Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 240

   People of taste tell us nowadays that Renoir is a great eighteenth-century painter.  But in so saying they forget the element of Time, and that it took a great deal of time, even at the height of the nineteenth century, for Renoir to be hailed as a great artist.  To succeed thus in gaining recognition, the original painter or the original writer proceeds on the lines of the oculist.  The course of treatment they give us by their painting or by their prose is not always pleasant.  When it is at an end the practitioner says to us: "Now look!" And, lo and behold, the world around us (which was not created once and for all, but is created afresh as often as an original artist, is born) appears to us entirely different from the old world, but perfectly clear.  Women pass in the street, different from those we formerly saw, because they are Renoirs, those Renoirs we persistently refused to see as women.  The carriages, too, are Renoirs, and the water, and the sky; we feel tempted to go for a walk in the forest which is identical with the one which when we first saw it looked like anything in the world except a forest, like for instance a tapestry of innumerable hues but lacking precisely the hues peculiar to forest.  Such is the new and perishable universe which has just been created.  It will last until the next geological catastrophe is precipitated by a new painter or writer or original talent.
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, pp. 338-339

"Such is the new and perishable universe which has just been created."

In my Aesthetic Expressions class we often find ourselves discussing why artists do what they do.  Essentially, do people make a conscious decision to become artists or is it a case where they cannot not be artists?  As we've discussed, they see the world in a different way and in the end they change the rules, not because they necessarily want to change the world but because they cannot not change the rules.  Now, in changing the rules they have then changed the world, which is what I think Proust is getting at in this section.  At one time people actively detested Renoir (as well as the other Impressionists) and it was because they were viewing the world in a certain more traditional way.  They began to appreciate Renoir when they began to look at his art in a different way, and in the process they began to look at all art and, for that matter, the entire world in a different way.  You could never un-see Renoir (although we've discussed Cezanne's desire to paint as if no one had ever painted before). Now, what's also interesting about all this is that although there were many art critics who rejected the Impressionists, there were a few who "got" it and helped the rest of us to understand it.  Similarly, although obviously less importantly, I think of the music critics who understood Young's Tonight's the Night and supported of it in the face of a lot of abuse from casual fans.  Essentially the critics saw a changing world and helped others get to that point.  I think it speaks to the role of the public intellectual.  One of the reasons why I'm so active on Twitter is to play that role, even if it's a public pseudo-intellectual.

Renoir's Two Sisters on the Terrace.

Renoir's Woman Reading.

Renoir's Dance at Le Mousin de la Galette.

Monday, August 29, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 239

   "No, no, Mamma dear, we won't let you suffer like that, we'll find something to take it away, have patience just for a moment; let me give you a kiss, darling - no, you're not to move."
   And stooping over the bed, with her knees bent, almost kneeling on the ground, as though by an exercise of humility she would have a better chance of making acceptable the impassioned gift of herself, she lowered towards my grandmother her whole life contained her face as in a ciborium which she was holding out to her, adorned with dimples and folds so passionate, so sorrowful, so sweet that one could not have said whether they had been engraved on it by a kiss, a sob or a smile.  My grandmother too tried to lift up her face to Mamma's.  It was so altered that probably, had she been strong enough to go out, she would have been recognised only by the feather in her hat.  Her features, as though during a modeling session, seemed to be straining with an effort which distracted her from everything else, to conform to some particular model which we failed to identify.  The work of the sculptor was nearing its end, and if my grandmother's face had shrunk in the process, it had at the same time hardened.  The veins that traversed it seemed those not of marble, but of some more rugged stone.  Permanently thrust forward by the difficulty that she found in breathing, and as permanently withdrawn into itself by exhaustion, her face, worn, diminished, terrifyingly expressive, seemed like the rude, flushed, purplish, desperate face of some wild guardian of a tomb in a primitive, almost prehistoric sculpture.  But the work was not yet complete.  Next, the mould must be broken, and then, into that tomb which had been so painfully guarded, with that tense exertion the finished effigy lowered.
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, pp. 334-335

Marcel's grandmother's health continues to fail.  The section takes me back to the moment very early in Swann's Way where his mother held her face close for him to kiss in a fashion that almost felt like a believer taking communion.  "And stooping over the bed, with her knees bent, almost kneeling on the ground, as though by an exercise of humility she would have a better chance of making acceptable the impassioned gift of herself, she lowered towards my grandmother her whole life contained her face as in a ciborium which she was holding out to her, adorned with dimples and folds so passionate, so sorrowful, so sweet that one could not have said whether they had been engraved on it by a kiss, a sob or a smile."

Proust's description of his grandmother's features shrinking in the hands of the sculptor reminds me of the grandmother (if I remember correctly) Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's brilliant One Hundred Years of Solitude who keeps shrinking (in classic magical realism fashion) until she is held as a baby.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 238

   And if Legrandin had looked back at us with that air of astonishment, it was because to him, as to the other people who passed us then, in the cab in which my grandmother was apparently sitting on the back seat, she had seemed to be foundering, slithering into the abyss, clinging desperately to the cushions which could scarcely hold back the headlong plunge of her body, her hair dishevelled, her eyes wild, no longer capable of facing the assault of the images which their pupils no longer had the strength to bear.  She had appeared, although I was beside her, to be plunged in that unknown world in the heart of which she had already received the blows of which she bore the marks when I had looked up at her in the Champs-Elysees, her hat, her face, her coat deranged by the hand of the invisible angel with whom she had wrestled.
   I have thought, since, that this moment of her stroke cannot have altogether surprised my grandmother, that indeed she had perhaps foreseen it a long time back, had lived in expectation of it.  She had not known, naturally, when this fatal moment would come, had never been certain, any more than those lovers whom a similar doubt leads alternately to found unreasonable hope and unjustified suspicions on the fidelity of their mistresses.  But it is rare for these graves illnesses, such as that which now at last had struck her full in the face, not to take up residence in a sick person a long time before killing him, during which period they hasten, like a "sociable" neighbour or tenant, to make themselves known to him.  A terrible acquaintance, not so much for the sufferings that it causes as for the strange novelty of the terminal restrictions which it imposes upon life.  We see ourselves dying, in these cases, not at the actual moment of death but months, sometimes years before, when death has hideously come to dwell in us.  We make the acquaintance of the Stranger whom we hear coming and going in our brain.  True, we do not know him by sight, but from the sounds we hear him regularly make we can form an idea of his habits.  Is he a malefactor?  One morning, we can no longer hear him.  He has gone.  Ah! if only it were for ever!  In the evening has has returned.  What are his plans?  The consultant, put to the question, like an adored mistress, replies with avowals that one day are believed, another day questioned.  Or rather it is not the mistress's role but that of interrogated servants that the doctors plays.  They are not only third parties.  The person whom we press for an answer, whom we suspect of being about to play us false, is Life itself, and although we feel her to be no longer the same, we believe in her still, or at least remained undecided until the day on which she finally abandons us.
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, pp. 326-327

As I've discussed doubtlessly all too often, a few years ago I had the chance to move to Hong Kong.  The job offer at the university was really amazing, but mainly I was considering it because I was very much in love with a lovely young British woman and was prepared to toss away my career here at Champlain to follow a new path with her.  Not surprisingly all of my friends jumped in with their thoughts on the decision I had to make.  Many said I definitely had to take the position.  My excellent friend Steve Wehmeyer, knowing that I would appreciate the baseball reference, told me that I had to say yes because, to quote him, "dude, you just got called up to the Show."  Others told me not to go because I have an amazing life here in Vermont (which is definitely true).  My best friend, who I will not identify here to protect the innocent, advised, "Follow the job because in the end women will never do what they say."  While I'm not as cynical as my friend, in the end he was proven correct because the said lovely young British woman broke things off.  In fact, in the last five years I've dated exactly two women, both of whom I fell in love with and asked to marry me, both of whom said yes, and then both of whom changed their mind.  The woman I'm with now has come up with lots of reasons why we can't get married, but in the end she just doesn't want to, and it's because she doesn't love me enough to follow through.  Hey, life goes on.  In every relationship one person always loves the other more, just as in every relationship one side always leaves first (even if it is only to die).  Why am I bringing this all up?  For some reason this passage dredged up all these memories and all these emotions.  In the end these two relationships are a microcosm of the bigger macrocosm: life also makes many promises, but very seldom follows through.

We desperately pursue a lover, just as we pursue life itself. We may have the lover we desperately wanted, but there is always someone else flirting with us.  Even if we have the life we desperately wanted, there is always another life flirting with us; and when we have life itself, eventually death begins to flirt with us.  We've talked about our tendency to personify death, and Proust is doing it beautifully here by equating it with a potentially unfaithful mistress.  He shares with us that his grandmother had to know that she was dying, that "She had not known, naturally, when this fatal moment would come, had never been certain, any more than those lovers whom a similar doubt leads alternately to found unreasonable hope and unjustified suspicions on the fidelity of their mistresses."  I keep hearkening back to Sherwood Anderson's story "Death" from Winesburg, Ohio.  At the end his mother was drawn to her only two lovers, Death and Dr. Reefy.  For the age she was a very experienced woman, so why had she only have two lovers?  I would argue that Death and Dr. Reefy were her only true lovers because they were the only ones who had never let her down.  Elizabeth never actually had sex with Dr. Reefy, so their love was not contaminated, and Death was her most faithful, devoted lover who waited patiently for her.  To me Proust is hinting at the same thing when we suggests, "The person whom we press for an answer, whom we suspect of being about to play us false, is Life itself, and although we feel her to be no longer the same, we believe in her still, or at least remained undecided until the day on which she finally abandons us."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 237

   We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time; it does not occur to us that it can have any connexion with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death - or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which it will never leave hold of us again - may occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon whose time-table, hour by hour, has been settled in advance.  One insists on one's daily outing so that in a month's time one will have had the necessary ration of fresh air; one has hesitated over which coat to take, which cabman to call; one must be back home early, as a friend is coming to see one; one hopes that it will be as fine again to-morrow; and one has no suspicion that death, which has been advancing within one on another plane, shrouded in an impenetrable darkness, has chosen precisely this particular day to make its appearance, in a few minutes' time, more or less at the moment when the carriage reaches the Champs-Elysees.  Perhaps those who are habitually haunted by the fear of the utter strangeness of death will find something reassuring in this kind of death - in this kind of first contact with death - because death thus assumes a known, familiar, everyday guise.  A good lunch has preceded it, and the same outing that people take who are in perfect health.  A drive home in an open carriage comes on top of its first onslaught; ill as my grandmother was, there were, after all, several people who could testify that at six c'clock, as we came home from the Champs-Elysees, they had bowed to her as she drove past in an open carriage, in perfect weather.  Legrandin, making his way towards the Place de la Concorde, raised his hat to us, stopping to look after us with an air of surprise.  I, who was not yet detached from life, asked my grandmother if she had acknowledged his greeting, reminding her of his touchiness.  My grandmother, thinking me no doubt very frivolous, raised her hand in the air as though to say: "What does it matter?  It's of no importance."
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, pp. 324-325

Not surprisingly, Marcel becomes fixated on death enters the final stretch of her life.  As humans we've always personified death (and I'll avoid incorporating the section from Sherwood Anderson's brilliant story "Death," where George's dying grandmother personifies envisions death as a young lover, mainly because I'm sure I've included it before).  Certainly it's been a staple of mythology, but it has always played an active role in popular culture as well, whether it's Max von Sydow playing chess with death in The Seventh Seal or Woody Allen being led away by a dancing death in Love and Death or even Archer being educated by a "cut rate James Mason."  I suppose it isn't all that surprising because as scary as those anthropomorphic figures are they are probably still less terrifying than the blackness of the unknowable.  Proust writes, "We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time; it does not occur to us that it can have any connexion with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death - or its first assault and partial possession of us, after which it will never leave hold of us again - may occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon whose time-table, hour by hour, has been settled in advance."  Death, again personified, makes a "first assault" and will "never leave hold of us again."  At the same time Proust touches upon the unpredictability of death (and I can't help flashing back to the opening scene of American Beauty).  It's always, naturally, far off in the future.  My father always joked that middle age always began at your present age plus eleven years, and maybe in the end that's how we view death.  And maybe somehow the thought of a personified death is a more calming alternative than the randomness of death interrupting a perfectly lovely day.

Discography - Week 19

The summer draws to a close and the school year begins, which to a goodly number of us is our de facto New Year.  I've often thought that one of the reasons why the actual New Year's Eve has meant so little to me is that I've never been out of a school environment, so that end of the year elegiac reflection period always falls in late August.  There are some wonderful songs and compelling commentaries this week, and all I'm going to say is that I think Miranda is in the wrong line of work.  I think our unofficial theme this week is pain.

Gary Beatrice

James Brown, Sex Machine

Any serious music fan recognizes James Brown's brilliance and his influence. I can't imagine what soul or R&B would sound like without Brown, and his influence on rap and hip hop is obvious by the frequency in which his music is sampled. People my age who were young adults when Prince and Michael Jackson were dominating the air waves, surely recognized that JB not only influenced the two of them musically but visually as well.

James Brown is not underrated by any means. But I find it odd that people don't play his music today.

To my ears the best of his studio recordings aren't dated in the least and still sound phenomenal. Songs like Sex Machine would fit right into urban, classic rock, and even roots/NPR formats. I suspect that Brown is remembered as such a visual musician that his studio recordings are roundly ignored or forgotten, which is why I intentionally included a non-video You Tube clip of this song. You can't possibly listen to this without seriously elevating your mood. And you only need your ears although I suspect your entire body will react.

Dave Wallace

Van Morrison, St. Dominic's Preview

Has anyone ever had a better run than Van Morrison in the late 60s/early 70s?  Astral Weeks, Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, and St. Dominic's Preview.  Wow!  Just one great album after another.  I'm not sure that the title track for that last album is his best song from that run, but it's my favorite.  And I'm not sure that I can even say why.  The lyrics are vague, but there's something about the searching, questing nature of the song that has always spoken to me.  I find the thought of gazing out on St. Dominic's Preview to be incredibly soothing.  Plus the song wears its gospel influences proudly, and I'm always a sucker for that.  

Miranda Tavares

500 Miles to Memphis, Cows to the Slaughter

So, not for the first, and I'm sure not for the last, time on this blog, I had a post all written in my head and then real life had to go and intervene. Cincinnati has made the national news for its heroin problem. In a 48 hour period, we had 70 heroin overdoses. Most of them were able to be brought back via Narcan. For some, all hope is lost. Literally. I am a child of the '80's, who came of age in the '90's, and I am no stranger to the idea and effects of heroin. I lost many an idol to heroin. But most of my musical interests created songs influenced by heroin as users. Nirvana is a screaming example, but there have been so many on this blog who have posted songs representative of the struggle of addiction, and the initial hopelessness that drives a person to experiment with such a drug in the first place. And all of that is poignant, and heartbreaking...and also makes for some amazing music. But there is a whole group of people who is underrepresented in the heroin-influenced group of music: those left behind. 
I am fortunate to have never lost a loved one to heroin. I have lost acquaintances, and, although I feel terrible for them, the reality is that they are gone. I feel most for the family, the friends, the ones who are left wondering what happened, what went wrong, what they could have fixed. They are the ones who continue to feel the pain the heroins users escaped. I cannot imagine the guilt, the anger, and above all, the utter confusion and disbelief that must haunt them throughout even the happiest moments of their lives following such a tragedy. 

I had in mind that I would use this blog to learn about new musicians, and in turn introduce people to musicians that they would not have otherwise heard, and therefore I had a personal covenant that I would not post about a band that someone else has already posted about. Nate has already introduced everyone to 500 Miles to  Memphis, and they are a great band, and I hope everyone listens to literally every song available online. However, today, right now, this song deserves special mention. And I have no indication that this song that I have selected is about heroin. However, I saw them live tonight, following the recent events that have plagued the news, and I was moved to tears when they played this song.

" What did this world do, to you that made you, turn out the way you did? You and the others, like cows to the slaughter, lined up and marched away." 

Show me a parent, a spouse, a relative, a friend, of an overdose who hasn't felt this exact sentiment, and I will show you a person with no soul. 

"You were like a picture, of everything that life could be." 

Isn't this all of us? We are all born with such potential. Even if we don't realize it to its full extent, none of us here have thrown it all away. My heart aches for those who have, and aches even more for those left behind to make sense of the senselessness. 

Nate Bell

Well. I'm intimidated by my wife's post for this week, but I'm going to try anyway:

The Young Dubliners, Follow me up to Carlow.

It's unusual that a song primarily featuring a whistle and a violin can get my blood up the same way the Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade" can.

Follow me up to Carlow memorializes the Battle of Glemalure, where the poorly armed and outnumbered Irish soldiers handed a superior force of English soldiers their own asses.  The cause was eventually lost, as one can surmise, but the sentiment still has stirred the blood of Irish for centuries hence.

The setting for the battle was 1580 during the second Desmond Rebellion.  Names and dates aside, this conflict was between the conquering English Tudor dynasty and native Irish...which later broiled into the rebellions of the O'Neils of Ulster and continued at a slow boil for remaining centuries all the way into the late 1990s as "The Troubles".

The conflict is often simplified into Catholics vs. Protestants.  That is technically true, but what started in the late 1500s was much more sinister and dire for my ancestors.  Ireland had been invaded since the early 700s by vikings, later by Normans.  Earlier invaders were absorbed and enculturated.  Nothing prior was like the invasion by the Tudors.  Henry the VIII, and his daughter Elizabeth, HATED the native Irish and Scots.  It wasn't simply a matter of religion.  During the late 1500s, the Tudors instigated a concentrated campaign to wipe out the entire culture of the Irish and Scots.  They outlawed the language--yes Irish used to be a separate language--they outlawed the clothing typical of the Irish, they even went so far as to outlaw hairstyles typical of native Irish.  They forbid schooling of the Irish and outlawed their entire brand of Catholicism.  The aim was to crush the identity and lives of a people.

So, it's no surprise that a good fighting song can fire the blood of an exiled son, even on a different continent, and centuries later.  The whistle and fiddle set a lively air that belies the anger underneath a rising wrath against a true oppression with an explicit aim to exterminate an entire people and way of life

"See the swords of Glen Imayle, they're flashing o'er the English Pale
See all the children of the Gael, beneath O'Byrne's banners
Rooster of a fighting stock, would you let a Saxon cock
Crow out upon an Irish rock? Fly up and teach him manners!"

From Saggart to Clonmore, there flows a stream of Saxon gore
O, great is Rory Óg O'More, at sending the loons to Hades.
White is sick and Grey (The English commanders--note Nate's) is fled, now for black Fitzwilliam's head
We'll send it over dripping red, to Queen Liza and her ladies.

I can rarely listen to this song without the desire to raise my sword and fling myself at the encroaching forces, no matter how desperate the cause.  " Up with halberd out with sword
On we'll go for by the Lord
Fiach MacHugh has given the word,
Follow me up to Carlow'

One could do far worse for a battle hymn.  Kern tested and approved.

Mike Kelly

Sturgill Simpson, Time After All 

The academic set amongst us is back to work this week and everyone is a combination of excited and pissy.  We’re reminded of the colleagues who are a McSweeney’s caricature, the annoying shadow work that’s endemic to white-collar working life in 2016 America and the abrupt change in life’s pace.  We’re all complicit with the swinging pendulums of existence in ways that are so obvious that we barely see much less talk about them in ways that go beyond hallway small talk.    

Fortunately, this is where Sturgill comes in.  This song is Percocet for the soul.   He reminds us to “roll off the tempo, lay back…” because there’s not a lot we can do about a whole lot of stuff that happens in our small little corner of the cosmos.  

Here’s the catch though.  The song is not making an argument to resign ourselves to this fact and doesn’t ask us to completely give away our agency. 

“They say that life can decide in the blink of eye
if our silly little dreams will ever come true
But the dreams in my mind all go by so slow
What the hell else can I do”   

Consistent with the spirit and excitement that comes from another year and another round of changes, instead we’re asked to savor the agency and the dreams that we have and linger in quest to see them through.  All we’re asked to do is be a little more patient than we often allow ourselves to be.  

Happy New Year, everyone.  

Dave Kelly

So once again I am somewhat cheating and listing more than one song.  At least my three selections this week are linked together thematically.  Think of it as damaged women producing great art.

Amy Winehouse, Tears Dry On Their Own

I agree with Gary B. that Winehouse was on her way to becoming an iconic artist before she died at such a young age.  Of all of the great songs on "Back in Black", this is the one that has always been my favorite.  Her horrible self esteem results in lines like "I'll be some next man's other woman soon."

Written soon after her lover and future husband (and all around piece of shit) left her to return to his wife, the song is not exactly a positive look at relationships.  The opening lines will never grace a Hallmark card.

"All I can ever be to you
Is a darkness that we knew
and this regret I had to get accustomed to"

Later on she sings:

"I shouldn't play myself again
I should just be my own best friend
not fuck myself in the head with stupid men."

Backed by the awesomely tight Dap Kings and powered by Amy's tremendous voice, I find this song to be a modern classic. 

Amy Winehouse has always reminded me of another amazing but tragic singer from long ago.  Billie Holiday

"Strange Fruit"  Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit

Alcoholic, a heroin and cocaine addict, a working prostitute by the age of 12.  Holiday's life makes Winehouse's look like an episode of the Muppets.  Throw in the racism with which she had to struggle, and you have the making of a gothic horror novel.

There really isn't much to add to "Strange Fruit" besides listening to it.  Written in the thirties when lynching was still relatively common in the South and inspired by a photograph of two black men hanging from a tree, the song is just devastating.

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."

My third choice is Bettye LaVette, Talking Old Soldiers

While not near the tragic figure of Holiday or Winehouse, LaVette has lived a hard life and for some reason never achieved the popularity of many of her R&B contemporaries.  Several years ago she did a record backed by of all people The Drive By Truckers.  The music gives no indication that they are playing behind her.  "Talking Old Soldiers" is a cover of an Elton John song from the early seventies.  Some of the lyrics are changed to account for the fact that it is a woman and not a man singing it.  The singer is basically sitting in a bar drinking and pouring her pain and regrets out to a younger man kind enough to talk to her.  "How the hell do they know what it is like to have a graveyard for a friend" is representational of the lyrics.  I find her vocal performance beyond amazing.  You almost feel like you are at the bar right next to her.

I promise to limit myself to one song next week.

Gary Scudder

Patty Griffin, Sweet Lorraine

I wish I could say that I'm a long-time fan of Patty Griffin, but, sadly, my knowledge of her only goes back as far as Dave Kelley and then Bob Craigmile sending around the fifty best alt-country albums link a few weeks ago.  I downloaded several of the albums that I didn't already own, but the one that I've been playing non-stop is Griffin's Living With Ghosts.  I think she's passed through Burlington a couple times the last few years and I'm now kicking myself for not seeing her.  I have no doubt that I'll be posting a couple of her songs before our year has run its course, but the one that I'm fixated on at the moment is Sweet Lorraine.

It's one of those songs where the artist introduces you to an entire world by focusing on one character.  Like most things, I guess, sometimes this works and sometimes it fails (I keep coming back to Young's Greendale album which is such a mess).  In this case I think it comes together brilliantly.

"Sweet Lorraine the fiery haired brown eyed schemer
Who came from a long line of drinkers and dreamers
Who knew that sunshine don't hold back the dark
Whose businesses fail, who sleep in the park."

And Lorraine is one of the characters who gets caught up in the shrapnel of a life like that, but who "spoke of paintings in Paris and outlandish things to her family just to scare us."

The passage that really gets me is this one:

"Her daddy called her a slut and a whore
On the night before her wedding day
Very next morning at the church
Her daddy gave Lorraine away . . ."

Not only is the opening line heartbreaking, but the way that she delivers it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  She may be a little waif of a girl but she can wail.

For some reason I keep coming back to Miranda and Dave's great posts from above, and I think it's all related.  Somewhere along the way Jason Isbell's Relatively Easy becomes the Drive-By Truckers Puttin' People on the Moon.

"In the battle of time, in the battle of will
It's only hope and your heart that gets killed
And it gets harder and harder, Lorraine, to believe in magic
When what came before you is so very tragic."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 236

   "I heard the whole of the 'Marquise's' conversation with the keeper," she told me.  "Could anything have been more typical of the Guermantes, or the Verdurins and their little clan? 'Ah! in what courtly terms those things were put!;' And she added, with deliberate application, this from her own special Marquise, Mme de Sevigne: "As I listened to them I thought that they were preparing for me the delights of a farewell."
   Such were the remarks that she addressed to me, remarks into which she had put all her critical delicacy, her love of quotation, her memory of the classics, more thoroughly even than she would normally have done, and as though to prove that she retained possession of all these faculties.  But I guessed rather than heard what she said, so inaudible was the voice in which she mumbled her sentences, clenching her teeth more than could be accounted for the fear of vomiting.
   "Come!" I said lightly enough not to seem to be taking her illness too seriously, "since you're feeling a little sick I suggest we go home.  I don't want to trundle a grandmother with indigestion about the Champs-Elysees."
   "I didn't like to suggest it because of your friends," she replied.  "Poor pet!  But if you don't mind, I think it would be wiser."
   I was afraid of her noticing the strange way in which she uttered these words.
   "Come," I said to her brusquely, "you mustn't tire yourself talking when you're feeling sick - it's silly; wait till we get home."
   She smiled at me sorrowfully and gripped my hand.  She had realised that there was no need to hide from me what I had at once guessed, that she had had a slight stroke.
   We made our way back along the Avenue Gabriel through the strolling crowds.  I left my grandmother to rest on a bench and went in search of a cab.  She, in whose heart I always placed myself in order to form an opinion of the most insignificant person, she was now closed to me, had become part of the external world, and, more than from any casual passer-by, I was obliged to keep from her what I thought of her condition, to betray on sign of my anxiety.  I could not have spoken of it to her with any more confidence than to a stranger.  She had suddenly returned to me the thoughts, the griefs which, from my earliest childhood, I had entrusted to her for all time.  She was not yet dead.  But I was already alone."
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, p. 323

This passage is pretty heartbreaking.  Marcel is out on a walk with his ailing grandmother and at a certain point he realizes that she's had a "slight" stroke.  The situation is made more poignant by the fact that she clearly understands as well, but is more concerned with his feelings than her own condition.  He finds himself trying to hide the fact from her, but in the larger sense he's already starting to isolate her.  "She, in whose heart I always placed myself in order to form an opinion of the most insignificant person, she was now closed to me, had become part of the external world . . ."  When a child is getting ready to leave for college you'll often see an escalation of petty argument, especially with her mother, as both sides subconsciously begin the process of severing the bonds.  I wonder if the same thing happens with the terminally ill?  On the one hand we cling to them more desperately, but on the other they unintentionally start to "become part of the external world."  Proust writes, "She was not yet dead.  But I was already alone."  I'm reflecting on whether or not this happened to me, but truthfully I don't know if I can answer the question.  Partially this is true because when the health of my grandparents began to fail I had already been living in Atlanta for years and thus didn't see them that much anymore, which prevented me from witnessing their decline, and the alteration of my feelings towards them, on a daily basis.  In a sense the same thing happened with my mother's passing; I was up in Vermont and she was living down in Savannah with my sister. However, I think it's more complicated than that.  Truthfully I was never as close to my parents as my siblings were.  Doubtless part of this related to me being a very headstrong and self-possessed (and I guess self-absorbed) oldest child, but part of it related to how they viewed me; in short, it was mutual.  I was utterly devoted to my grandparents.  It seems to me that the real reason why grandparents dote on their grandchildren is that they're not trying to turn them into anything in particular.  Grandparents know that they have a very finite amount of time and so they focus on the wonder of their grandchildren and not their legacy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Summer 2016 Visitors

It's been a funny summer, and one that has madly rushed by.  One of the reasons why is that it has been a very hectic summer, although pleasantly so.  Even though I live in a vacation destination state I've had precious few visitors over the years, which I attribute to my lacks of attractive personal attributes.  Happily, that changed late this summer as a few of my oldest friends drove up here for a visit within a week of each other.  I'll get to Bill and Kathy soon, but in the meantime I'll post a few pictures of my dear friends Debi and Ben.  Debi and I taught together back at Georgia Perimeter (nee DeKalb) College when the world was young and have remained in close contact even though I left GPC sixteen years ago and Debi is now a Dean in Washington, DC.  She claims that she lost me to her great (and long-suffering) husband Ben, and that I put up with her mainly so that Ben and I can talk baseball.  Sadly, the Lake Monsters were out of town while they were here - and even the Montreal Alouettes were on the road.  Still, because Ben had never visited Canada we crossed the border for a few hours.  I am blessed to have such amazing friends.

The Queen is pensive as she tries her first smoked meat sandwich at Chez Pepe.

Ben, on the other hand, loved his smoked meat sandwich and poutine.

And what trip north of the border would be complete without a visit to Tim Horton's?

Debi, who has a profound sweet teeth, discovered true happiness with the Tim Bits.

And back in VT we had to go to the Four Corners deli, the best restaurant in the state.