Friday, January 08, 2010

Snowdrifts revisited

I had thought to move inside quickly, grab a camera and capture an image of my good Samaritan neighbor, Lee, aboard his snowblower in either my driveway or his. But he was too quick for me, had finished the job and was gone before I got outside again Thursday morning.

So the photo shows Lee’s neatly cleared drive and the view southwest across it from my front steps as the wind kicked up to blow our newest four inches of snow around, heading us well below zero overnight and toward the coldest night of the year so far tonight.

Travel still isn’t recommended (clear ice on highways), there are a few flakes of snow in the air, it’s darned cold and dragging the garbage container out to the end of the driveway for pickup this morning involved forcing it through overnight drifts --- more shoveling.
The long stretch of cabin-fever days continues, since it’s just too darned cold to be outside.

I am a willing although not overly aggressive shoveler of snow, preferring to break the job down into 15-minute sessions --- until the cold begins to creep through boots and two layers of socks and into my toes, then coming inside to warm up. Using that strategy, I’d finished the sidewalk and roughly a third of the drive before Lee came along yesterday.

Lee is in his 80s and I, in my lower 60s. Our younger neighbors across the street are more aggressive. Darrin bundles up and clears his broad and steep drive in one operation. Nash, head insulated by shoulder-length hair and a beard, rushes out without a hat and makes quick work of his sidewalks in a few minutes of energetic shoveling. If I tried that, I’d drop dead.

All in all, it’s not bad here for those of us who have places to go but are in no hurry to get there. For those who have to be (or think they have to be) in specific places at specific times it’s a challenge and promises to remain that way into Saturday when a warming trend is promised.


I finished watching the 1980s Granada/BBC production of Evelyn Waugh’s (left) “Brideshead Revisited” last night --- all 13 hours of it spread over several evenings. To do this is a little like taking a leisurely walk through the woods, admiring the flora and fauna, while just over the hill everyone else drives by at top speed. I’m not sure how many people 30 years after its premiere have that much patience --- or time.

But it’s worthwhile. The production is beautiful, the locations stunning and the performances wonderful.

The novel on which it is based regularly ends up on lists of the hundred best novels of the 20th century primarily because of the beautiful way it is written. Maybe I’ll reread it --- once I find it.

There’s a much newer and far shorter “Brideshead Revisited” production out there, also with Castle Howard standing in for Brideshead Castle, but I’m having trouble convincing myself I want to see it. “Brideshead” is a complex novel to which the 1980s production was remarkably true in its 13-hour run. Reviews suggest two-plus hours wasn’t enough time to do it justice.

There are all sorts of interesting subtexts in the novel, and the 1980s production, if you’re paying attention --- most involving autobiographical themes incorporated by Waugh.

Not born into the upper echelons of British society, Waugh had aspirations and by many accounts was a terrible snob. So one of the themes certainly is nostalgia for the good old days when the aristocracy had free rein --- something Waugh sensed was passing as World War II ended. He can be remarkably patronizing to lesser folks like us.

Waugh also was a convert to Roman Catholicism and there are many tortured Catholics running around here, including all members of the central Marchmain family. There’s a morality tale at the heart of “Brideshead,” the workings of grace and the possibilities of redemption. Redemption takes a form that grates a little 60 or more years after the novel was written, but nonetheless is there --- Lord Marchmain, Anglican turned Roman Catholic in order to marry but estranged from the church and his wife, returns to God on his deathbed; the drunk and dissolute Sebastian ends up as one of God’s fools, with one foot in and another out of a monastery; the adulterous Lady Julia vows to mend her ways even though it means ending the most meaningful human relationship of her life; and even the agnostic/atheist narrator, Charles Ryder, spurned as Julia accedes to grace, is brought into the fold as the novel and production near their ends with him on his knees in the Brideshead chapel, praying,

“Brideshead” also has some basis in adapted fact --- a great scandal of the 1930s involving the Lygon (earls of Beauchamp) family and their home, Madresfield Court, thought to be the model for the far grander Castle Howard version of Brideshead Castle. Waugh was intimately familiar with both the family and the house.

William, the 7th earl Beauchamp, was a noted homosexual (despite wife and seven children) whose fondness for footmen and virtually everyone else youthful and wearing pants was well known in English society --- but not officially so. After going a bit too public during a visit to Australia, he was outed by his brother-in-law, the immensely rich and powerful Duke of Westminster (Beauchamp’s wife and Westminster’s sister, Lettice, became the model some say for the devout Lady Marchmain).

The 7th earl, with a switch in sexual affinity, generally is considered to be the model for Lord Marchmain, in exile in “Brideshead” in Venice with his mistress. The British royal family, it is said, participated actively in Beauchamp’s fall from grace and exile to the Continent in part to protect the reputations of two royal sons, the stolid Henry (duke of Gloucester) and bisexual George (duke of Kent), who were members of the Madresfield/Lygon circle.

A younger Beauchamp son, Hugh Lygon --- one of three young men Waugh reportedly was involved with romantically and sexually while studying at Oxford --- like his father gay, seems to have been the primary inspiration for the central “Brideshead” character, Sebastian Flyte. (Waugh “outgrew” his homosexual phase, married twice and fathered seven children, but valued throughout his life his Oxford affairs).

But this is probably enough about “Brideshead Revisited” for now, since it’s time to bundle up and go shovel snow again.

No comments: