dual personalities

Category: Literature

What are you reading?

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 9.55.51 PM

The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things, she decided, wondering how many writers and philosophers had said this before her, the trivial pleasures like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.

–Barbara Pym, Less Than Angels

Today we celebrate the birthday of English author Barbara Pym (1913–1980) whose novels usually feature church ladies and are laced with irony. Quelle relateable, n’est-ce pas?

You can read more about her here. Guess I know what’s next on the docket.

IMG_4285

It’s going to be hot here the next couple of days.

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 8.57.07 PM

I keep forgetting it’s June…so for Pete’s sake, of course, it’s going to be hotter. Somehow, it still feels like it should be March.

Well, hang in there.

Sad ogres

IMG_5809

A cute picture of the wee laddie with little or no significance other than being cute.

I do not have much to report/write about. The days drift by, don’t they? I work (remotely) in my office and some days I take a walk depending on the weather. One night last week I watched The Full Monty (1997) which I had not seen since it came out back in the day. It is the British movie about the bloke, who, seeing the long line of women clamoring to get in to a touring Chippendales-style dance troupe, thinks he can solve his financial and custody problems by forming his own male exotic dance troupe with some of his fellow un- or underemployed ex-mill workers. Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy and Tom Wilkinson star and some low-key hilarity ensues.

Considering the plot, there is very little vulgarity. I recommend it if you are looking for low-key hilarity. And who is not?

Other than that, I am still listening to Jorge Luis Borges lecture about metaphor while needlepointing. Again, he is so great, but hard to follow sometimes–for instance, when he quotes Shakespeare, “Beware the green-eyed monster which doth mock…” he says, “The sad ogres who mock…” He is translating Shakespeare back into English from the Spanish translation I guess. Translations of translations…

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 1.41.56 PM

Delightful, but sometimes it takes me a day to catch up.

I am also re-reading Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier, having finished Frenchman’s Creek last week, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Daphne at the top of her game is hard to beat.

IMG_4265

Yesterday was my friend Carla’s birthday so Becky and I dropped by in the afternoon and chatted on her front porch (observing social distancing protocol) and toasted her with a plastic cup of Proscecco. It was very pleasant sitting on the breezy porch surrounded by peonies. A deer ran by.

Sigh. I want to see normal on the horizon and I don’t.

But chin up, it is the bell and it tolleth for thee. And it is Friday. I do not have to Zoom anything for a couple of days.

“Way down in Missouri where I learned this lullaby”*

Today is Truman Day, a holiday in our state and for some people a day off from work.

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 2.31.14 PM.png

Harry in WWI. Are his pants inflated?

I do not have the day off, but I will raise a toast to Harry nonetheless at the appropriate hour. A Missouri Mule, which was created by bartender Joe Gilmore especially for President Truman, would be nice. I thought a Missouri Mule was bourbon, lime  and ginger ale, but when I looked it up, the ingredients are:

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 2.56.24 PM

•2 parts Bourbon
•2 parts Applejack
•2 parts Lemon juice
•1 part Campari
•1 part Cointreau

Well, you learn something new every day, right?

Mother’s Day is on Sunday and I am hoping the wee babes will drop by for awhile to frolic in our yard. They came over on Wednesday and frolicked in the yard and we practiced social distancing while they picked flowers and threw rocks. It was a nice diversion.

IMG_0152.jpegIMG_0187.jpegIMG_0156.jpegAfter reading daughter #2’s blogpost yesterday about some “mildly captivating” recent films, I got thinking, of course, about classic films. I had just watched Juarez (1939) and really marveled at how good it is.

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.48.43 AM.png

The film focuses on the conflict between Maximilian I, an Austrian archduke who was installed as the puppet ruler of Mexico in 1863 by Napoleon III, and Benito Juarez, the country’s president. It is not a story that particularly interests me, but as presented by Warner Brothers with all their bells and whistles, it was riveting.

Maximilian is the Hapsburg dupe who is used by Napoleon III to expand the French empire in Mexico.  Jaurez, who idolizes Abraham Lincoln so we know he is a good guy, is the hero of the piece, but as played by Paul Muni, he isn’t half as interesting as Brian Aherne as the emperor and Bette Davis as his crazy wife, Carlota.

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.05.27 AM.png

Donald Crisp, Brian Aherne, Bette Davis, and be-still-my-heart Gilbert Roland

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.02.58 AM

The real Emperor with the unfortunate Hapsburg mouth

The screenplay by John Huston and Aeneas MacKenzie is, as you would expect, excellent and the Warner Brothers cast is terrific. How can you go wrong with John Garfield, Gilbert Roland, Claude Rains, Donald Crisp, Gale Sondergaard, Henry Davenport, etc. in supporting parts? You can’t. Handsome Brian Aherne is actually very sympathetic and believable as the overly trusting archduke and Bette Davis is thankfully limited to a couple of Big Scenes, so she doesn’t manage to take over and ruin the film. Paul Muni is stalwart as the Zapotec Man of the People. Sure the plot probably doesn’t have much resemblance to reality, but we don’t care. It is a good story.

They knew how to tell good stories and, indeed, make a movie in 1939. And they don’t seem to anymore. Is that because screenwriters and directors nowadays are too focused on their own genius to actually make anything worth watching, much less art?

I suppose I am a broken record, but with all this time on your hands and nowhere to go, you are much better served to find and watch some movies from the classic era of Hollywood. For instance, I also watched The Scarlet Empress (1934)–a movie which is nearly ninety years old!–starring Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great and it was really something–beautifully staged and photographed. The art direction was A++.

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 12.03.23 PM.png

Marlene and the remarkably sexy John Lodge (of the Boston Lodges) who went on to be a congressman and governor of Massachusetts after he’d had enough of the movie biz.

And there is no one to compare with Marlene Dietrich these days. Seriously. Who can you think of?

Well, once again, I sound like an old lady.

 

But at least I’m consistent.

If you are looking for something a little more highbrow than old movies, I have something wonderful for you. I have been listening to the Norton Lectures given by Jorge Luis Borges at Harvard in 1967-68. I listen to each lecture (about 45 minutes) while needlepointing. It is very restful and I hope I am learning something from this brilliant man.

He was almost blind by the time he gave these lectures and so he used no notes. Can you imagine! He is just the best.

But what ho, it is the weekend. Have a good one!

IMG_0146.JPEG

The super moon was awesome!

*The Missouri Waltz (state song)

So brave a palace

IMG_1149.jpeg

Well, the wee babes went back to school this week. They were pretty excited about it.

As you can see, Lottiebelle is already co-leading the class…

IMG_1190.JPG

Tomorrow the OM and I are heading down to Jefferson City to hang out at daughter #1’s new apartment. (Check out the new video on the JC Visitor’s Bureau webpage–JC is a happening place.) I’m sure we won’t be much actual help unpacking stuff etc, but we can lend moral support and give advice.

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 5.03.26 PM.png

Yeah, that lamp looks swell over there….

I am looking forward to a change of scenery!

Today I start a new, once-a-week chemo routine and I am hoping it is a bit easier than the last rotation. On verra bien.

For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth rest, heaven move, and fountains flow.
     Nothing we see but means our good,
     As our delight or as our treasure:
The whole is either our cupboard of food,
          Or cabinet of pleasure.

          The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;
     Music and light attend our head.
     All things unto our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
          In their ascent and cause.

          Each thing is full of duty:
Waters united are our navigation;
     Distinguishèd, our habitation;
     Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanliness.
  Hath one such beauty?
          Then how are all things neat?

          More servants wait on Man
Than he'll take notice of:  in every path
     He treads down that which doth befriend him
     When sickness makes him pale and wan.
O mighty love!  Man is one world, and hath
          Another to attend him.

          Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a palace built, O dwell in it
     That it may dwell with thee at last!
     Till then, afford us so much wit,
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
          And both thy servants be.
--George Herbert, from "Man"

Party postcards

IMG_4713.JPG

Our mother was a great believer in having parties–small parties with family and a few friends maybe–but parties nonetheless. When we were little, there were usually favors. I tried to continue this tradition with my own family. It encourages celebrating the little things as well as the big things in life and helps everyone keep a positive outlook.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 1.25.04 PM.png

So when Herman Melville’s 200 birthday was coming up, it just seemed liked a great excuse to have a party. We gave everyone plenty of notice to start reading Moby-Dick (or, okay, something shorter) and we started planning.

IMG_1003.jpeg

We didn’t let a cancer diagnosis stop us. Daughters #1 and 2 took the reins, and by the time last weekend rolled around they had things well in hand. When DN arrived on Friday we were cooking with gas. Everything fell into place, although the caterers were late, but DN dealt with that, and when guests starting arriving, the Typee Punch was ready to go…

IMG_1001.jpeg

We toasted the great Melville and then ate dinner.

IMG_4754.JPG

IMG_4749.JPG

IMG_4717.JPG

We gathered again to listen to the great Gary play hornpipes on his mandolin…IMG_0996.jpeg

And then almost everybody read their own Melville selection, which represented a variety from Billy Budd and Bartleby to The Confidence Man and, of course, Moby-Dick. No one had chosen the same thing to read. DN read from a Melville essay about Hawthorne which included the often quoted “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation” in context which I loved.

IMG_4758.JPG

IMG_4762.JPG

Our favorite Method Actor channels Stubb killing a whale

I think everyone had fun and I was flattered that my friends had humored me in my whimsy. And a few people went outside their comfort zones and read some Melville!

IMG_1004.jpeg

Huzzah. It takes very little, to have a lot of fun.

So keep reading…and keep celebrating!

IMG_4766.JPG

IMG_4764.JPG

And there were favors!

IMG_4008.JPG

IMG_4746.JPG

Nobody had more class than Melville. To do what he did in Moby-Dick, to tell a story and to risk putting so much material into it. If you could weigh a book, I don’t know any book that would be more full. It’s more full than War and Peace or Brothers Karamasov. It has Saint Elmo’s fire, and great whales, and grand arguments between heroes, and secret passions. It risks wandering far, far out into the globe. Melville took on the whole world, saw it all in a vision, and risked everything in prose that sings.  You have a sense from the very beginning that Melville had a vision in his mind of what this book was going to look like, and he trusted himself to follow through all the way. (–Ken Kesey, interviewed in “Ken Kesey, The Art of Fiction No. 136” by Robert Faggen in The Paris Review No. 130 (Spring 1994)

“Oh where are you going with your love-locks flowing/ On the west wind blowing along this valley track?”*

Unknown-1.jpeg

It has been a busy week, the highlight of which was my visit to the wee babes’ preschool one morning for Grandparents’ Day. I went to chapel with them and to an activity (coloring) and a snack. I had to leave early to get to work, but they were in the good hands of their other grandparents. At two, life is just one activity after another and then you take a nap. Sounds pretty good, right?

After quite a few busy weekends in a row, I am going to take it real easy this weekend. I have no plans besides babysitting the wee babes on Saturday night. I am hoping the OM and I are capable of handling/wrangling them for two hours. We’ll see.

Since tomorrow marks the 137th anniversary of the death of the brilliant, but ultimately misguided, Sage of Concord, Ralph Waldo Emerson, I will be toasting him.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 1.09.28 PM.png

When Emerson died of pneumonia in 1882, he was buried on “Author’s Ridge” in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery —a cemetery that was designed with Emerson’s Transcendentalist, nature-loving aesthetics in mind. In 1855, as a member of the Concord Cemetery Committee, Emerson gave the dedication at the opening of the cemetery, calling it a “garden of the living” that would be a peaceful place for both visitors and permanent residents. “Author’s Ridge” became a burial ground for many of those famous American authors who called Concord home—Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emerson. Good company for sure.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 11.17.05 AM.png

I should also note that tomorrow Christina Rossetti is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Anglican Church.

Somewhere or Other

Somewhere or other there must surely be
The face not seen, the voice not heard,
The heart that not yet—never yet—ah me!
Made answer to my word.
Somewhere or other, may be near or far;
Past land and sea, clean out of sight;
Beyond the wandering moon, beyond the star
That tracks her night by night.
Somewhere or other, may be far or near;
With just a wall, a hedge, between;
With just the last leaves of the dying year
Fallen on a turf grown green.

Join me in toasting her as well! And have a good weekend!

*from “Amor Mundi” by Christina Rossetti

This little light of mine

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 9.03.18 AM.pngI am a morning person. I get up early and I exercise (while listening to R.C. Sproul or the like) and then I have coffee and watch the news for half an hour. Then I perform my morning ablutions and get ready for work. Sometimes I vacuum. By the time I get to work I have been up for two and a half hours!

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 1.11.07 PM.png

“Carl sat musing until the sun leaped above the prairie, and in the grass about him all the small creatures of day began to tune their tiny instruments. Birds and insects without number began to chirp, to twitter, to snap and whistle, to make all manner of fresh shrill noises. The pasture was flooded with light; every clump of ironweed and snow-on-the-mountain threw a long shadow, and the golden light seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing in.”
― Willa Cather, O Pioneers! 

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 1.46.17 PM.png

I see a lot of sunrises out my kitchen window. Highly recommended.

The painting is by William Holbrook Beard, On the Prairie, 1860, The Museum of Nebraska Art; the photo is the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie.

“You’re a very fine swan indeed! “*

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 1.56.49 PM.png

“To be born in a duck’s nest in a farmyard is of no consequence to a bird if it is hatched from a swan’s egg. He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the newcomer and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.”

–Hans Christian Andersen, “The Ugly Duckling” (1843)

Some say that Andersen considered this story to be autobiographical. As a child, he was mocked for his big nose and large feet, as well as for his beautiful singing voice and love of theater. There were also rumors that Hans Christian Andersen was the illegitimate son of King Christian VIII of Denmark! It is a story that many children can relate to on some level–at least those who feel excluded in some way from their peers.

Anyway, today is the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875), the great Danish writer, who is the author of many personal favorites. Our mother could not read through “The Little Match Girl” without weeping, which was quite disconcerting to me as a small child.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 2.24.03 PM.png

I will toast him tonight and perhaps listen to Danny Kaye singing about the Ugly Duckling…

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 2.31.06 PM.png

Man oh man, the things people put on YouTube!

*Frank Loesser, “The Ugly Duckling”

The kindness of strangers

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 7.00.50 PM.png

Today is the birthday of Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) proud son of our flyover town and my flyover university. He didn’t actually graduate and I don’t think he was overly fond of it, but we like to claim him. He is buried here–against his wishes. He left most of his money to the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee (an Episcopal school) in honor of his maternal grandfather, Walter Dakin, an alumnus of the university. When his sister Rose died in 1996 after many years in a mental institution, she bequeathed $7 million from her part of the Williams estate to The University of the South.

Tennessee wrote some famous plays–quite a few, in fact. Hollywood made some good movies out of those plays, although they all contain a lot of acting. One that is somewhat less fraught is  The Night of the Iguana (1964) with Richard Burton and Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner. I have always  liked it.

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 7.40.17 PM.png

And I always liked the poem that Nonno, Hannah’s grandfather, spends the play writing:

How calmly does the orange branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.

Sometime while night obscures the tree
The zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever, and from thence
A second history will commence.

A chronicle no longer gold,
A bargaining with mist and mould,
And finally the broken stem
The plummeting to earth; and then

An intercourse not well designed
For beings of a golden kind
Whose native green must arch above
The earth’s obscene, corrupting love.

And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.

O Courage, could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell,
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me?”

A toast to Tennessee Williams then, on his birthday!

“When we were very poor and very happy.” *

Today is the birthday of Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), who was quite a gal. Daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she moved with her family to Paris in 1901 when her father was appointed the assistant minister of the American Church in Paris  and director of the American student center. The family moved back to New Jersey in 1906. Sylvia served with the Red Cross during WWI and never returned to the States.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 10.16.59 AM.png

Sylvia is best known today as the owner/founder of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris and as the original publisher of Ulysses by James Joyce. (She wasn’t afraid to publish it.) Ernest Hemingway was a big fan of hers, and famously said that she was nicer to him than anyone he ever met.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 10.45.00 AM.png

I wrote a paper about Sylvia Beach when I was in college. That was when my father told me that he had sat on Gertrude Stein’s lap as an infant–his way of saying his parents were a part of all that in Paris in the twenties. They probably hung out at Shakespeare and Company. He never elaborated because why would he do that? C’est la vie.

Anyway, in reading up on Sylvia, I was reminded that although Shakespeare and Company remained open after the Fall of Paris, Beach was forced to close by the end of 1941.  But she never left. Indeed, she was held for six months during WWII at Vittel, an internment camp for enemy aliens of the German Reich, until  Tudor Wilkinson managed to secure her release in February 1942. Wilkinson was an American  art collector and amateur art dealer, who was born and raised right here in St. Louis, Missouri! In gratitude for her release, Sylvia gave Wilkinson a first edition of Ulysses signed by Joyce.

When daughter #1 was in Paris a few years back, she made a pilgrimage to the second incarnation of Shakespeare and Company which I much appreciated. I probably have a photo of that occasion, but, of course, I can’t put my hands on it now.

Well, it may be time to dust off my copy of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company and re-read it. I will toast Sylvia tonight. I wish I had some French wine.

*Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast