Friday, October 24, 2014


There most be some other possibility than death or lifelong penance, said the Ellen Ward of my dream, that woman I hate and fear.  I am sure she meant some meeting, some intersection of lines; and some cowardly, hopeful geometer in my brain tells me it is the angle at which two lines prop each other up, the leaning-together from the vertical which produces the false arch.  For lack of a keystone, the false arch may be as much as one can expect in this life.  Only the very lucky discover the keystone.  
 So I finally finished Angle of Repose the other night..  devouring the last 100 pages in a single, delicious, sitting.  As this review said:

There are some books you finish in a kind of hush, as if holding your breath to avoid disturbing the beauty of each successive moment. They carry you with them as they penetrate to the core of life and leave you overcome, not by their perfection (because novels, like people, are never perfect), but with the sense that you’re in the presence of greatness. There are very, very few novels that can deliver this sensation. “Angle of Repose” is one of them.
And that's exactly right.  I've read it in sustained bursts, over a fairly long period of time, but it's soaked into my thinking.  I can picture Lyman.  Susan.  Oliver.  Care about them.  I was quite taken by Lyman - how his character changes over time.  The dive into his life and relationships at the end.  That dream sequence..  And by the quiet desperation, over decades, for Susan and Oliver.

The use of the letters was brilliant.  This book was described to me as an illustration of how to do a family history "right." And man, is it ever. The texture, the depth, the interplay between past and present. I need to come back to Stegner..  there are worlds here.

Now on to Ben Lerner's 10:04...  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Part VII: The Canyon

Savoring the end of Angle of Repose today in Dumbarton Oaks Park (which, oddly enough, I'd never really explored before..) I came across this passage:
Then a volume in limp leather, tooled and stamped in gold: Tennyson's Idyls of the King, bound for her by Frank Sargent as a gift on her thirty-eighth birthday.  She let it fall open, and of course what did it open to?  "The old order changes, yielding place to the new." 
...she glanced out the window, down across the hill and the river with its parabola of a bridge, and by one of those coincidences that happen all the time in Victorian novels, but that nevertheless sometimes happen in life too, there was Frank Sargent unsaddling his sorrel horse Dan at the corral gate.
It was as if she had thought him into existence again, as if her mind were a flask into which had been poured a measure of longing, a measure of discontent, a measure of fatigue, a dash of bitterness, and pouf,  there he stood.  Gladness and guilt hit her like waves meeting at an angle on a beach.
That last paragraph.  That angle.  It's not quite the angle of repose, but..   Stegner's writing, when you pay close attention to it, is subtle and surprising and oh-so-rich.

The (view from the) reading spot:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Museum Wandering

Back from California, I spent the last few afternoons gallery wandering.  The newly re-hung Hirschorn permanent collection.  The National Gallery.  The Phillips.  Punctuated by bike rides and coffee shops and notebooks..  Not a bad way to spend a few days off in a contemplative way..

Random thoughts on what I saw:
  •  The Wyeth show at the National Gallery seemed quite popular.  And there was a moment in late high school when I was quite taken by his work.  Now it leaves me a bit cold (though I admire his sometimes jarring sense of composition and perspective and subtle use of color).  The biggest revelation was the inclusion of sketches and studies for some of the finished pieces (including the NGA's own Wind from the Sea).  And his watercolors.. 
  • I'm warming to the post-impressionism galleries at the NGA.   There's a set of Modigliani's that I just love..  and discovered some fun, small Klee's that I really liked.  And then, of course, there's Cezanne.  Trying, in my mind, to rescue the whole genre from college dorm rooms (like Marley and Hendrix) and hipster snobbery.
  • My favorite paintings in the entire NGA - the two Duccio's - are down due to a renovation project.  The Giotto is still in that room though..   And elsewhere, the Van Eyck Annunciation.  And..  
  • The re-hung Hirschorn is a lot of fun.  A lot of stuff I hadn't seen placed prominently.  A great Rauschenberg combine.  Some excellent attention to stuff like land art.  A lot of favorites missing (Ana Mendiata, Bacon's pope paintings, Morandi) - but it's well worth repeat visits.  And brilliantly organized non-chronologically. 
  • And oh, the Phillips.  So full of itself.  So full of good stuff.  A neo-impressionism show that gave me much more of the genre than I needed.  Some incredible photography.  And a lot of solid Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley..
Now off to enjoy this gorgeous weather... 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Breaking like the waves at Malibu..

Back in DC.  The humidity, the heat, is quite unexpected.  Off for the rest of the week - sitting in a coffee shop listening to Jack Johnson and other such fare.  Writing.  Reading.  Marking papers.

And thinking about Malibu..

Monday, October 13, 2014

Warm California Sun

Ah.  The end of a vacation.  Sitting in my hotel room in Santa Monica, J asleep.  Lights twinkling below, the pier in the distance and beyond, Point Dume.  I spent the afternoon on Zuma Beach, body surfing four-foot swells into shore while J danced in the surf and dug holes and laughed when I walked up with kelp in my hair.  The smell of the air off the sea.  Salt on my lips and in my hair.  The tall, tall palms. 

I could get used to this place.  And vacation. 

This morning, the Getty Villa.  I didn't pay much attention to the art (though there was a rather stunning Venus..  and some great mosaics), and instead followed J as she explored the architecture.  The gardens.  The paths. 

Not quite ready to go back to DC. 

Other musical highlights of the trip?
  • Seeing David Rawlings at the soundcheck for Dawes at Pappy & Harriets, in the pristine high desert above Joshua Tree.  Watching J's face as the full band kicked in and hearing her say that it sounded "just like heaven."  
  • Neko Case's voice cutting through the Mojave as we pulled out of Kingman and headed south and west, along abandoned Route 66.
  • Today Was a Good Day coming on the radio as we pulled off of I-10 and caught our first glimpse of the beach.. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Going to California

Leaving tomorrow on that big jet plane.  Escaping to the desert.  The wide open spaces.  The mountains.  That big canyon.  Stars and Joshua Trees.  Then the Pacific.  Getty Villa.  Malibu beaches.  Ameoba Records.  Letting it all roll over me.

In random music notes...

Bill Murray singing and smoking his way through "Shelter From the Storm" is charming:

I got a Johnny Rivers record yesterday at the Wheaton Friends of the Library..  and Roy Orbison (his cover of "What'd I Say" is worth the $1 alone).

And a going-west playlist is forming here.