Monday, October 12, 2009

Grand Opening: Goodbye, Novel; Hello 212 Pier

Back where we belong

Today was the opening - called a "soft" opening, as everything wasn't completely finished yet, but by any description, it was memorable, and there was much wonder and rejoicing. The Novel Cafe, which closed last month, has opened with new owners. The beloved bookstore/coffeehouse where we have sat, worked, read, written, relaxed, listened to Patsy Cline ("After Midnight") and Tom Waits ("You're Innocent when you Dream"), where we really lived for eighteen years, is now transformed into 212 Pier. This transformation, anxiously anticipated by an entire community, has been accomplished with such painstaking care, taste, love, and respect, as to seem almost a work of alchemy. The beloved old cafe, run down and seedy in recent years, is reborn, a place of beauty!

The food is better

The customers are the same

The new owners consulted all us "regulars," and evidence that they listened and took our advice is visible everywhere. For example, when the old owners removed the wooden counter where I sat every night for so many years, the new brooms, Guru and Jonathan, promised they'd build me a new one. Good as their word, they did (it is now called the Birchall/Ferruggia Counter, as Joe also likes to sit there), but just a couple of days ago I tested it out and it was too high to comfortably use a laptop. It had already been bolted into the floor, but Guru merely shrugged and said, "Doesn't matter. We'll fix it." And they did!

Night crowd: Mike, Peter, Bill, Don, Martha

The beauty is in the details. The Novel originated as a bookstore, founded by bookseller Richard Karno in about 1990, and for some years it was a very beautiful place. But it got very run down, and in the end the books were just sloppy toss-outs in no particular order. Now, Rocco, who owns the lovely little bookshop Angel City a couple of doors down, has taken over the books, and even though they're not all on the shelves yet, the arrangement is intelligent, meticulous, scholarly, attractive. The old Novel always had paintings on the walls; the new show is stunning. The old Novel had pretty mediocre coffee, which we drank out of loyalty; 212 uses better beans and the cappuccino is more potable. Evidence is everywhere that the two young men who did the job not only love the place as so many hundreds of people do, but they have the sensitivity and practical intelligence to carry out their faithful yet transformative plans. Well done, guys!

One of the nicest things about today was watching as all the regulars wandered in, one by one. The looks on their faces were lovely, as they saw the refreshed, revivified place for the first time - and one and all realized that the good old Novel hadn't gone, but it was clean and lovely and reborn. There were a lot of smiles. How often are you given a gift that's so much better than you expected?

I've scanned some pictures of my family and friends over the years at the "old" Novel, below.

Early days, around 1991-2

Hat phase

Bead phase

Peter, Andy Klein, and me. We bought the painting of Peter, which hangs in my study at home!

Christmas, 2008

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Cafe Formerly Known as the Novel...

...Now known as 212 Pier, is on the verge of opening! Hallelujah! The "soft" opening is Monday, and today I went and took some pictures of the work in process. Guru and Jonathan, with Rocco in charge of the books, are doing an amazing job, with the most impressive good taste and judgement. It's really going to be sensational, exactly the refurbishment that the place so desperately has needed for so long.

A work in progress

The books start to arrive

Peter's and my books are here already!

Guru and Rocco try out the books

Guru contemplates his handiwork

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Desolation and Desperation: Flogging Jane Austen at the West Hollywood Book Fair

Me Selling Books (not)

Number of billionaire celebrities met: 1
Number of books sold: 0
Price paid for a cupcake: $4

Oh, Lord, I suppose when the Women's National Book Association asks you to speak on a panel about women's books at the West Hollywood Book Fair, any old writer worth her salt will pant like a steaming warhorse at the sound of battle. So I duly accepted the invitation, and went, fortunately escorted by Paul, who knows his way around West Hollywood and helped me find the megalithic monumental Pacific Design Center where we were to park, as I couldn't have found the entrance to that monster electric blue cube if my life depended on it. From there we crossed the street to the park where all the fair booths were set up, and we found the "Women Rule" Tent. Friendly, deft speaker Kelly, president of the local WNBA chapter, met us, and the other speakers arrived: Dori Carter, who's written a book of cynical short stories about Hollywood expressively entitled We Are Rich; Syrie James, author of the big best sellers Lost Memoirs of (respectively) Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte; and Estherleon Schwartz, whose self published book Tears of Stone and My Deal With God tells of her escape from Nazi Germany, living as a welfare mom in a cockroach infested apartment (in Beverly Hills, that is), and becoming Head of a Clothing Empire (House of Cashmere) and a Cantor.

The Panel: Estherleon, me, Kelly, Syrie, Dori

I couldn't conceive how Kelly was going to bring this panel together, though the omnium-gatherum panel title "Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives," was some clue. But she accomplished it, and I was impressed - she did her homework, seemed very familiar with all our books and stories, and pounced on the things that connected them. Dori's talk about how little the veniality of Hollywood has changed connected to my talk about my grandmother Winnie's time in Hollywood; there was a Jewish thread through all the talks; and of course Syrie and I are both Jane Austen writers. Kelly asked questions and gave each of us a chance to talk a little about our books, so I talked about both Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma and Onoto Watanna as celebrations of women writers, and also pointed out that my grandmother was an ordinary woman who led an exceptional life, while Jane Austen was an exceptional woman who led an ordinary life!

So far, so good. The panel ended with Estherleon and her Indian-from-India partner singing one of her poems, which she did in her best cantor style, fluting like a shofar, really very moving. For a sample, check out her website: She was a very sweet lady, who admirably combined the qualities of glamor and soulfulness, and although her story sounds unbelievable, it turned out to be interesting and genuinely emotional. Syrie's work is commercially super successful, and I've met her at a few Jane Austen events; she knows how to sell, and I feel I can watch her and learn! I found Dori intriguing, too. It turns out that her husband is Chris Carter, the creator of The X Files and Milennium, but neither of them were at all what you'd think...he was a very unassuming, pleasant, approachable guy, there to support his wife. Dori herself was reticent rather than pushy, and gleams of wit and cynicism about the movie business and its rich denizens kept breaking through attractively: we liked her. They live up in Montecito with dogs and horses and like Jackson Hole a lot (as do we).

Estherleon and her Indian Friend, Singing

The disappointment was the usual thing: We gave a party and nobody came. There really weren't many people at the fair, mostly just the few dozens of assorted invited authors, all hawking and balking, i.e., hawking their books forlornly and balking at buying each other's. Except for meeting the other speakers, we could've stood in bed. And I felt guilty that Book Soup had taken the trouble to order books of mine and nobody was buying. I flogged Jane Austen and my grandmother with all I had (well, truthfully, rather half-heartedly and resignedly), but it was no use. They wouldn't look. They wouldn't buy. The expensive cupcakes moved faster than the books.

On the way back to the parking, a cheery guard of whom we'd asked directions before, asked if we'd had a good time. "Well, no," I replied, "we didn't sell any books." "Oh, that's no surprise," he said. "Let me show you something. See that building there? On the corner of Melrose?" We looked. Yes? "Well, from there - down three full blocks - there is not one single store that is still open. Not one. Three blocks down there's a bar, that's still open, but for four blocks beyond that, not one store. They have to keep the windows looking nice, so you can't tell, but this whole stretch of Melrose Blvd. is out of business." And indeed, only when you peered hard could you make out a "For lease" sign or two. On what used to be one of the busiest parts of one of the biggest fashion streets in Los Angeles. "And the Pacific Design Center, here?" the guard continued. The megalithic cube, yes. "Well, only one suite is rented now. This whole place is a shell. You know, I don't think the recession's going to get any better. And Obama will be a one-term president."

You heard it from the security guard.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jane Austen and the Jackals

Ellen Moody has written a blog about The Sexing Up of Jane Austen, in which she discusses John Sutherland's review of Jane Harman's book Jane's Fame, and postulates that there's "more sex in Austen than is admitted because of the Victorian-sentimentalization way she has been read." Ellen gives examples of the offstage sex in Austen:

She then takes on the new school of what for lack of a better word I'll call Subtexters, whom she says have been "concocting wildly anachronistic stories from this text." I will not add to her attack on those individuals who approach Jane Austen as a crossword puzzle, and trawl her works for secret meanings and allusions that they hope will create a connected enough picture to justify the assumption that she really intended to insert "shadow stories" within her layered and complex works, that are only being excavated 200 years later. The Austen lists have been taken up with this school of thought, heatedly debating for and against it, for some time now. Not being like Emma, who told Frank Churchill, "If I had been there, I think I should have made some discoveries," I have remained neutral on the subject. I am allergic to puzzles, and while occasionally amused and edified by the ingenious discoveries of others, I allow the delving elves to do all the work themselves. I do think Jane Austen was wickeder than the world has heretofore given her credit for being; I have no doubt that where Jill Heydt-Stevenson discovered smoke in Austen's "great slit in my worked muslin gown" and "rears and vices" remarks, there was indeed a surprising amount of fire. I have not been able to buy into a sweeping view of alternate universe shadow novels, wherein Jane Fairfax is pregnant by John Knightley and baby Anna Weston is somebody very different from what she seems; but as Mr. Bennet said, "I leave it to yourself to determine," and I leave it for posterity.

Colonel Mordaunt's Cockfight by Zoffany, 1784. Which age was more decadent?

The only thought that I will advance about subtext theories is that I suspect they have a direct connection with the hideous proliferation of vampire and zombie retellings of poor Jane's tales. I believe that what these new phenomena have in common is that they are all part of the hydra-headed, decadent response to Jane Austen that seems to be increasingly becoming our generation's shatteringly enthusiastic response to her, like that of a sloppy big dog, or rather, salivating hell-hound. (Readers, if I have any, will recollect that I am a cat person.) Jane's Fame traces previous generations' responses, from family members' sugary presentation of Aunt Jane in the first biographical works, through unpeelings of the onion that is Austen by successive generations of literary critics and antiquarians, chiseling away at her from different angles, until soon there may be nothing left but a well parsed puddle. Each generation has had its own "take" on this author who is the most compellingly re-readable of any because of her formidably winning combination of qualities: perfect resonant language; adored love stories; and the sliding scale of meanings and mysteries she infuses into her work. As she wrote in Pride and Prejudice, "People themselves alter so much that there is something new to be observed in them for ever," and new meanings - and best of all, new jokes - can indeed be observed in Jane Austen for ever.

Like Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, who said, "I do not pretend to set people right, but I do see that they are often wrong,” I will not pretend to set myself up as a keeper of any particular theory. It would take greater, younger, more dissertation-hungry minds than mine to trace the degeneration of the Janeites, at the very moment that Jane Austen has reached warp speed and universal dissemination in popularity. I will confine myself to doing something closer to what Tom Bertram said in that same conversation: “Those who are showing the world what female manners should be,” [he said] gallantly, “are doing a great deal to set them right.” And so, in a more sanguine spirit, I will review for you three books of Jane Austen studies that I have recently read, that have everything right about them, and are worthy of the attention of the lover of Jane, without a single vampire or secret pregnancy anywhere in sight.

James Austen

The first of these is The Complete Poems of James Austen, Jane Austen's Eldest Brother (ed. with intro and notes by David Selwyn). It's excellent, and essential for anyone seriously interested in the Austen family. Deirdre Le Faye suggested I get it, and I'm so glad I did. I'd say I couldn't understand why this book seems to be so overlooked and seldom mentioned, except I can see why - it's practically unobtainable! Not available on Amazon UK or any of the usual sources. I got it from the Jane Austen Society in England but it took considerable ingenuity, as they don't take credit cards, PayPal or, of course, American checks! I finally suggested putting a 20 pound note into an envelope, the remains of my English money from my trip, and that did the trick. (The book costs half that, but they sent it air mail, so it wasn't that far off.) The book is available at some American university libraries - UCLA has it - but I knew I wanted to own it. Among other things, it is chock full of biographical poems and riddles and charades, which should delight the crossword puzzlers and Subtexters.

Now for the cream (a particularly appropriate Emma quote, in this context). Ellen mentioned online the poem about Elinor and Marianne both being Jane Austen, and I made note of it myself:

Fair Elinor's Self in that mind exprest,
And the Feelings of Marianne live in that Breast.

I particularly love the poems on Selbourne Hangar, which I visited on a rainy day in July, and therefore I was amused to read:

Would you view Selbourne Hangar aright
You must go when Autumn's sun shines bright

A good reason to go back! And I was delighted by the mention of the Zigzag:

Next as we trace the Zigzag walk
Cut out upon th' indented chalk

You may remember I blogged earlier about the wonder of climbing up the Zigzag that Gilbert White carved himself 250 years ago. Also, I'd long wondered what the Austens might have known of Selbourne and Gilbert White, and was pleased to find James writing on the subject:

Who talks of rational delight
When Selbourne's hill appears in sight
And does not think of Gilbert White?

James goes on quite a bit about Gilbert White's natural studies, so that the book makes a delightful adjunct to reading White's wonderful book, The Natural History of Selbourne, ideally in the beautiful new illustrated edition that I brought back from thence. I was also pleased to encounter many mentions of Kintbury in James Austen's writings, having visited Kintbury church in July.

A rainy day at Selborne in July, 2009

I had the strongest possible feeling that Jane Austen may have actually helped write the poem Epilogue to the Sultan (A Farce, acted at Steventon Jan. 1, 1790, spoken by Miss Cooper in the character of Roxalana). Never read any hint of this, but I just feel that I detect her humorous touch.

I loved the Tiger poems to Caroline, which I'd read elsewhere (they're included in the much smaller volume, Jane Austen: Collected Poems and Verse of the Austen Family, also edited by David Selwyn; I was surprised that the James book is twice the size!), but my favorite may be To Edward on the Death of His First Pony. That one encapsulates everything about 18th century attitudes that you may want to know!

Well, I had fun, and I recommend this to anyone who likes this sort of thing.

The second book I shall discuss is Phyllis Bottomer's book, So Odd a Mixture: Along the Autistic Spectrum in Pride and Prejudice. On first hearing of this book, I initially had a negative impression of the subject matter, and thought it sounded like an instance of academic absurdity. Then I heard Bottomer speak; we were on the same panel at the New Directions in JA Studies conference at Chawton House Library. She's a highly engaging and convincing speaker, who brought up interesting ideas without being either jargonny or overbearing. I liked her very much, and from meeting her, hearing her, and now reading her book, whatever one may decide about her subject matter, I am sure that comments on the Janeites list about the "importantitis" of such theorizing, are unfair. Bottomer presents her novel ideas thoughtfully and very interestingly.

I do think the book suffers slightly at the outset from the necessity of having to explain Austen to those interested in the subject of autism, and autism to the Austenians. The book therefore starts out being rather too simplistic on both sides. However, it gathers force as she explains specifically why she thinks various P & P characters display traits on the autism spectrum. Before I describe what she says, I'll state the obvious caveat, that no modern mental health care professional can possibly diagnose somebody they haven't met, much less someone from another century. To try to diagnose fictional characters is of course patently absurd! But what Bottomer is basically saying is that Austen was so brilliant at subtly depicting characters, she described characteristics and traits to which we today might name by a diagnosis. It's like saying that Mr. Woodhouse suffers from agoraphobia or John Thorpe has Tourettes, or...why, it's only just struck me, has anybody noticed that Jane Austen does not make any of her characters really seriously mentally ill? They're all what Walter Scott or somebody would call "probable." This is surprising to me because everywhere I go in Santa Monica, where I live, the mentally ill homeless are all around. I see dozens of severely mentally ill people every day. There was certainly a similar situation in Jane Austen's London...but Austen doesn't "see" them, rather like Anne Elliot when she opens the door to Nurse Rooke, and doesn't see her. But I digress.

Mr. Collins - on the spectrum?

Even Austen's monsters aren't mad. General Tilney and Mrs. Norris and Lucy Steele are all actually highly functional and do very well for themselves. What Phyllis Bottomer is doing is observing Austen's characters and identifying traits on the autism spectrum in them. Is this a serious diagnosis? No. Is she right in every instance? No, I don't think so. Is she onto anything? Well, she's trying a new way of looking at the characters and the books. In doing so, I think she gains, and gives us, some new gleams of insight. I never thought of the characters in this way before. I don't know if I ever will again, but her thoughts and observations are valid and illuminating.

That such hypothesizing and analysis may be frivolous, disrespectful and hurtful to readers who are autistic, have Aspergers, or are friends and family members of either, has been sensitively protested on the Janeites list. I would respect their feelings, however I don't think what Bottomer has done is any different really from examining Austen's characters in other specialist terms, such as queer theory or the like. It would be unacceptable if she were deprecating or dismissive or insensitive to the suffering of people with these ailments, but she certainly is not remotely any of those things.

Here is a slight precis of the terms by which she categorizes the P & P characters. Mr. Collins she says exhibits certain traits on the Asperger's spectrum because he doesn't hear irony, shows limited emotional depth, is socially awkward, and then there's his quick switch of wife choice. Mary Bennett seems unaware of the impact she has on people, can't read facial expressions, and has little idea of the appropriate response. Lydia can't focus, is oblivous of the feelings of others, doesn't feel a pang at leaving her mother, seems to have ADD. Mr. Bennet seems to have a good many traits from the Asperger's spectrum, with socializing stressful to him, his unawareness of his family's plight, his inability to picture Lydia's vulnerability in Brighton, and the way he doesn't remember or consider feelings of others. Mrs. Bennet has symptoms of having to live with a person with Asperger's traits, as it's true her husband takes no notice of her nerves, doesn't know what she suffers...but she has some traits too, such as inappropriate manners and social obliviousness.

I could go on but it's not my intention to summarize the book. Suffice it to say I find some of the author's interpretations clever and intriguing, and some wide of the mark - for instance, she does not succeed in convincing me that Darcy has anything like Aspergers or autism. In Austen's own life, Bottomer points out that her brother George may have been mentally ill, and that descriptions of Francis as a rigid naval disciplinarian, might indicate something on the spectrum. She quotes Carol Shields as supposing that Mrs. Austen, Jane's mother, was "demanding, self-absorbed, careless of her daughter's comfort, insensitive to illness," which might sound symptomatic. About Jane Austen having Asperger's symptoms herself, she declines to say, only suggests that there might be a family history there. But we'll never know.

Jane Austen at 16, as Mary Queen of Scots

The third book on my list is the new Juvenilia Press edition of Jane Austen's The History of England & Cassandra's Portraits, edited by Annette Upfal and Christine Alexander. The editors' thesis is that the charming miniature portraits of royalty by Cassandra, are actually simultaneously portraits of various members of her family. They present this argument so simply and convincingly, that my reaction, at any rate, was to say at once, "Of course! Why hasn't anyone seen that before?" The History of England and the illustrations are reproduced with the illustrations also set beside existing portraits and images of the family members they are supposed to represent. This means we can see the similarities with our own eyes, and from there it is an easy step to see that nothing is more likely than that Jane and Cassandra, at age 16 and 18, should have conspired to produce this piece of wit together.

Once this has been seen, the delights continue to unfold; as Upfal truly says, this "opens up a whole new field of interpretation of this text, [with] wider implications for Austen research...that may involve a major re-assessment of Jane Austen's life and work." To begin with, it is fascinating to contemplate Cassandra in one of the only acts of wickedness and wit in which she has ever been seen by posterity. What can she mean by portraying the girls' mother, Mrs. Austen, as a witchlike Queen Elizabeth, while Jane Austen's teenage self smiles serenely opposite in the guise of Mary Queen of Scots? It provides the key to a long-suspected theory that Mrs. Austen and her daughter Jane did not have the easiest of relationships. A quote that Upfal might have used in her introduction is one from Mansfield Park, where it is said of Mrs. Price, "Her daughters never had been much to her. She was fond of her sons, especially of William..." Might not something like that have been said of Mrs. Austen?

But it is not only the mother whose attitudes, and how they are perceived by the daughters, are revealed by this new look at the portraits. We see the brothers as various kings, good humoredly presented in text and image, and there are glimpses of how such Austen family members and associates as Rev. Edward Cooper, Mary Austen, and Cassandra's own fiance Tom Fowle, are seen through this penetrating little periscope-view through the eyes of a young, laughing (and that not always kindly) Jane and Cassandra. As the knowledge of their style of youthful satire takes hold, we may see them as they were, and better understand the reasons why Cassandra destroyed most of their letters. How deliciously wicked they must have been! I enjoyed a very happy, illuminating and lively time with this book, my copy of which was autographed by both editors at the recent New Directions in Jane Austen Studies conference at Chawton House Library. Much more to my personal taste than reading about zombies or constructing subtextual airy edifices; but it goes without saying (to paraphrase Mr. Darcy) that I would by no means suspend any one else's pleasure.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Which I Visit Virginia and Vanessa - and Buy a Dress at 40,000 Feet

Charleston, Vanessa Bell's house

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I'm so wreckingly exhausted but this was one of the most wonderful days of my trip. I was alone, other Doves having doved or chickened out, understandably as it *was* a formidable undertaking - and not inexepensive - but the rewards were oh, so overwhelmingly worth it! I actually didn't mind being alone, I enjoyed every minute down to the ground and felt able to consult only what *I* wanted to do, and how fast I wanted to move, which worked.

I took the tube to Victoria and arrived in time to get a cappuccino and newspaper for the train. The rail journey was pleasant, an hour, on a comfortably empty train with lovely views of the green, green English countryside flashing by. The train arrived at Lewes on time at 10:20, and I confidently looked around for the expected 10:30 bus that would take me to Charleston, according to the bus schedule posted online. But it didn't come, and quoth the station master: "Why, that bus doesn't go on any regular schedule, it just runs once in awhile!" Great. Fortunately there's a taxi booking office and plenty of taxis at Lewes station, and I booked one to take me to Charleston, another to take me from Charleston to Monk's House, and a third to take me from Monk's House back to Lewes. The first taxi was fine. Drove through the pretty South Downs countryside to Charleston in less than ten minutes, cost L10. It was about 11 AM and the shop, ticket office and tearoom didn't open till 11:30, so I went for a walk on the downs. Beautiful, a sunny but windy day, so walking on this track past the farm, into rippling fields of tall grass, toward some beautiful soft hills and past flowery hedgerows, was quite exhilarating.

At 11:30 I went to the shop to buy my ticket. Another American woman told me she and her English friend were first in line, so I mildly assented, and she explained that it seems that only ten people are allowed in to each tour of the house, which takes an hour, and if we didn't get in the first tour, there'd be a wait. Later I saw that people who arrived at 1 PM couldn't get in until 4. But we did get in at noon. And I have to say this system worked very well indeed. Ten was just the right amount of people to be in the lovely, well-proportioned, low-ceilinged farmhouse rooms; more would have been too many, you wouldn't have been able to comfortably see all the paintings, the decorative art on the wood paneling, furniture and walls. The house is really breathtaking - I couldn't begin to specifically describe it, but its decorations and pictures are sufficiently covered online. I will, however, show you a small painting of a cat by Duncan Grant, that especially charmed me.

Opussyquinusque by Duncan Grant

The rooms have faintingly lovely views over the beautiful square walled garden and a picturesque pond - all fringed with the most vivid, stunning English flowers in high colorful summer season glory. Both Vanessa's bedroom and Virginia's at Monk's House have the feature of big windows onto their exquisite gardens, so they could lie in bed looking at them, and doors that opened into the gardens so they could step out in a moment. Most enviable beds.

While at Charleston, I got to chatting with the American lady and her English friend, who turned out to be interested in textiles, and when I fumed that I could see no way of getting to Berwick church, 3 miles away, that the Bloomsbury people decorated (and which is another must-see), they very kindly offered to drive me! So we went together; it was a ten minute drive, but would have taken hours to walk across the fields, for I'd certainly have got lost. The church was lovely too - there's a whole massive wall of multi-colored hollyhocks, and the church and green graveyard have views of the downs through the trees. After we'd seen the church, and bought some cards, they drove me back to Charleston.

Berwick Church

Another look around there, and my taxi promptly showed up at 2:30. It's a winding drive round to Monk's House, 7 miles away, and at the taxi station they'd told me it should cost L14 or L15 - but it cost TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS!!! The meter was running properly, too, but that's what it cost. I was shocked, and not sure I'd have enough cash left to take the third taxi of the day, so when I arrived at Monk's House I fumed to the lady at the desk, who was shocked and embarrassed and said if I could wait till 5:30, she'd drive me to the train station at Lewes! Well, that was too good an offer to refuse, and would, of course, save me what I'd lost, and not leave me with too little cash. It's rather a nice touch that the entire day, taxis, train fare, cards and things I bought, came to exactly what my fee was for the talk I'd given the night before!

Monk's House, home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

So I spent three full hours at Monk's House. It's National Trust, while Charleston is privately owned, and clearly isn't as well run - it's a very small house with cramped rooms, and while they're intensely interesting as belonging to Virginia and Leonard Woolf, they were CRAMMED with people, a tour came through. So after a brief look (her bedroom is particularly poignant), and walk round the stunningly flowery garden, I decided to go walk down to the river and see where It happened. So I walked. And I walked. And no sign of any river! Fortunately I ran into an elderly English couple doing a walking tour, and they showed me on their topo map that the Ouse was more than a mile from the House. Poor V. must really have wanted to die, going all that way in her determination. The couple walked with me, on this path through the downs, and I did see the river. Then walked back to the house, and glory be, all the people had gone! So I had another longer look round, and then walked all over the 3 acres of pasture and kitchen garden and saw Virginia's outdoor writing studio and the picturesque church. There was a cottage that was doing an exhibition of a local lady's flower paintings, but they also were doing TEA, and I had the loveliest tea in their garden, a home baked, delicately fresh chocolate cake and tea. There were just three other elderly women in the garden, and one had taught the children of the nice woman who was to give me the lift. We chatted, and I played with Oliver, the garden cat. Then it was time to accept my ride back to Lewes - but walking through the garden, I fell and banged my knee. Nothing serious, just a bark, but it's swollen and stiff now and I'm hobbling. It does seem that the Final Pound has been administered to my limbs, and that it is getting to be time for me to hobble home to California where I don't walk, only cruise around in my SUV!

The Ouse, where Virginia Woolf drowned herself

I fell asleep on the train (what a surprise), got off at Holborn looking for my next stop, which was to meet people from the Girls' Own list in a pub, but I couldn't find it and was so tired. So I simply walked up to the British Museum, as I knew a Greek restaurant that had been highly recommended was in the next street. It's Konaki on Coptic Street, and it was just perfect. I had a quiet table where I could sit by myself and read the new Diana Mosley compendium, and I had a nice starter of the most delicious hummous/chickpeas dish with pita, followed by lamb kebabs, delicate macaroni-rice, and salad, plus a truly excellent dish of chocolate ice cream. All for L12. That was the set inexpensive dinner, there were lots of choices - and a huge menu of a la carte choices. Afterwards I hobbled back to the hotel and had a pleasant visit in the lounge with Arnie, who's at the hotel next door. Now I'm tucked up in my hotel bed, and ready to go home tomorrow. What a trip it has been! I don't know that ever in my life have my spirits simultaneously been so high and my body so battered!

George Hotel, Cartwright Gardens, Bloomsbury


A bit more to the trip! After my English breakfast at the George, I took my now incredibly heavy and book-laden bags and took a cab to the Baker Street station, for it would be a direct train ride from there to Piffle friend Gillian's (The College Cat) house. She welcomed me so hospitably, showed me her lovely big house crammed with books and its wide green garden, and introduced me to her two elderly black cats, Ozymandias and Cleopatra. Lesley (Cross-eyed Lens) arrived and we had lunch; Ozy, said to be declining, woke to life and exhibited remarkable zest in seeking out delicate pieces of smoked salmon. I gave Gillian and Lesley books of mine and Peter's, and Lesley gave me a lovely new biography of Margery Allingham.

Ozymandias and Cleopatra

It is now time to show the books I acquired on the trip. Here they are:

Oxford Diary, 2010, from the Bodleian
Penny Plain by O. Douglas (Ann Buchan, 1940), a girls' book acquired at The Haunted Bookshop for L3
Claudine's House - Colette, early essays, bought at Blackwells
A Year in Nature Notes by Derwent May, a gift from Roz
A Houseful of Girls by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey, 1901 (from the Haunted Bookshop, L5)
The Journal of Katherine Mansfield from the Persephone shop
On the Writer's Trail, 20 Great Literary Journeys by Christina Hardyment, a gift from Barbara
The Friendship, Wordsworth and Coleridge, by Adam Sisman. From Judd Books, London. (L3.95)
The Pursuit of Laughter, Diana Mosley, bought at Blackwells
Clothes-pegs by Susan Scarlett (pseud. for Noel Streatfeild), The Haunted Bookshop
The Adventures of Margery Allingham by Julia Jones, gift from Lesley
Jane Austen's The History of England & Cassandra's Portraits edited by Annette Upfal and Christine Alexander whom I met at Chawton House conference
The Blue Hour, a Portrait of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini, gift from Elaine
The Illustrated Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White (gorgeous edition bought at Selborne)
An Lasair, Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (for Peter)

Lesley, with incredible kindness, then drove me to Heathrow. Smooth ten-hour flight on Air New Zealand, which provided scones, cream and jam. Otherwise boring trip, but I was diverted by buying a dress at 40,000 feet. No, it wasn't in a catalogue and it wasn't some variant of the Mile High Club. My seatmate was one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen, and she told me she was a fashion designer, Laura Dawson, flying from her home in London to Los Angeles for the "reunion" of a reality show she'd been on - it was a fashion show spinoff from Project Runway. She showed me some of her dresses on her computer, and stood up so I could see the one she was wearing - and it was so lovely, *I* wanted it! Of course she is slim and the perfect model, but she assured me she could run one up that would fit me and she thought dark plum would be my color (it is). So when I got home we emailed and I ordered the dress, which is returnable in case it isn't right. Here it is. What do you think?

In Pifflechat

scall0way: so were the kitties happy to see you home Denny?
Birchalls: oh the welcome was overwhelming!
Birchalls: I had been longing to see the kitties, but even though I had their pictures with me, I'd quite forgotten how BEAUTIFUL they are
Birchalls: when I came in the door, there was Catullus, looking almost impossibly pretty, such a lovely fluffball. I said to Peter, "Goodness, I'd forgotten we have cats that lovely!"
Birchalls: Then I sat down at my computer, and instantly Pindar jumped on my lap, and kissed me, and purred!
Birchalls: Martial, who has depths and neuroses, but loves me the most, hid behind the monitor and peeked at me while Pindar was on my lap
Birchalls: but when Pindy finally jumped down, Martial jumped up, and rubbed her little snout on my stomach then lay down with a sigh of content. Goodness, it was nice. And of course it was wonderful seeing Peter and Paul, too...

"Oh, so you're back again, are you?"