Before breakfast in London, E. ran out every morning to buy a Guardian at the corner newsstand. Over cereal and cranberry juice, I discovered an unexpected delight: Tim Dowling's Permachat "Chatroom of the week" columns, in which prototypical chatroom denizens attempt (more or less) to discuss serious issues of the day. Here's my favorite, in which the name of Geoffrey Hoon, the government's defense secretary, becomes sort of a mantra of cluelessness (you really must read the whole thing. Go on, it's short).
LadeezMan: so your name aint Tracy then
jenni@boughtledger: I'll just do everything myself shall I
bitracy: no it's Martin.
Pashmina: hi martin
Host_Chris2: let's return to the topic people
“Come to have a look at Monk’s House, have you?” asked the cheerful old man who had overtaken us in the churchyard. “I knew her, Virginia Woolf,” he said. “Me and some other lads were out playing in the fields when she drowned herself, in the river.” He waved vaguely at the surrounding countryside. “Over there, somewhere.”
We smiled and nodded. E. went gamely on with the conversation. Was his story true? I did the math: he could have been the right age. But it seemed like something you’d say to please the tourists.
E. has already written about our trip to Rodmell, to see Monk’s House, once the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. The trip was a kind of English-major pilgrimage, as the groups of English and American visitors among us that day will testify.
We’d come to the old churchyard to kill time. A black cat ran around underfoot; some kids played in the schoolyard next door. Not too far away, the old man’s wife, equally cheery, tended a grave that was head-to-toe flowers. “My brother died at 76,” the man said to us. We were sorry, but they didn't seem sad. The wife came over and nodded pleasantly at us. “We were married here years ago,” they told us proudly. We were impressed.
MetaWoolf: I wasn’t there because of “The Hours.” Nor was I there because of the way VW is lionized by certain parts of the feminist academic establishment. I was there because as a graduate student, I used to go to the stacks of my university library when I had to write a paper, and sit there until I had a draft scratched out. To take a break, I’d grab something off the shelf and read at random. One day I grabbed a volume of Woolf’s letters, and I couldn’t stop reading.
The letters, and to some extent her diaries, are delightful. She was funny, affectionate, occasionally needy, and often hilariously gossipy to her friends. She also was insightful about literature and art as well as the process of being a writer. She wrote books and book reviews, ran a publishing operation successfully with her husband, and was close to her family and friends.
In an age when we’re often told that women’s lives are an equation that will never come out even (The sandwich generation! The second shift! You can have it all, but you can't have it all, but you can have it all!) the letters and diaries never fail to remind me what is still possible, in terms of enjoying life and work.
It’s hard to make VW relevant to the blogworld, I fear. I gather that most people who aren’t aficionados remember her as a depressed writer of abstruse books who wore her hair in a bun, maybe, and killed herself. These preconceptions probably weren’t dispelled by the Hollywoodized depiction in "The Hours," despite Nicole Kidman’s fake nose. The closest I can get to an explanation is that Woolf’s fascination with “moments of being” is echoed today by some of the blog writers I admire most.
Most of VW’s London homes no longer exist—many were destroyed in WWII. Monk’s House, now a part of the National Trust, has been restored to reflect the way it looked when she lived there, between 1919 and 1941. The rooms are staffed with friendly people who answer questions (“So, does he still live here?” was one we overheard; answer: no, he died in 1969) and the garden, which is vast and contains an orchard and a couple of ponds, is looked after by some residential caretakers.
We may never live in such a place, but it was fun to place ourselves there for a minute, planning picnics under the apple trees and wondering what it would be like to have such a garden. I’d love to have my own “writing lodge” in the back, although there may be some difficulty with the condo association about this. (Hmm, but there is a toolshed in the yard at E.’s house in Indiana…)
I took a moment to look at VW's tombstone before we left (although it doesn’t mark a grave, since the tree under which her ashes were buried no longer stands).
“Death is the enemy. Against you I will fling myself unvanquished and unyielding—O Death!” The waves broke on the shore.
"Death is the enemy" is mentioned frequently, but I hadn't realized that "The waves broke on the shore" was the last line. It's flat, but definite; it gives a sense of continuation, like the apples in the trees, like the yearly renewal of the garden, like me picking up a book in a library in 1988.
Finally, we left. Outside in the village, we passed a woman riding a white horse. We stopped at the pub for tea and cake, and after a while caught the bus, and the train, back to London.
Still some residual euphoria about being home, in familiar territory. In the headlines we see the President talking to the United Nations. I recall reading somewhere that prior to his election, he had only left the country a few times. (The actual number of trips is somewhat unclear, according to this source.) Even so, he usually traveled in a delegational bubble.
I suppose there's a lot to be said for traveling with a posse of aides, but it's probably not the same kind of experience. Did he experience the same sort of dislocation as the average traveler, fumbling with coins in the corner mini-mart? The same sort of glaring awkwardness when it turns out yours is the only American accent in the room? The sense of standing on a corner with a map and realizing that you've no idea where you came from and where you're going?
I expect not. That may explain why he's able to talk to the United Nations with a head-spinning sense of entitlement.
A smooth, efficient doctor goes over me but the stethoscope isn't cold. I have bronchitis (but probably not pneumonia), and that I have also fractured a rib from the attendant coughing. I have swank slick pink pills and codeine. When I get outside it's raining, and I am momentarily disoriented--not only by directions, but by the unaccustomed pain.
The office sounds like a TB ward, and D says in chat he's been in bed for 9 days. So not only have I moved in the strange shoes of a foreigner, I am now inhabiting body of a little old woman.
And that was morning and that was evening on the second day of autumn.
Ah, intercontinental jetlag. What else leaves you perky at 6 a.m. and yawning and cranky at 6 p.m.?
We're back, with fabulous intercontinental hacking coughs, a sky-high pile of items for the dry cleaner, and lots of stories and pictures. Currently, however, all I want to do is sit on the couch in my fleecy robe with a pile of magazines.
So this will have to do for now.
Here's a photo of semi-reknowned magician David Blaine, who, in his own words, "will endure starvation in solitary confinement suspended from a crane by the River Thames in a glass box for 44 days." Yes, B&W went to London and all you get (for today) is an American doing a pointless publicity stunt.
As the photo shows, he really isn't up to much, although given his circumstances there isn't really much to be up to. The day we were there, Londoners were treating the whole thing like a circus, milling around underneath and eating ice cream. Apparently since then things have gotten uglier, with hooligans throwing eggs and former Beatles showing up and, apparently, just making everything worse.
Oh, and wi-fi. But that's more than three words.
B&W is going on vacation.
We hope to return with pictures, stories, and a new and improved attitude.
This sign sits in front of one of our favorite Indiana bookstores. The proprietor sponsored E.'s radio show for years and holds some rather eclectic views, a few of which may (or may not) be reflected here.
Anarchism is a game at which the police can beat you.
We buy classical and jazz CDs
--(Bloomington, IN, July 2003)
Back Sept. 22.
In the back of my closet, among the old pairs of glasses and hairbrushes I no longer know what to do with, is a small envelope marked "TEETH." Inside are two of my wisdom teeth, extracted fifteen years ago. I've never known what to do with them, but I've never thrown them away, either. Mostly because it's such a novelty. If I throw them away, chances are I'll never have an envelope like that again.
And teeth are cool, aren't they, in sort of a scary way? Most of the time, they're useful but fairly high-maintenance body parts. So there they are, in the envelope. Most of the time I forget about them, except when I stumble across them, trying to figure out if I should buy more cotton balls or where the hand mirror is. And then there they are, having moved from house to house, useful no more, but still in a strange way permanent appendages.