North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX) has a history of pirates and lighthouses, THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE, and the location of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous first flight in 1903. Check out this CBS Sunday Morning video about historian David McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers. (A great read).
On the OBX you will discover sand dunes and wild horses and your eyes will fill with brown sugar beaches and water–the Pamlico Sound on the west side and the Atlantic Ocean on the east side. In addition to the history, add Southern hospitality and all the seafood you can eat. The warm breezes and the chilly Atlantic relaxed us beyond measure. Jim and I attended a special wedding at sunset on the beach when the waves turned into silver and the tall grass on the dunes waved under the pink sunset. Living in the desert, the water was therapeutic for us. We were only there for a few days, but in my mind, I’m already planning to rent a house and have a full family vacation at the OBX in the future. But for now, it was a welcome retreat and an opportunity to rejoice in an intimate family celebration. Which shot do you like best?
There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve cast myself into the tundra, face first into the arctic blast, alone, as I now live inside my head, writing and editing this second novel. On one hand, that’s how much I miss blogging. Denying myself the fun of sharing thoughts about films, culture, books, and camera angles from my side of the world. Who knew your cheery comments and fun conversations would come to mean so much?
The maudlin side of me put aside, like a stashed cigarette secretly smoked, I have secretly read your posts but haven’t commented, but you all seem fine and well.
Das Buch: Weimar Germany and the depravity of Berlin. The cabarets, the darkness of sin, drugs, and Bessie Smith. Poor George Hero, my anti-hero bordering on an unreliable narrator, has had a rough time of it since WWI. I’ve been listening to Philip Glass while I write, and I am glad to report this first part of the novel is completed because Philip Glass wears on my nerves and depresses me, but he seems perfect for putting me in the right mood to represent the dark. In contrast, as if emerging from a cave at noon, the next part of the novel takes place in good ‘ole sunny Arizona. Sally is the feisty young copper cutie, a dancer, who dreams of becoming a Ziegfield girl and star on the Hollywood stage. She will need her chutzpah to survive the invasive force of her mother. She is cast as an extra in a western. She is determined to become indispensable and befriends Zane Grey and Gary Cooper. She has a needy friendship with Kay the Hopi Indian, who is a chameleon, sometimes seen as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as Apache, and sometimes she hears the whispers of her mother and sisters wanting her to remember the Hopi way. Meanwhile, she is the recipient of the elaborate gold-plated pistol, hollowed and filled, with the means by which she can free herself from her past, present and have a say about any sort of future. To what extreme will George reclaim the pistol from Kay?
As teacher: After 18 years, I am counting down the final eight so I can retire. I know it’s a sin to wish your life away–just the working part of it. It’s hard not to this time of year. Spring is the time the drama begins. The school year is drawing to a close. State testing has students restless and apathetic. Juniors are applying to colleges and seniors have emotionally left high school and await graduation. Teachers are tired and resigned what they are trying to sell in the classroom no one is buying. Teachers compete with students’ cell phones, the prom, sport team demands, and being a cast member in the musical. Is it any wonder they don’t care about John F. Kennedy’s involvement in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights? Gee, if I can’t get them interested in the volatile sixties, this last month of school could be tortuous.
Meanwhile, teachers are grumbling because the new superintendent has shaken things up. The master schedule’s modifications include removing classes with lower sizes to make it equitable across the board. (If one teacher has class sizes of 30 and another only 12, is that fair?) That means cutting out the advanced and elective classes. Personally, this means all the classes I love teaching have been taken away from me. The gems like AP US History, AP World History, and a big sting, my Holocaust Studies/Recent World History class. Gems because teaching college level courses are the perfect fit for me. I have been struggling with my pride over it. Be a team player. You are a cog in the wheel. Get over yourself. Readjust your attitude. It still hurts, though.
The Vikings and Nationals Baseball: Strangely, I’ve taken a break from watching movies. I’m binging on the television series by the History Channel via Amazon called The Vikings. Man, I love it. When I come home from work, after watering the flowers, one or two episodes with a beer or glass of wine is a great way to relax before starting supper. I’m on series three. I like the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) the best because rarely in films or television do you see the importance of the role of the monk in history, in this case, by preserving the scrolls of Roman England. I’ve been to Ireland and have seen The Book of Kells and love the artistry of the monks’ calligraphy. The character Athelstan straddles the conflict between pagan/Christian religion. Michael Hirst who wrote the series includes Old English and Scandinavian languages when the two worlds collide; it’s delicious to hear the languages spoken.
The culture of the Vikings is complicated. The legends and mythologies have fascinated many for years.
When I’m not watching The Vikings, I am watching the Nationals play baseball. We are off to a great start this year by leading the NL East with 10 wins and 5 losses (.667). My favorite players are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. They bat 3, 4 respectively, and the two are hitting powerhouses. Like Lennon and McCartney, their competitiveness inspires the other to do better. Go Nats!
Books: I’m reading Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife. It’s about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their time in Paris during the 1920s. Ernest is trying to become an author and I can’t help but pretend we two are trying to accomplish the same goal. Except he doesn’t have to go and teach teenagers every day. He gets to sit in a Paris cafe and drink all day long while he writes. It didn’t go so well for him in the end, did it? Who knew my students would save me in the end? Ha!
In 1996, I studied Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) in Dorset County, England for six weeks during the summer. Dr. Morgan, an Illinois State University professor, was a Hardy Scholar and for over 20 years, he took students to this south-central slice of heaven. Before his retirement, I signed up for the graduate English course as one of a group of twelve. An Elizabethan summer home was converted into an Agricultural College and while students were out for the summer, our group used their dorm rooms and facilities.
The upside to the incessant rain in June provided lush gardens for us to enjoy in July.
During the day, the gazebo at the top of this croquet garden was the perfect spot for reading Thomas Hardy’s books and poetry. At night, it was the perfect confessional for heart-to-heart talks under the stars. Thomas Hardy lived in and loved Dorset County so much, he set his novels about the county, but changed the names of the towns and hamlets to fictional ones. For his most famous novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, our time in the Elizabethan mansion was a location spot, too. Hardy’s satirical story of Tess was a sad one. She was a milkmaid who was raped, loved and lost her man Angel. She became a mistress and a murderess. The double-standard of the Victorian female purity makes Tess a significant British novel.
For each of Hardy’s novels, we journeyed to the exact location of the plot and read it there. One such spot was Stonehenge. When I first visited Stonehenge in the late 70s, you could walk in and around and hug the stones, if you wanted. By the time I was last there in 1996, they had roped off the area due to vandalism. Imagine spray-painting one of the druid stones. Blasphemy! Now all one can do is walk around them from afar. If getting close to rocks is your thing, head up north to the other end of the island and take a ferry to the Orkney and Shetland Islands and you can dance around ancient rocks all day long.
One spot (above) in Tess of the d’Urbervillesis the Sandbourne seaside resort area. Very close by is Lulworth Cove where a person can hike the trails for hundreds of miles along the southern coast. When I return to the area someday, I imagine hiking all day, followed by pints in the evening and a night in a B & B. What a great way to spend a summer in England, I daydream. Here are some of my favorite shots that I took.
Speaking of pints, I love English pubs, especially thatched ones. When class was over for the day and we exhausted every angle of analyzing Tess, a small group of us would head off a mile away for evening mingling with the locals at The Wise Man Inn.
Tuesdays were dart night. The league was getting ready to begin when a few of the men from the village had not shown up. There was a grandfatherly type who ran the show and he asked our table of six girls if anyone wanted to fill in. It just so happened I was a pretty good dart player; I had lots of practice when I lived in Scotland while stationed in the Navy.
Feeling merry from the lager, I stood at the line, facing the board and wondered where to throw. UK dart players can count backward from 301 and reach zero a lot faster than I can, and the experienced dart players in a league liked to play quickly. It was our turn, and we had 103 points remaining to win the game. My partner, the old gentleman who’d been playing for sixty years, stood next to my ear and whispered where I was to throw the darts. “Triple 20.” Pling! He whispered again, “Triple 13.” It was like he was in my mind talking to my hand. Perfect. Finally, he said, “Double two.” Ha! We won the game, and everyone clapped. It was one of my finer moments.
By Thomas Hardy
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Fellow blogger, South African/Londoner, ABBI O, chronicled her thoughts of pregnancy; when “Little O” was born, Abbi continued her posts about the life-change, documenting her thoughts of motherhood and the demands of her now five-month-old son. Not only does her dry wit make me laugh, she makes me think about the passage of time. Her journal-in-the-making is a clever idea. I imagine Little O when he’s older and turns into Bigger O asking her what it was like to carry him inside her body? To have him? What was he like as a boy? She has gathered her posts and self-published them. She tosses her book to Bigger O and says, “Read all about it.” When Abbi is much older, she will toss the book to her pregnant daughter-in-law, and assure her the fear is universal, the experience is awesome, she understands, and it will bring comfort. When Abbi is ancient, she will revisit herself in words, that worried young woman from her past, and smile at her and feel pride that she muddled through it all miraculously just fine. She’ll look across the room at Biggest O, who is now a father himself, and wonder how time flew by.
Based on a diary, 1785–1812, professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich investigated the entries of a midwife, Martha Ballard. It’s an interesting account because, in the center of a Maine community, she literally touched the lives of everyone in it and provided a glimpse of the values and expectations of gender, the struggle to fight the seasons, impartial diseases, techniques for perseverance, and the cycle of life through births and deaths. It is a rare, profound historical portrait. And yet, at the time of her writing, Martha Ballard was unaware her diary entries would become important one day. Her “voice” varied depending on time and tiredness. Martha was at times insightful, other times clinical, like her profession as she weaved in and out of households aiding the sick. Recommended. 4/5.
In my opinion, Abbi is creating a historical portrait, a primary source. Fifty years from now, a hundred years–two–social historians could look to her blog or self-published book about motherhood and life from 2016 onward from a historical perspective. I read about an abolitionist the other day whose date of birth matched my own, minus a hundred years. She was born in 1863 and lived until 1951. Can you imagine all that she saw? How much the world changed? From the death of Abraham Lincoln through World War II? From buggies to rocket ships? From the telegraph to the television? I wonder what life will be like if I made it until 2051. Just saying the date makes me shake my head in wonder.
Here is the passage of time illustrated by my granddaughter, Amelia. She’ll be four in February.
Here continues a monthly series of the music, books, and movies that have occupied my time.
My son suggested I’d like the Indie rock band, Spoon. From Austin, TX, Spoon has been around since the millennium, but I wasn’t listening to them. I’ve been catching up and like their easy beats, clever harmonies, and rhythms that keep you in a good mood. Need background music at a party? They are your band.
A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). Depressing and insightful. Four stories weave around the political dynamics of Afghanistan from the 1960s to the present. A fast, informative read. Khaled Hosseini writes with a graceful style. If you liked The Kite Runner, you will like this story, too. Though depressing throughout, at least the ending is uplifting. Highly recommend. 4.5/5
Love and Friendship (2016). Sorry, period film fans. I was bored. The great costumes and gorgeous manorial setting couldn’t lift my dislike for the principal character, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale). Maybe if she didn’t treat her daughter like a pawn and wasn’t so shallow and manipulative, I would have laughed at the jokes. Sir James Martin’s character was so idiotic, it was hard to root for anyone except for the daughter, Frederica. I’m in the minority, here. 3/5.
Sully (2016)In the last decade, Clint Eastwood has rebounded with a formula that works: he finds quiet protagonists who possess old-fashioned virtues like fortitude, honesty, optimism, perseverance, and fairness; with calm dispositions and a dry wit, they save the rest of us without asking for applause. They are modern heroes. Sully is no different. It’s an entertaining tale analyzing the five-minute flight and emergency landing through many perspectives. I can’t help but feel Clint is trying to tell us something before his curtain closes in Hollywood. How to behave? How best to live? In Sully, humans, not technology, win the day. I sure love the positive message. 3.5/5.
Good Ol’ Freda (2013). Whether you are a die-hard or casual fan of The Beatles, there are lots of new details to learn from the perspective of Freda, the Beatles secretary, who politely and loyally provides fun insights about the colossal band without blemishing any of them. A great way to spend the evening. 5/5.
Son of Saul (2015). This academy award winner for the Best Foreign film from Hungary is unique. Director László Nemes’s interesting cinematography confines the audience alongside a prisoner at Auschwitz who is Sonderkommando, forced to work in the gas chambers, when a boy who survives the Zyklon B assault, the clean-up worker, played by Géza Röhrig, devotes his remaining time trying to find a Rabbi who will give the boy a proper burial. Happenings and people are out-of-focus except for Géza Röhrig. The effect places the audience inside the death camp unable to escape. There are no transitions, no time to digest or refocus. Holocaust films are painful to watch. This was painful but beautiful in its message and the heroic attempt by the worker who salvaged his humanity. Once is enough. 4/5.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). This was my pick for Halloween. I had heard that this Iranian vampire movie was a cult sensation. Set in a worn-down Iranian community which has the flavor of a forgotten Texas oil town, a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) preys on men who disrespect women. Female writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour created unique characters and handles the camera with style. Perfect for Halloween. 4/5
Swiss Army Man (2016). I’m a sucker for ironies, and there’re so many clever aspects about this crazy film, I fell for the magical realism. I think Paul Dano is on fire–he impresses me every time he’s on the screen. It was great to see Daniel Ratcliffe pull off playing a corpse who teaches the hopeless Hank how to live. The script is superb. 4.5/5
In 1948, Jack Cardiff won an Oscar for “creating color with the camera” for his innovations with technicolor. Narcissusis a beautiful, sensory masterpiece about five British nuns at a Himalayan convent who waver in the exotic setting. Light and color are used to express emotion. If you enjoy the technical aspects of filmmaking, I learned a lot about the process of technicolor and the behind-the-scenes story of Narcissus in the documentary below. First, if you want a scrumptious classic to watch, you won’t be disappointed with the cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, Jean Simmons, and David Farrar. Perfection! 5/5.
He was a flamboyant fop, a man ahead of his time, a brilliant playwright and rebel of the Victorian period. He was a staple in the Western literary tradition since I’ve been alive, so I was amazed the other day when a few younger colleagues had never heard of him.
Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 and died at the age of 46. He was raised by intellectual parents from Dublin. He was a scholar from Trinity College and Oxford College, and he was an advocate for the rising literary movement called aestheticism. He rubbed elbows with the wealthy. He was popular and funny. Because he was a homosexual, he was sent to prison for hard labor and exiled from both London and Dublin. Sadly, he died destitute in Paris from an ear infection and meningitis.
His epigrams and aphorisms abound with wit and sarcasm. Which one resonates with you?
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
The heart was made to be broken.
Twenty years of romance makes a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something like a public building.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
There is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.
The only way a woman can ever reform her husband is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life.
Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief.
Men always want to be a woman`s first love – women like to be a man`s last romance.
No man is rich enough to buy back his past.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.
In the world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
The biography of Wilde by RichardEllmann, is a staple even though controversy surrounds his account of Oscar’s demise. Ellmann suggests Oscar died of syphilis instead of meningitis. I’d like to read about other Irish writers like Yeats and James Joyce by Ellmann, too.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). It’s the manual for aestheticism. He worshiped the Romantic poets of the 18th century. In the prelude, Oscar described the tenants of aestheticism. Natural beauty, created by God, and conceived beauty by humans are linked. To surround oneself with beauty is essential for happiness. The artist strives to reveal beauty, and in doing so, the artist’s profession is elevated. “Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated.” Ah, well, cultivation has problematic side effects. Taken to extremes, surrounding oneself with luxury could create a pompous and shallow personality. It is a spooky classic–the book and the 1945 film contains a great cast: Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray, George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton, Lowell Gilmore as Basil Hallward, Donna Reed as Gladys Hallward, Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane, Peter Lawford as David Stone, Richard Fraser as James Vane, and Douglas Walton as Alan Campbell.
The Importance of Being Ernest (1895). His famous play is lighthearted fun and full of witticisms and puns. It was a favorite choice for high schools and colleges productions for a hundred years. If you liked the recent 2016 Jane Austen film, Love & Friendship, you would enjoy the 2002 period comedy adaptation starring: Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, and Frances O’Connor.
I few years ago when I visited Paris, I had to visit the tomb of Oscar Wilde at Père Lachaise cemetery. Marked on a pane of glass in front of his tomb was my favorite epigram:
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Unconventional and smart, he was an entertaining character.