Friday, December 23, 2016

Cuddle Up with a Good Book

Winter evenings are an extra pleasure because the early darkness seems to be permission -- someone with a serious work ethic sometimes needs permission to do something  relaxed and entirely personal -- to settle down not long after dinner and read for several hours.  I loved to draw the curtains, settle on the sofa with a cozy throw over my legs and work my way into and through a good book.

GOOD is the important word here.  I decided within weeks of finishing college to continue my education with reading -- all kinds of reading -- books, magazines -- novels, nonfiction, poetry ... but GOOD ones. I have avoided a certain kind of "good" that many people enjoy very much: mysteries and adventure (TRUE adventure is excluded).  Long ago I came to know myself well, at least in the area of needing to parcel my time. I'm sure I would enjoy good mysteries and there are quite a few good mystery writers. But those books are a kind of time-filler that gives very little back. I studiously avoid the so called "women's literature" and even more so the suddenly very popular "YA" (young adult) books. They also give almost nothing back.

I am hungry as I've always been for insight, depth, for new discoveries, for worlds I do not live in (and I don't mean fantasy worlds, although I've made exceptions, especially for Tolkien). I'm interested in how other people live and what their part of the world is like and what social mores they live within. And I'm interested in just about all science (that's not so deep I'd need more education than I have to even know the vocubulary).  The world is full of GOOD book, the kind I want to read.  And there are novelists whose work always interest me. I am a slow reader but I rarely forget a book I've read.  I read "to kill time" only when I'm stuck in a waiting room without a book of my own.  Why should I "kill time" when I have only so much time in my life?

I have read three excellent novels in the last couple of weeks, Peter Matthiessen's "In Paradise", Roberto Bolano's "The Skating Rink" and Sherman Alexie's "Reservation Blues." They have takenme places I could not go otherwise.  Matthiessen's is set in Auschwitz (which, in fact, I could have gone to when in Poland but chose not to), Bolano took me to a small town near Barcelona and a group of people I would not meet if I visited there, and Alexie took me again (as in earlier books of his) to the Spokane Reservation in Washington among Native people I cannot get to know otherwise.  Then I made a mistake: I picked up Elizabeth Berg's "The Art of Mending" at a thrift store because I have heard other women speaking of discussing her books at their book clubs. Maybe I'm missing something, I thought, so I read the book.  It was like following a delicious three course dinner with a dessert of underbaked formerly frozen apple pie.  I won't say more except that once again I knew why I don't belong to book clubs and don't read "women's lit."

Now and then someone tells me (or hints, sometimes politely) that I'm a book snob. I know how they feel, it's the way I feel when listening to a gourmand describing a wonderful new restaurant. I'm just not that interested in fancy food.  So I shrug -- I enjoy what feels like brain food to me. Others enjoy light reading, maybe need, or maybe simply haven't discovered that books can show you worlds even more exciting and deep than the best TV or movies.  Or so I think.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Magnificent acting

Harold Pinter's play No Man's Land  was simulcast, live, yesterday and shown at the Cape Cinema, to a very sizable crowd. Pinter is not easy to understand and in this case I simply didn't care, I suppose they could have been speaking almost any language. The pleasure of watching two of England's most experienced and brilliant actors was pure delight.  I think they have both been knighted. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart make every moment they are on stage glow with their immersion in the roles. My son-in-law appreciates good acting and good plays but he thinks of McKellen as Gandolf (from Lord of the Rings) and Stewart as Dr. something (Picard?) from Star Wars. I think of McKellen as Richard III and Stewart as the kind of older man who I REALLY would like to know.  Two other characters in the play were acted by Damien Molony and Owen Teale, Molony introduced as Stewart's son and Molony as a butler. Just who they all are is a question my thoughtful  son-in-law answered on the way home as "all the same person at different ages" and that is very likely right although I am going to read some commentary when I get a bit of time and see if others agree with him. 

I admit to an elitist taste in theatre, and as I've noted before, I do not own a TV and go only to movies that are somehow more than "just entertainment". The almost stunning complexity of the conversations between the two stars doesn't necessarily tell a graspable story, some of it is Pinter's love of language and playfulness with it.  The physical interplay, sometimes subtle, sometimes broad, was at a level that is very rare in New York theatre but a trademark of the English style. The simulcast format actually gives viewers around the world a clearer look at the nuances of their facial expressions that one is like to see from most theatre seats). 

This gives me enough joy to keep me smiling until the next simulcast, Amadeus on February 2nd.  I feel enormously lucky to live an easy drive from the art cinema that brings National Theatre Live and also brings live performances from the Metropolitan Opera and from the Bolshoi Ballet.  All affordable as they would not be in their cities of origin.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Cold -- bodily invasion

I'm a very lucky person.  I haven't had a cold for two or three years.  (I've never had the flu -- therefore don't get flu shots).  I realize how very, very lucky that is. But a cold hit me last week.  Most people don't have to be reminded of the progression of a typical cold. Nor do I.

This one surprised me.  Suddenly I was sneezing, within a short time my nose was dripping, my sinuses were suddenly very obviously there aching and bloating like a personal size tsunami.  Several hours of that and then the cough. I sounded like an ailing camel.  (I've never actually been around an ailing camel but I've been near groaning and complaining camels and can imagine that if those sounds were multiplied into serious discomfort and not just the habitual annoyance that is pat of the beast's DNA, that's what I my coughs sounded like.) In short, I felt lousy.

So I skipped a lecture I had hoped to hear and came home, had some tea and some soup and a hot steamy bath.  I swallowed a horrible supposedly cherry flavored decongestant, took a Tylenol PM and went to bed and slept for eleven hours.  I haven't slept that long in so long I can't even imagine what event could have sent me to bed for such a sleep.  I woke up "cured".  So I thought and felt.  Nose and sinuses entirely clear. Cough mostly gone.  A miracle cure! Obviously I needed that rest.

Not truly a miracle because the cough hid out somewhere in my chest and barked like a large dog outside the door wanting in, but it was not persistent.  Of course, it tended to come at inconvenient times but it didn't last long -- a few sips of water and a cough drop or piece of hard candy fixed it for  several hours.  My nose didn't entirely give up dripping, but, it too, is only occasionally in need of a Kleenex.  And the sneezing has stopped.   I'm not a 100% cured, but it's merely an impolite occasional reminder that, hey -- I'm not all that special. The cold germs can still attack.  Yes, they can, and, yes, I respect them and henceforth will remember that a really good night's sleep is a curative thing. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016


A double birthday party!  My great-grandson, Cole and his dad, Jason,  (no one named Brooke -- that's just the handy illustration). Jason's birthday was this week and Cole's will be next week but the party was this afternoon before some of the family had to go to a church function. Cole is my second great-grandson; so, there's an older brother and a little sister and a littler brother.  This is a family that seems to be in some competition about large families. A generously sized family you might say. These kids have a big compliment of relatives. On the grand side there's me and my ex-husband (who doesn't live close enough for such parties). The whole quartet of grandparents were there. Plus most of the cousin. One of Jason's sisters also has four kids, of similar ages, and another has two. And an absent sister has three.  Jason and Cori live in their first house, not a large one but with a playroom in the basement and sufficient bedrooms for everyone. 

It was crowded and noisy although it was a controlled chaos. Without undue authoritarianism from any of the adults, all the children obey when asked to sit down or go to the play room. The only crying came when one bumped her head and the two babies whimpered as babies do. Cole's gifts were heavily Star Wars related and all were excited but when told to leave them in their boxes until after the party no one fussed. From what I understand of other families I think this is unusual. I'm old enough to be grumpy about rowdy kids. And also old enough to appreciate what I think is good parenting.  And wisely controlled chaos.

All day I have been celebrating another birthday that is not today, but the 16th of December. The classical music station I listen to is doing a Beethoven weekend. I always quietly celebrate the gift of Beethoven's music and appreciate that our all-classical radio station recognize his greatness and plays many, many of his works. The local station is not very adventurous in its programming but this afternoon they played his Choral Fantasy which I have not heard them play in the eight years I've lived here. As I write they are playing the 5th symphony. I want to hear many different classical pieces on the radio as a rule but a day of Beethoven immersion is a pleasure.  I am not a new-agey person who "celebrates" this and "honors" that in some mushy way; but I feel enormous gratitude that Beethoven (a head above other composers) had the genius, the utterly amazing creativity despite a very, very difficult life, to create such life affirming beauty. Many times when I was feeling unhappy about something I have listened to Beethoven's music and felt better knowing how find the human genius can be.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter arrives

Winter is here. No, no snow yet, but a wet, cold, gray day; no blue in the sky until late afternoon.  I'm sorry that autumn is over -- it was beautiful this year.

As I began to cook dinner, I closed the curtains, turned on the lights, felt a coziness that only comes in winter.  I wish I had a fireplace. But I can't complain, I've lived in houses with fire places and have enjoyed the blazing, crackling fires. I have no fireplace now and I am not a candle using person. However, the sense of enclosure, the curtains shutting out the darkness, the smell of dinner cooking. Winter pleasure, long evenings.  Often when dinner is done and the kitchen has been put to rights, I treat myself to a hot bubble bath, sinking as deeply into the water as possible. In two of the places I've lived the tubs were old fashioned, claw footed, so deep and long I could comfortably sink down, full length with bubbles up to my chin.  How beautiful that was.  Now  my tub in a modern skimy version, put there for the likes of those who would rather take a shower -- although in summer that's what I find I want.

Still, I  love a relaxing, meditative, sweet smelling bath before I unfold the warm throw and get the book out, turn on the reading lamp, settle in for a couple or three hours of reading.  I consider it a luxury that I DO NOT HAVE A TV.  No voices and advertisements and canned laughter distracts me from a good novel or serious book.  I love it.  I finished a book last night, before I go to pour a bath, I'll go to the "to-read" book shelves and pick out the next one ... all spur of the moment.  I have a serendipity moment. Something will seem to call out, "read me next."  And I will.  I think one must live alone to have such a luxury of a winter evening.  It will be three months, at least, before the light returns at dinner time.  How nice.