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Cloudland Revisited

July 30, 2010


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I thought I’d also post one of his Cloudland Revisited pieces. They are classic Perelman, wherein he re-reads or reviews a book or film that had deeply impressed him in his youth. The results, as in this one from 1950, while somewhat disheartening for Perelman, are comic ambrosia for the rest of us…
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The Wickedest Woman In Larchmont

If you were born anywhere near the beginning of the century and had access at any time during the winter of 1914-15 to thirty-five cents in cash, the chances are that after a legitimate deduction for nonpareils you blew the balance on a movie called A Fool There Was. What gave the picture significance, assuming that it had any, was neither its story, which was paltry, nor its acting, which was aboriginal, but a pyrogenic half pint by the name of Theda Bara, who immortalized the vamp just as Little Egypt, at the World’s Fair in 1893, had the hoochie-coochie.

My own discovery of Miss Bara dates back to the sixth grade at grammar school and was due to a boy named Raymond Bugbee, a detestable bully who sat at the desk behind mine. Bugbee was a fiend incarnate, a hulking, evil-faced youth related on both sides of his family to Torquemada and dedicated to making my life insupportable. He had perfected a technique of catapulting BB shot through his teeth with such force that some of them are still embedded in my poll, causing a sensation like tic douloureux when it rains.

Day after day, under threat of the most ghastly reprisals if I squealed, I was pinched, gouged, and nicked with paper clips, spitballs, and rubber bands. Too wispy to stand up to my oppressor, I took refuge in a subdued blubbering, which soon abraded the teacher’s nerves and earned me the reputation of being refractory. One day, Bugbee finally overreached himself. Attaching a steel pen point to the welt of his shoe, he jabbed it upward into my posterior. I rose into the air caterwauling and, in the attendant ruckus, was condemned to stay after school and clap erasers. Late that afternoon, as I was numbly toiling away in a cloud of chalk dust, I accidentally got my first intimation of Miss Bara from a couple of teachers excitedly discussing her.

“If you rearrange the letters in her name, they spell ‘Arab Death,'” one of them was saying with a delicious shudder. “I’ve never seen an actress kiss the way she does. She just sort of glues herself onto a man and drains the strength out of him.” “I know–isn’t it revolting?” sighed the other rapturously. “Let’s go see her again tonight!”

Needless to add, I was in the theatre before either of them, and my reaction was no less fervent. For a full month afterward, I gave myself up to fantasies in which I lay with my head pillowed in the seductress’s lap, intoxicated by coal-black eyes smoldering with belladonna. At her bidding, I eschewed family, social position, my brilliant career–a rather hazy combination of African explorer and private sleuth–to follow her to the ends of the earth.

I saw myself, oblivious of everything but the nectar of her lips, being cashiered for cheating at cards (I was also a major in the Horse Dragoons), descending to drugs, and ultimately winding up as a beachcomber in the South Seas, with a saintly, ascetic face like H.B. Warner’s. Between Bugbee’s persecutions that winter and the moral quicksands I floundered into as a result of A Fool There Was, it’s a wonder I ever lived through to Arbor Day.

A week or so ago, seeking to ascertain whether my inflammability to Miss Bara had lessened over the years, I had a retrospective look at her early triumph. Unfortunately, I could not duplicate the original conditions under which I had seen her, since the Museum of Modern Art projection room is roach-free and lacks those powerful candy-vending machines that kicked like a Colt .45. Nonetheless, I managed to glean a fairly comprehensive idea of what used to accelerate the juices in 1915, and anyone who’d like a taste is welcome to step up to the tureen and skim off a cupful.

Produced by William Fox and based on the play by Porter Emerson Browne, A Fool There Was maunders through a good sixth of its footage establishing a whole spiral nebula of minor characters before it centers down on its two luminaries, the Vampire and the Fool. As succinctly as I can put it, the supporting players are the latter’s wife Kate, an ambulatory laundry bag played by Mabel Frenyear; their daughter, an implacably arch young hoyden of nine, unidentified; Kate’s sister (May Allison); her beau, a corpulent slob, also anonymous; and a headlong butler seemingly afflicted with locomotor ataxia.

All these inhabit a depressing chalet in Larchmont, where, as far as I could discover, they do nothing but shake hands effusively. A tremendous amount of handshaking, by the way, distinguished the flicks in their infancy; no director worth his whipcord breeches would have dreamed of beginning his plot before everyone had exchanged greetings like a French wedding party entering a café. In any case, the orgy of salutation has just begun to die down when John Schuyler, the Fool, arrives by yacht to join his kin, and the handshaking starts all over again. Schuyler (Edward José), a florid, beefy lawyer in a high Belmont collar, is hardly what you would envision as passion’s plaything, but I imagine it took stamina to be a leading man for Theda Bara–someone she could get her teeth into, so to speak.

We now ricochet to the Vampire and her current victim, Parmalee (Victor Benoit), strolling on a grassy sward nearby. The siren, in billowing draperies and a period hat, carries as almost much sail as The Golden Hind, making it a bit difficult to assess her charms; however, they seemed to have unmanned the young ne’er-do-well with her to the point where he is unable to light the Zira he is fumbling with.
Their affair, it appears, has burned itself out, and Parmalee, wallowing in self-pity, is being given the mitten. Midway through his reproaches, a chauffeur-driven Simplex, sparkling with brass, pulls alongside, Miss Bara shoves him impatiently into it, and the pair whisk offscreen. These turgid formalities completed, the picture settles down to business, and high time too.

In a telegram from the President (Woodrow Wilson presumably chose his envoys in an extremely haphazard manner), Schuyler is ordered to England on some delicate mission, such as fixing the impost on crumpets, and makes ready to leave. He expects to be accompanied by Kate and his daughter, but just prior to sailing, his sister-in-law clumsily falls out of the tonneau of her speedster, and Kate remains behind to nurse her. The Vampire reads of Schuyler’s appointment, and decides to cross on the same vessel and enmesh him in her toils. As she enters the pier, an aged derelict accosts her, observing mournfully, “See what you have made of me–and still you prosper, you hellcat.”

Meanwhile, Parmalee, learning of her desertion from a Japanese servant whose eyelids are taped back with two pieces of court plaster, smashes all the bric-a-brac and ferns in their love nest, tears down the portieres, and hastens to intercept her. The derelict waylays him at the gang-plank. “I might have known you’d follow her, Parmalee,” he croaks. “Our predecessor, Van Diemen, rots in prison for her.” The plea to desist from his folly falls on deaf ears; Parmalee sequesters his Circe on the promenade deck and, clapping a pistol to his temple, declares his intention of destroying himself if she abandons hin. She smilingly flicks it aside with a rose and a line of dialogue that is unquestionably one of the most hallowed in dramaturgy: “Kiss me, my fool.” Willful boy that he is, however, Parmalee must have his own way and shoots himself dead.

The gesture, sad to say, is wasted, exciting only desultory interest. The body is hustled off the ship, a steward briskly mops up the deck, and by the time the Gigantic has cleared Sandy Hook, Theda and her new conquest are making googly eyes and preparing to fracture the Seventh Commandment by sending their laundry to the same blanchisseuse in Paris.

A time lapse of two months, and in a hideaway on the Italian Riviera choked with rubber plants and jardinieres, the lovers play amorous tag like Dido and Aeneas, and nibble languidly on each other’s ears. Although everything seems to be leeches and cream, a distinct undercurrent of tension is discernible between them; Schuyler dreams betimes of Suburbia, his dusky cook who used to make such good flapjacks, and when Theda jealously tears up a letter from his wife, acrimony ensues. Soon after, while registering at a hotel, Schuyler is recognised by acquaintances, who, much to his anguish, recoil as from an adder.

Back in Westchester, Kate has learned of his pecadilloes through a gossip sheet. She confronts Schuyler’s law partner and, with typical feminine chauvinism, lambastes the innocent fellow: “You men shield each other’s sins, but if the woman were at fault, how quick you’d be to condemn her!” Mrs. Schuyler’s behaviour, in fact, does little to ingratiate her. Not content with barging into a busy law office and disrupting its routine, she then runs home and poisons a child’s mind against its father. “Mama,” inquires her daughter, looking up from one of Schuyler’s letters, “is a cross a sign for love?” “Yes,” Kate retorts spitefully, “and love often means a cross.” The fair sex (God bless them) can be really extraordinary at times.

In our next glimpse of the lotus-eaters, in London, Schuyler has already begun paying the piper; his eyes are berimmed with kohl, his step is palsied, and his hair is covered with flour. Theda, contrariwise, is thriving like the green bay tree, still tearing up his correspondence and wrestling him into embraces that char the woodwork. Their idyl is abruptly cut short by a waspish cable from the Secretary of State, which reads, in a code easily decipherable to the audience, “ON ACCOUNT OF YOUR DISGRACEFUL CONDUCT, YOU ARE HEREBY DISMISSED.”

Remorse and Heimweh, those twin powerful antibiotics, temporarily dispel the kissing-bug that has laid Schuyler low. He returns to the States determined to rid himself of his incubus, but she clings and forces him to install her in a Fifth Avenue mansion. Humiliations multiply as she insists on attending the opera with him in a blaze of aigrettes, and there is an affecting scene when their phaeton is overtaken by his wife’s auto near the Public Library and his daughter entreats him, “Papa, dear, I want you.”

But the call of the wild is too potent, and despite pressure from in-laws and colleagues alike, Schuyler sinks deeper into debauchery. Kate, meanwhile, is keening away amid a houseful of relatives, all of them shaking hands as dementedly as ever and proffering unsound advice. There is such a hollering and a rending of garments and a tohubohu in the joint that you can’t really blame Schuyler for staying away. When a man has worn himself down to the rubber struggling in a vampire’s toils, he wants to come home to a place where he can read his paper in peace, not a loony bin.

Six months of revelry and an over-zealous makeup man have left their stamp on the Fool when we see him again; the poor chap is shipping water fast. He reels around the mansion squirting seltzer at the help and boxing with double-exposure phantoms, and Theda, whose interest in her admirers wanes at the drop of a security, is already stalking a new meatball. Apprised of the situation, Kate goes to her husband bearing an olive branch, but their reunion is thwarted by his mistress, who unexpectedly checks in and kisses him back into submission. The action now grows staccato: Schuyler stages a monumental jamboree, at which his guests drink carboys of champagne and dance the bunny hug very fast, and then, overcome by delerium tremens, he violently expels them into the night.

Kate, in the meantime, has decided to take his daughter to him as a last appeal. Preceded by her sister’s beau (the Slob), the pair arrive at the mansion to find Schuyler in parlous shape. The child throws herself on him–a dubious service to anyone suffering from the horrors–and the adults beseech the wastrel to come home and, one infers, be committed to a nice, quiet milieu where his expenditures can be regulated. His dilemma is resolved by the reappearance of Theda; Schuyler grovels before her, eradicating any doubt as to his fealty, and the folks exit checkmated.

The last few seconds of the picture, in a sombre key umatched outside the tragedies of D’Annunzio, depict the Fool, obsessed by a montage of his sins, squirming on his belly through an openwork balustrade and collapsing in a vestibule. “So, some of him lived,” comments a final sepulchral tile, “but the soul of him died.” And over what remains, there appears a grinning presentment of Miss Bara, impenitent and sleek in black velvet and pearls, strewing rose petals as we fade out.

For all its bathos and musty histrionics, A Fool There Was, I am convinced, still retains some mysterious moral cachet. It sounds like I’ve invented the whole thing and maybe I have. Still, who could have invented Theda Bara?

37 Comments
  1. hic8ubique permalink
    August 3, 2010 10:04 PM

    Odd thing here…why would Perelman use ‘incubus’, when the feminine is ‘succubus’?
    He must have been familiar with both, so I wonder whether an anxious editor thought it too vulgar or…? Peculiar.

  2. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 10, 2010 1:14 PM

    ‘Omnibus’ would have covered all eventualities.

  3. August 10, 2010 10:39 PM

    “Pentabus” would allow for three other interpretations.

    Welcome back MM. As you can see we haven’t exactly been busy here.

  4. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 11, 2010 12:03 AM

    ‘Wightbus’ is not an option for any civilised person.

    Glad to be back from the barbarous North, ET. The diet of flat lifeless beer and chips does get a little monotonous. Also had to spend rather more time with Mrs M’s mother than is ideal, since Mrs M is under the impression she might conk out at any time, though she seems to me as frighteningly energetic and aggressive (towards me, that is) as usual. So the low-level hostilities of the last 30 years continued, only breaking into open warfare over the issue of Laurence Sterne’s association with the Hell Fire Club, of all things, and whether or not sugar has to be added to the yeast mixture when baking bread.

    Are you familiar with the work of Ron Mueck? Returning to Belsay Hall we found an exhibition taking place called Extraordinary Measures (initially we thought it was something to do with Stella McCartney’s filthy Swarovski horse, which ought to go to the knacker’s forthwith). There were photos of miniature people against giant objects by Slinkachu, which Mrs M thought very droll and I thought stupid. In the first room of the house we turned a corner and came on Mueck’s Wild Man. The impact of a seated 10-foot tall naked man when you’re not expecting to see one can’t be overestimated. It’s a very complete nude man, which brought some unnecessary and actually quite hurtful comments from Mrs M. The thing is so amazingly lifelike, down to the individual hairs and spots on the back that for a few minutes I was fairly impressed. Then I wondered if it’s enough for something to be gigantic and lifelike. Would I feel the same about a huge Airfix model? I don’t think I would.
    I did feel quite sorry for the English Heritage person, a little old lady, who has to stand guard over the thing all day. She said she dreams about it every night.

    http://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/online_az/4:322/result/0/91173?initial=M&artistId=17152&artistName=Ron%20Mueck&submit=1

  5. hic8ubique permalink
    August 11, 2010 12:41 AM

    Hurtful to you, or the wild man, Mowbray? He looks awfully clean for a proper wild man, and seems to know how to use furniture.
    The poor docent mustn’t have enough of him during the day.

    How would you and Mrs M feel about rounding a bend to see a plasticated corpse by Von Hagens?
    I saw an enormous one ‘exploded’ like a Beauchene skull.
    Couldn’t find a photo of that exhibit, but …

    http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/UlBkOZ_acX4/Body+Worlds+Exhibition+Gunther+Von+Hagens/2qRtlPcLfPb

    Welcome home. I’ve missed you.
    and I’ve never used sugar.

  6. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 11, 2010 5:01 PM

    Why, thank you, hic. Your sweetness could not be improved by sugar. The bread which Mrs M prefers is Doris Grant’s, which is supposed to include cane sugar, which we substitute with demerara (since we aren’t entirely sure what cane sugar is, and Tesco doesn’t sell it anyway). I quite like sliced white bread, which is surprisingly hard to find in hotels in the UK now. Several times I’ve been met with a blank look and the news that
    the hotel only has brown bread, something which also applies at my mother-in-law’s house, no doubt as a tactic to further unsettle the Southern smartyboots.

    Actually, I think M-I-L could have been right about Sterne. My memory is that he was at least an associate of Dashwood’s, but apparently there’s no evidence that they met, or indeed that Sterne ever went to Medmenham. So her bulging-eyed, screeching assertion that the Reverend Laurence Sterne would, despite his worldliness, never have anything to do with that sort of thing had something to it after all, despite her knowing nothing about the chap apart from what we’d heard that afternoon (not that I’m an authority on Sterne, of course).

    I’ve seen Von Hagens on TV and found him a bit creepy (I won’t be eating his ice-cream again), and his plastinations seemed to make the body more rather than less comprehensible. The ‘live’ autopsy he performed was one of the low points of UK TV. He gives butchers a bad name.

  7. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 11, 2010 5:04 PM

    Wait a minute. Less rather than more comprehensible is what I mean.

  8. hic8ubique permalink
    August 11, 2010 6:15 PM

    That’s so charming coming from you, MM, I suspect you haven’t seen what I said about you on the Schubert thread last week.
    White bread is essentially all sugar anyway, but probably demerara is cane sugar (derived from sugar-cane!) with some treacle left in. I suppose by cane sugar they mean regular castor sugar, in which case Tesco will have it in abundance.
    But you could use an equivalent in barley sugar or honey with the same affect on yeast, and additional flavour/nutrients which might not suit your white bread taste.
    We have wonderful locally-made breads available here, for just a few dollars, with nuts and seeds in (lovely toasted) or garlic and olive ciabatta, asiago focaccia~ difficult to choose.
    I only make bread for special occasions, since the bakeries are so good. Your daughter must have reported how relatively
    cheap everything is.

    I was actually called ‘white bread’ once.I believe it refers to a person reared in a environment where a major cultural distinction turns on such a question as whether to celebrate Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

  9. hic8ubique permalink
    August 11, 2010 6:44 PM

    Back again, I couldn’t talk about food and Von Hagens in the same post.
    The plastination (as you say, not plastication) process interests me, but clearly something’s gone badly wrong with the man.
    I don’t quite agree about making the body less comprehensible generally, although some of the reflections of tissue are so extreme, I could see that.
    Some of the exhibits were beautifully prepared and presented in an emotionally neutral context, but more than a few seemed sensationalised.
    For example, I remember a gymnast in an iron cross position on still-rings, who had been sectioned in such a way that ‘rings’ of tissue remained undissected. I found that gratuitously off-putting.
    But there were low-profile cross-sections on light-boards that showed disease processes compared to ‘healthy’ tissue, and views of structures like the respiratory diaphragm that are otherwise hard for people to visualise.
    The average fool was wandering around talking about having steak for dinner, but there were also study groups and sketch groups. It was a mixed experience, but I went several times.

  10. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 11, 2010 11:50 PM

    I don’t know what the difference is (in culinary terms) between cane and beet sugar, or how you tell what kind you’ve got. I don’t suppose it really matters anyway. My daughter did complain that most of the bread she ate tasted sweet. In general it was portion size rather than cheapness which surprised her, and why macaroni cheese is so popular.

    I’ve heard that white bread expression used here. Don’t shoot the messenger, but I take it to mean dull, colourless, prosaic (also a racial epithet), which of course couldn’t possibly apply in your case.

    When I think about my insides I visualise an arrangement of pipes and tanks and wires laid out diagrammatically which I find easy to understand. Seeing one of Von Hagen’s arrangements brings home the horrifying complexity of the whole thing, rather like the nice clean London Underground map juxtaposed with the complex squalid noisy reality. For my limited purposes the diagram will do.

    I suppose I’ll have to have a look at the Schubert blog. I imagine it was another bloodbath. Funny that the Prince didn’t mention his holiday destination this time round. I wonder if a meeting with Mr Michael Mouse is on the agenda? One of the drawbacks of being a mature parent. I meant to say I enjoyed the account of your son’s first fish. I could never get mine interested in the sport. Tins are more convenient anyway.

  11. hic8ubique permalink
    August 12, 2010 4:46 AM

    So has diagramme been truncated too? …ugly Noah Webster with his hatchet.
    Macaroni cheese is another mutation, most of the cheese-like substance never having met a cow.
    The portion distortion is, hmm, how do I put this…depends where you choose to dine. Probably most evident in white- bread establishments.

    The ‘horrifying complexity’ is the very part I enjoy, as well as beautiful nomenclature such as *Galea Aponeurotica* but I love your Underground analogy.

    There were some delightful posts to the Schubert blog, an interesting poem, but I lost my equanimity at one point and made a regrettable spectacle. *sigh*
    Should read your Vipassana book and work on my Buddha nature.

    ‘Mr Michael Mouse’ took me a minute. That would indeed bear not mentioning. The very thought could provoke onset of migraine aura, so my children have been deprived of this cultural initiation.
    I thought Mishari was going wilderness trekking with a mule- train someplace hot as Tofit. Perchance he’s on a moon-lit lake in a canoe, playing a harmonica? That’ll do for me to expunge your image of the Mouse.
    Glad you liked my grisly fish tale. I’ll hope to read your Twain tomorrow…

  12. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    August 12, 2010 8:20 AM

    Hello! I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going. [Exits discreetly stage left]

  13. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 12, 2010 10:13 AM

    I knew a Phil Collins fan lurked under that veneer of sophistication. You can take the boy out of Blackpool…

  14. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    August 12, 2010 2:13 PM

    Cut to the quick, yet innocent of all charges. ‘Tis the Glorious Twelfth, I’ll have my commandoes on Milford foreshore fire at will. Which side of the island are you on?

  15. August 12, 2010 4:10 PM

    Ron Mueck can be very good.

    There are some ghastly ones of angels but there’s one of his dying father lying on the ground that he made two-thirds of the actual body size. For some reason it adds a real poignancy to the image.

    Just back from the South with its cream teas and its expensive housing visiting my parents in Poole. My mother is but a frail whisper of her former self and the whole experience was unbearably sad. My goodbye to her really was goodbye.

    Whereas my dad was mobile and extraordinarily chipper considering he gets rushed into hospital from time to time due to internal bleeding.

  16. mishari permalink*
    August 12, 2010 7:06 PM

    Down to the bright lights of Cáceres for the weekend. After the depths of the Sierra de Gata, it’s like the corner of Broadway and 42nd St.

    Yesterday, I watched an Imperial Eagle, 6 and a half foot wingspan and talons the size of my open hand, take a large rabbit in our lower meadow.

    Today, I’m watching Spanish teens with carefully gelled mohicans, preening, posing, puffing on poros (spliffs) and guzzling the favourite gargle of Spanish yoofs, a vile 50/50 concoction of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola called calimocho, and viewing old farts like me as an inexplicable and somewhat sinister phenomenon (over 21 and still above ground? How can that be? Necromancy?).

    Hope all’s well with you lot? You’re not far off, re: my holiday arrangements, hic; and no, MM, the name of Señor Miguel Ratón cuts no ice chez Al-Adwani: my brats regard Disneyworld or any iteration thereof as an example of that abomination called ‘uncool’.

    Sorry to hear about your mother, Ed. The prospect of death doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the actual process of dying: indignity heaped upon indignity. Hope you’re well otherwise…

    Ah, well. As Calderón de la Barca wrote some 400 years ago:

    ¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
    ¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
    una sombra, una ficción,
    y el mayor bien es pequeño:
    que toda la vida es sueño,
    y los sueños, sueños son.

    (What is life? A frenzy,
    What is life? An illusion,
    A shadow, a fiction,
    and the greatest good is little:
    for life is all a dream
    and dreams are just dreams.)

    I always suspected that HLM was a Phil Collins fan but it sorely grieves me to have it confirmed: you’ve let the side down rather badly, Hank, with your fanatical devotion to the stunted, bald tax-dodger. Now, go…and sin no more. Have some of this instead:

  17. August 12, 2010 7:45 PM

    Indeed it’s the process.

    Saying goodbye and leaving her sitting in her room knowing that barring a miracle ( which isn’t going to happen ) I most likely won’t see her again was too much really. There’s nothing anyone can possibly do and although you want time to stop still the cancer is so aggressive and widespread that to prolong the suffering is cruel. One can only hope it doesn’t drag out. But a diet of 10 calories at most per day doesn’t suggest it will take long.

    sorry – I’ll resume normal service.

    Whilst in a pub down south several teens at the bar were ordering Malibu and Cokes.

  18. mishari permalink*
    August 12, 2010 8:11 PM

    I’m so very sorry to hear the details, Ed. As bad as it gets, I think, and an unanswerable case against any ‘God’. Either ‘He’ doesn’t exist or ‘He’ is a cruel and hateful monster who must be destroyed.

    I hope that I have a death like my father’s. He was reading the paper (The Grauniad, as it happens; he was a life-long reader which helps explain my fury at that paper’s continuing slide into imbecility and irrelevance).

    My father looked up from the paper, said to my mother “It’s very hot, don’t you think?” and was dead of a massive stroke on the instant. Two of his brothers died prolonged and agonising deaths from cancer and although my mother was deeply affected at losing him after almost 50 years of marriage, she said that the manner of his going was as good as it gets. Sudden and, as far as one can tell, painless.

  19. August 12, 2010 9:20 PM

    Thanks Mishari. One of my aunts died in June and the doctor rather oddly said that she had had a “perfect death” – dying peacefully in her sleep at the age of 92 with no indication of ill health.

    A week before she had dragged one of her daughters to go and see the 6 hour Passion play at Oberammergau and had come out of the experience in better condition than the daughtter.

  20. hic8ubique permalink
    August 12, 2010 10:57 PM

    I’m sorry for the sadness you’re bearing, EdT. I hope your mum considers herself to have had a good life, since that will remain true long after the sufferings of her slow death have faded.

    My sense is that the cleanest exit is derived from knowing one has completed one’s ‘task’. I have no apprehension about this; I just feel when I’m done, when I’ve completed what I came in to do, I’ll be out like a shot. (Like Auntie who had just one more objective, then went.)

    The notion of a personal God is, to my mind, an impediment to the understanding of individual free will. There are of course accidents on a planet with billions of people running about learning from exercising choice, but for the most part, my sense is that one’s soul directs the manner of staying or going, and that to others this process remains a mystery of the individual until it plays out.
    I hope it doesn’t trouble you to hear me musing on this just now, Ed. I’m not selling a viewpoint, it’s just that I find many people are so uncomfortable talking about the process of dying, that it can be rather lonely in your position. I’m happy to mull over this sort of thing.

    I travel so often and so widely in my sleep (usually by flying, but sometimes on ships) that disembodiment is an open channel for me.
    I imagine it’s quite terrifying for those who don’t experience altered mind states to let go of physical reality, even when it’s extremely painful to stay.
    I’m sure I’d be far less grounded in waking, as I used to be, if I weren’t off and about journeying at night. Even so, I’m in anticipation of my own wilderness week coming up soon. There will be more loons than eagles in the North woods, but that’s good company for the likes of me :)

    Fantastic eagle experience, Mishari! I can just feel that breath-taking impact. They’re like pre-historic creatures to me. I have vivid black falcon dreams as well.
    (So I wasn’t far off ? In the particular image, it was a large rowing sort of canoe.) I don’t mind hot places so much as long as there’s some living body of water.
    The air is so good here these summer nights, I wish the windows could be open like this yr round.

    That translation/poem is ambiguous, isn’t it?…
    ‘and the greatest good is little’
    I can agree in the sense that the greatest good lies in the smallest acts~ rather a good Gandhian sentiment~ but not that the greatest good doesn’t amount to much.

    The late Wm Sloane Coffin (a dearly lovable man) said :
    ‘Clearly, the trick in life is to die young, as late as possible.’

    So don’t you be hoping for your father’s death yet, M. We can’t be doing without you anytime soon.

  21. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:00 PM

    Sorry to hear about your mother, ET. Cancer can be a very nasty one, but I gather pain management (especially in hospices) is much better nowadays. My father died in a car accident, which is probably a bit too sudden. In contrast my mother spent three years in a secure unit with dementia before she finally went, which was far too long. It was a relief when what was left of her died. I would take something between those extremes (if I had a choice).

  22. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:11 PM

    I’m a fan of Kev Ayers, but there’s a bit in ‘Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes’ which really annoys me. The man refuses to serve him, and then:

    Oh, he gave me a smile that was sickly and wet,
    And I offered him one of my cigarettes.
    He took it, afraid that he might appear rude,
    Then proceeded to sell me some second class food.

    He just refused to serve him, didn’t he? So WTF? Pay attention, Kevin.

  23. mishari permalink*
    August 12, 2010 11:12 PM

    Thanks for the kind sentiments, hic. I’m certain that de la Barca meant ‘little’ in the sense of personal or intimate–the personal kindness as opposed to the noble but abstract ideal; the generosities of intimacy as opposed to the munificence attendant on some future triumph.

    The English translations of the poem that I’ve seen render pequeño as ‘small’, which I think goes even further in giving a misleading impression. In fact, the most common translation strikes me as just plain bad:

    What is life? A frantic moment,
    What is life? But an illusion,
    but a shadow, but a fiction,
    and the greatest good is small:
    for life is all but a dream
    and dreams are just that, they’re dreams.

    I believe my translation is closer to the original spirit of the poem.

  24. mishari permalink*
    August 12, 2010 11:18 PM

    Yeah, but now that he’s accepted a cigarette, he’s unbent and decided to serve him–don’t you think, MM?

  25. August 12, 2010 11:28 PM

    Thanks for all the kind sentiments MM & hic.

    There’s a shower of meteors due over in about 10 minutes. The sky has been covered by cloud all day ( I’m in the North after all ) but hopefully there’ll be a break.

    I always get Kevin Ayres mixed up with kevin Coyne who used to drink ( and how ) in a pub in Battersea I frequented. They are all the same these Kevins – can’t tell ’em apart.

  26. Reine permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:33 PM

    A brief hello and I am gone (mad) again. I had almost forgot me you were here. Not really.

    Ed, very sorry to hear of your sadness.

    MM, welcome back and thanks for the laugh.

    Nice grenade on POTW Mish.

    Hello all others. I am just back from the west and chaperoning my parents to London for a weekend wedding tomorrow. Should be fun; to say they are reluctant travellers is an understatement. I will have to urge Dad not to try to smuggle the salt cellar through security and convince him they are not picking on him when they ask him to remove his belt and shoes, then sing comforting non-cigarette themed songs to my mother on the plane until she reaches a smoking area haven on the other side. All the while listening to my husband (who is going to a match) rant about airport inefficiencies, car parking, the weather, the tolls … blah, blah, blah… Pray for me. R

  27. mishari permalink*
    August 12, 2010 11:37 PM

    Ed, years ago, some good Irish friends of mine had a band called The Seven Kevins–not one of them was actually named ‘Kevin’, it was just an affectionate dig at the prevalence of the name amongst their countrymen (and women: two of the band were grrrls).

    They were quite Pogues-ish but a bit more avant-garde and hugely popular with crusties, travelers and the squatter/artist movement in Spain, Italy, France and Eastern Europe and at the more disorganised end of the festival scale. Lovely people, very talented musicians and artists and huge fun to knock around with.

  28. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:42 PM

    No, I’m not having that. Anyway, why would he be afraid to seem rude? He just refused to serve him!

    Here’s a dream song:

  29. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:49 PM

    Sorry, didn’t think the first one worked.

    Nice to read you, Reine. I will be praying.

    [Neither of your links worked because, for some reason, you’d placed the link between [] brackets like these. I fixed it-Ed.]

  30. mishari permalink*
    August 12, 2010 11:49 PM

    Calm down, dear…it’s a Kevin Ayers song, not the bleeding Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Have a drink. Unwind. Smoke indoors. BTW, did you get a chance to have a look at Layer Cake yet?

    Hello, Reine. You’ll be fine in London. I’ve dispatched a carrier pigeon to my minions in The Smoke, instructing them to keep a watch over you. London is your oyster, kiddo…

  31. Reine permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:56 PM

    I love London Mish – looking forward to a solo trip in the autumn. Thanks, I’ll watch out for the pigeon – please ask it not to shit on me.

  32. mishari permalink*
    August 13, 2010 12:24 AM

    Perish the thought, Reine. My pigeons are gentlemen.

  33. MeltonMowbray permalink
    August 13, 2010 12:25 AM

    Did a bit of Vipassana (the bottled version) meditation. More tranquil now. No, I haven’t got to Layer Cake yet. Finally got through Mary Beard during the long nights in Yorkshire. Also The Leopard, which clearly I should have read before going to Sicily, in the same way that I should read instruction manuals before putting furniture together, or playing computer games, or rewiring my house, which I never bother to do.

    Is the film any good? Of The Leopard, I mean. I did have a titter over a few passages in the book, viz:

    The rays of the… sun… lit up the Prince’s rosy hue and honey-coloured skin; these betrayed the German origin of his mother… but in his blood also fermented other German strains… an authoritarian temperament, a certain rigidity of morals, and a propensity for abstract ideas…

    I don’t know why.

  34. mishari permalink*
    August 13, 2010 12:48 AM

    Yes, the workings of your mind are mysterious indeed, you impudent fucker.

    I remember thinking very highly of the film (was it De Sica? Too lazy to check but I think so…and Burt Lancaster as the Prince) I haven’t seen it in 20 years at least, though I imagine it’s probably held up well.

    Inez informs me that it’s a wonderful film but she’s French and the crapauds think Jerry Lewis is a ‘comedian’ (she doesn’t but the taint of a life-long association with those who do must linger). I think I’ll download a copy when I get home. I’ll pass it along if I think it’s worth it…

  35. hic8ubique permalink
    August 13, 2010 12:52 AM

    Hi Re~ good to see you! This is like a reunion (I imagine, never having gone to a real one *shudder*)… Oh no, a grenade? Dare I look? I shall look, but I will behave.
    ‘…listening to my husband’ …now I know exactly why
    you drink so much wine: dulls the consciousness.
    Next solo trip, you come here. I’ll take you dancing.

    Aha, your translation, Mishari. You have salvaged a foundering ( in trans.) poem, and I do like your sense of it, fitting EdT’s present state of mind and heart. I agree, it is the small gestures of love that comprise in toto a well-spent life.

  36. Reine permalink
    August 13, 2010 9:58 AM

    “No wonder I drink so much wine?” – Oh, Hic, is this how you think of me? I am mostly temperate but when I amn’t, I am totally intemperate. Would love to go dancing when my money ship comes in. x

  37. hic8ubique permalink
    August 13, 2010 5:13 PM

    I think of you dearly as an irrepressible bonne vivante, Re, and only sympathise with the task of listening to a well-traversed litany. (I had no nuns to inculcate this skill, so am prone to subtly rude sighing.)
    But we are revived with a poetic task after long-drought, if solace of solitude may be ours…

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