ER, part 1

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Addressing the women’s division of the United Jewish Appeal just after the Second World War, in 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We let our consciences realize too late the need of standing up against something that we knew was wrong. We have therefore had to avenge it–but we did nothing to prevent it. I hope that in the future, we . . . remember that there can be no compromise . . . with the things we know are wrong.”

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Hillary’s speechwriter

Deserves a gigantic raise for this powerful speech. 

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A placeholder

I am trying to make time to update this blog more regularly. It’s a goal, at any rate.

I will soon upload my few pictures from Vilnius (the Jerusalem of the North, as it was called). I was very ill while I was there, so I didn’t get out much. But what I saw was beautiful and uplifting.

I am also delving deeper into my reading, especially about the Holocaust. This, particularly on account of being in Lithuania, where more Jews were killed, per capita, than in any other country during the Second World War. 

Watch this space.

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Ed Stringham is my new hero

This marvelous (I reckon at The New Yorker, that’s ‘marvellous’) passage is from Mary Norris’s Between You & Me:

“Ed Stringham, the head of the collating department [you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is], had been at The New Yorker for decades and had grown a hump on his back in the service of the magazine. He came into the office most days at about 3 p.m. He had an ambitious reading agenda, which he charted in a series of black-and-white composition books. He supplemented his reading with the art and the music of whatever culture he was into at the time. He had started with Greece, moved on to Rome, and approached every country in Europe methodically: France, Germany, Spain, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Faeroe Islands. He became especially involved in the literature of countries behind the Iron Curtain: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania.”

For the umpteenth time, I now resolve to be more methodical in my reading!

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From the bottom of the world

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Or close enough! Have just arrived New Zealand to spend a few days with friends. They are going to show me a new part of the world. Cannot wait to see if the water does indeed go down the drain the other way 😉

The flights to get here were oh so long, but I managed to watch the entire second season of Broadchurch–that took up the entire flight from Newark to San Francisco–and to finish The Folded Clock (2 stars, at most), and to get about halfway through Dispatches from Pluto–highly recommended so far. The author moved from New York to Holmes County, Mississippi, my Dad’s birthplace. As Faulkner said, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”1

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Plane reading

So grateful that I bought a book at the Geneva airport today, as I had all kinds of reading-related complications–magazines buried deep in my carry-on, which was crammed into an inaccessible overhead bin, couldn’t fit my paper copy of the Luminaries in any pocket, etc., etc.

I loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and I’d been wanting to read her latest, the National Book Award-winning M Train. And, indeed, there it was, in Payot, a paperback at the gobsmacking/completely normal Swiss price of 29,50 CHF. Snapped it up.

And I am so glad I did. Smith is an evocative, poetic, imaginative writer. She has read everything, and I do mean everything. 

I found myself making notes, scribbling lists, wanting to read everything she’s read.

Highly recommended. It even helped me cope with my cancelled flight and my spontaneous and expensive night at the Newark airport!

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Super Sunday

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Today it was beautiful, sunny, and hot, after a very cool start in the morning.

I went to the Morges Literary Festival, just up the lake, where I’ve always meant to go but hadn’t yet made it. Urged on by one of my first friends in the area, Catherine, who writes the excellent blog Living in Nyon. 

We went to a great talk by the novelist Esther Freud, the great-granddaughter of The Man Himself, and the daughter of the painter Lucian Freud. I bought her latest novel, which is about Charles Rennie Macintosh, whom I’ve always been interested in.

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Especially after seeing the Glasgow School of Art.

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Then to a very good lunch at a lakeside restaurant in the hot sun, and afterward to another talk, this, by a Haitian-American writer whose book is God Loves Haiti, and a Dutch writer who has written a couple of books I’d like to read, Ararat, and one not yet available in English, about this event, which apparently remains a bit of a mystery.

A very stimulating day, filled with light and friends.

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One hot bookish summer

Today I had to wear a jacket to the market. Autumn is in the air! And it could not have come sooner for me. We have, for the first time in the nearly 7 years I have lived here, had a serious summer. The kind with several, long heatwaves. As you know from my FB updates, it was way too hot for me, especially the two weeks I spent on the Costa Brava and in Provence.

One good thing about the long, hot summer, though, was that it was also a summer of reading. Somewhere in this house there is a notebook where I wrote down all the books I read, but, quelle surprise, right now I cannot find the notebook. So I will try to recreate the list from memory.

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Here’s the list.

Random notes: Burial Rites is a first novel, about the last woman to be beheaded in Iceland. So evocative and deeply felt.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North was one of the most harrowing books I have read in ages. A novel about the experience of an Australian POW doing slave labor building the Burmese railway. An astonishing achievement.

Hold Still, by Sally Mann, the famous photographer of the Shenandoah Valley, gets my vote for book of the year. About family and art and hard times and the creative life and so many more things. As a fellow Southerner, I saw it all coming, like being hit head-on by the Southern Crescent, back in the day. Highly, highly recommended.

Because I am a Bloomsbury completist, for better or for worse, I read everything by anyone who was even remotely connected to that complex and complicated group. Vanessa Nicolson is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West, the sometime lover of Virginia Woolf; I once met Vita’s son Nigel, so that is my 6 degrees of separation connection. A sad story of her life and the death of one of her daughters.

I have always collected the works of Freya Stark, the great explorer of the Middle East, but never has one of her books so completely captivated me as the first volume of her autobiography, Traveller’s Prelude. She is simply a magnificent writer and had an extraordinary life. I have just ordered all 8 volumes of her letters and am looking forward to a hard winter of deep snow and sitting by the fire reading them.

At some little village near Lorgues, I stumbled across a junk shop–less brocante and more random tchotchkes. It was a blistering hot day and the shop was sweltering, but when I came to a back room full of English books–good English books, provided by a real reader–I persevered, despite the sweat pouring off me. It was there that I found several of the books on this list. I finally read Slipstream, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s autobiography, and the memoirs of the one of the several men to whom she was married, Kingsley Amis. Lives of literary achievement and tumultuous relationships and affairs and whatnot. Enjoyed them both, though unconvinced I would have liked either one of them.

What are YOU reading?

 

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Rocks and pots

Dana brought me this beautiful little piece of pottery (along with a couple of smaller ones) from Ireland. I just love them. And I’ve always loved rocks. Hoping to go on a pebble tour in the UK this year!

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A few lines of poetry for the day

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins

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