to buy the house, will not like this or that; they will prefer — and we’d be shown some magazine alternative. Mostly my choice in 1993 was too plain. Then I had tried to explain that I was not interested in the taste of some future possible people unknown to me. Had I meant to sell, I would not renovate. I was making the house the way I would be comfortable in.

The analogy in my mind up to this point that was more vivid was that in Jim’s last year of life we renovated our two bathrooms and it cost us 1/3 of the price we paid for this house originally. The rooms were gutted from cement slab to attic, new walls built, but as I’ve discovered since still there is a fundamental plumbing problem in a closet that links these rooms. It was more cosmetic than we were given to understand.

We had been offered a renovation price for the kitchen too. We did not do it because I was so put off by Patty, our project manager’s norms. Her plans were for replacing our washing machine and dryer with much smaller ones inside cabinets so that no one would be able to tell these were machines. Her aesthetic assumptions about the kitchen were if in doubt hide what a kitchen is for. If a machine was still working (my 1960 dryer still works perfectly well), that did not matter. Did it fit a modern color scheme? she and I had never gotten along, and Jim was so relieved when we saw the back of her. $600 for an ever-so-cute wooden medicine cabinet was what he succumbed to. Recently someone looked at my bathroom and disapproved: it seemed the two different levels of tiles and wall was not “the thing” this year. I said I took a long view.

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ClaryCat2016Jan

To be accurate, my cats were not suffering just from workman, and machines moved about, doors removed and put back, attics gone into, ladders, noise. Early in the week during one of my trips (with Yvette) back and forth from Home Depot, I thought I had lost my checkbooks or they had been stolen (say when we were at the HD-opera on Saturday), he did one of his deep retreats into the tangle of Yvette’s shoes in the back of her closet. I had to call three banks to stop payment on three sets of checks, get online and cope with websites. I must’ve lost 5 pounds and for part of the time could scarcely breathe, my mouth all parched. I faced the reality that I hardly ever write a check: I either charge or pay cash. I learned a lesson: I will no longer carry checks with me.

Worse yet in terms of being able to breathe. One of my email addresses from when Jim was alive was being bounced by several listservs and this meant I had now myself to phone the people he bought our website space from and explain to a “mail administrator” my problem and ask for help. Anything having to do with that website now causes near heart attacks because I can’t understand what this is all about. Suffice to say that I did find myself on the phone with a courteous and knowledgeable young man who walked me through the steps of eliminating some thousands and thousands of emails over the years and renewed my old address, updated the website, gave me new passwords and a set of instructions I can actually follow. This website has been much improved, made user-friendly to even the digitally-challenged. I did have to resist various sales-pitches and blandishments. Did I not want to reconceive my whole website? have the “challenge” of re-making it to look professional, snazzy, all pictures to be clicked on for the various sections. He would help me. And send me the prices. No thank you. I had already lost two nights of sleep. Looking at Ian nervously peering into the hallway from near my chair I decided he had had enough too.

All’s well that ends well. Six days later I have resubscribed to the listservs I’d been bounced off. I have today found my checkbooks stuck in the back of a drawer where I keep stamps — probably put there when I last wrote out bills. Even better, now that I have conquered the machine problem in my kitchen I will not have to renovate the place the way I had dreaded. I felt such relief to think I would not be bothered beyond, paint, tiles, cabinets. Everything else stay put as is. I now need only have the room painted, new vinyl for the floor and yes (outrageously expensive as it will be) new cabinets, not white (as I dislike white intensely because it brings hospitals to mind) and fewer of them as I don’t need so many. With the enormous difference I will not have to spend maybe at long last I will have the house repainted whose blue color I was driven to accept by a contractor (who was suddenly going to charge twice as much for a blended color). I want a quiet cream color just like in my old screened porch.

I admit I do not remember what exactly was the behavior of the cats during the weeks of renovation over those bathrooms, only that both stayed in Yvette’s room with the door firmly closed. In those days Ian did spend much of his time under beds so he was probably under Yvette’s bed, with Clarycat sat like a loaf on top of her baby blanket, weathering this stressful time.

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The Onedin theme, the adagio from the ballet Spartacus:

For the rest this week I carried on my film study project. I watched four mini-series back-to-back, as I studied the old (1975) and new (2015) Poldark films against closely similar films of their eras: The Onedin Line (1971-80) and Outlander. The real difficulty in writing about films, in doing a film study is it takes such time to watch them. I also made progress on the 20 hour 1972 War and Peace, scripted by Jack Pulman, featuring (he is remembered for this) Anthony Hopkins as Pierre as against the 8 hour 2016 War and Peace, scripted by Andrew Davies, with Paul Dano in the same central role.

CatrionaBale
Caitriona Balfe as Claire Beauchamp Randall, heroine of Outlander

The mini-series intersects among texts & films, from Dorothy in the Land of Oz wanting so to go home yet being allured by this fantasy world; time-traveling, harking back to Daphne DuMaurier, the central character an experienced nurse from WW@, with some knowledge of 18th century Scottish highlands thrown in .. an extraordinary concoction of historical romance …

I have come up with a thesis or explanation for one of the central differences between these historical film adapations 40 years on: nowadays such films are done with an eye to responding to what is perceived as the popular audience’s use of them to construct some ideal ethnic, national or local, religious or racial identity, often asserted as essentialist, half-mystically apprehended (complete with megalithic stones, eternal landscapes, seascapes, “natural” industries). I do love the thematic music in all of them, used to frame them as apart from your “usual” TV fare. I will write about The Onedin Line, Outlander, and the re-booting of War and Peace in a separate blog soon — the 1972 is the finer, just magnificent, but both the 1972 and 2016 brilliantly ironic in their differing depictions of the slaughter of 1812. I did say in my last entry a group of us on Trollope19thCStudies have now elected to read Tolstoy’s book (in English translation of course) this summer.

I also read Gaskell’s extraordinary story of “Lois the Witch” (about fanatical religious hatreds, hysteria, bigotry destroying all outsiders — outlanders) and read about her more. More work and blogs on women artists.

And so closed another week in the life of a widow and her cats and younger daughter (for Yvette was involved in some of this), a ridiculously stressful series of days — considering that like physically speaking I was indoors and quiet most of the time like most Washingtonians who stayed in their respective bottles.

Sometimes I think I’m changing so within somehow. Like the Outlander Claire, I want to return to my husband, want him back again so intensely

Outlander 2014 Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall in Starz’s Outlander
with Tobias Menzies as her husband, Frank Randall, professor-scholar of history

and yet time pushes me inexorably forward now that he has disappeared, never to return. I don’t know if I’ve conveyed what a hard week it was: I count three panic attacks, all favorably resolved but all very wearing. I feel worn while I change into someone somewhat different in behavior than I was and so difference in desires too.

Yet I stay the same too. I have not yet used my new dishwasher (!). I discovered that with two of us it is often easier to wash our few dishes right away. Then I don’t have to wait two to three days before enough pile up to do a wash and have the task of unloading said dishwasher. Nor do I run out of glasses. It cheers me to realize that I remain the same. Like Dorothy and Claire, I would be happy to go back to Auntie Em or Frank but unlike her I would stay there. There is an allusion in Outlander to Frank Baum’s books: Claire is told she can cast a spell by clicking her heels three times together and say There is no place like Love. She need only reach Craig Na Dune.

One last story: when I first had a dishwasher in an apartment complex called the Hamlets in the 1980s my luddite, anti-technology, anti-new machine attitude was to the fore. I decided the cavity was a good place to store cardboard boxes for the garbage. Jim laughed at this and quoted what he said was a campaign slogan of the Tories in later 19th century, perhaps repeated in the 1960s when the British gov’t offered to pay half the price of a kitchen renovation for anyone who wanted a working toilet and bathtub in the house. “Give the poor bathtubs and they’ll keep coals in them.” I feel the same kind of satisfaction when I’ve washed my dishes that I used to feel when I hung out clothes on the clothes line in summer to dry.

Miss Drake

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PissarroLouveciennes1872
Camille Pissarro, Louveciennes (1872)

Had we never lov’d sae kindly,
Had we never lov’d sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted—
We had ne’er been broken-hearted …

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears
— Robert Burns, Ae Fond Kiss

Dear friends,

As the snow started to come down heavily on Friday, the 22nd, and nothing had been done by the state of Virginia or Alexandria City, to salt the roads or plow what had fallen on the Thursday evening, and everything was shutting down, from buses to Metro, from all public institutions to private ones, I found myself remembering how today would be Laura’s birthday. I call her Caroline here, her middle name: I named her after a particularly happy character in Richardson’s Grandison, Caroline, Lady L.

Could it, I asked myself, she is 38? That childbirth happened 38 years ago? Yes. How did this happen? where did all the years go? hardly enough time to turn round.

She was born between ice storms and snow events. Jim, my admiral, went out the night before I went into labor, the 23rd, to dig out our Volkswagon bug (remember them?) after snow and iced rain. On the evening of the 24th day he drove it and me down to 2nd avenue lower Manhattan where Beth Israel hospital is, left the car in the middle of the street (it was snowing), and we endured our ordeal in hospital; before the baby was born, in the wee hours of the 25th, he rushed out and parked it, rushed back, and then much later that morning drove back to the top of Manhattan where we lived (under the Cloisters). That night more ice and snow, so upon getting up, out he went dug out again and drove downtown again …. My whole mind caught up by this memory, how strong he was, how good and continually selfless such behavior …

Well, at the time it seemed a minor matter all this snow and ice in comparison with what was happening to us in the hospital.

Now had I been pregnant this five days, how would we have gotten to the hospital. Would I have been advised to go there and wait? and pay of course. How many times have I read about the appalling state of NYC in the 1970s (e.g., Louis Menand’s “Time of the Broken Windows,” in the New Yorker, Oct 2015), and how many photos seen of what looks like grim poverty stretched for miles. But I know that in the 1970s NYC salted and plowed its streets on and off continually — bad for dogs paws (like other New Yorkers I had 4 little or a set of boots for our dog Llyr in the 1970s) but great for keeping ice at bay.

CanineCoutureMairaKalman
New Yorker cover from several years ago

People did not talk send news bulletins out of the great snowpocalypse across the world. No hashtag snowzilla.

So some of the danger here in Northern Virginia was not inevitable. While it may be the worst storm in a couple of decades, it is by no means unprecedented and what’s dangerous where I live and further south and in the west, is the local authorities do nothing about it until the storm is over and then the two counties move very slowly. All public schools are shut tomorrow (Tuesday, the 26th) and many institutions still closed; much of Fairfax still not passable. No pressure put on private electricity companies to improve their act (though in the last ten years they have installed new computers and improved greatly); no pressure on the Metro.

This is a Fairfax street from a snow storm in 2010 and I daresay blocks in Fairfax in 2016 resemble it — the photo also shows that this kind of storm happens.

AFairfaxstreet

In that year I remember Jim, I, and Izzy (aka Yvette, a name a French teacher once gave her), walking in the storm to a nearby movie-theater to see an HD-opera. Alexandria plowed then too. Rousseau said the huge deaths in Lisbon during the earthquake were from human arrangements and the lack of these far more than the earthquake.

Back to our present anti-society society world. On Saturday, the middle of the 23rd when the snow was abating some, I knew if nothing was done at all by the time the snow stopped, it would be excruciating hard work to break down the mounds. So I paid two men who were passing by in a truck looking such just such shoveling work and money to dig a preliminary path from house to sidewalk on Saturday: it helps to make the start of a tunnel to be dug when the snow stopped:

usablestretch

For $25 they dug around the car too. My next-door neighbor who is not living in her house just now was back with her husband and they were shoveling and she kindly shoveled my sidewalk again.

As of yesterday afternoon, Sunday, the 24th, my street, a tertiary one had been plowed once:

MidDaySundayRoad

Another neighbor who lives in a house half made of glass that looks like it should be standing on a cliff, and who owns a snowmobile had also plowed. He clears the intersections too — each year; it makes him feel public-spirited, possibly lordly. So he came round after that. Then not for nothing are we the People’s Republic of Alexandria: Alexandria City sent a plow twice more!

Sunday afternoon when I went out I experienced how a sense of a neighborliness, togetherness had been aroused. It was almost enough to begin to revive my utterly flagged-out faith in local humanity. People were walking about their houses, digging and talking, comparing experiences. Dogs on (and not on) leashes. When I waved to a man in his thirties all bundled up who had a noisy snow machine that was efficiently clearing snow from his driveway from across the street a couple of houses down, he and his wife came with their machine and shovels re-dug my path and re-opened the space around my car. I and the woman introduced ourselves to one another for the first time, told a little of our lives and hoped to meet again. Her oldest daughter is an Isabella. My 50 year old male neighbor on the other side of my house for the first time since I’ve been widowed showed an interest, actually came near to offering help. When he saw me walking in the street, he inquired if Laura comes round and when I said, oh yes, he looked relieved. Still he might have felt compelled to offer to dig if I had said no.

We were fortunate and did not lose power — except for one heart-stopping moment. We can’t make fires in the fireplace as Jim used to, no candles. I remember one year in the 1990s, we had thick ice on the ground for days; we had lost our electricity for more than a day. That night Jim — my captain oh my captain — made a fire and actually scrambled eggs for us on a frying pan. We had gone down to the shopping mall (by car) and bought back hot coffee, chocolate and Yvette then drank milk. Now I have superlatively good flashlights and two cell phones. We would have to walk half an hour to find cooked food and hot drinks. But the electricity came back on immediately, and Izzy took these two pretty pictures: from her side window twilight

2016-1-23-outside-the-window

and then again from her back window dawn

2016-1-24-at-dawn

Today I paid two adolescent boys some $38 to dig out the thick mound of snow and ice in front of my car, a kind of high blanket and wall between it and the street. They started the proposed fee of $25 but it was such hard work and they were at it for so long, I gave them more. One of them began to use his shovel as a kind of heavy axe and I feared he would dislocate his shoulder. He didn’t but said his hands were hurting when they left to (so they said) go right home. Both live down the hill from me in what is left of public housing in Alexandria (decent houses, overtly modest lest these arouse the ire of lower middle Republican types).

And here are Izzy’s pictorial essays on the process of the storm from start to mid-way:

Winter shows up 15 minutes late

Snowed in life, surveying the meadows

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NorthSouthPt1CloseFarShot
Sandy Welch’s North and South (from Gaskell’s novel): no that’s not snow, that’s the clouds of cotton that got into workers’ lungs, diseased and killed them young …

I have gotten a lot of reading work done towards my teaching this coming spring (by and on my now beloved Elizabeth Gaskell – scroll down to see description of course) and coming paper on the two Poldark films for an 18th century conference this March (the whole of Lez Cooke’s excellent British Film Drama: A History). I sent in a proposal to teach Trollope’s Small House at Allington this coming summer (follow-up for previous course, Making Barsetshire) and it’s been accepted:

Barsetshire 5: Trollope’s Small House at Allington

We will read The Small House at Allington and Trollope’s short story, “The Parson’s Daughter at Oxney Colne.” Rumor hath it (she isn’t always treacherous) this ripely-mature psychologically subtle novel is still cited when someone asks, “Which Trollope novel should I read first?”, and it’s one that has never fallen out of print. While I encourage those who take this course to first watch the 1983 BBC mini-series, Barchester Chronicles and read Dr Thorne (Barsetshire 3) before the course begins, since Trollope himself resisted including The Small House in the first publication of the whole Barsetshire series, we will also discuss how it fits in Trollope’s whole oeuvre, and his great short story of the parson’s daughter, will enable us to see its themes more clearly from the different setting. The usual Barsetshire semi-comic resolution in both is derailed entirely with the London world so aggressive that the conflicts in failure and price of success for a kind of existence (wealthy, powerful, prestigious) rip apart the earlier fractured pastoral world – for our uncomfortable contemporary consideration. We will also have Millais’s delicately beautiful illustrations to look at.

I’m working on a panel proposal (!) for the East Central 18th conference for next fall on Tom Jones and Henry Fielding (out of this year’s teaching; click here and here, includes extraordinary film on the slaughter at Culloden): thus far

What could be more familiar than Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones? Since the still remembered and wildly popular film by Tony Richardson and John Osborne, whose thrust is mildly reinforced by the more apparently “faithful” BBC mini-series (available on-line), the title is almost a household word. And yet pick it up tomorrow and read it, what more strange? …

bellastonjoangreenwood

97tomjoneskeepingcount
Joan Greenwood as Lady Bellaston, David Tomlinson as Lord Fellamar (1963), John Sessions as Fielding trying to keep track (1997) — 35 years on

I carried on my slow watching of the superb 1972 20 episode War and Peace, scripted by Jack Pullman (featuring Anthony Hopkins, Angela Down, many players familiar to me from the 1974 Poldark and Pallisers) and my weekly bouts with my BBC iplayer to see the humanely interpreted 6 part new one, 2016, War and Peace re-booted we may say by Andrew Davies.

HopkinsPierre

Davies-War-and-Peace
Another re-booting 40 years on, Anthony Hopkins then, Paul Dano now

On Trollope19thCStudies, we’ve elected to spend this coming summer reading this vast book together — there’s a beautiful new translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude, revised by Amy Mandelker, and I’ve an edition with a cast list (giving all the Russian alternative games of the characters) and now hope at least to listen to David Case reading the whole thing aloud in my car. Just me and him once again. Half-way through Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald, not to omit more reading on disability, women artists, women living alone in the 18th through 19th century.

I sent Caroline an electronic birthday card this morning, from OJolie.com, a vast deal more contemporary, intelligent, authentic somehow than Jacquie Lawson. The memories of 38 years ago were never far from my consciousness.

And that it’s not just her and my remembered day but Virginia Woolf’s, and more to the point of this diary, Robert Burns’s. Each January 25th in the last few years of his life we’d commemorate Burns’s birthday with a ritual to remember Burns. Some Scots-like food, scotch whiskey and ginger ale, and Jim would read aloud poetry by Burns. Jim could read aloud with something of a Scots accent: while I don’t remember him reading this one but rather the one “To a Haggis,” half to make fun of it, this remains one of my favorites: it has his characteristic stance and voice, but I love it for the truthful line: “the best laid plans of mice and men/gang aft aglay”

On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
        Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
         Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
        Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
        An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
        ’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
        An’ never miss ’t!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
        O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
        Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
        Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
        Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
        But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
        An’ cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
        Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
        For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
        On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
        I guess an’ fear!

Oddly it makes me feel better to see my companionship with the mouse — in my case domesticated (small) cats. I am as powerless as they against natural forces and all that people together in their social lives construct which makes individual existence so hard. To speak metaphorically I try not to overturn my equivalent of this poor mouse but often I might and not realize or think about how my existence hurts others. For example, I eat meat or chicken nightly; once a week lamb; once in a while tuna. For all these meals an animal has been killed; the processing, packaging and sending to the supermarket of their remains bothers the lives of other people. Sigh.

No Jim to read for fun, and comfort, but only my thoughts to keep me company after supper — Izzy and I eat and talk together each evening. So tonight I began a Future Learn course on Robert Burns. Superb thus far: informative, insightful, filled with poetry (read aloud!), about his afterlife too.

robert-burnsmoderrnbronze
Now in Bronze, a Scots icon, died at 37, from disease, poverty, overwork (supporting himself as an exciseman at the time)

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To conclude, from a calendar image for January and February:

Jim liked the Kliban cat images and said of them something to the effect they are distinguished from other cat images because the cats were behaving highly improbably even if they were people …

CalendarJanauaryJudithKlibban

How much I must have recourse to, how many people I need to turn to, to substitute for my beloved. Heigh ho the wind and the rain, for the rain it raineth every day.

Sylvia

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

Friends,

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

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

IanCookie

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

PictureAdverseCat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoreditch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VermeerWomanwithLute (Large)

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

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

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

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

Miss Drake

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Remembering New Year’s Eve, 2013, our last:

Snow day by Chaise Lounge

Sylvia

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Tonight is one of those strangely luminous nights and out the window I can see trees as whitened filligree against the greyly lit sky. Looking more. My head turned. The filligree is snow (!). Snow on the grass, outlines on cars too … It’s been snowing while I read these two and a half hours.

Sunsetbeyondthiniceblog
Sunset beyond thin ice — somewhere in the US

**********

Noon Journalizing:

With snow the Jaguars of whatever vintage are useless. So Admiral takes my car! I tell him DO NOT change the mirrors; or, if you do, be sure and put them back. I’ve discovered I cannot change mirrors by hand. I must press some computer button. Of course I cannot figure out which it is or what to do. (Still cannot use GPS at all.) This car drives this honorary Duchess wild …

MysteryCockpitblog
The Prius C’s mystery cockpit

Sylvia

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JudithKlibanMarchCatblog
Judith Kliban: Pussycat in March

Dear friends and readers,

March came in with wet snow coming down, raw high winds, misty-rain. The federal gov’t shut down as have most schools. A snow day it’s called (click and you’ll hear a lively song). So a Wednesday felt like Sunday since Yvette was home all day, very cheerful too, with the pussycats going in and out of her room all day.

A specially pleasant happening. A week ago today Jane Smiley (yes the novelist) contacted me by email to tell me she had very much enjoyed my Trollope on the ‘Net! It seems she’s a lover of Trollope and after reading Tyler’s review of my book as including ordinary readers whose views count and reading the books in revolutionary personal way, she bought it. I have read her 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, and know when she writes criticism, it is also meant to be read and enjoyed by ordinary readers. She offered to send me her Private Life, which arrived today – with her signature! I did like her Thousand Acres. I told her I had also read her book on Dickens, but perhaps she thought I said I admired it. At any rate, she sent a copy of that too. All this made me feel good. So often the social interactions that go along with literary life are hollow, no one cares if your work is good, only if it fits an agenda they are following to promote their work, venal behavior so common. An act of generosity even if small is precious. And by someone whose writing shows her good opinion is worth having.

Here’s a copy of her signature:

JaneSmileyblog

I’m fast becoming a fan: she does not practice the indecipherable signature as an index of her importance. She’s too smart and decent for that. Instead she cultivates the beautifully shaped penmanship hand.

We are still house-fixing, today’s prompted by the Admiral. He actually sorted his shoes out at the bottom of our closet, threw out all the old ones, swept his side of the area, and brought down from the attic some of these stacked basket like things and now his shoes are in neat orderly rows! Not to be outdone, I imitated: sorted, threw out old, broken shoes, shoes that hurt my feet (too many of them now), brought down from attic more of stacked baskets, swept my side and put everything back in order. He’s asleep right now and I doubt the photo would impress. I felt we were imitating Caroline who did a major closet fixing a couple of weeks ago. Ours is a modest effort.

hisblog
His

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Hers

[Gentle reader, if you are not properly impressed you are not imagining what this area of our closet was like “before”.]

We put some finishing touches in our attic. I hired an electrician to fix the light bulb socket in the closet where we keep our shoes and put a new socket up in the attic. Come to think of it the Admiral may have been impelled to fix his shoes because he saw them for the first time in quite a while. Well the man was very courteous and in a genial way installed a new socket in our attic. I’ve seen electricians look very sour when I ask them to go up that ladder and fix something up there. As bad as some cleaning ladies when I’ve shown them where to vaccuum or clean. It seems their amour propre is bothered by my lack of high status furniture and magazine-like rooms. I only worried when I looked at him that he was so big. But the ladder held him up too.

So now we have light on both sides of the attic. He put in a three-prong socket so I can put on the Italian electric radiator (only one switch at a time he said) or the fan as the season demands. It is now genuinely usable space. My microform reader needs to be plugged in and now can. I’ve several chairs, a table and desk too.

Newcomputerblog

I also replaced my old laptop with a new one. It’s on one of my library tables in my room, close enough for me to swing round and face it.

WholeWallblog

A Macpro the Admiral calls it. While we were away, I discovered how obsolete my old laptop had become: I couldn’t reach many things, lacked plugins and so on. This is a pretty light-weight silver one, and we’ve already used it to download 2 clips and 50 stills for me to show as I read the paper I’ve now almost finished for the coming ASECS in Cleveland: “Diasporic Jane: images of displacement, exile and homelessness in the Austen film” (see Diasporic Indian Jane). One clip is from one of the journeys of the Dashwoods in Lee/Thompson’s S&S, for the sake of the haunting music and melancholy dark blues; the other also for the sake of haunting music, “Amazing Grace, how sweet it is …,”; sung by Kate Beckinsale in a hospital bed after a miscarriage as a 20th century Emma apologizing to her much-abused friend, Alice (=Harriet and Jane Fairfax combined), from Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco.

32AnneElliotontheBeach2007blog
One of the stills I’ll show: Anne Elliot here has a posture and feel like that of the heroine of Bhaji on the Beach (Chadha made both BontheB and Bride and Prejudice).

I did have a bad hour of nervousness and stress as I tried to get used to this new laptop. My feet began to seize up so I had to give up, but will try again each day a little bit. I have been worried what would happen if this computer’s DVD failed or the vlc viewer. Now I have another newer one as back-up. The new laptop actually holds more and can do many more things. Now if only I could work them ….

We don’t know if we will go through with this, but we have asked Patty, our project manager from the 2 bathrooms to draw us up a plan, options for renovating our kitchen, not to the extent of rebuilding the room the way we did the bathrooms, but still genuinely replacing older and now becoming worn (or corroded) linoleum, dish-washer. I’ve hated the cabinets for a long time — they are ivory white (and so discolor easily) and the doors far too heavy for the box they are attached to. We need a new paint job, the pipes fixed or brought up to code, and maybe we’ll replace a couple of other machines. We’ll see. We await what she comes up with. She made me laugh or feel uncomfortable with her assumption that I would want to hide my clothes washer and dryer. She did not realize I don’t feel uncomfortable because they are not in a basement. In NYC to have a clothes-washer and dryer in your kitchen was wonderful — no having to haul clothes elsewhere, feed machines coins (or tickets), and watch the clothes get cleaned (wasting time), fold and haul them back. She wants to replace mine with smaller ones that stack or go in a cabinet. We did have these small ones in Seaman Avenue, a side-by-side set that we last saw in the Hamlets where we kept them (against the rules) in our kitchen. We had to leave them behind as there was no room in this house for a second set.

barsetshireblog

I’ve some hopes for new projects, mostly on Trollope. Can’t get away but today reading his He Knew He Was Right and yesterday The Way We Live Now, I was struck anew by his greatness, complexity, perception, strength of style, daring. Sharp accepted my proposal so I shall have to do a paper on Mapping Trollope, I may get to write a paper for a collection on film adaptations (so back to Andrew Davies for these two books), and lo and behold, the man I met in NYC, Prof Birns, is the same man who encouraged me so long ago to write on Trollope’s travel books (he liked my Trollope on the Net too); well, he has a panel for a Trollope conference in Belgium and it seems he is willing to have me on his panel. Now that I’ve read and understand post-colonialism I’ve figured out ways to write about Australia and New Zealand without going there. Working title: “On Living in a New Country” [a play on Patrick Wright’s book): Inventing an Australian Identity.

We love to expect, and when expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting. (Samuel Johnson)

The Admiral has bought tickets for us to take 4 days (one day driving there, two days there, and one day drive home) in August in mid-New York to go to Glimmerglass for 2 operas and 2 concerts.

Yvette is planning for she and I to go the Ice-Skating Nationals (pre-olympics) in Boston in January 2014. I said I’d go long ago and here the time is coming.

And I’ve improved my cyberspace too: I’ve got a new gravatar across my blogs, found while looking for images of Austen’s heroines for my Austen Reveries blog. Still Hattie Morahan as Elinor but instead of looking out from the Cobb in a wind, hatted, enduring, she’s all gaiety as she looks down at her book and thinks of Edward:

HattieMorahanasElinorblog

Now if only the Republicans do not get their way and utterly crush the economic well-being of the average person (and make Yvette lose her good job) so as to make the elite intensely strong (I read today the the super-rich and stock market are doing well because of unemployment — they can hire people at very low wages to do long hours), the future as well as the present looks good.

Ellen

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Snow Poetry for Sunday

klibanskatingaloneheadedforlighthome

Dear friends and readers,

As this is a personal and political blog, it should also be a poetical one, since there’s nothing I love more than certain kinds of poetry. Thus I declare Sunday shall be our day for poems. I begin with pictures of snow.

This past week it snowed where I live, several times.

Emily Dickinson

Dickson on Snow

It sifts from Leaden Sieves —
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road —

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain —
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again —

It reaches to the Fence —
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces —
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack — and Stem —
A Summer’s empty Room —
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them–

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen —
Then stills its Artisans — like Ghosts —
Denying they have been —

*********

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The Snow Storm

ANNOUNCED by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

     Come see the northwind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of snow.

*********
Gentle reader, have you read Bachelard’s Poetics of Space? If not, rush out and buy and read it now. No time to lose. Bachelard has a section on snow and homes. As an object snow is at first beautiful, turns many vast places of noise and frenetic activity into quietude; envelopes everything, hides and contains, turns spaces into dream visions of peace and silence and order. If you are inside or warm and secure, nothing more pleasing.

Not that the poets ignore the danger and death. Look at Emerson’s penultimate line: a mad wind’s night-work; also Dickinson’s “It stills its artisans — like ghosts — denying they are there.” Modern gothics (and Victorian too) use snow as deadly, fatal, sign of death and thus the realm beyond. For snow and war, Mary Favret, “Still Winter Falls,” PMLA, 124:5 (2009)1548-61. I’d be happy to share the essay with any readers.

roof-under-the-snow-parisbblog
Gustave Caillebotte, Les Toits enneigés (roofs under snow, Paris)

Sylvia

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