UD Sends Love and Kisses to Fellow Members …

… of her “fringe and vociferous group,” Women of the Wall. Recall UD, featured here in the Forward (scroll down to her smiling and her holding her prayer shawl), at a rally outside the Israeli embassy on behalf of religious freedom in Israel.

And, well, WOW. We won.


(Your blogueuse.)


Chelsea Clinton: J’ACCUSE!

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin sharply attacked the American Jewish Reform movement during Sunday’s government hearing on the compromise regarding a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall, saying that Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to her Jewish partner, officiated by a Reform rabbi and a priest, shows the extent of assimilation among Reform Jews in the United States.

“… [A] man who calls himself a reform rabbi is standing there with a priest and weds Hillary Clinton’s daughter, and no one condemns it, thereby legitimizing it.”  

The Morning After.


6:13 AM Saturday, and the Snowpink Sky Suddenly Went Dark.

Then – thunder.



The Snow Begins.

Just now, with thin innocuous drifts.

I’ll watch the show from a bedroom whose sliding doors give me all I’d like of the white as it falls on the forest.

UD‘s been down with bronchitis for a couple of weeks anyway, so settling in’s no big deal. She’s in a warm bed with tightly layered blankets and a heating pad and her dog Emilia. Three eucalyptus soy candles rest on a small Tunisian plate in front of the window. Eucalyptus is good for the lungs.

My soundtrack: The mad madrigals of the mad Gesualdo (“the highest expression of pain in music”). Eerie chords for eerie snow.


It’s sticking to the holly leaves and coming down more thickly. They tell me this snowfall’s in it for the long haul. Okay.

Although we worry about outages and treefalls, we’re basically calm. And why not? The setting is sedate to the point of morbid. Our lives are calm, settled lives. Settled far away from peril. The inside/outside contrast puts this protection in high relief.

There’s a poem for that, by Hayden Carruth. Read it here. Read my commentary below.

The Curtain

[The poem will compare the curtain of snow now obscuring and now revealing the reality of the world to the poet’s troubled conscience as he lives his comfortable life, fitfully aware of a world of atrocities.]

Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.

[From their easeful bed, the poet and his lover can figuratively hear – cannot intellectually escape – the perennial actuality of human suffering.]

But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful.

[Suffering is way up over the hill; in their snug valley the lovers now experience the smoothing and silencing of even the sound of suffering by the blanketing snow, which makes the world a beautiful fantasy.]

In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost
With our two cats, Cooker and Smudgins, lying undisturbed in the southeastern and southwestern corners,
We lie loving and warm, looking out from time to time.

[The camera gradually moves in more intimately on the lovers, placid, with cutely-named cats, on their massive “undisturbed” bed. They watch the snow.]

“Snowbound,” we say. We speak of the poet
Who lived with his young housekeeper long ago in the mountains of the western province, the kingdom
Of cruelty, where heads fell like wilted flowers and snow fell for many months
Across the pass and drifted deep in the vale.

[Maybe a reference to John Greenleaf Whittier, author of “Snowbound,” which narrates a snowbound family passing the time telling each other stories. The lines perhaps also allude to Whittier’s many anti-slavery poems; that is, Whittier was the sort of poet Carruth would like to be – someone whose writing might have some impact on human suffering. “We felt that if we could get enough people to read T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens and e. e. cummings and William Carlos Williams and other great poets of that period, then something good would happen in American civilization. We felt a genuine vocation, a calling, to try and make this happen. And we succeeded. Today thousands of people are going to colleges and attending workshops and taking courses in twentieth-century literature. Eliot and Stevens are very well known, very well read; and American civilization has sunk steadily, progressively, further and further down until most of the sensible people are in a state of despair. It’s pretty obvious that good writing doesn’t really have very much impact on social events …”]

In our kitchen the maple-fire murmurs
In our stove. We eat cheese and new-made bread and jumbo Spanish olives
Which have been steeped in our special brine of jalapeños and garlic and dill and thyme.
We have a nip or two from the small inexpensive cognac that makes us smile and sigh.

[They can stay warm amid the cold; their cozy woodburning stove is softly, aromatically doing its thing. Plenty of food, too, and all their exotic spicy (hot: another form of heat) favorites. Alcohol too of course will warm them, calm them.

This evocation of the delightful private small habits of their private life reminds UD of this passage, from Paul Monette’s essay collection, Last Watch of the Night:

In the moving premonitory memoir of his approaching death from cancer, Donald Hall discovers that what he will miss the most are the dailiest of things. Padding out onto his porch to retrieve the morning’s Globe; a quiet cup of coffee as he peruses the headlines; the dozen small nesting motions that bring him at last to his desk. Finally the picking up of his pen to start afresh. The things of life are so ordinary, the habits so engrained, that it’s stupefying to think of them taken away. One wonders that the universe would bother to kill off such a modestly focused life, circumscribed by hours of quiet on every side.

For a while we close the immense index of images that is our lives — for instance,
The child on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico sitting naked in 1966 outside his family’s hut,
Covered with sores, unable to speak.

[The deeply interior, deeply comfortable scene, the doubly deep warmth inside all that cold, temporarily suspends their awareness – via indexed image rather than personal experience – of the suffering over the horizon.]

But of course we see the child every day,
We hold out our hands, we touch him shyly, we make offerings to his implacability.
No, the index cannot close.

[The poem is an offering to the implacability of suffering; the poem is written out of the poet’s inability to close the index.]

And how shall we survive? We don’t and cannot and will never
Know. Beyond the horizon a great unceasing noise is undeniable. The machine,
Like an immense clanking vibrating shuddering unnameable contraption as big as a house, as big as the whole town,
May break through and lurch into our valley at any moment, at any moment.

[Why don’t we die of our anguish at what human beings do to one another? Not only don’t we die; we live for the most part quite comfortable lives. We survive our knowledge of the suffering of others quite nicely. Maybe someday suffering will spread to the point where it has no other place to go but our own quiet little valley.]

Cheers, baby. Here’s to us. See how the curtain of snow wavers and then falls back.

The genial – even self-celebratory – self-absorption of private life prevails. The snowy curtain that had been drawn aside to give the poet a glimpse of how stark things really are has fallen back, leaving him comfortably numb, with cognac.

In the dead of winter…


… the Korean spice viburnum UD got
from her mother years ago suddenly
blooms again, with full spicy aroma.

Northeast Corridor Train, New York to the Left.

Cahn Stadium? Reading the letters backwards as they fly.

Flag at half staff. For whom?

Gray bridges and brown skyscrapers in late afternoon fog.

Soundtrack: Glenn Gould (1932-1982), Bach toccatas.

Today’s reading: Excerpts from an interview with Adam Phillips, a psychoanalyst.

[P]sychoanalysis starts from the position that there is no cure, but that we need different ways of living with ourselves and different descriptions of these so-called selves…

What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself. Because the point of knowing oneself is to contain one’s anxieties about appetite. It’s only worth knowing about the things that make one’s life worth living, and whether there are in fact things that make it worth living.

Cos Cob train station.

Dingy water with thin marshes.

I like the counterintuitive feel of this: Self-knowledge seeker, heal thyself. Not because ignorance or lack of reflection is good, but because limiting who you are in very specific ways gives you a seemingly deterministic justification for repressing your capacity for strong feelings, for undetermined creative energies. Phillips says he cringes whenever anyone begins a sentence I’m the sort of person who…

[E]verybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves… We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense — as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost. Freud gets at this in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It’s as though one is struggling to be as inert as possible — and struggling against one’s inertia.

Where does civilization end and discontent begin? You end up on Phillips’ couch because the resource-management story you’ve expressed all these years is making you one big Salton Sea.

[I think psychoanalysis is really about] showing you how much your wish to know yourself is a consequence of an anxiety state — and how it might be to live as yourself not knowing much about what’s going on.

Everything in the corporate, therapeutic, consumption-driven world fights tooth and nail against this model, a model which aligns perfectly with one of UD‘s heroes, Henry Miller of The Tropic of Cancer. And with her first, much-loved boyfriend, David Kosofsky. On the verge of another new year, of what Stephen Spender called ‘one more new botched beginning,’ UD reflects on her many passionate, appetitive, teachers.

There [is in my favorite writers] a sort of blitheness that I love, a pleasure in the recklessness of one’s own mind.

Christmas in Boston…

… as usual for UD. She’ll be in transit today, but should be able to blog this afternoon.

La Kid, Office …

… holiday party…


…Bobby Van’s Steakhouse.

The View From Your Window…

… was a popular feature on
the late lamented Andrew
Sullivan site. Here’s the
view from UD‘s new office.


A New Yorker Account of a Friend’s Archive…

to which UD was able to contribute.

Details here.

And her remembrance of Eve’s brother.

UD thanks Stephen.

Whitman at the Kennedy

Terrorism sickens and compels, so that when you go to a concert at Washington’s Kennedy Center days after a massacre at a Paris concert hall, you cannot help but think about an attack.

You know it’s unlikely, but after Paris the unthinkable is in the air. Mass death has become a remote possibility for everyone who lives in big cities, and a somewhat less remote possibility for the people who live in and around DC.

The conductor of the Washington Chorus, in its Sunday performance of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Sea Symphony, thanked us, in his opening remarks, for our bravery in coming out. Julian Wachner brought forward, when he did that, the latent thoughts we’d all taken with us into the theater, and though I don’t think any of us agreed that we were brave, we appreciated the realism of the statement, the way it acknowledged what was going on in our heads.

Mr UD and I had checked out the security at the entrance, and I expressed surprise that our bags weren’t examined. I sort of wanted that to happen. Instead, a few uniformed guards met our eyes and welcomed us as we walked in. I thought of all the cameras that had to be trained on us as we moved in a big crowd (no one seemed to have decided to stay home) toward the Concert Hall. Beyond the windows overlooking the Kennedy Center’s deck, late afternoon sunlight rested above the skyline. The look and the mood was calm, autumnal, and I felt the contrast between this happy orderly setting and the madness of a threatening world.

I’d bought close-in box seats because La Kid sings in the chorus and we wanted a good look at her. “Our exit is right outside the door,” my husband said, noting that we were only steps from a “Chorister’s Entrance.” We glanced at the people around us, vaguely appraising them, which seemed both absurd (they looked exactly like us) and irresistible. I made various silly remarks about whether I’d survive leaping to the orchestra seats, and how here in the first level boxes we had the advantage of a full view of the hall. I thought of the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, in which Chechens kept terrified people in their seats for two days until Russian forces killed the terrorists (and many theater-goers) by pumping in poison gas.

The first piece was Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a piece I’ve heard in various venues all my life and which I’ve long found almost unbearably emotional. In his introductory remarks, Wachner talked about the “colors” of Victorian music, and for me at least, in this piece, these are the colors of gray curtains obscuring the once-green landscapes of youth.


Not that I feel anything like this poignant nostalgia about my own youth. But the music is so powerfully insinuating (and my memory of the great and tragic Jacqueline Du Pre, who became famous for her performances of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, is evoked when I hear anything by him) that it makes me enter that attitude whether I own it or not.

That same power of music – a power intensified by human voices – took possession of me much more happily in the Vaughn Williams piece, whose words are drawn from Walt Whitman’s spirited, ever-youthful, and optimistic poetry. Behold, the sea itself, the massed voices thundered at the start, and, in the waves of sounds they went on to make, one felt the power and mystery not merely of the sea but of the earth altogether.

The words and music made us all out to be heroic mariners navigating perilous waters in a ship whose flag is

A spiritual woven signal for all nations, emblem of man elate above death…

This was great art doing what great art does: Grounding us in the enigmatic realities of mortal life and at the same time transcending them, taking us somewhere “elate” above them. After all the sea-going, “Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name, / The true son of God shall come singing his songs.”

Poets remind us that we have a brave and mystery-sailing spirit within us; they give that spirit words and music.


At the end of the Ralph Vaughan Williams piece, the poet rejects grand abstractions:

Swiftly I shrivel at the thought of God,
At Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death…

But he is ecstatic at the thought of his “actual me.”

But that I, turning, call to thee, O Soul, that actual me
And lo, thou gently masterest the orbs,
Thou matest Time, smilest content at Death,
And fillest, swellest full the vastness of Space.

UD’s friend, the painter Paul Laffoley, has died…

… and the New York Times (again with UD‘s help – she most recently provided the same writer, William Grimes, with information about the Polish painter Wojciech Fangor) has written a good obituary about this odd and complicated man who painted elaborate metaphysical, visionary works.

UD found him too odd for close friendship (her sister-in-law Joanna – who was also consulted by the obit writer – understood Paul with far greater depth and sympathy), but year after year, when they met at Soltan Christmas celebrations, UD would watch Paul with special interest, and with compassion. She was not interested in his impossibly convoluted and at the same time rather shallow and adolescent (he never got over the science fiction of his youth) theories of consciousness and the universe. She was interested in the man himself, his pale face and bald head and strangely serene demeanor out of place in the hectic business of gift opening in front of a fire. He stayed chilly amid that warmth, a wanderer above the mists down from altitude for a day, his pale face and labored breaths (in his later years heart failure made it hard for him to breathe) somehow conveying his inability to adapt to temperate climates.


Or not a wanderer above the mists — a Rocket Man above the mysteries, an icon, for UD, of the terrible human desire to know everything. Aliens, Paul believed, had implanted something in his brain that made him a conduit of cosmic truths, and his artwork was the materialization of those truths. There was no irony that I could see, no humor or teasing evasion or bet hedging here. Either his flatly literal messages from beyond beguiled you with their astonishing plausibility or they made you draw back somewhat from the man and the canvases, unsettled by their Bartleby-like remoteness from the human realm.

The human realm, after all, is where – far from knowing everything – we know shit, and where the vocation of the artist, usually, is to reconcile us to knowing shit by aestheticizing both our cloud of unknowing and the suffering and beauty it generates. For UD, people like Paul represent a refusal of the human condition.


Paul, Christmas in Cambridge.

pauljerzy 001

Jerzy Soltan in the background.

Moody moon, high nests, and a touch of blusher…


… in the sky above UD‘s house
right now. At the end of a rainy day.

Watch La Kid On Stage at the Kennedy Center with her Chorus this Sunday…

… or watch UD in the orchestra section kvelling, or listen to Walt Whitman’s words put to music by Ralph Vaughn WilliamsBehold, the Sea is a very boffo sort of thing — as demonstrated here. Starts with a bang and stays pretty wild from there on in.


La Kid sneaks a blurry shot of
yesterday’s rehearsal in a


cavernous Kennedy Center.

UD’s father.


UD thanks her sister.

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