Another Country

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” so begins the opening of L.P. Hartley’s wonderful book The Go-Between. d3d75b8ed2d3b44ee2db94e86d2cd808A friend of mine often quotes this line to me when we start to dwell too long in the past. The season is gradually changing, the official end of summer was four days ago, the nights are chilly. Time is flowing and a number of friends are traveling right now: Spain, Germany, Denmark, Amsterdam, and Sicily — foreign countries. The transitory nature of summer to fall and friends traveling sends me back to my past, my foreign country. Sicily for me is a memory of a time when we did things differently, my family, and so did I. I went to Sicily as a teenager and it was the most enchanting trip of all. Everything was ripe, the season, me, the confluence of sensibilities and the beauty of the place. I fell in love with this magical island. My great-grandmother (more on her in another post) was a remarkable person and exceedingly well traveled. She urged me to go and where to stay.

I landed in Taormina which now is well known, less so then, and I stayed in a hotel that was at the foot of the ancient Greek amphitheater, and had an unobstructed view of the town below and Mount Etna in all her glory. It was a hotel that had been there a long time and had been owned by the same family for generations. It had a 19th Century quality to it — even with the mod cons — and the garden, which was all overgrown and lush and mysterious was a realized vision of a Romantic era poet. When I arrived I was led into my hotel room which faced the garden, the sea, and Etna. I was being shown in by a sweet housemaid, an older lady, who was more than likely born and raised and lived in this impossibly beautiful place her whole life. Even so, when she opened the French doors onto the terrace and all the splendor, and she heard me gasp, she smiled knowingly and said, “Come un sogno” — it’s like a dream. Indeed. I loved that she, who probably did this many times a day for many years, still enjoyed people’s reaction and was so proud of her town.

Goethe spent time in Sicily and wrote some wonderful poems about the island — it certainly seems he was completely taken with it too. I remember the word “bewitching” was an adjective he used. And it was certainly that. Beguiling too. On my trip there, which was quite a long one, I had my official coup de foudre, the lighting bolt of love at first sight. It was wonderful. I think you have to be very young to enjoy that feeling to the bone. You get all tingling and thrilled and every nerve end seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork My young man was tall, handsome, intense, sexy and brooding — all the things that are wildly attractive to young girls. He was marvelous and funny too and I was totally enthralled. I’ve never forgotten him all these years, and I think of him more often than more serious or longer lasting relationships — maybe just because it was that brilliant flash of light.

The day I left he was angry, perhaps the only way to part. We both knew that probably we would never see each other again. Maybe not, we haven’t yet! I wonder if he married, what career he settled on, if he has children, did he stay or move on to a bigger city where there is more advancement. I’ll never know, I suppose. I like to think he stayed, it’s worth staying there. Imagine living in a place that is so beautiful it can bring you to tears? I don’t think he remembers me, I was just another girl passing through, and it doesn’t really matter. I remember him. And, I am grateful to him for being my lighting bolt, and for that foreign country where people do things differently. I can visit, briefly, as an itinerant, stopping for just a moment and then departing. For we all must leave, return to the present, and let the past rest and recede into the fine dust and ash that it is, and that we all one day shall be.

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

N.b., L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between was a film starring the incomparable Julie Christie, and much missed Alan Bates (pictured above), with the screenplay written by the famous playwright Harold Pinter. The supporting cast is stellar too. Hartley’s other well-known novel The Hireling is also worth reading, and it too was made into a film with Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles who are dark, sexy, neurotic and amazing. Read both, see both. You won’t be disappointed.

Hugh Grant Revisited

I can’t say that I’ve ever given the actor Hugh Grant much thought. I have seen a few of his movies, not many. I think the disaffected man-child roles that he perpetually plays have worn thin, and are a bit absurd now that he is in his 50’s. However, I did like him in Emma Thompson’s and Ang Lee’s Jane Austen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility with Kate Winslet, and I thought he was wonderful in the charming About a Boy — a great script and spectacular cast with Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz.About a Boy I know of him since he has been in the tabloids consistently over the years, being connected with glamorous and beautiful girlfriends.  I have seen the Brigit Jones movies only because they play constantly on the 700 channels or how many we have beaming into the house. Recently I’ve thought about him in a different light; I think he may be more substantial than his cultivated public persona reveals. The first inkling was when he went up against Rupert Murdoch and testified in a London court over phone hacking of public figures. Hugh Grant TestimonyHere’s where a classical education from Oxford comes in handy folks! Then, over the summer, I was watching a talk show on Bravo, Watch What Happens Live (my secret shame), and Elizabeth Hurley was on with Ralph Fiennes. They were both fun and game for the silliness, and they both looked pretty amazing. Hurley mentioned that after all this time she and Grant are neighbors and friends, and that he has taken to fatherhood, all be it late in life, but taken to it fully. I thought that was moderately interesting. Then a month or so ago, Hugh Grant was on the same show. First I was struck by how well he looks too. Of course most celebrities have a lot of work done, but it looked good on him and he still has that nice shock of hair. I can’t remember what he was plugging. This was after The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which I did not see, and it wasn’t for the next Bridget Jones sequel. To Grant’s credit he did not sign on for that one. Rene Zellweger and Colin Firth are reprising their roles (what’s up with that?), but they had to get someone else to play the irresistible rake. I think in this movie Brigit doesn’t know who the father of her child is?!  Aren’t they all eligible for Social Security by now or whatever the equivalent is in the UK?

I read online that Grant was irritable during the “after show” on Bravo, but maybe his discontent is a product of someone smart and talented that took too easy a path on the rise to stardom. Perhaps there’s a great actor in there. On the other hand why shouldn’t he be happy? Handsome, smart, early fame, beautiful women like Elizabeth Hurley and Jemina Goldsmith, money, still has his looks, still working — I mean life seems pretty good for Mr. Grant. Time to hang around with lesser mortals, regular people, and count his blessings! Hugh Grant

Now that Grant is a father and older, I think it’s an auspicious time for him to reveal and revel in his substance. Take smart roles, play against type — the risk is small, don’t you think?

Clare Irwin

Remembrance

I feel all the words have been used, lots of words to describe that terrible day 15 years ago. The events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania touched us all, some more directly, more personally. I sat in church this morning listening to a lovely homily about 9/11/2001, yet I wasn’t able to lose myself in it. I feel restive, anxious even though it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I knew people who lost their lives, and that day is so vivid in my memory. More vivid than more recent memories. I am reminded of the saying that human beings are at their best when things are at their worst, and that was true all over the country, all over the world when the buildings and planes came down.

The herb rosemary is for remembrance — lovely and fragrant. Since antique times herbs, flowers, and plants held symbolic significance. I would like to think that we haven’t lost touch with our connection to the earth and all the beauty she yields up to us. I hope for all of us, those who were here, those who were very little, and those who were born after, that we keep our hearts and minds open and compassionate.

Claire Irwin

Labor Day

I’ll make this quick. Today is Labor Day. I “technically” have the day off, but there is always much to do, places to go — I had a lot of ambitious plans for this day. But, I am tired. It’s been a busy week. So I think I will honor this day, and all of us who labor, and that is all of us in one way or the other.Hammock Some people are working today; it’s a big retail day so those folks will be at their jobs. Let’s all take a minute to recognize how hard so many people work, how lucky those of us are who have work to do, and say a quick prayer for the people who are looking for employment. Let’s also give thanks to people who don’t get paid for what they do, like mothers and grandparents et alia, and all the love and support and tireless energy they extend. Freely and lovingly given. Thank them, and thank yourself for all you do. See you soon and enjoy this day of no labor.

Clare Irwin