Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Here is Dido, Queen of Carthage; in her hand, the sword of her lover, Aeneas.  I first heard of Dido when I read the Aenead years ago.  She was the queen who died for love, when Aeneas, a wandering survivor of the battle of Troy, deserted her.  My professor said, 'Aeneas had to found Rome, a duty greater than love.'  

I hadn't known anything about Dido's life before she met Aeneas.  It turns out she had had marvelous adventures and founded a great kingdom herself.  She had lived in Tyre with her royal husband.  After his murder, he appeared to her as a ghost and told her where his fortune was hidden.  Escaping with the great hoard of gold, Dido founded Carthage.  It was an unlucky day when Aeneas came ashore.  Though he might have become her consort, he sailed away. It is said that Dido climbed a funeral pyre and killed herself with Aeneas's sword.  Did he see the smoke from her burning body as he sailed away?

What if he had never left her?  Someone else might have founded Rome, but let's imagine otherwise.  Let's imagine there had never been a Rome, no crucifixions, no Roman roads, no gladiators.  The Etruscans would have continued to flourish.  I would miss the great poetry of Horace and an espresso with a crema.


 Sure, I'm being flip, but why can't love triumph as it does here in Veronese's painting?  If you embiggen, you might see pale drops of milk spurting from Venus's  breast. 


Odd Bits

After I had finished packing for my trip to Glimmerglass, I went for a walk, and found the crumpled trash can on the edge of the curb.  I like the lovely destruction.  The trash can is old. It may have been used to burn garden waste, which would explain the holes.  It's finished now, probably crushed under a truck.

I decided to take pictures of man-made objects, like this fire alarm with its eave and cornice..   

But as soon as I reached M.K's garden I could not resist taking a shot of her tomatoes.  She grows them in enriched soil, which she buys and piles in tee-shirts stretched over wire, neck-down.   She uses this method because the ground may be contaminated with lead.  The yield is tremendous and heathy.  Not a bit of rot, even in these weeks of swampy weather. 

Her dahlias are flourishing among the sedums. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Long Live the Queen

It's good to have a queen.  I like to see people defer to a woman, especially an older woman. My British friends may disagree.  The expense is tremendous.  Even so, after witnessing the spectacles of disrespect to Sonia Sottomajor; Hillary Clinton, during her bid for the presidential nomination, and to older women in general, many of them given a corsage and taken out for an obligatory airing on Mother's Day,  I'm happy to see some bowing and curtseying to the Queen, who is now eighty-three years old.  

I'm also glad to see her have a good time.  She gets to dress up and ride in a gold coach.  She drinks Dubonnet and gin.  

Balmoral is only one of her castles.

In this country, women have to form societies dedicated to wearing purple or red hats or both. Not the queen, resplendent in red, and purple.

Ready for Winter

The temperature will be in the nineties  today, but John is getting ready for winter.  He's using scrap lumber to repair the rotting shed.  Underneath this patchwork of re-cycled boards is another patchwork--floor, sills, stringers.  We keep our kindling in the shed so it's important to have it dry.  The shed needs a new gutter.  John wants to use half-round galvanized--not easy to find.  Nailed to the door of the shed is a horseshoe.  Where did he find it?

There's wood waiting to be stacked.  It will take a year to dry before it's ready to burn in our parlor stove.

Not so this kindling, split from old floorboards.  It will burn on a few sheets of newspaper.

If the furnace should stop, we'll have plenty of wood.  I like the heat of the woodstove best in the fall before the furnace kicks in.  It takes the chill off, makes the kettle steam.  When I open its door, I see the gorgeous flames: red, yellow, blue, white.  But right now I'll watch the garden blaze.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ugly Beauty

'No one says a sunset is interesting,' Susan Sontag wrote.  'It's beautiful,' we say when we see a gorgeous sunset.  She was defending sublime beauty. Beauty, she believed, was an absolute to which we respond with pleasure and awe.  She had lost patience with those who dismissed the idea of beauty as elitist.  They preferred "interesting" to "beautiful"--much more democratic: anything could be interesting.

Beautiful or interesting: are those our only choices?  No.  I like ugly-beauty, Cocteau's beast ("La belle et la bete," 1946.)  

Joan Crawford is an ugly beauty.

Da Vinci's old man:

Goya's painting of a monk talking to an old woman defies categories.

An example close to home: an American beech tree with an enormous bulging bole.

As for me, as I age, how will I describe myself?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Arlington Sublime

Hills Pond, July 24, 2009, 5:58 PM

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Graveyard Walk

I wandered into the cemetery by chance, while waiting for a photocopying job to be finished, and felt I had crossed into a foreign country.

Unlike the rule-bound Mount Auburn Cemetery, where artificial flowers and ornaments are forbidden, anything goes here.  My favorite is the grave with the yellow and gold plastic telephone and the glass blue bird.

Peter, who lived to one hundred, is remembered for his barbering. Without the dates bracketing the span of his life, the design of the gravestone would be appropriate for Peter's barbershop sign.  

John Hogan must have loved Coke Classic.  To the right of the bottle are three quarters.  

Memorial knick-knacks.

The perspective of the heavenly staircase is dizzying to me.

Images of the Virgin prevailed, many gravestones carved with the Hail Mary.

Here, with a mossy roof, is a tiny icon of the Virgin.

Every once in a while, the wind would lift the bright balloons tethered to a gravestone. Startled, I would catch the motion out of the corner of my eye, mistaking the balloons for a person leaning over the grave, but I was the only one walking among the gravestones, which bore the signs of fresh tributes.  The smell of lilies rose from a heap of flowers over a fresh grave.  I took my last picture: a flamboyant cross.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Butterfly Garden

A member of the nearby Unitarian Universalist Church planted a butterfly garden with monarda, dill, sunflowers, black-eyed susan, cosmos, and plants I couldn't identify.  Even in yesterday's heavy rain the colors stood up.  The garden will bloom until frost.  It borders Pleasant Street, a gift to us all.   

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rich & Silly

"The very rich are different from you and me," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Not in the least: the very rich are just as silly as we are.  Asked about Robert Isabell, the event designer, who had recently died, Anne Bass, one of the very rich, said, "People think of Robert being so extravagant" . . . but "he could always find something appropriate for the occasion."  The occasion was Bass's birthday; she said, "Six weeks after 9-11, we were debating whether we should go ahead . . . Robert created the most beautiful, simple party for me with a Shaker theme.  It was so restrained, plain and perfect, with fall leaves, wicker baskets and reproduction Shaker Candlesticks" (New York Times, July 19, 2009).

Was Mr. Isabell thinking of the Shaker hymn?  Probably not.

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
to turn, turn, will be our delight
till by turning, turning we come round right,

Shakers danced to invoke God.

The talented Mr. Isabell arranged Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's funeral.

He was also responsible for the design of this Marc Jacobs fashion-show after-party.

Tina Brown "praised the movable casbah of cushions that Mr. Isabell arranged beneath the Statue of Liberty for revelers to witness a fireworks display."  "Wealth is well known to be a great comforter," wrote Plato.    

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The Point of It" by E.M. Forster

I woke, alert and nerved up at three this morning--insomnia always begins at three in the morning.  I had been dreaming of trying to cook in the kitchen of the apartment where I grew up. The oven had no door.  The refrigerator freezer, which also had no door, bulged with thick frost. Time to leave all that behind, I said to myself, and picked up E.M. Forster's "Collected Tales." 

You've heard of "transitional objects," the fashionable term for any manner of security objects, from blankets to cell phones.  I hate the term.  I prefer to actually describe Forster's  book printed in 1947.  At five by seven inches, it fits in my hand.  The weave of the blue cloth cover is palpable.  The paper is slightly yellow, thick, matt, and the jaunty chapter-head decorations are by W.A. Dwiggins.  (I'm going to look him up.)  It's a pleasure to thumb the dry, matt deckle edge.  So much for pleasure.  

I began reading where I had left off, page 198, the beginning of a story, "The Point of It," thinking it would be another charming fantasy tale.  Not so.  Forster's portrayal of hell made my hair stand on end: when Micky, the central character, "opened his mouth to laugh, it filled with dust.  Choosing to open his eyes, he found that he had swollen enormously, and lay sunk in the sand of an illimitable plain . . . . Nothing moved on its surface except a few sand-pillars, which would sometimes merge into each other as though confabulating, and then fall with a slight hiss.  Save for these, there was no motion, no noise, nor could he feel any wind."  Forster goes on: "It seemed to Micky that he had lain in the dust for ever, suffering an sneering, and that the essence of all things, the primal power that lies behind the stars, is senility."  Hell "degraded while it tortured."  Why is he there?--"he was suffering for all the praise that he had given to the bad and mediocre upon earth; when he had praised out of idleness, or to please people, or to encourage people; for all the praise had not been winged with passion."  Micky had lived a supremely benign, successful life.  His wife was also in hell; while he had been to soft, she had been too hard.  What was I? I asked myself.  Not as nice as Micky, but too nice, I answered.  

How to escape the too soft and the too hard?  For Forster, in this story, by rowing to ecstasy. About another character, Forster writes: "He made himself all will and muscle.  He began not to know where he was.  The thrill of the stretcher against his feet, and the tide up his arms, merged with his friend's voice towards one nameless sensation; he was approaching the mystic state that is the athlete's true though unacknowledged goal: he was beginning to be."  This kind of feat is beyond my powers, but all day I've been thinking of "The Point of It," and how to keep my mouth from filling with dead dust. 

From left: Peter Pears, E.M. Forster, Robin Long, Benjamin Britten, Billy Burrell, at Aldeburgh, 1949.

"Roma Citta Libera"

"Roma Citta Libera" (1946) is a charming, surprising film.  The first scene surprised me the most.  It's night; a thief (Nando Bruno) climbs onto the balcony of a room he intends to rob. Miserable, distraught, the occupant, played by the dark, handsome Andrea Checchi, scrawls "basta" on his mirror, and holds up a gun, intending to shoot himself.  The thief rushes in, calls him an imbecile and takes away the gun.  He examines the man's few possessions, which he dismisses as not worth stealing.

What follows is a slow masterful depiction of how a man makes friends with an unwilling hostile person, whom he accepts unconditionally.  The would-be suicide tries to throw the thief out. He shouts; he intimidates.  The thief pays no attention, sits down, and makes himself at home.  He tells the man that he himself once tried to kill himself--by drowning.  Enormously patient he offers the man a cigarette, which the man refuses.  He won't let go of his misery.  His lover has run off with his life savings.  The thief smokes, takes his time.  They go on talking.  Time for another cigarette; the thief lights two, hands one to the abandoned lover, who this time takes it.  They smoke together.  Eventually they go out, and the action rolls on.  Life rolls on--rich, absurd, hopeful.

The thief, in the hat, of course; the saved man; the girl who will also come to life, and finally smile.

Vittorio De Sica as the character suffering from temporary amnesia--you'll have to see the film.  (There's no traffic in the postwar streets of Rome.  That column--not Trajan's.  Does anyone know which it is?)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fresh Pond: Wild and Tame

The wild is always close to the tame--the sharp smell of sweat in a mirror-lined room, fruit flies drowning in a glass of wine, raccoons prowling manicured lawns--but at Fresh Pond, where we walked this morning, the contrasts were no less apparent.  

The meadow has been restored to its wild tangle of yarrow and lupine; and below, the newly installed curved bench, a memorial to a dead spouse, is made from a sunken ship's timber salvaged off the Carolinas.  

Here is another bench in the shape of a relaxed "W." 

And another, contrived to appear rustic.

As we came up the hilly path near the end of our walk, a cool breeze blew up; a mass of milkweed crowded a field, attracting monarch butterflies; rather than fighting the wind they rode the current.

When we got home, we found an inky-purple, seedy deposit on the wooden walk to the back door.  Some creature had left it.