In City of Thieves, the “writer” gets from his grandfather the story of what happened to him in Leningrad during the siege. (Actually, it’s interesting that the “writer” is named David Benioff, but he is not the actual writer, David Benioff, whose grandfather was a furrier in Pennsylvania. Apparently. It gives it that much more of a Harry Potter feeling — in a good way, I mean. Just like so much of children’s literature tells the tale of something extraordinary happening to a child like me, in the course of which I discovers that I am braver and clever than anyone knew, this happens to the grandfather of “David Benioff” making David Benioff — or his grandfather, at least — braver and cleverer and much less ordinary than you would have thought to look at him.)
In any case, he gets the story and then starts probing for information about what the grandfather had eaten, or what the weather was like. The grandfather presses the stop button on the tape recorder and says, “David, it was a long time ago. I don’t remember if the sun was out.” David protests that he needs to know and the grandfather says, “David, you’re a writer. Make it up.”
That came back to me this morning as I was reading Wolf Hall. The action here takes place in the 1500s, 400 years before the Siege of Leningrad, but I think part of what makes the book so good is that Mantel is really good at making it up, both the weather and the characters. She’s the ultimate in showing, not telling. Cromwell hears that Thomas More has put his signature first on a list of accusations against Cardinal Wolsey, and has added the strange allegation that the Cardinal has breathed on the King, trying to infect him with the french pox.
When he [Cromwell] hears this he thinks, imagine living inside the Lord Chancellor’s head. Imagine writing down such a charge and taking it to the printer, and circulating it through the court and through the realm, putting it out there to where people will believe anything; putting it out there, to the shepherds on the hills, to Tyndale’s plowboy, to the beggar on the roads and the patient beast in its byre or stall; out there to the bitter winter winds, and the weak early sun, and the snowdrops in the London gardens.
Another in a series of Fridays. Why have they become the worst day in the world? I’ll have to think about it.
Wolf Hall continues to be great, and Alice is right. It’s not really about the Tudors at all — it’s about character and language.
And actually, the fall of Wolsey and Cromwell wondering what to do feels an awful lot like my office at the moment [see above].
I wonder if Hilary Mantel ever worked in an office.
Lately, Wednesday is the day that hits you in the head like a rake when you accidentally step on the pointy end.
If you know what I mean.
Worse than usual because I left my wallet at home and can’t even buy a cup of coffee.
But . . .
The sweater I’m knitting for N is going well. I made a mistake on one of the fronts (it’s a cardigan, so you know, the right front side). I pondered for a day or two and then it hit me — the think to do is to rip it out back to the part where it went wrong and then do it again! This may seem obvious, but it took me a day or so to accept it. So I’m hoping to finish that piece tonight and start on an arm. There’s no way I’ll be done by the end of the Olympics, but I may be done in time to send it to her for St Patrick’s Day. That would be good.
It’s been raining all week. I’m actually happy about it because I can pretend that we’re actually having winter. Also, sadly, I am unable to go out and work in the garden. What a shame.
And now I really do have to write up a few things that I really do not want to write up. If only I could have a cup of coffee — maybe there is something in the staff lounge. Anything is possible, I suppose.
See you tomorrow, when at least it will not be Wednesday any more. Hooray!
Okay, I’m over it.
I’ve just started reading Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Two other people in my office have read it and neither one liked it. One is an expert on the Tudors, because her husband is an expert on the Tudors and has made her watch all the movies (I’m just reporting — not making up) and she didn’t like it — either because she was tired of the Tudors or because it didn’t comport with her understanding of the Tudors gleaned from those movies. The other didn’t like it because it was boring.
But it’s great! I don’t know what they were talking about. She’s such a great writer.
I’m only on p. 46, though. Maybe it will become hideous.
(But I doubt it.)
I can also report that I have taken down the Christmas tree, and the house actually looks a little empty without it.
I haven’t packed up all the ornaments yet. They’re all over the dining room table and Jimmy, who apparently sleeps on the dining room table when we’re out (keep that in mind if I ever invite you over for dinner) was quite startled to find all these shiny objects where he’s used to sleeping. He sniffed disapprovingly and found a chair.
Okay. Stuff to do.
I am being a big baby.
Jeanne just posted a poem by Ethan Coen which essentially says, well, that the drunken driver has the right of way.
So I commented:
“I just lost a battle here at work where, in fact, the stupid, persistent and loud have won over the reasonable, polite and right.
I would plot my revenge, but I don’t think I’m really capable.
So I fume.”
And it’s true.
I should just suck it up and get over it.
I’m not sure why this rankles so much. I think it may have to do with the vague hint that I am opposed to the stupid idea because I don’t like the proposer of the stupid idea. Well, I don’t like her now.
I confess, I am being a big baby. What I hate is that because the proposer is loud and difficult people accede to her stupid ideas.
I guess rather than sulking I should work on being a big pain in the ass myself.
I’ll get right on it.
On Saturday I went out and bought new flagstones to lay a path across the meadow to the compost bin. I also bought a new camellia. (This is the old camellia.)
When we first moved out here I saw camellias everywhere and I hated them bitterly. I think it’s because I had never seen them before, they are very common here, they don’t smell like anything, generally, and as the flowers age they turn brown in an ugly sort of way. Mostly I think I hated them because they weren’t roses.
I’ve come to like them though. They bloom in winter and early spring, so they fill a different sort of niche than roses. They can be garish, but they can also be very pretty with their shiny leaves. They’re tea plants — which to me makes them more interesting. And I’ve come to like the fact that they’re everywhere. They’re old lady plants, as are jade plants and fuschias. Any house that’s old enough will have some of all of these. That sort of endears them to me as well.
Anyway, then on Sunday there was a fine misty rain all day long, which meant I actually couldn’t lay the flags or plant my camellia, which was actually just fine with me, too. I vacuumed the house, went to the grocery store, and then K and I went into the city to meet an old friend from college, J, for dinner. How funny — I remember him in our old Hidden Street kitchen, talking to my friend L and stretching after a run. Now we meet for dinner when he’s on a business trip and discuss our own children who at this very moment are probably in their own kitchens, talking to their friends and stretching after runs. It’s his and K’s 30th anniversary this year, and we plan to meet at L’s house. Our friend J’s son will be graduating.
I just finished City of Thieves. What a great book — it’s short, won’t take you long, and is completely captivating. The author is a screen writer and maybe it shows in that there’s a story that goes and goes and goes and then it’s done. It’s very good.
And in a sense it actually reminds me of The Golden Compass or The Mysterious Benedict Society, which is another good book I just finished, in that it’s an adventure tale and when it’s over the hero has grown up.
What luck to have read two great books in a row. City of Thieves is about the Siege of Leningrad, and I think I may need to read more about that now. Benioff recommends Harrison Salisbury’s 900 Days. I may need to read that now.
So, I’m sitting at my desk yesterday and the phone rings. It’s N! How lovely!
Except she’s calling, as she’s driving, to inquire what I think about the fact that the radio has gone off, and now the blinkers don’t work.
So I tell her to pull over, and then the car won’t start again. Alternator! I guess. Correctly, as is confirmed by the garage that AAA eventually tows her to.
It’s replaced, and she gets to my mother’s house, somewhat later than expected. My mom comes home to find her surrounded by laundry. She advises her to get leave by 5:30 to catch her 9:00 flight, but she doesn’t quite make it out the door until 6:50. But apparently she made it, because when I called her at 9:30 her phone was turned off.
According to my mother, she seemed to take it all in stride. My mother and I are sort of reeling.
But I myself remember trips down to the Smokey Mountains to go hiking over spring break — one trip in particular where the alternator broke and tires blew out and we finally got there in time to hike through solid rain for a week. The rhododendrons were beautiful. And as we were driving back through Pennsylvania we heard the news that the Three Mile Island nuclear plant had melted down. And look! I have reached middle age — so it’s not impossible that she will too.
So that’s my news for the day.
My book group came over and laughed at my Christmas tree. It’s coming down on Saturday.
And look, here is the living room, all tidied up.
Something went slightly awry with the frosting (it’s actually looking a little better this morning) but it was tasty.
Here is M looking all lit up.
Somehow I have to clean up the house enough to host my book group tonight. Tomorrow night is back to school night, although I suppose I don’t really have to go any more. But I should. I think this week is trying to kill me. It’s supposed to rain this weekend, and I hope it does because I finally planted the wildflower seeds. I do hope they bloom.
Okay — got to go.
(My neighbor has just gone out into her garden in her bathrobe with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. I tactfully pretended not to see. It’s getting to be spring around here. People are coming out of their houses.)