“Queen Elizabeth I, The Armada Portrait” (unknown artist, oil on oak panel, 1588)

Saturday afternoon, sunny and milder, 78 degrees.

I’ve been on a British history binge for weeks now, absorbing documentaries and shows about the War of the Roses and the Tudors. Last night I finished watching the series, The White Queen, based on books written by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. I’ve never read any of her books, and she has been criticized for working loosely with history, but hey, the key word here is novelist, not biographer.

I used to know pretty much the entire tree of British monarchy, largely because of my Shakespeare classes, but I’ve had to go back and familiarize myself again since beginning this current binge.

Steven van der Meulen, portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (c 1563)

Anyway, today is the birthday of Queen Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603), who ruled England and Ireland for almost 44 years. The grand irony, of course, is that her father, Henry VIII was obsessed with having a son to carry on the Tudor dynasty, yet his son, Edward VI reigned for only six years and died at only 15, and his daughter, Mary (aka Bloody Mary) ruled for only five. Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and second wife Anne Boleyn, was never supposed to be queen, and she was in fact declared illegitimate at one point, yet her rule is referred to as England’s Gloriana, and her long reign brought stability to the country after years of instability and war.

For more on the “virgin queen” you can go here or here.


Music from the OST The Virgin Queen, “Gloriana”

“Life is a spell so exquisite, that everything conspires to break it.” ~ Emily Dickinson

 

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Table, Monk’s House, by Gisele Freund

“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson

Poets' Walk, Central Park, NY

I woke up speaking French again. Very disconcerting. However, as Corey pointed out, what would be more disconcerting is if I did not actually know French, but I was speaking it in my dreams. Granted, my conversational abilities are very limited, but for some reason, I dream in French occasionally.

It’s absolutely beautiful here today, a perfect spring day. That is, everything would be perfect if not for one thing: yesterday was opening day at the park that our house abuts. Opening day is exactly what it sounds like: the baseball season opening, which means lots of cars beeping their horns, the loudspeaker blaring at 9 in the morning, car alarms, and litter.  Every year, people park illegally in front of our house. I say illegally because of the no-parking signs and the fire hydrant, not because I don’t want them to park there. I try to warn people if I see them parking that they will get a ticket if the police happen by, but they usually just look at me as if I am being the neighborhood bitch.

Hello. Fire hydrant. Blocking it is a bad thing, remember? Oh well.

I’m very excited because season 4 of The Tudors premieres tonight. This will be the last season for the Showtime series, starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry VIII. In this season, Henry will marry his last two wives (Katherine Howard and Catherine), get old and fat, and go to war. So far, season 2 has been my favorite.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.” ~ T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Poets' Walk, Clevedon, UK

The news is full of sad things: the death of the Polish president and his contingent while en route to Smolensk, Russia for a memorial. According to news reports, the visit to the Katyn forest was to mark the 70th anniversary of the killing of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret security during World War II, an action that led to a huge rift between Poles and Russians.

In Comfort, West Virginia, the bodies of the four missing miners were found, bringing the total number of those killed to 29. The Upper Big Branch mine disaster is the worst in U.S. history since the 1970 disaster in Kentucky. Apparently, the rescue crews walked past the four bodies that first day, but could not see them because the air was so smoky and dusty.

A Tennessee woman put her seven-year-old adopted Russian son on a plane by himself. The plane was going to Russia, and the ticket was one-way. The mother claims that the boy, renamed Justin, terrified her family by threatening to burn down the house with everyone inside. Now the woman’s family is claiming that the Russian orphanage lied to her about the boy’s behavior problems. So many things wrong with this story, not the least of which is the fact that the woman wasn’t returning a broken vacuum to Wal Mart. The adoptive grandmother bought the ticket, and the family arranged to pay a man in Russia $200 to take Justin from the airport and leave him at the Russian education ministry. A note was sent with the boy that read in part, “After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

And on another sad note, Dixie Carter, star of television series “Designing Women” has died at the age of 70. I loved wise-cracking Julia Sugerbaker. Like the woman who portrayed her, she was smart, attractive, and took no guff from anyone. Funnily enough, some of my friends used to compare me to Julia Sugerbaker, can’t understand why. Carter was married to actor Hal Holbrook.

“your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose” ~ e. e. cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled”

Poets' Walk, Red Hook (Hudson River Valley), NY

One of my blog friends is packing some books to ship to me. I cannot wait. For me, nothing is better than a box of books, not even a squishy black leather Kenneth Cole purse, if that gives you any idea as to how much I love books. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a Kenneth Cole purse, but since no one is offering . . . Anyway, Kelly is a bibliophile like myself, so she understands just how dispiriting it is not to have books to read, hence her very generous offer to send me some books. In the future, I hope to participate in the Goodreads Book Swap, which is a wonderful idea.

If you love books but have yet to visit the Goodreads site, I suggest you do so soon. Goodreads is a great resource for readers in so many ways. Go to http://www.goodreads.com/. You’ll be glad that you did.

My ex called me last night, just to talk. Wow. I don’t remember seeing the news that hell had frozen over. No really, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a conversation that did not quickly escalate into an argument. He even sounded relatively sober, another first. I did suggest, very gently, that he might want to try to spend a bit more time with his mother as there is no way of knowing how much longer she will be around. I am one of the few people who can get away with saying something like that to him. His sister has tried, but he sees that as her way of trying to tell him how to live his life. I had heard that his girlfriend is moving here from Chicago. He confirmed that she will be here in July. That should be interesting. His last two serious relationships went up in flames. I hope this one works for him.

Now don’t be that way. I’m being sincere. As much as we have our problems—and boy, do we have our problems—I do wish him well. If for no other reason than the fact that when he’s happy, we get along better and can actually have adult conversations that don’t devolve into name-calling. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Eamonn gets along with a new stepmom.

On that note, I think that I’ll close for today with an appropriate quote from Barbara Kingsolver:

“April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot wrote, by which I think he meant (among other things) that springtime makes people crazy. We expect too much, the world burgeons with promises it can’t keep, all passion is really a setup, and we’re doomed to get our hearts broken yet again. I agree, and would further add: Who cares? Every spring I go out there anyway, around the bend, unconditionally . . . Come the end of the dark days, I am more than joyful. I’m nuts. “

More later. Peace.

The one and only Ray Charles singing “Georgia on My Mind.” Classic.

And for those of you who loved “Designing Women,” here is a classic Julia Sugerbaker moment:

“Veritum dies aperit” (Time discovers the truth) ~ Seneca

Staying Put Zink Arkansas 1935 by Ben Shahn

One of the few remaining inhabitants of Zinc, Arkansas, October 1935 by Ben Shahn

Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.” ~ Max Frisch

“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I think that Corey took a smartass pill when he woke up today. He’s showing all of the classic signs. I could tell that it was going to rain as soon as I woke up because I had  a sinus headache. When I commented that everytime the barometric pressure drops, I get a headache, Corey replied, “Aren’t you glad that you are so in tune with mother nature?” Funny. Very funny.

My husband the wit.

So Izzie the Trooper is going to be coming home tomorrow. We still need to buy a new battery and a spare tire before our trip to Ohio. I’m not driving through the mountains of West Virginia without a spare tire. Not with our luck. But once the Trooper comes home, I plan to try to clean her insides top to bottom, rid of her of the tobacco atoms that are clinging to everything. Of course, once Eamonn starts driving her again, it will all be for naught, but until that time, she’s still mine, and I want her to smell clean, even if it means that I Febreze the hell out of her.

Itenerand photographer in Columbus OH by Ben Shahn 1938
Itinerant Photographer in Columbus, OH, by Ben Shahn (1938)

We haven’t been able to make the trip to Ohio in years, mostly because of my back problems. This will be the first time that I have been on such a long car journey. I’m hoping for the best, but if I arrive shaped like a pretzel, I won’t be surprised. The trip is to celebrate Corey’s dad’s birthday, and our arrival is supposed to be a surprise. The whole family is going to Indian Lake.

Corey took us to Indian Lake one year when the boys were still relatively young. Corey and the boys rented a paddle boat and went all around the lake. I sat on a blanket in the sun and read a book. Everyone was happy. But I’m pretty sure that we ran out of gas either to or from the lake. That was when we owned the big gnarly Buick that I hated, and if I remember correctly, Corey ran out of gas with that car more than once.

He still does that—runs out of gas—only not as frequently. He also gets lost, but won’t admit it. Don’t ask me why he does these things. It’s just one of those Corey things. The first time that he did it with the boys in the car, they were young, and they became very anxious. They kept asking us if we were in a bad part of town. We were somewhere in Richmond on our way to Ohio. Eamonn had obviously learned the term “bad part of town” from somewhere, so I explained to him that being out of gas and lost is always a bad part of town.

One of these days I’m going to be able to afford a Magellan for Corey, which will at least take care of the getting lost part.

Oh well. Not really what my subject is today.

“Time is not a reality (hypostasis), but a concept (noêma) or a measure (metron).” ~ Antiphon from On Truth

A few months back David Bridger, one of the writers who I visit frequently, posed a question on his blog: If you could go back in time, where would you go? Who would you see? What would you do? Good idea for a post David (who is busy working on his book, preparing for two fall weddings, and taking care of wife Janette: Hello to everyone).

I’ve kept that post in the back of my mind for a while now without tackling it because my answer (of course) wouldn’t be just one point in time. I have managed to narrow it to three different points in time: the Renaissance, the Great Depression, and France during WWII, all for very different reasons.

The Tudfors S3 Henry
The Tudors (season 3) Jonathan Rhys-Davies as Henry VIII

Being a writer and a lover of great literature, the Renaissance is probably the most predictable answer for me. Granted, the Renaissance is a pretty broad time period, beginning after the Middle Ages and ending with the Reformation (approximately 1450 to 1600). However, the time in which I would be most interested would be during the Elizabethan period of literature, during which writers such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, and Spenser were prolific.

Granted, living conditions in Tudor England would be a tad hard to adapt to, what with chamber pots being emptied out of windows and a lack of a central drainage system. Threats of the plague might put a damper on things; although drinking ale for breakfast as opposed to a hot cup of tea would be interesting, if not an engaging way in which to begin the day.

Obviously, life would not be a brilliant pageant of color and intrigue like Showtime’s The Tudors (alas, alack), which, by the way, I am not enjoying as much in Season 3 as in previous seasons. Probably the lack of spark provided by Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn.

But as usual, I digress . . .

My real interest in looking in on Elizabethan England would lie in the relationship between Shakespeare and Marlowe. Did Shakespeare actually steal from Marlowe? Was Marlowe as prolific as Shakespeare? Could Marlowe have been the better playwright if he had lived longer? Actually, conspiracy theorists about the Bard contend that Shakespeare’s works could have been written by Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, and Edward de Vere. Why such a reluctance to attribute to Shakespeare that which is Shakespeare’s?

Who knows? But it would be wonderful to go back in time to see the literary masters at work, to look over Shakespeare’s shoulder as he created his own version of Richard III. To visit with the man who created Falstaff.

“It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.” ~ Paul Strand

Fiddlin Bill Hensley Asheville NC by Ben Shahn
Fiddlin' Bill Hensley, Asheville, NC, by Ben Shahn

Another time that I would like to visit would be the Great Depression, specifically that period during which Roosevelt’s photographers for the WPA were in service.

The WPA was the Works Progress Administration, a government-funded program for artists during the mid 1930’s to mid 1940’s. Artists who received funding during the WPA included Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Among the writers of the Federal Writers’ Project were Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, and Claude McKay. But my interest lies with the photographers, people like Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Walker Evans, the individuals who created an enduring photographic record of a period in American history during the artistic period known as social realism.

I am in awe of these masters of the genre who took the art of photography to new heights with their achingly real depictions of people and places. Personally, I have never been very good at capturing the essence of a person in a photograph, which is why I tend to stay with nature and architecture. I believe that it takes an artist with great insight to be able to capture that moment of greatest personal revelation on film, and I know of none better than Lange, Evans and Shahn.

Of her famous picture of the migrant mother, Lange had this to say in an interview in 1960:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

The photographers worked for the WPA for about $23 a week as starting wages. Many felt fortunate to be able to plie their trade in a period in which so few had any meaningful work. But as the Library of Congress collection reveals, what may have begun as merely a way to make a living became an intense affinity for the American people, a record of their hardships, sorrows, and sometimes, their small celebrations.

So while a journey back to one of the most painful periods in our country’s history may seem like a bizarre choice, being able to watch these artists, perhaps even to emulate them would be an amazing opportunity.

“Le jour de gloire est arrivé !” ~ La Marseillaise

My last choice probably seems like the oddest of the three: France during WWII.

I do not view World War II as a particularly wonderful time in history. On the contrary. However, I would like to think that if I were living in France during this dark period in history that I would have participated in the French Resistance movement.

French Resistance Croix de Lorraine symbol
Croix de Lorraine, Symbol of French Resistance

Essentially, there were two main movements. The Conseil National de la Résistance or the National Council of the Resistance was created by John Moulin. The CNR directed and coordinated the different movements of the French Resistance: the press, trade unions, and members of political parties hostile to the Vichy France. Eventually, the CNR  coordinated with the Free French Forces, led by Charles De Gaulle

The French resistance included men, women and children from all social classes, religions, and political movements who worked against the Nazi occupation in France. Although the Resistance was responsible for blowing up key targets, members also published underground newspapers, helped Allied soldiers to freedom, collected and disseminated military intelligence, and raising awareness among the French populace.

Even though women were not allowed many leadership roles in the Resistance, I still think that it would have been admirable to work on one of the underground presses, churning out anti-Nazi propaganda. It’s that anti-establishment streak that runs through my veins, not a glorification of the Resistance that has been depicted in so many movies that makes me think that I could have participated in such a movement. Doing something, standing up for your beliefs.

“Come on and cry me a river, cry me a river” ~ From “Cry Me a River,” by Arthur Hamilton 

Other notable eras of which I wish I could have played a part: The era of great torch singers (Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne ). Oh those bluesy, unrequited love songs, like “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine” and how they just rip at the very fabric of the heart. Other eras that I wouldn’t mind visiting would be the age of the emerging confessional poets (Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich) , as well as Europe during the Impressionistic period in art—Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet, Gaugin—all of that angst amidst all of that beauty.

For now, I’m sitting here in 2009, with my old soul and my dreams of other days.

 

 

More later. Peace.