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A Picnic in Japan

I’m traveling to Indonesia now and just watched this good Simon and Martina video. It’s 3:40 am in Jakarta on Tuesday. I left home at 10:30 am on Sunday and have one more flight to go so I’m too exhausted to write much, but once I’m caught up on sleep, expect some movie and a hotel reviews.

For now, learn about some interesting foods available in Japan and perhaps get some marriage tips.

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Downton Abbey, Season 6 Begins

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In the U.S. after months (maybe 10 months it seems) of promotions, Downton Abbey’s sixth season began on Sunday. My tradition has been to watch Downton with my aunt, who’s now living in an assisted living facility. I brought dinner for us and arrived early. Our problem was we couldn’t get PBS on Direct TV in her room. No one was able to help us. Ugh!

We had dinner and then I left to watch the show, feeling awful that my aunt wouldn’t be able to watch a show she loves.

I enjoyed this first episode, but feel that this review will echo what I said last season. I enjoyed seeing favourite characters and elegant costumes, but not all that much happened.

A chambermaid tried to blackmail Mary about her rendezvous with a Lord Whoever last season. We knew the chambermaid wouldn’t succeed and she doesn’t she’s just an annoyance. I’d expect a chambermaid in a nice hotel would have lots of opportunities for blackmail and that she’d be better at it than she was. It was odd how she had so much time and money to travel to the Abbey so frequently. By the end of the episode, Robert came to Mary’s rescue, showing his fatherly love, which made Mary realise how good a father he is. Still, I’d hoped that wily Mary would have outsmarted the chambermaid.

Violet has learned that a larger hospital would like to take over the village hospital. She shares her scuttlebutt at a board meeting and Isobel and Lord Merton, who seems to be trying to score points with her, oppose Violet and the local doctor, who doesn’t believe bigger is necessarily better. Cora’s caught in the middle and seems to be swayed more by Isobel’s views. I hope Cora gets a better storyline this season, but I doubt it.

Edith, as is often the case, didn’t get a lot to do. Her daughter is fully now part of the family. Edith handled an irate call with the editor of the paper she’s inherited. There was a nice scene with her aunt in which Edith considers moving to London to get out of Mary’s shadow, which would be best for her. Mary dominates Downton and there Edith will always play second fiddle.

I’ve wondered how the series will end and whether the Crawley’s will be able to keep their estate. In last night’s episode a nearby house went up for sale and the Crawley’s neighbours auctioned off most of their belongings. This sale obviously makes us all wonder what will happen to the Crawley’s who’re unable to replace staff and are now considering lowering wages.  The elegiac mood of the end of a beloved era hung more heavily last night and probably will throughout the series.

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At the auction, Daisy had an outburst. She’s very upset that her father-in-law will probably be kicked off his farm. When she saw the new owners, surrounded by her employers and all the people milling about shopping for antiques and what-not, Daisy let loose her feelings of the injustice of Mr. Mason. Though she had a point, she didn’t help Mason at all and just got herself in hot water. As Mr. Carson points out this was a “dismissible offence.” Yet the Crawley’s were merciful and Robert just scolded her.

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are engaged, but Mrs. Hughes was worried about the “terms of the marriage.” There was a bit of comedy as she had Mrs. Patmore run back and forth to find out how intimate Mr. Carson expected her to be. In the end, Mr. Carson convinced Mrs. Hughes that he wanted a real marriage and that his love for her was strong and real. I wonder whether Mrs. Patmore will have to continue to play the messenger/marriage counsellor between these two people who’ve known each other for decades?

With a flourish of deux ex machina, Julian Fellows tied up the storyline of  Anna being suspected of murdering her rapist. Another woman confessed to the crime. She must have been a female Jean Valjean since Anna was the prime suspect and there was no clear reason why the woman confessed, but it’s lucky for Anna that she did.

Favorite Violet lines

  • Does it get cold on the moral high ground?
  • If you were talking in Urdu, I couldn’t understand you less.

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The War Room

 

I knew that The War Room was number 1 at the box office when it opened in the summer. I also knew that it was made by a group of Evangelical Christians known for their low budget films. So I feared this film might be low quality and rather preachy. Yet a couple friends had seen the film and recommended it.

When I flew back to the US from China, The War Room was offered on my flight. It seemed like a low risk chance to watch it.

While there are no big name stars and the story is overtly Christian, The War Room held my interest and was worth my time. It’s the story of an affluent couple who’re drifting apart, bickering and arguing a lot, becoming more materialistic and losing respect for each other — two pitfalls that are all too common.

The wife is a real estate agent, who meets a wise widow who regrets letting her own marriage slide. The widow is deeply spiritual and challenges the heroine to pray for her husband in a “War Room.” She insists that it’s not the wife’s job to fix her husband, but to love him and pray for him.

As you’d expect the praying works. What I liked about the film was that although it wasn’t subtle or polished, it touched on an aspect of life that so many people struggle with. It came across as real. All the actors were believable and the story satisfied. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite film of all time, but I am glad I saw it.

Poem of the Week

A friend sent me this poem today. I just loved it and had to share.

Failing and Flying

BY JACK GILBERT

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Thirst

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Call me a philistine but Thirst (1949) is the first Ingmar Berman film I’ve seen. Hmm. I can’t say I liked it, though there were shots that were captivating like when two young dancers are seen in a dressing room mirror and their grouchy teacher’s seen in the mirror beside it.

However, this film about a married couple and their previous lovers didn’t do much for me. I was put off by their intense “go for the throat” arguments. The heroine, a young dancer who’s career’s ended, was egotistical, selfish and mean. No doubt Bergman wanted to show intense feeling when you want to kill or tell your partner to go to hell, but do we need 100 minutes of this? All the characters seemed both sadistic and masochistic. I suppose the raw emotion and language was modern for the 1940s, but it didn’t do anything for me, except make me not want to visit Sweden.

Seeing that last week I saw and enjoyed Passing Fancy, which I grant is a comedy so not comparable, it was perhaps harder to appreciate Thirst. In Passing Fancy we also see characters who’ve had it with each other, who tell each other they hate them, but the storm passes and other emotions exist. In Thirst when a couple reconciles a bit you believe they still want their partner to die and go to hell. Lovely. Charming.

Actually, Thirst seemed like a bit of hell on earth.

I won’t swear off Bergman, but I’m not in a hurry to see more.

I think I need to see more Poldark and Ozu to counteract the Bergman effect.

To Marry an English Lord

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If you like Downton Abbey, you really should read Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s  To Marry an English Lord. I got the audio book from the library. The narrator had the perfect voice, elegant and slightly aristocratic.

To Marry an English Lord presents all sorts of facts and vignettes about the American heiresses, and there were dozens if not hundreds, who crossed the ocean to marry well. The focus is on New York socialites, whose fathers had fortunes, but couldn’t break into the elite circle of the Kickerbockers. Kickerbockers were the descendants of the first New York settlers from Holland, these people wore knickerbockers, i.e. pants that stopped at the knees. No amount of money could get you into their social circle so those with new money headed for England where they were welcomed not just for their money (though that was key) but also because American girls were so open, confident and free. British girls were sheltered and shy. They were chaperoned everywhere, but the American parents gave their girls a lot more freedom. And they had much larger clothing allowances. A British girl would make do with 3 new gowns a season, but the American would get 18 or so spending about $500.000 in todays money (plus a 50% tariff). The British men noticed, in droves apparently.

The book covers every aspect of the women’s lives from dress, parents, education, hobbies and such to marriage, infidelity and socializing. I found it quite interesting that these girls had the best of all worlds because as was typical in the U.S. at the time they were encouraged to be spirited and confident as debutantes and unlike the women who married in America after they wed they could follow the custom of getting involved in politics or writing, which was normal in England.

The book is a solid and entertaining social history that makes me think a real life Cora had more meaningful work to do, more extravagant parties to give, more friendships and probably more infidelity than we see on Downton Abbey. (Mind you I’m happy Cora did not hop into bed with Bricker, the bounder.) The authors’ style is full of wit and energy.

While I enjoyed being able to listen as I drove, I think I’ll get the actual book, because I can envision wanting to fact check the history and that’s hard to do with a CD.

Rapture, Blister, Burn

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Written by Gina Gionfriddo, Rapture, Blister, Burn* takes the audience on a hilarious exploration of modern feminism. When my friend, whose husband didn’t want to see a play, explained it too me she said it was about two women, one a stay at home, married mother and the other a single, successful career woman reunite. I felt nothing new would be offered.

I was wrong.

Rapture, Blister, Burn* does tell the story of two friends who haven’t seen each other since grad school. Catherine became a famous feminist professor who’s on the talk show circuit to discuss terrorism, the Internet and porn, and Gwen, who’s married Catherine’s former boyfriend Don, who’s turned out to be an unambitious academic dean. Don’s the guy who counsels the kids who ditch class, drink too much and maybe take drugs. He demands so little of himself or his students.

Catherine moves to Gwen’s town to care for her mother, who’s had a heart attack. This crisis has made Catherine question her life’s choices and women’s progress. Don, Gwen’s husband, was Catherine’s boyfriend and she now thinks perhaps Don was “the one.” What happens between the trio is the main plot of the play, but what I found most interesting was the interaction between Catherine, Gwen, Catherine’s mother and Avery, Gwen’s rebellious babysitter. Catherine needs something to do in the summer so Don’s able to get her a seminar to teach. Only two students register for Catherine’s feminist studies seminar so she holds it in her mother’s living room. Gwen and Avery turn out to be the two students.

Avery’s an outspoken millennial who got a black eye while shooting a reality show with her boyfriend. Avery has some beliefs that I confess I found shocking — yet intriguing. She argues that you can totally outsource homemaking (not just housework, but giving a home its feel). During the seminar and the cocktail hour that invariably follows, the women discuss Phyllis Schafly, Carol Clover, and other feminists. Their discussions were funny and enlightening, which surprised me as I thought the topic one I knew all about. Gionfriddo’s characters have open minds and do wrestle with ideas that you’d expect them to immediately reject. I’d never heard of feminist ideas surrounding horror movies or Clover’s concept of the “final girl.” Catherine, her mother, Gwen and Avery debate and argue without sounding pedantic. The humor reminds me of a modern day, feminist Socratic discussion, one where the participants all have a lot riding on the ideas.

Rapture, Blister, Burn has played in London and L.A. and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. While, like me, you probably won’t walk out of the theater envious or any character or ready to espouse their beliefs, you will play with the ideas discussed and just might find yourself tracking down Phyllis Schafley’s books at the library. I never thought I would, but this play is full of surprises.

(*The title is from some lyrics to a Courtney Love song.)

His Second Wife

Ernest Poole’s His Second Wife follows Ethel  as she leaves small town Ohio after her father’s death. She goes to New York to live with her sister, Amy, a socialite and shopper, and Amy’s husband Joe and daughter. Ethel tries to fit in to the shallow scene Amy relishes, but just can’t. The superficial and materialism don’t appeal at all.

She’s after the new and exciting ideals, art and politics New York is supposed to offer. After Amy’s sudden death, Ethel stays to help Joe, but struggles to avoid getting trapped living her sister’s life.

Poole creates an original dilemma that rings true. Ethel isn’t the polar opposite of Amy as a lesser writer would have made her. She doesn’t hate shopping or all of bourgeois life, she just wants more. The novel recounts her struggle to find friends and to find her own identity, while evading Amy’s more manipulative friends who want to control Joe after he’s married Ethel. An original, compelling story, worth getting from Amazon, which offers it for free on Kindle.

A Whisper to a Newly-Married Pair, Part 1

From Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1860
A Whisper To The Husband On Expenditure

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“You give your wife a certain sum of money … I really cannot see the necessity of obliging her to account to you for the exact manner in which she has laid it out. Pray, do allow her the power of buying a yard of muslin, or a few pennyworth of pins, without consulting the august tribunal of your judgment whether they shall be quaker-pins or minikins. ”

“In pecuniary matters, do not be penurious, or too particular. Your wife has an equal right with yourself to all your worldly possessions. “With all my worldly goods I thee endow,” was one of the most solemn vows that ever escaped your lips; and if she be a woman of prudence, she will in all her expenses be reasonable and economical; what more can you desire? Besides, really, a woman has innumerable trifling demands on her purse, innumerable little wants, which it is not necessary for a man to be informed of, and which, if he even went to the trouble of investigating, he would hardly understand.”

“You give your wife a certain sum of money. If she be a woman of prudence, if your table be comfortably kept, and your household managed with economy and regularity, I really cannot see the necessity of obliging her to account to you for the exact manner in which she has laid it out. Pray, do allow her the power of buying a yard of muslin, or a few pennyworth of pins, without consulting the august tribunal of your judgment whether they shall be quaker-pins or minikins. ”

“How often is a woman grieved by the foolish extravagance of her husband! Among other absurdities, will he not sometimes give for a horse, or a dog, or spend at a tavern or a club, a sum of money absolutely wanted for the necessary comforts of his family; thus squandering, in a moment of simple folly, what perhaps has cost his wife many a hard effort to save.

“When once a man has entered the marriage state, he should look on his property as belonging to his family, and act and economize accordingly. I remember being acquainted with a gentleman who was constantly saying, “It is true, my property is large, but then it belongs not to myself alone, but also to my children: and I must act as a frugal agent for them. To my wife, as well as these children, I feel accountable either for economy or extravagance.” Another gentleman of my acquaintance, who was in stinted circumstances, was constantly debarring himself of a thousand little comforts, even a glass of wine after dinner, sooner that infringe on what he used to call his children’ birthright.”
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1914 Background for Mr. Selfridge

Today I was wondering a bit about how women felt about fashion in 1914. I found a column from Illustrated London News. The columnist Filomena (no last name given) writes about wedding ceremonies and fashion. In a March 1914 column, she begins by explaining that the Bishop of London was personally in favor of removing the world “obey” from the English wedding ceremony. Only the bride made a vow of obedience and the reason “obey” was inserted into the ceremony doesn’t pass mustard. The bishop didn’t bring this to a church vote because he thought it would lose. Ah, why can’t we have braver men, in women’s corners?

How did “obey get into the ceremony? When the Church of England broke from the Roman Catholic church, they needed English versions for all the ceremonies. For reasons Filomena doesn’t explain, no English clerics seemed up to the job, so two Germans were brought in. They added “obey” from the Middle Ages English brides had to vow to be “bonnaire and buxom.” Anglo Saxon word geeks of 1914 assert that this meant women had to be 1) amiable, kind and true and 2) yielding and pliable. Well, if you switch pliable and yielding for obedient, have you gained all that much?

Filomena goes on to share her thoughts on fashion. I rather like her writing style. My comments are in parentheses.

As the Spring fashions come more and more into the public view, the dislike and they cause amongst women themselves increase. Evening gowns are desirable and beautiful enough but the day frocks are so ugly and ungraceful to eyes habituated to the long elegant lines of the past few years. There are some model gowns (I suppose model gowns because few women wore dresses off the rack) made with material heavily bunched up behind, as if to reintroduce the bustle (Horrors!)Others are trimmed with three short, full frills round the waist and hips. Some again, are pulled up from behind to the front of the figure and caught together more or less clumpishly, held as often as not by a beed or other showy and tawdry ornament, from which long strands fall to below the knee (not the best sentence, Filomena, but I can imagine Mr. Thackery saying this). All kinds of inchoate drapings appear devoid of reason or grace. Anything whatsoever worn by graceful and beautiful women passes muster, and as soon as the eye is  accustomed to it seems part of the living grace and magnetic charm that is clothes. But the vast majority that is humankind are neither beautiful nor  charmingly graceful (true, despite our wishes,  I suppose)and to the average women such [indecipherable ] arbitrarily draped and puffed clothing with frills here breaking the frills here breaking the line and turned-under puffings there disturbing flow of drapery must be more of a disfigurement than an aid.

She goes on and it showed me that while I appreciate some old gowns, there’s a lot I don’t even notice.

Reference

Filomena. “Ladies’ Page.” Illustrated London News [London, England] 14 Mar. 1914: 426. Illustrated London News. Web. 4 May 2014.

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