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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’


Laura and I — she often looked serene


Izzy and I – at her happiest laughing

To ache is human — not polite — Dickinson

I do like to be beside the seaside — Music Hall song

Friends,

Our holiday — me, Laura, Izzy — was not all we had hoped as after the first super-hot afternoon, the beach was chill, and subject to high winds, as were the central roads leading to said beach, but we managed to have a good time and even (stubbornly) sat there both days, the first near 2 hours in the morning, the second after noon. Izzy tried to go in as far as her knees, jeans pushed up, I tried to read a Daphne DuMaurier novel. We returned to walk along the boardwalk in the later afternoon the second day, and evening time, and in the darkness on the third where we said we wished we could believe Jim or Dad were looking down from somewhere.


Late twilight — the inscrutable sea

You should know we four had been to Rehoboth many years before: our first true family vacation probably in 1993 in a house rented inexpensively in Milton — the next year we went to Rome for 5 weeks. We did one year rent a cottage just off Lewes Beach and we remembered the ferry at Cape May; another year briefly a cottage in Duck, North Carolina (but a hurricane blew us away). So there were memories. This holiday was originally conceived as a mother’s day gift for me.

Luckily our hotel was filled with good service: a hot tub we sat in three times, two pools — we swam in one on the first day, a garden, and the third and last morning, a strong fire in the hearth in one of the two library-looking rooms. I sat by the fire two early mornings. There was an on-going huge puzzle on one table of that room where different people over the day sat and filled out the picture. Izzy did some for an hour. Each day a sumptuous breakfast (very good), all day coffee and snacks downstairs. We found outside much shopping (surprising amounts of clothing) — little side alleyways as malls, a splendid bookstore (really) with toys (one of which had a snoopy dog toy Laura and Izzy remembered from their childhood). We had some excellent meals for dinner, one unpretentious in a pizza place bar, the other rightly “awesome,” French, exquisitely well-cooked dishes (I had a rabbit dish, Laura lamb), a pile of ice cream for desert for all, lovely wine

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

all the while a pianist played familiar tunes. People could be heard making requests.

We talked at lot, confided, read: in the room, Izzy her fat Chernow biography of Hamilton, me Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte while Laura blogged — she is now free-lancing. We watched some TV together. Our room had three TVs and I watched on the computer with Laura chosen selections from the (to me) slightly astonishing amalgam fantasy, pseudo-cynical and amoral American Gods. There were a couple of prologues or interludes which were telling: one of a slave ship come to the US in the later 17th century, with the focus on the slaves’ anguish fast forwarding to today’s anguish over killing of black people with impunity in the streets; the other the death of a Muslim woman living somewhere in Queens, circa perhaps 2017. Ian McShane was very amusing as the central “God” (Odin in disguise as a crass businessman I’m afraid), and (in a minor role) Chloris Leachman (not much disguise), providing affection.

And so we escaped a little, had a time away.

We hope to repeat this again, perhaps next spring for a much longer time (2 weekends and a week) in Milan where there will be a World’s Ice-Skating Championship. Laura and I will not spend all our time at the ice-skating rink, but use the trains and buses to see a bit of northern Italy.

I admit the cats did not enjoy their time at the Pet Boarding place — though they had a penthouse sized cage (3 linking ones, next to a window they were said to have looked out at)


A reproachful Ian brought home — at first Clarycat stood off from me, but later she could not kiss (lick) and cuddle up and play enough

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After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs …

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –


Cynthia Nixon as the strained Emily

Just before going off, Izzy and I went to see the film about Emily Dickinson’s life, A Quiet Passion, written and directed by Terence Davies. The older I become the harder it is to understand how Dickinson could have chosen so to isolate herself from her later 20s on. I have some reservations about the movie. It begins way too slowly and solemnly. The actors are made to enunciate lines as if they were reciting memorized passages from in a school play, and it seems are trading witticisms done so slowly it’s tedious in feel if the puns are if thought about well-taken. For a while the pace of speech stays the same, as serious psychological and other kinds of immediate content are read into the growing story, and then the story line of betrayal and sexual pain, of power relationships gone awry take over, and the film became for me gripping, mesmerizing and especially towards the end when the family is in internecine bitter quarrels over Austin’s life with his mistress, Mabel Dodd (Noemie Schellens), right in front of them all, including his wife, Susan (Jodhi May as ever so plangent), who however we see hates heterosexual sex, is a closet lesbian, and it’s suggested built a close relationship with Emily (Cynthia Nixon deserves an Oscar). In life they exchanged letters and poems across the space of the houses: “open me carefully” says one.

Perhaps the father was not as much a tyrant as is shown, but the mother’s life as a dishrag conforms to the passive abject lives of such women (Henry James’s mother seems to have lived similarly). The civil war’s disastrous slaughter is not omitted, but it felt as an interlude in this life (however abolitionist the family’s sentiments might have been). We see the father refuse his son permission to join the fighting, lest he lose his life. The father uses his power of purse over children, then Austin uses it over his sisters. A few friends Emily made early on, marry and depart this brooding place. You will come away with a sufficiently historically accurate portrayal of this family whose stifling hypocritical ritual but also genuinely self-flagellating ways seems central to Emily’s decision to retreat from life.


Duncan Duff as Austin Dickenson, Jennifer Ehle as Lavinia, Keith Carradine as the father, Edward, a visiting pastor, and Joanna Baker as the mother

The trajectory is Emily rebels in school and then at home this way and that,, refuses to compromise, and gradually is ostracized and then ostracizes herself. Girlfriend after girlfriend marries. Lavinia (whom I felt for as I have before) is left with this difficult sister; Emily appears to have been all Lavinia had to aid her in having a some sort of social life. Jennifer Ehle is too sweet, too forgiving but she fit the role as envisioned by the film. Emily is hard, difficult, stubborn, will not see people, will be rude. She seethes at Mabel as an evil mistress — what would she have said had she foreseen that Mabel would be the person that first saved her poems, published them. Lavinia to Todd and Higginson: “But for Mrs Todd & yourself, ‘the poems’ would die in the box where they were found.” An irony the movie hoped we realized. But by the end when Emily dies and we hear the famous “Because I could not stop for death,” followed by “I wrote a letter to the world who never wrote back to me,” I became slightly hysterical and started to sob violently for this woman’s grief and loss and strangely thwarted existence as voiced through this poem.

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

This prompted Izzy to cry too. Others around us as I got up I saw had been moved.

On the other hand, there was much too much suffering: did we have to have lengthy dramatizations of each person’s deathbed (father, mother) and then Emily’s slow decline, the excruciating pain of Wright’s Disease. The choice of poetry was too religious for my taste — everyone recites it as part of dialogues — but they included “wild nights” and some other striking subversive ones. Not enough beauty, gaiety, seasonal nature poems, the thoughtful questioning ones.


Nixon as questioning Emily again

I worry unsympathetic people if they sit through it will come out with prejudices reconfirmed: we see her refuse to talk to people except through a door at the top of the stairs — this to an admirer of her poetry of which only 7 were published with punctuation changed. Austin reads a cruel review of women poets writing of their misery, a mock, but I doubt it was aimed at Emily, but women’s protest poetry — they had a raw deal. They should have perhaps included the content of Susan and Emily’s poems and letters — it is slightly comic they should communicate this way. No comedy comes through, though the audience had people who persisted in laughing (the early puns, whatever could possibly be interpreted as meant to be funny. Anne Badlands as Aunt Elizabeth provides a few comic moments, worth a smile maybe. I didn’t detect anyone laughing at the film, but perhaps I was mistaken. I have read how Dickinson has been used as a conservative icon (apolitical, the solitary genius). I recommmend Anthony Lane’s review for the New Yorker.

At one time these two stanzas were among my most repeated Emily Dickinson lines:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

So there was enough for me to identify with (yes I can bond with Emily beyond the poetry) or anyone who cares about art and wants to understand the peculiar circumstances from which an original artist has emerged.


Emily Dickinson’s letter from The Dinner Party

After we returned home, we did pull down my volume of The Complete Poems and looked at a few. I read the opening article in a recent Cambridge Companion and discovered people are still arguing over how to punctuate the poetry. Who knew Jerome McGann’s return to the holograph manuscripts is doubted by some. The earliest editions by Todd and Higginson sold very well and she was popular as a 19th century poet, but she was lost from view during modernism, held no interest for socialist writers of the 1930s; the first elevation of her was due to the ultra-conservative white poets of the 1950s (John Crowe Ransom) and she came to the attention of the “close-readers” and humane people like Randall Jarrell. So it was in the 1960s (the same era that saw the first “rise” to real fame of Virginia Woolf) that Dickinson began to achieve the stature of Whitman’s counterpart that she holds today. She was no feminist darling until the 1980s, the discovery of her life-long affair with Susan and the attempt to carve out a l’ecriture-femme. She did make the cut for Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. Some of this may help account for the peculiarly neutral point of view of the film.


On the beach in the morning birds

Ellen

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autumnmist
These autumnal photos are from friends on face-book: Mist

“Speech,” she said, “is but broken light upon the depth Of the unspoken . . . ” —George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy

Dear friends and readers,

I feel like I’m beginning again after some kind of hiatus where I’ve been in this strange state of interacting with all these different people without Jim nearby. When I can return to my house although I know he does not exist anymore, I have my memories and all the things left over and can find peace and strength from routine alone. I have not had that kind of strengthening for hours on end since October 11th. So I realize however hard for me without this nest I lose the roots of my identity.

fallenleaves
Fallen Leaves

The front half of my house is still under-going renovation and we’ve had no kitchen sink, sometimes no stove since October 7th. We eat out evenings (Olive Garden, La Madeline, a nice Pizza restaurant in Old Town where we’ve watched 60 Minutes, Leslie Stall still going strong on a visit to the antartic) or we go to Noodles and Company and carry the pasta back or order from a local Chinese restaurant. While we were in Chawton, I had to put my poor pussycats (badly frightened I realized when I picked them up) in a pet boarding house to make sure they would be safe (not run away), taken regular care of for some 8 days. At home when the contractors are here, they must stay in one room in the back and they hear the startling frightening noises.

Another way to put this is I’ve not blogged anywhere for 11 days! and have not written seriously here (as in The Fragility of Friendship) since before the anniversary of Jim’s death (October 9th). For some people such a stretch would be nothing. Not for me. Out of touch. I need to re-situate myself this way. I’ve not been sleeping the night through for several days and nights now. Waking at 3:30 am no matter what pills I take or how I exhaust myself. So I do read for a while and take a melantonin (non-prescription sleeping pill) and get two more hours if I’m lucky that way.

My books during this time have included Tolstoy’s War and Peace in two different language translations, Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography. I’ve watched LeCarre’s Night Manager yet once more. Going and coming back on the plane. I’m getting to understand what’s happening, all the nuances of that remarkable exposure of the arms industry: the New York Times tells us how the people fighting in Mosul are a combination of mercenary armies, disaffected ethnic groups, small “classified” (not explained) special forces from the US and other nations, but does not tell us where the fearful bombs (barrels of napalm) are made and by whom and what is the payment. LeCarre calls our attention to this.

I’ve been to three conferences — one far away in Chawton, Hampshire (a Charlotte Smith conference, at Chawton Library, in type very like the Burney, only much longer, 3 days, 10/14 to 10/16, including a many hour series of trips around to Smith sites in Sussex and Surrey on Sunday), two close in vicinity but not in type (the Burney conference this past Thursday, 10/20, and the JASNA, 10/21 and 10/22, both in the Washington DC area). I’m not through yet: I’ve a fourth conference (a favorite, where I do meet real old friends, EC/ASECS) in two weeks, located about two hours away by car, Mary Washington College. Tomorrow is my Film Club which I don’t want to miss. I will resume teaching (I stopped for a week) this Monday.

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chawton-house-library1

So what is worth telling beyond the papers I heard (which I’ll write up as a series of reports about Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, and Austen and all things Austenian in my Austen reveries blog). Travel looms large in my mind as well as the place I’d never seen before. I sent a proposal to the Charlotte Smith conference as I had longed to see the Chawton Library, the house Jane Austen’s brother inherited, to which Chawton cottage was an appendage. Now I have. It is a beautiful mansion, once a private home (and one can see even now how it was lived in if you apply your imagination), now a building given over to research, with rooms of rare books, mostly 18th century, focused on women writers and artists and Jane Austen. We were shown one beautiful volume of studies of flowers and plants by an 18th century woman — the book is apparently their display copy for visitors to peruse.

During the two days of papers, which included two recitals of her poetry to music, I heard so much about her for the first time and had my sense of what her poetry can be altered, enriched, explained, and in the one day we went touring, saw as many sites as human beings literally could do, with a 20 minute lecture by a local historian, Carol Brown, on the history of the church Charlotte Turner (as she was then) attended as well as the house her mother lived in nearby (Stoke), complete with contemporary illustrations.

It’s ironic this blog will be about all the things that happened during the trip itself, and what I left behind (my two pussycats), and the countryside and city (London) we saw, and not Smith. I met Loraine Fletcher, the biographer of Smith and had much solacing and stimulating conversation. I enjoyed a couple of meals Izzy and I had with her and another friend. The Smith group wants to become a small society, perhaps have a website and face-book page; they are starting up in hard times. One must incorporate a non-profit, to do a journal takes enormous work, but someone from BSECS (British Society of 18th century studies) said he would add the Smith Society (if there is one) to their website as a way of starting. They could have caucuses or panels every other year at ASECS too. Other smaller societies do that.

reading_room_interiorchawtonlibrary
Interior reading room at Chawton Library

What strikes someone in the year 2016 is how small a community the village of Chawton is today and thus how tiny it must have been in the later 18th century. Alton had three (!) bookstores and all the amenities and types of shops daily life requires, but without the internet (intermittent in many buildings) and fully socialized individual life and regular visits to London or visiting theater and other groups what a quiet life it might be. Alton Hotel (where we stayed) is a central hub, as pub, dining room, Sunday meeting and conference place.
juddbooks
A remarkably good Bloomsbury bookstore — superb collection of theater and poetry and all sorts of subjects

Izzy and I spent a full day in London too: we managed 2 Bloomsbury parks, 5 bookstores altogether. Three were remarkable collectors’ places in the middle of the West End theater district: I held a first edition of Trollope’s The American Senator in my hand, 3 volumes, in beautiful condition, in one. Another was a treasure trove of music publications, including reference sets, the most remarkable and interesting (and ordinary) of books published, plus playbills it seemed for the last 200 years, another filled with prints, from the 18th century on, whole series. That I bought only 5 books, all carryable (not the first edition of American Senator, too high in price for me) showed self-control.

We went to the Beyond Carravagio exhibit in the National Gallery: some 8-9 rooms of intriguing imitators of Caravaggio, groups of people playing cards, cheating one another in all sorts of ways, transgressive sex, theatrical scenes of betrayal — this after we discovered the Film Museum (where we had tried to go to do something different) is now as imbecilic as the Maritime Museum in Cornwall was: huge amounts of noise, endless repetitions of cars crashing on films, and the actual cars (it was said) used in James Bond films is all there is there now. We saw a not-so-good production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser. Unfortunately the only images I have for the Caravaggio are those where Christ is included, and these are far less interesting than the revelations of people seen in many of those with no gods in them. The film of The Dresser that I saw on my BBC Iplayer was better, but this one seemed so a propos to the wars going on now and the murdering to profound distress and dislocation of many: Sir I now realize is a sexual predator as well as blind egotist. The players did not do the parts as plangently as in the film, and I preferred that.

We stayed at a hotel in Bloomsbury: the George, no bathroom or shower to ourselves, as minimal in comforts a room (one lamp for example) as the hotel we had in Paddington when we came last year. It seems unless you are willing to spend hugely, in London that’s all there is.

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Another wrinkle in warnings against airplane travel. You may recall all the trouble and expense I had buying these non-stop tickets to and from Chawton. Well, when Izzy and I got to the airport to get back to Washington DC on the Tuesday morning (10/18), in plenty of time, at first we were told we were part of “overbooked seats” and would not get on that plane, but maybe the next or maybe stay in a hotel. I became silently but (apparently visually enough) distraught: the woman employee saw in my eyes this wouldn’t do, as I started to say how angering this was, and with startling ease suddenly produced two seats — the same seats Izzy and I had had on the plane to the UK.

overbooked

This incident should trouble anyone: it didn’t feel quite random, not just these same two seats (about the middle of the Premium Economy caste). We were asked to sit apart from other passengers and put on the plane first. It may be the whole paranoiac atmosphere in the US and at airports where the US dominates creates paranoia but I’d prefer if utter disrespect and lack of concern for Izzy and I as individuals (our cases were already on board the plane) were driving this sudden refusal and then production of two seats. Today on the Metro coming home from JASNA, I overheard a conversation where a young woman was refused entrance into a plane, made to wait 3 hours for another, and then not let on that, and finally instead of a hotel, a third plane taking her to a different airport had found out in fact there were seats on the original plane but somehow given to someone else.

This is the power of monopoly corporations. While on said plane, Premium economy people were told there were no good snacks between the two meals. Don’t tell me first and other similar classes on another level of the plane didn’t have these. My cell phone did not work at all for days while away, and I still have not gotten a paper bill from Sprint since July; I was egregiously overcharged in September by phone after I came home from Cornwall and was told my bill was “way overdue.” I am one promised next week. I emailed my other daughter, Laura, to ask about her experience, does she use another server, and her prompt reply was “they are all like this” and she’s not had a bill from Verizon for 6 months and “can’t get one from them.” My phone did begin to work when we got to London and then again when I got home. I don’t want an i7 which is what I’m told I’ll get if I try to buy a new device. I noticed the spread of of Indian caste systems now includes the security theater: different lines for differently labelled US passport holders, different amounts of time to wait, but all seemingly requiring four different snapped photos.

It’s not enough to avoid absolutely all middle men (Expedia, the kind of intervening site which seems to be the hotel you want to stay in, but is a middle man and so the hotel is not responsible if your booking is not there for real), to phone and book the airline direct and talk to a real human being who reads aloud the document and send a copy to you of what you paid for (and pay for a better seat than Economy or Steerage Abuse): my new plan is never take a plane unless I am profoundly sure I want to go to wherever it is and will have an enjoyable time. I realize that when companionless I find the contingencies of all travel itself an trial (when not an ordeal of exploitation) so must take that into consideration too.

Izzy was with me, and she spent two afternoons at Jane Austen’s house in Chawton iself. She said she remembered nothing of the house and so it was of real interest to her. She went over to the church and saw Jane’s sister and mother’s grave; ate a good lunch at Cassandra’s cup. She appeared interested in a couple of the more accessible papers on Smith; said she understood mine and enjoyed the day’s touring. Having her with me was a great help for me, and she saw England once again. But I doubt she’d go for a week in the Lake District, much less follow Johnson and Boswell’s steps into the Hebrides in Scotland. I’m not sure about the latter myself.

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Trinity Washington University - 125 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington, DC
Trinity College, one of the buildings

The one-day all day Frances Burney conference was held two days ago, 10/22, at Trinity College in Northeast DC: it’s still filled with non-minority girl- and young womanhood. A grand old building which has hardly been renovated, we had a large auditorium where they served us very good food for lunch, breakfast coffee and rolls and afternoon tea too. Acoustics not good but we managed. I liked being there, seeing the young women students. The older wood engravings everywhere in the building, the grand stairways, a library spoke of decent hope, original dignity, and a continuing attempt to educate and give meaning to students’ lives. I had a couple of students at Mason who had spent a year or so in the institution, both hispanic, and now becoming nurses.

We had a dinner not far from the Marriot hotel where the JASNA was located. This one was differently enjoyable for me than the Smith, because I know some of the people. I have a couple of very good friends I’d say (though seeing them only twice a year at best, and writing on-line occasionally over the year) and have had good conversations with them over the years of going to Burney conferences (on and off for some 10 years or so, plus I wrote up reports of these conferences for those I went to and they were published in the Burney Newsletter). Still I was beginning to be very tired by this time. I will enter into the individual papers thoroughly on the Austen reveries blog: Burney had a more varied life and her journals are astonishingly rich.

It used to be the Burney conference occurred the day and morning before the JASNA started and in the same hotel or place: some central people in the Burney society are central to JASNA so they have been sister-groups. But now JASNA extends its vacation-like tours and fan-group like workshops, with so-called “light” lectures to three days before the sessions start (cut down from 9 at Portland, 7 at Montreal and now 4 only) on Friday. I met several people who were complaining (though ever so politely and hesitantly): “it’s over so quickly” was a typical comment. This thing has cost Izzy and I $400 each; all the activities beyond the fee were separately charged. You can’t get anything in that hotel without being nickled and dimed (actually 5 dollared).

Anyway the time of the conference extends over counting tours and these scattered lectures cover conflict with the smaller Burney society, so like the small Smith group, this society needs to partner, perhaps now differently: say run sessions or caucuses at larger 18th century conferences, or join (as they will next year) with another smaller women’s group: the Aphra Behn Society.
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The hotel inside looks like this on one of the floors from a frontal view

By contrast to the Burney venue, the JASNA hotel was all marble floors, glass and anonymous modernity, escalators, hardly anywhere to eat but a Starbucks. If there was a super-expensive restaurant, it was not made obvious to someone not staying in the hotel. A floor above the meetings rooms was a small book “Ford’s emporium,” which included the usual junk earrings, paraphernalia Austeniana, and also three or four tables of interesting books and I was able to include my edition of Ethelinde among those on the Jane Austen Books table. Izzy was invited to a halloween party by her ex-boss with a proviso that “costumes are strongly preferred” and I gather for the last 3 AGMS (I went now 4 years ago) someone running a regency costume shop has had a large stall at the JASNA AGM. Izzy found a dress that suited her for this coming occasion. She looks good in some of the regency dresses (and once tried a corset on and looked right in that too).

A small snapshot for now: Arnie Perlstein was there and responded to the lecturer of the key note address. This lecturer (semi-famous with a book written from a post-colonial stance on Austen) asserted rather incoherently about there being so much that is invisible in Emma, but he did not go on to tell us what this was: the lecturer did take a page were servants were mentioned but he did not try to prove 18th century readers seriously read the book to find out about the Woodhouse servants. He seemed to try to make jokes, to have a jocular stance: when he would quote something the audience found funny they did laugh. and he looked relieved. I sometimes wonder if the speakers are told to try to “lighten” it up; they tend to ride over the nebulous. Arnie got up so gratified and began to talk of Jane Fairfax’s pregnancy and some other of his favorite theories. The lecturer looked embarrasssed. But it fit his thesis. Arnie was stopped. Since the academic was too cowardly or careful to say what these invisible depths were (perhaps sexual?), his lecture was to my mind exposed as having nothing in it (invisible?).

I did feel rejuvenated a little about Austen two papers I heard and one Izzy told me about: one was on sexual assault in Emma: the woman said she put her proposal in a year ago so the relevance was unintended but there. She also covered the psychological assault on Jane Fairfax. The audience response was intense and for once stayed on topic. The popular readership in fan cults hardly ever talk on line, but unlike academics they will talk in sessions about what they feel about a favorite book or author. I get the feeling they long to discuss Austen and their views and hardly ever get a chance to do it. They had less this year than previous ones. Another paper on education mildly and therefore persuasively suggested Mr Knightly not the great teacher — as he says himself. Here the audience soon went off-topic to gossip about the characters. But they did hear and take in the paper (in some years I’ve been at talks where the lecturer worked so hard to convince the audience of say how this unpopular Austen movie provided a new insight and when the audience began to respond it was clear they just didn’t listen to or accept at all what had been said). I find it jarring when a lecturer is insisting on some sentimental interpretation of a text (such as how good a daughter Emma is, how inspiring) and then quotes one of Austen’s bitter caustic comments. There was a superb lecture by Susan Allen Ford on what is read in Emma and by whom, and what paying attention to these books cited in the novel tell us about the characters and book’s themes. It was said by some to be “so erudite” (I’m not sure if this kind of statement is apologetic or is critical or what?) but it’s easy to reply by saying, yes it was excellent, and as Austen herself says of political talk, silence comes soon afterward.

I have read the North American JASNA grew exponentially in 1995 at the time of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (scripted Andrew Davies, with the now tiresome wet shirt scene), and it has not fallen off since. Many of those coming take it as an excuse for a vacation in a famous toured place. Lots of people networking for wherever they work, for other similar organizations, trying to set up coming publications and so on. I’ll write details what presentations (or papers) I heard on my Austen Reveries blog (on illustrations, on three recent Emma films). I find the JASNA each time I’ve attended oddly exhausting, at once crowded and yet lonely. People wave at me who in other places I have talked with.

Happily neither the Burney or JASNA conference necessitated staying away from home. How much easier are those conferences where one gets to leave in the early evening or goes home between bouts of sessions. The cats missed me badly, the house and Izzy too very much. True to family form, they didn’t socialize with the other cats, but preferred a soft box put in their cage, and staying close to one another. Clinging, they were not sick but they did not eat much. It is all so much more endurable, cats, books at home, quiet.

I have not begun to say what it has been. Sylvia Plath wrote after her divorce, “the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.” It’s not that for me but I understand how she could feel that way. On widowhood: “It is not true that in time you get used to it. Far from healing wounds, time can on the contrary, only make wounds worse” — Simone de Beauvoir. Again it’s not that bad for me rather the wounds just grow deeper as I think about my own conduct all these years and how I must live now.

Miss Drake

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TheDuckwaterbirdpond
Duck and waterbird pond at Saltram House

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d bring together in one blog the photo-essays of Izzy’s and my trip together:

Photo Essay #1: We were 3 days in Leuven for a Trollope conference, and she wandered with an alert eye after reading about the place: Leuven is a city of churches (still under the influence of the Catholic church — we stayed at the Irish college, a catholic institution there since the 14th century); of waterways, and despite the bombing of World War Two many of the patterns of the older streets and buildings still stand. Others have been built to fit into the ambiance. They have squares in the center and a friendly street life outside restaurants and cafes. I walked with her the first evening.

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/trip-photos-blog-1-belgium/

Photo Essay #2: The Leuven Botanical Gardens. Izzy’s time there under trees — it rained and makes for misty strangely lovely photos — don’t miss the strange statue where we see hands and head peeking out of the ground:

LeuvenBotanicalGardens

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/trip-photos-blog-2-leuven-botanical-gardens/

Photo Essay # 3: Devonshire and Cornwall. As Izzy says, we visited many places. Berryhead, Exeter estuary, Saltram House (a separate blog will be devoted to that), Plymouth, ferry ride to Cornwall, Edgecumb formal gardens in Cornwall (below part of a stairway/balustrade), Labrador Bay: to quote my friend, “ships gathered there to go to Labrador to buy salt cod and to take settlers there. This was a very common occurrence and was an important trade for South and East Devon ships. Finally, a 14th century Romanesque church and environs … represent only some

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/trip-photos-blog-3-devon/

Izzy’s delightfully wry photographic essay on our exploration of Saltram house while we were in Devonshire. She picked out just the right object and details about it to characterize the experience:

Saltram House: an Georgian-era aristocratic house near Plymouth, originally owned the Parker family, eventually the Earls or Morley, but given up to the National Trust in 1957. The furniture and other contents were given up with it, so they too remain on the house, which is now open for visitors to tour. Although that does necessitate some of the rooms being kept relatively dark to preserve them, enough so that I wasn’t able to photograph everything.

Although even before buying tickets in what had once been the stables, one is treated to the sight of a duck pond, filled with a crazy amount of ducks of different types:

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/trip-photos-blog-4-saltram-house/

Her fifth and last photo-journal blog of our trip: London. Alas she did not take any photos for the second day (which she and I spent together), but she snapped away on the first: Camden Town and St James Park where it is necessary to take as many photos of water-fowl as possible

https://msisobel.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/trip-photos-blog-5-london/

Camden
Camden

Miss Drake

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ebooks-ipad
Not exactly the books I chose — but they look like this on my ipad

Dear friends and readers,

Yet another trip, this time to Los Angeles, to the ASECS conference. I’ve kept myself busy preparing for all the things I had to do before I leave, and catching up when I return. I travel light, one bag on wheels so I won’t have to check it, and I will rely on my ipad for reading (I downloaded literally thousands of pages from its Store” onto a “Library” program) for all but three slim paperbacks (as backup), real writing pads to write my lectures for when I get back (for the Poldark and Barsetshire novels). My paper is a paper copy — I bring 3 copies stashed in different places. It’s but 5 pages. I look forward to joining in a book club with 3 friends on Saturday night. I will miss my pussycats and they me but will meet one of my friend’s 3 pussycats.

Ian

Despite all avowals, I did accept another book to review, one I couldn’t resist, on Chardin’s genre pictures: Pastiche, Fashion, and Galanterie in Chardin’s Genre Subjects: Looking Smart by Paula Radisich. I don’t usually think of him as painting the gay rococo world of the aristocracy, but here is one of his gestures in this direction: A Lady Sealing a Letter:

ChardinLady
1732

I’ve rejoined the Trollope Society and will go briefly to NYC in May to hear John Wirenius speak of his Phineas at Bay, which we read together on our Trollope19thCStudies list. I’m to teach Framley Parsonage at the OLLI at Mason in June and the first week of July. Yvette and I have now planned and booked our Belgium trip this coming September to include Torquay and another visit to a friend for a couple of days.

Update

I’m into the Third Week of another Future Learn: Much Ado About Nothing in performance it’s called, but it’s about how the dark interpretation of it is the half-adequate one. I’ve sent away to Netflix for Shakespeare Re-done, which includes this play reworked in modern language, brought up to date with contemporary attitudes, Damien Lewis excellent as a slightly darkly brooding Benedick, and at long last Billie Piper rightly cast as an angry Hero.

Time keeps moving on. Each moment follows the one before, inexorable. I remember Dylan Thomas about time holding us all in its chains. Even after we are dead and live on in the memories of those who miss us.

Miss Drake

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SaturdaymorningCentralpark
Central Park not far from West Park Drive — I took the photo by cell phone on Saturday, climbing high on a rock formation around 10 in the morning, bitter cold wind but sunny: I meant to snap the lake I saw too but didn’t manage it

Dear friends and readers,

Yvette and I reached home from New York City and our pussycats not far from midnight last night (Saturday). We had come to New York City for two nights and three days (at a huge expense) for reasons we made explicit and not so explicit. We said we were coming to NYC for Yvette at long last to go into the opera house and experiences one of the operas we’d been watching in an HD-screen theater live, and since John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer was removed from HD operas broadcast across the world (a genuine loss) we chose this weekend. In summer we had said we ought to have a holiday but didn’t exactly know where to go, and thought of NYC but since in August NYC is hot, to say nothing of the reality the plays I’d want to see were starting in later September, we decided on some time during the fall.

I knew I was coming as a way of breaking a thick wall of pain: NYC the place Jim and I had lived in so happily (well on and off) together for 11 years and visited many times since, my home (where I feel at home, crazy as this may seem, where when my inability to cope with space as to north, south, east, and west is not so bad once I am situated since I know so many of the streets and places like I know my hands). Why I needed to do this I don’t know: twice in the two days I began to shake uncontrollably from nervous distress, and at times it seemed everywhere I went I was looking at some place or scene he and I had been together, or some place or scene he and I had passed through together and remembering, here we did this, there we would do that. But never cried. Why I don’t cry I can’t figure out, instead I sit down and put my hands over my face for the time I need to do this until I’m calmer.

So many ghosts. I grew up here with two parents, both now dead, and I went to the theater with my father. Shopped on 34th Street when it was glamorous and had an Orbach’s and got a fancy coat with my mother. They were with me too. Sombre in Central Park I went walking with Memory.

Yvette and I had saw some terrific theater and great photographs, which I mean to write blogs on Ellen and Jim have a blog two. Beyond Death of Klinghoffer, which Yvette has already written in her concise brillian wry way upon, we saw together Stoppard’s The Real Thing and went to the Metropolitan Museum for a few hours and happened upon photographs by Thomas Struth, I saw Albee’s A Delicate Balance, and walked in Central Park, both wandered in Times Square where twice we found places to eat meals we could ingest (our old standby The Olive Garden, up against the Tickets booth, still there and offering the best meal we had while we were away). We missed out on Frederick Wiseman’s “rapturous” (so saith the New Yorker) National Gallery. Nowadays PBS (which devotes time to slick cliched dramas, with all star casts and writers (Worricker) does not air Wiseman. It was down at the Film Forum (Houston Street) starting at 4 pm or so, and it didn’t fit into our tight schedule. I noticed it played in AFI in Maryland today at 4 so there is hope it may show up here yet.

We had some comical misadventures, the type that seem funny in retrospect but not lived-in experience. I worry intensely about making trains and one of these liminal journeys between here and there (actually I go into mini-panics lest we miss a train, or fail to get off a train before it starts up again), one of these transition times was at 4 pm when we left Death of Klinghoffer and the Met Opera house, and had to get back to the Park Central Hotel at 56th Street and 7th Avenue to rescue our bags (we did it by subway, then walking, then tickets) and then, armed with said bags, into a taxi, and back to 34th Street to Amtrak, rattling down 7th Avenue through Broadway and east to Madison Square Garden. As it happened we were way early for a 7 pm train, so I said let’s trade in our tickets for 6 pm, and Yvette wanted to eat! She persists in this desire of hers to eat, though she is so fussy about what she eats. So we had a hunt, and finally found a place underground at Madison Square Garden (way expensive) and then when we got back to wait for some 30 minutes, on the board was a train delay of nearly an hour. We get on finally and so does all the world: the train was now supercrowded: Yvette and I could not find two seats together walking up and down the coach and I noticed a man was sleeping over 4 seats and as he looked like a bum, people were letting him occupy 4 seats (two double chairs facing one another). Fuck it I said, and went over, and shook him slightly and pushed him off the double seat we were going to occupy across the way from him. The way I cope with possible belligerence is to get very polite, perhaps schoolmistressy, and he asked me if I were the manager of the train. I replied he has no right to more than one seat, proceed to ignore him and barge on to the two seats and we took our stuff, sat down, and plugged in to recharge our phones and ipads.

Good thing as her ticket and mine had been cancelled (!) and she would have been distressed by the conductor: it seems that if you have a two-way ticket and the conductor on the way fails to swipe the ticket right, your whole ticket is cancelled. (What kind of system is this?) Somehow I was responsible said this conductor, giving me a phone number. I had to phone on the train someone in some inaccessible place and explain; I admit she immediately guessed the problem and said she could fix it; I just had to stay on hold. Yvette hears and says give her your phone number. I do. We did not get disconnected and the ticket became valid again and could be swiped by magical computers. This guy is watching us; but we carry on sitting and talking to one another and reading. We finally get to some stop where the layover allows for getting off the train, and he is walking off the train — without his bag. Suddenly Yvette was worried, “he’s forgetting his bag!” I said he’ll just get belligerent. He is a man who drinks heavily and falls asleep, “it’s none of our business” (an old NY axiom). But I could not stop her from running after him, pushing partly through the crowded aisles, to call to him, “Sir, sir … you are forgetting your bag!”, looking all anxiety. Most unexpectedly he turns round, comes back and is all courtesy to her, genuinely touched by her apparent concern, telling her all he meant to do was walk for the fresh air and come back into the train.

We then moved to the seats across the aisle as the train was less crowded, but he offers to get me a coffee, apologizes to me in positively courtly manner. I accept his apology. He had been impressed by my willingness to sit in seats across from his where everyone else treated him like some pariah. In a couple of stations he gets off and we say “cheerio” and other polite salutations.

However, turns out Yvette was not motivated (as he and I both thought) by her good heart, but was afraid that if he left his bag we would have to report it to the conductor as possibly a terrorist bomb and then we’d be stuck on the train with interviews for hours and hours. She wasn’t thinking of him at all. I said (startled at this), “no one would report such a bag … he’s not a terrorist, just a poor man who drinks too much and his stuff looked miserable in his wretched bag.” But could not persuade her she would not have had to report it. She would have reported lest we get in trouble for not reporting it. I ask myself, Have I neglected some aspect of her education?

Shall I say that NYC does have restaurants that are neither super-expensive or dead cheap (Montreal and other cities seem to have no half-way places) but often the food is sheer snobbery. Who eats that? I mean for real? I did begin to discover some better places, a real Trattoria up two blocks from the hotel, a good cafe near the park. The subway is a mystery to me once again, but Yvette got pretty good at navigating us up and down, east and west. A new system gives the trains with letters and numbers colors so you can see at a glance which set of trains run up and down and and in and our of the same tracks at some point or other. She had not taken an heavy enough coat and was not keen on walking above ground

Caroline faithfully visited the cats daily, played with them, put down food, cleaned the litter, including much later on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. Still they were upset. Caroline sent photos each day.

WaryClaryCat
Wary Clarycat

All day today she has stuck close to me, sitting tight on my lap, half-clutching at me with paws.

They refuse to play with dead leaves: Ian all intense uncomfortableness:

notquiteenticed

Ian went into his hugging me act by 4 this afternoon.

I don’t know if I’ll return again soon. This time took a lot out of me. I had a lot to do today too: bills, much mail to go through, catching up on my courses: I am asked to submit a proposal which will entice retired people at the OLLI program at Mason to read Trollope — I ask myself, what am I doing enticing older people to read anyone? There’s something wrong here. I even managed to go out to DC this afternoon with a friend to meet with an all-women Aspergers group at a Teaism not far from the E-Street Cinema, and share experiences and problems and how to cope.

I’ll end with poem I came across a couple of weeks ago: by John Burnside he analogously captures something of the experience I felt during the three days: on Thursday night coming home exhilarated from seeing Glenn Close’s performance in Albee’s A Delicate Balance, I had a 11 block walk in the rain with the sidewalk running rivers so it was indeed

Pluviose

There is a kind of sleep that falls
for days on end, the foothills lost in cloud,
rain in the stairwells, rainspots crossing the floor
of the Catholic church

and the sense of a former life
at the back of our minds,
as if the dead had gathered here in shapes
that seemed at least familiar, if not perfect.

As children, we were told they came
for our sakes, bringing secrets from the cold,
the loam on their eyes and hands
a kind of blessing,

but now they are here,
in the creases and lines of our mouths,
speaking through us to friends we have never seen,
or only to the rain, because it sounds

the way it sounded then, when they were young,
setting a ladle aside, or a finished book,
and the world almost come to an end,
when we stopped to listen.

Late afternoon, and further along the canal
the lock-keeper’s prettiest daughter is setting
eel traps in the clockless silt and purl
of waters her mother fished, before marriage and barter,

and though she has been dead for forty years,
she is living the life I lost on the way to school
in the body I failed to grow up in, her hands in the flow
of the river, finding the current

and teasing it loose, like a story, the word by word
oftrains running through in the dark, in a seasonless rain,
and the faces in every compartment familiar and strange,
with a sister’s disdain, or a grandmother’s folded smile.

Sylvia

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JasonBrown

Jason Brown caught in one upswing moment — a remarkable skate-dancer (see Yvette’s account of the Ice-skating week)

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d let my friends and those who read my blog know that Yvette and I arrived home safely in good time — mid-afternoon. Unlike our voyage out (a 10 hour wait for a working plane, brutal cold as we waited for a cab at 2 am in Boston while a woman cherry-picked people to go in groups into each cab, was part of this), our journey back occurred on schedule. Good thing or my drivers’ license might soon be suspended. Yvette dove into our mail sooner than I had the courage to, and found a notice from the DMV saying that the papers I’d sent them by priority mail were unacceptable. This arrived on January 7th, so when they averred I had to add information by January 16th, it was not unreasonable. Only I was away.

Well seeing this letter, I got to work. Two hours of harried phoning and emails with a doctor, and tomorrow I am to meet with an insurance man by 9:30 am (if he does send a shuttle bus for me as I’ve no car) and get a rental car (while my license is not yet suspended), which car will enable me to drive to the doctor who has promised to add the necessary information. Some of it pickayune: they are looking for ways to stop me driving. The doctor did not write down on the form the date of the accident; he also did not explicitly say that the accident was not the result of a medical condition. Luckily I have xeroxes of the forms and he can add to these.

More ominously for those who think their medical records are private: I discovered before I left and now again, that although what you might say to a psychiatrist is sancrosanct and protected from investigation, not your prescription record. Any agency it seems can get into this: in August I was prescribed a strong anxiety medicine when I was dealing with the first onslaught of knowing Jim would die and his rage at this. The DMV was able to see the prescription and wants to know why it was prescribed (that they were not able to see but demand now to know) and if it was discontinued and when. I took but one pill and since it’s just one bottle there is no discontinuation. My primary care person has to write a sentence explaining and perhaps himself discontinue the medication.

Lesson: don’t just accept prescription drugs on the off-chance you might use them — which is what I did, for in the event I never used this drug for severe anxiety, or any other drug this drug-happy psychiatrist prescribed. He is one of those who agenda is to give out drugs, and I have accepted from him other drugs twice and tried them for one or two nights and stopped when I found myself groggy, miserable, dulled. He prescribed a sleep medication which is dangerous — better take the over-the-counter melantonin, in small doses.

So another harrowing day. I have to rely on a doctor’s nurse to fax this addition to the DMV and hope it gets there. Obviously this is like the added-on obstacles to abortion, to prevent me from driving even though the report was such — and my driving record (34 years of not one accident and 2 tickets, both about illegal turns) — that they are not talking about revocation of license, just supension.

Let’s say I manage this — and I am genuinely afraid I will not — then I have to buy a car. It’s an ordeal in this area to get to a cleaner’s with your cleaning without a car. I did look at a buying service and there are these pretty photos of cars that look nice. But how do I get there? with my rental car I suppose. I cannot negotiate; beyond me, and so though my two financial advisors and others have said buy it on time, I would probably just turn over the money I get from the insurance to buy a new used one outright.

DavisWhite
Meryl Davis and Charlie White — a much favored and strongly graceful pair — Yvette expressed intense satisfaction in being able to enjoy them right before her

On our week away I believe Yvette got to see what she meant to: from Monday mid-morning on and off for many hours a day she watched ice-skating by people at various levels of proficiency and age, doing different kinds of feats. She ran the gamut from young novices (12 years old) to championship Olympic level 20 year olds. She was thrilled to be in the building with many of the stars whose books she had read and skating watched for years. For me I discovered that I was not a devoted fan, and that 12 hours a day was too much of a good thing. I found myself with a runny burning nose, hacking cough by Wednesday (the streets were arctic and the skating rink has cool misty air pumped into it for the sake of the ice). I did enjoy some of the skating very much: ballroom dancing type in the convention center (not championship, probably not top skaters necessarily) was very touching and I kept wishing instead of the latest in movie music, the couples had chosen more Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers music. I enjoyed the pair dancing, which is differentiated from ice-dancing by its having leaps and all sorts of these virtuosi techiques which attract attention and applause; and I liked the championship ice-dancing towards the end. The last night, men’s championship (Jason Brown, Jerome Abbot) and gala (one Gracie Grace I think her name was doing a Fosse number).

IMG_0275
Ian coming out of hiding after hours and hours alone

But going away may not be for me any more, at least not now. I felt very bad about the cats: Yvette bought our tickets way back last April before the Admiral was even diagnosed. So we never imagined they’d be alone for hours and hours — Caroline and her friend, Marni, were splendid in visiting, feeding, playing with them for as much as a couple of hours at a time but that this was frightening was obvious from their forlorn presences in the early photos of the week. Just now Clary is clinging firmly into my lap and Ian is ensconced on the grey pillow behind this Macbook Pro.

IMG_3379
Clary adjusted quicker — she came out to eat and supervise the changing of her litter and eventually to play and cuddle quickly

I was never much of a traveler and only in later years could I reconcile myself to being away as long as it was not for too long a stretch. I also discovered that I made a bad goof which worried me: in my efforts to protect the data on this Macbook Pro while I was away, I turned the power strip off and meant to turn the computer off. Well I did turn the power strip off but not the computer so the effect was to drain the battery. Fortunate that I don’t know that this because my ignorance made me question Caroline in an email about this, and discover my idiotic counterproductive proceeding. Marni did tell me in one of her emails not to worry as the power strip had been turned back on, and Caroline said she re-charged the battery yesterday, but it was another experience of harrowed worrying.

My mind feels worn; I probably lost more weight. Much of the food we came across was to me inedible: inside the stadiums (where there was of course no re-entry and no food and drink to be brought in) there was ill-tasting junk food at extortionate prices (some of it didn’t resemble food to my eyes); in the restaurants except on a couple of occasions heaps of luxuriously over-prepared food far too much for me to eat; sometimes I just couldn’t get myself to swallow any of the over-prepared be-sauced pastas. I discovered you could buy 3 ounces of wine in the lobby of the hotel; there was one TV turned to New Hampshire public TV and I watched it on occasion (I could not figure out what was on my TV upstairs as there was no schedule anywhere at all). They also didn’t do a bad cup of clam chowder. I drank Starbucks coffee most mornings and ate half a stale croissant.

What lies ahead? If I can offset this new threat of suspension, I should take all three apple products to some apple store (Macbook pro, Ipad and Iphone) as they have inconsistent Apple IDs and the ipad (for most things) and Iphone (if I want to use Itunes or other of the neat Apps) keep bothering me to reset my password — which I know from previous experience might lock me out of the Macbook Pro so I dare not. I worry if I disconnect the Macbook Pro though I will not be able to reconnect it. It only takes the littlest deviation to make things not work properly.

I’m supposed to get a windows machine which has a large monitor and Windows 7 and will have FileZilla and notepad +- which will enable me again to reach the website the Admiral created — but to tell the truth about this which will cost me much money — I fear I won’t be able to operate it without much help. My learning curve each time is achingly steep.

I have books to review, the syllabus I sent the Georgetown man to fix, books to read with friends on Trollope19thStudies, a couple of blogs I’d like to do. I would like again to blog one episode at a time about Downton Abbey precisely because I’m gathering many of its cult fans are dissing it for its seriousness. But it’s hard to settle down to a peaceful routine — which is what I ever worked out of — when I am so harassed and harrowed.

I have asked myself what are the worse things about being alive without the Admiral. Can I list them? As I try to delineate detail, it comes down to the atmosphere in which all has been conducted since the day my computer crashed in November. Since then I have been confronted continuously with far more than I foresaw would or could come to pass without him. And what I foresaw was formidable enough.

I want to write out a routs and follow it but how can I when tomorrow I must rush out for meetings, get forms faxed (I don’t know how to fax anything myself I should say) if the doctor will do it (what will he say about this prescription which he did not prescribe himself), and then worry again. I do say be careful about what prescriptions you accept as they can be researched.

When and how will all this end?

Sylvia

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Last night I dreamt that while in the Boston convention center watching the US Nationals Ice-skaters, Yvette and I turned around because I heard a familiar voice. It was a male friend I did not at first recognize. I felt happy to see a friend here. So aware that when planned last June the Admiral was to be home, perhaps very sick, perhaps doing chemotherapy, but there to be emailed to, and with pussycats.

He would have planned things for us, taken us to airport, been there to pick us up, or at least home waiting for us. Not dead.

Just now: braved fierce cold and winds and subway to lunch in older part of Boston Avery UnNewyoyk like pub which seemed to care about privacy and quiet. Now watching spectacular junior ice-skating ballroom like dancing of couples. And at long last to Night and Day You are the One … only you and me beneath the moon and the sun …

——–

I have been reading jthe comments on Michelle Dockery as the widowed Lady Mary Crawley. At long last no performing, no calculation. Why should she go through some process out of which she gets over it? Penelope Wilton in her finest moments since she was in Falling (film adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novel). And to bring in Joanna David as a congenial third, stroke of emotional rightness; Tom, our widower, cannot see what she means to share because of class barrier, but we can. What distinguishes these two episodes is the respect given, (however qualified) to the experience of ravaging. As Joanne Froggart will show us next week when she is raped, these things alter you forever.

Missing my pussycats who are kindly visited and played with by Caroline, but are missing us.

Why must we have just Lord Grantham’s dog, and repeatedly from the back? As some publicly unadmitted tensions (probably much worse) keeps decimating the staff (not just the actors for Sybil, Matthew, Miss Obrien, but threats from Maggie Smith each year, a new producer and Daisy’s father-in-law, Mr Mason gone missing), perhaps bring in a pet cat who are famously (but not truly) seen as oblivious to nuances of hurt?

Sylvia

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