Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 84

1. AOTW--Well, we (Joyce) bought a new reflector to put by our driveway to serve as a guide for the folks who plow our drive. It was a good one--not a reflective piece of plastic/whatever. Yesterday morning it was gone. (Rage, rage against the missing of the light.) I went through all sorts of murderous fantasies, then, walking to the coffee shop, found it lying on the tree lawn about 50' from our driveway. Someone (the AOTW) had pulled it out, had laid it neatly in the grass, as if to say, "See what I can do?" 

2. This week, Joyce and I watched the final three episodes of Happy Valley, a series we'd started (Netflix streaming) some months ago--and then apparently forgot all about. (It had also gotten quite grim ... maybe we'd just taken a break?) (link to trailer for series). Sarah Lancashire (who also stars in Last Tango in Halifax) plays a small-town police officer in a not-so-placid-or-happy English valley, where she's dealing with a kidnapping, some grisly deaths, some horrendous memories of some dark personal experiences, some condescending male colleagues, etc. A really, really, really bad guy is the Evil One.

Anyway, one thing that strikes me about these Brit-cop shows is the virtual absence of firearms. The cops carry batons and whack the Bad Ones when some whacking is required. Few bullets fly. Murders are accomplished with knives, choking, poisoning, etc. (Where there's a will, there's a way.)

Anyway, I just read there will be a second series. Not sure if I'm ready. The series is I-N-T-E-N-S-E.

3. We've been watching (Netflix DVD) the seventh season of one of my favorite TV shows of all time--Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes as the eponymous physician (Dr. Martin Ellingham--see photo of him in the rarest of poses: smiling), who works in the fictional seaside town Portwenn (it's filmed in Port Issac in Cornwall, a gorgeous looking place). (link to video about filming the season) The good doctor (brilliant and peremptory) has a plethora of issues: OCD, nauseated by blood (!), inability to show affection, a brusqueness that is pure (he's always telling patients to shut up, chiding them for being "stupid," etc.). But Clunes makes him eminently likable ... somehow. He is rockily married to a local teacher, Louisa, who can't seem to decide if she can stand a single second more of him. And he has an infant son (who looks a lot like him). Very amusing cast of small-town eccentrics. And a little dog that loves him, an affection that is not reciprocated.

We're not binging, though ... want them to last.

click to enlarge--Port Isaac is near the top left
(we're in southwestern England)
4. Some recent words I've liked from my various word-a-day online providers:
  • blue devil: A harmful or malignant demon, esp. one that causes melancholy (I had no idea this one went back to the early 17th century)
  • salubrious: favorable to or promoting health; healthful: salubrious air. (I remember exactly when I learned this word--the first year I was teaching 7th graders--fall 1966--and we were reading a dramatized version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"; when Ichabod arrives at the party, he says to the host, "Ah, Mynheer Van Tassel, (Nasally) this is indeed a salubrious occasion!" (Doorways to Discovery, Ginn, 1960, 120). (The word, by the way, does not appear in Washington Irving's original story.)
  • probity: integrity and uprightness; honesty. (This is a word I've long known, but it was on List #7 when I taught English III at Western Reserve Academy, and it occasioned one of my worst puns: When I would read the word on quiz day, I'd say something like, "Probity. If you probe a teabag, you'll find tea inside."
5. I enjoyed watching (Netflix streaming) a performance by actor Stephen Fry, a performance that included a reading from his new book (at the time), More Fool Me, a memoir. He read and chatted with a large English audience (increased manyfold by simultaneous streaming at many movie theaters around the world--info about the performance).

Near the end, he read a very entertaining account about the time Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited him at his home during the Christmas holidays.

5. If you read an earlier post this week, you know that I've been ... indisposed ... much of the week--Sick as a Dog (what on earth does that mean? I just checked: The OED traces it back to 1705--though it often appears as sick as a horse--but does not speculate on its origin, which other sources tell me is "uncertain"--but I picture my old boyhood dog, Sooner, gagging in the yard: I get the picture).

Anyway, I've been Sick as a Horse/Dog and have not done much reading this week--not until the past couple of days when I began to believe that I would live. But earlier in the week, before the Dog and Horse business, I finished John A. Williams' fine memoir This Is My Country Too, a 1965 book based on a series of articles that Williams (1925-2015) did for Holiday back in the early 1960s.

I wrote last week, I think, about finishing Williams' celebrated novel The Man Who Cried I Am? Well, that novel got me interested in Williams' other works. I'd first become aware of him (shame on me) just last July--when I read his obituary in the New York Times (link to the obit). And so I've been having that wonderful experience of reading a writer whom I'd never heard of (I just bought a signed 1st of his 2nd novel--ain't tellin' what I paid!).

Okay ... his memoir. Holiday magazine was paying him to take (and write about) a car trip around the country. He had a new car and a credit card. (Now, for those of you who are chronologically challenged, credit cards were not ubiquitous in the early 1960s. Just charge cards for various gasoline brands. I'm guessing he had an American Express, which was one of the earliest. Or Diners Club. The days of Visa (first called Bank Americard) and MasterCard (first called MasterCharge), for most folks, lay in the future.)

And, as you can, see, he was black.

It was not an easy time in the early 1960s (he writes about being in Washington for "I Have a Dream"--though he was not a big King fan), and the South was an especially dangerous place to go. He went.

What astonished me throughout was how much has changed and--at core--how little has changed. Cops followed him. Restaurants and motels--all over the place--refused him service. Almost everywhere he was treated as less than a man. Some sadly amusing moments are when someone enters a room looking for the writer from Holiday--and discovers he's, well, guess what!

He stayed with friends and literary acquaintances in various places but other times he relied on the kindness of strangers.

He writes painfully, too, about his treatment in the Army in WW II (the armed forces were segregated--still). He ended up in some fisticuffs with some clueless whites--and in the brig as a result. 

Here are a few of Williams' sentences I wrote down:
  • I do not believe white travelers have any idea of how much nerve and courage it requires for a Negro to drive coast to coast in America (22).
  • Today the strength of the contemporary Negro is in being ready to die (37).
  • The greatest idea: that a man is a man, is free under the sky and over earth (72).
  • My body is no longer an instrument; my mind is (113).
There are many more. He was in Los Angeles, shopping with his niece, when word came of the assassination of JFK. He describes emotional scenes on the street--much the same as I saw as I drove into Indianapolis that day, watching through the closed car windows, seeing people telling one another, crying in the crosswalks, disbelief everywhere.

And this: Freedom of speech is still with us, but freedom from retaliation after speaking freely is not (143).

He notes near the end that we  [humans] were born of violence (166), but he also says, I searched and I came away with hope (162).

I wonder how he'd feel about things now, fifty years after he published this book (1965). I felt, reading it, that we haven't come all that far at all. Progress has come in inches, not feet--certainly not miles. Racial bitterness and misunderstanding (and ignorance, I fear) remain. We still seem incapable of looking at one another and saying/thinking: There is another human being.

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