By Clive James
Hotel Timeo, Taormina
The lilac peak of Etna dribbles pink,
Visibly seething in the politest way.
The shallow vodka cocktails that we sink
Here on the terrace at the close of day
Are spreading numb delight as they go down.
Their syrup mirrors the way lava flows:
It's just a show, it might take over town,
Sometimes the Cyclops, from his foxhole, throws
Rocks at Ulysses. But regard the lake
Of moonlight on the water, stretching east
Almost to Italy. The love we make
Tonight might be our last, but this, at least,
Is one romantic setting, am I right?
Cypresses draped in bougainvillea,
The massed petunias, the soft, warm night,
That streak of candy floss. And you, my star,
Still walking the stone alleys with the grace
Of forty years ago. Don't laugh at me
For saying dumb things. Just look at this place.
Time was more friend to us than enemy,
And soon enough this backdrop will go dark
Again. The spill of neon cream will cool,
The crater waiting years for the next spark
Of inspiration, since the only rule
Governing history is that it goes on:
There is no rhythm of events, they just
Succeed each other. Soon, we will be gone,
And that volcano, if and when it must,
Will flood the slope with lip gloss brought to boil
For other lovers who come here to spend
One last, late, slap-up week in suntan oil,
Their years together winding to an end.
With any luck, they'll see what we have seen:
Not just the picture postcard, but the splash
Of fire, and know this flowering soil has been
Made rich by an inheritance of ash.
Only because it's violent to the core
The world grows gardens. Out of earth we came,
To earth we shall return. But first, one more
Of these, delicious echoes of the flame
That drives the long life all should have, yet few
Are granted as we were. It wasn't fair?
Of course it wasn't. But which of us knew,
To start with, that the other would be there,
One step away, for all the time it took
To come this far and see a mountain cry
Hot tears, as if our names, signed in the book
Of marriage, were still burning in the sky?
Another from this week's quite good New Yorker.
It was mostly a chore day involving things like having our gutters cleaned and some branches cut off our neighbor's tree that had been scratching our windows. I had to pick Adam up from school before 11 to take him to the orthodontist, who put long-anticipated braces on his lower teeth. Adam was not happy about this, but he did receive confirmation that because his upper left incisor has broken through the gum, he won't need oral surgery, which is good news for everyone! To celebrate I took him to Borders and bought him the new Erin Hunter cat book, Long Shadows. Borders was having a one-day sale for people on their mailing list, so I also bought the first two seasons of Futurama for Daniel for Chanukah -- they've long been on his wish list and they were half-price.
I was not deprived, because I got three awesome things in the mail. The first was my long-anticipated CD from Girlyman of their concert at the Birchmere where I went with psu_jedi last month -- two CDs, actually, containing all their banter and tuning songs, with really good sound quality. Plus I'd met a woman online who had seen my Barbie Tarot and wrote to tell me that she'd created her own Barbie Tarot, using posed dolls and Photoshop so her images are much more creative than mine, and she sent me a CD of them! And speaking of Tarot, the wonderful venturous1 sent me a package with the Gill Tarot deck given to her by her mentor -- my favorite sorts of Tarot decks are those that have been used and loved already -- and an original watercolor painting of Mount Vernon!
Chickens sit on the fence behind the slave cabin.
A pair of musicians perform 18th century music.
The upper level of the sixteen-sided barn...
...and the lower level, with grain falling through the slats as it is threshed.
A blacksmith at work (wearing the now-requisite safety goggles, not a luxury of Washington's era).
Yoked oxen at work in the fields.
And a pig at work trying to keep out of the sun.
Pushing Daisies is already feeling sad and nostalgic for me, knowing it isn't coming back and they didn't film any sort of series finale because they weren't sure when they wrapped the last episode. Oh, how I will miss supporting characters like Bilbo the Python! And Akbar the Bunny! And Ethan Phillips as an uptight, outraged lawyer, and the jibber-jabber judge from Boston Legal as a murder victim trapped in a chandelier, and Aunt Vivian on why she revealed to Lily that she has a boyfriend: "Sneaking around is for politicians in bathroom stalls." And Lily's rebuttal, "I love you!" and an insistence that she doesn't want to see Vivian's fetish for bad men (a fetish she apparently once shared) hurt Vivian. I don't like the Chuck-in-danger theme that keeps emerging, but I guess that won't ever be resolved.
There's been a lot of hand-wringing on my friends list about Twilight, falling into two categories: people who love it but feel guilty about that (or feel like they have to claim to feel guilty), and people who despise everything it stands for. I can't tell what percentage of the latter have actually read any or all of the books, but I'm in no position to judge them, because I read one chapter of the first book and lost interest. (NB: I was relatively bored by the Harry Potter books, too, and certainly not fannish about them until Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs showed up in the movies.) I can't contribute to any discussion about what I've seen described as the misogyny of the most recent Twilight book -- the hatred of women and childbirth and justification of rape and other things I've heard are in Breaking Dawn. But I am curious about the perception that the franchise itself represents some big setback for feminism and am trying to get some perspective on that.
When I was in junior high school, Stephenie Meyer was V.C. Andrews and Twilight was Flowers in the Attic. I devoured the three books that came out in quick succession when I was in junior high and high school; I gather that the series went on after that and even after Andrews' death, but I lost interest, much as I suspect the tweens devouring Twilight now will do by the time there's a sixth or seventh book. At the time I read them, I didn't have any feminist vocabulary to discuss then what was wrong with the Dollanganger books, but I did know that they were over-the-top bad. The heroine gets raped by her brother in the first book, decides she's in love with him in the second, and wants to spend the rest of her life with him taking care of her in the third when she wasn't brushing her beautiful blonde hair. There was a grotesque birth scene in these, too, and there was perverse Christianity all over them; I think one of the younger generation became a TV preacher. Like I said, I haven't read more than cursory summaries of the later Meyer books, but I can't imagine they could be any more anti-feminist than Andrews.
I read the Andrews books in the late 70s-early 80s -- before AIDS, growing up in a public school system where we were systematically taught birth control and it was widely assumed that we'd have sex before marriage no matter our religious backgrounds. I don't ever remember my parents or teachers trying to scare me into celibacy; until I was out of my early teens, sure, but not till marriage or death. Ronald Reagan wasn't president yet; the Moral Majority and its successors had not begun widespread efforts to demonize adolescent sexuality and the girls, in particular, who engaged in it, though most girls my age got varying degrees of pressure from their parents to abstain. So why were we reading books about a teenage girl raised in conditions of enforced celibacy with her hot blond sibling, who eventually assaulted her, and then she fell in love with him? And did it affect who we became as women or whether we became feminists?
I strongly doubt the latter; some of us became passionate feminists and some of us, annoyingly, became "I'm not a feminist but I believe in equal rights and equal pay for equal work" (before you start yelling, you may as well know that I was one of the latter until college -- in the house where I grew up, "feminist" had connections to "lesbian," and "lesbian" meant "pervert," and "pervert" meant psychotherapy and not being allowed to see my friends, and forget that...so I didn't directly question any of that attitude until I had a bit of distance and education). Under any circumstances, I don't think loving V.C. Andrews books affected either how I thought about the role of women in society or what kind of people I wanted to date -- the insidious anti-feminist influences to which I was exposed were much closer to home.
You all probably know that I'm a fan of Barbie dolls, even though we all know that Barbie has an unrealistic body and suggests that being a fashion model is just as important a career as being a doctor and once came with a string you could pull that made her say, "Math is hard!" (Something no teenage girl ever said before Barbie, surely -- as if Barbie wasn't a reflection of a system in which boys are called on more often and tutored more diligently, but pointed at as a cause of the problem.) I've always believed that little girls are smart enough to figure out that Barbie is no more a real woman than a plastic baby doll is a real baby, and I'd make the same argument about Twilight. It's mass-produced plastic popular entertainment, and fantasy at that.
I don't think Twilight is disempowering young women so much as pointing out all the ways in which they feel disempowered in the first place. Take the fact that Twilight is being scorned, even criticized, for its emphasis on abstinence. I think everyone reading this knows that I am a hundred percent opposed to abstinence-only education, and yet how is it a bad thing for a fictional girl to consider the ways in which sex seems dangerous and life-altering? How many of us reading this have had birth control fail? (*raises hand*) How many of us have gotten pregnant not at a time of our choosing no matter how careful we thought we were being? (*raises hand*) How many of us, despite being pro-choice, despise the idea of having to choose among raising a child alone, giving up a child for adoption, or terminating a pregnancy? I can't speak for anyone but me, but I sure as hell was not ready to make such a choice in high school. Not having sex till I was 18 was a small sacrifice to make sure I wouldn't have to.
As a feminist, I have no problem with a writer producing an abstinence allegory for pre-teens. I don't think it demonizes female sexuality to acknowledge that in every age, including our own, women have suffered more negative consequences from sex. I don't think it's patronizing to suggest that there are times when a boy should say no even if a girl says yes. Now, since I haven't read the books, it's quite possible that Meyer brings all sorts of other baggage into play and what's going on is much more heavily misogynistic, but of the Twilight movie itself, I just wanted to say: I don't think it's particularly well-written, I didn't find myself at all emotionally engaged, but it sure wasn't worse than a lot of Anne Rice or even some of the storylines on the fairly progressive Buffy (love your rapist? lose your virginity and turn your man into an uncontrolled brute? check and check).
And I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving, whether you're celebrating in the US or having an ordinary day elsewhere. I hope everyone with loved ones in or near Mumbai has made contact -- what a horrific tragedy.