Monday, August 14, 2017

Another Day, in the Park

The Santa Monica bluffs overlooking the sea: Palisades Park, 1885

View from approximately the same spot today. The cabins are gone, and the Pacific Coast Highway runs below, with beach clubs and houses beyond. The pier (not the same one as in 1887) is partly hidden by trees but can be glimpsed if you click to enlarge.

Here is a short essay I posted on Facebook, about Saturday's walk...followed by pictures:

The picture (top) of the Santa Monica bluffs, aka Palisades Park, was taken in 1885. This was before trees, Australian eucalyptus and palm allées, were planted, and when there were still beach huts on the sands below. It's where I walk now every evening, 130 years later. I used to think it was a pretty but not very interesting park, and didn't bother with it, preferring to stay indoors and wish I was in England. Now that I walk it regularly, I'm finding that every night I see more. Tonight I saw a brief gleam of orange sunset between two layers of heavy grey fog out to sea. I saw a probably mentally ill and homeless young woman, walking a skinny cat on a leash. The cat was ecstatically enjoying the outdoors, and tried to climb a fig tree. By contrast I saw the usual numbers of wealthy homeowners walking their posh exotic dogs on their own evening strolls - though not a dog person I've come to recognize many of them (but not their owners). There's a Newfoundland that looks like Nana in Peter Pan, several pit bulls, a silky brown she-creature with cascading hair, a velvety black dog with russet legs who wrestled with a palm frond, and many more. I saw a crazy eyed heavy set man with wild hair and a T-shirt on which I glimpsed the words "Ass" and "Shades of Grey." A squat, very aged, poor woman in layers of uncleaned schmatas and flat silver braids, walked with a very young Japanese man twice her height. I caught snatches of their conversation, which was about Tai Chi and Harry Potter. While doing my stretches, I was approached by a youngish man who wanted to know if the stuffed spider perched on the fence near me, was mine. I pointed out that it probably had been dropped by a child, and some kind person had placed it there to be found. He commented that he could do what I was doing, and I replied "I should hope so!" upon which he smiled and departed. A lovely young couple asked me to take their picture, and I did, with her sitting perched on the fence, he kneeling before her. I got some very nice shots and they were sweetly, ingenuously grateful. Reaching the lavender bed that's my turnaround point, I inhaled the powerful scent, and looked out to sea where a small boat had its lights shining. A young couple sat outside the fence in forbidden territory, dangling their legs dangerously at the edge of the cliff, and smoking marijuana. They glanced at me warily but I smiled and they puffed on, reassured. On the way back I paused for more stretches by a cinquefoil shrub, and noted how narrow and vertiginous the bluff was at that point, so eroded they'd put in metal posts to hold it up. A professional woman who sometimes paws over the jewelry at the Salvation Army beside me, nodded at me pleasantly, going the other way. Coming to a soft stretch of green turf, I gently jogged toward the Montana Avenue traffic light, where I turned for home.

Cinquefoil shrub (at least that's what I think it is)

Dancing by the cinquefoil

Lavender garden, at Inspiration Point, the fragrant turn-around spot of my walk.

Paul by one of the century-old, nearly horizontal Australian tea trees


Palm allée. This is where I start to run, because the turf is so springy.

Twisted Australian tea trees

And more ballet, another day...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters

I just watched To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters, the new drama about the lives of the Brontes that will be aired on Masterpiece Sunday night; PBS sent me a DVD for review. Really, I can only echo the excellent and accurate review in the Guardian:

It's a remarkable, fine film and I enjoyed it very much. Its realism and the psychologically devastating view of a family in the torturous throes of living with an alcoholic, are brilliantly convincing. The bleak remote setting (the film was shot in and around Haworth) has never been used before to convey so effectively the confines of the mid-Victorian narrowness of existence and the pressures that made the creativity of the three authors bloom and burst out of their desperation. Writer and director Sally Wainwright does not construct a typical pretty and romantic costume drama. She draws heavily on Charlotte Bronte's letters, which gives the film its utter verisimilitude; this may occasionally result in moments when those not well acquainted with the authors' biographies may be slightly at a loss, but it's a rich treasure for those who appreciate seeing an approach that portrays the unsparing truth with a passionate energy and attention worthy of the Brontes themselves. It's not a repeat of familiar tropes; it's a scholarly reconstruction of truth whose felt intensity is released to new heights.

The Haworth parsonage is seen here with such evocative perfection, you feel as if you are really sharing the sisters' daily lives and know the harsh almost primitive beauty of their world: the effect is almost a window into a particular past. Against this setting, the fine casting and vigorous performances shine forth. Jonathan Pryce is a pained and loving Patrick Bronte, whose daughters are visibly anguished at not being able to protect him from the horrific shocking depredations of his uncontrollable son, Branwell, devastatingly played by the fiery Adam Nagaitis. All the emotions roused in the wake of his painful self-destruction are evident on the quiet faces of his family: pity, anger, helplessness, grief. In a time when there was no help for such a problem, the Brontes struggle quietly and endure their inescapable pain. We are made to see the connection between the tragedy of Branwell's alcoholism and his and his sisters' deaths; destruction as well as genius all springing from the same source.

The casting of the three sisters, and the intense, passionate yet contained portrayals with their individual interpretations of character, is stunning. Without makeup, the plain, unadorned faces, the threadbare but ladylike clothing, the girls seem to have stepped out of the famous portrait by Branwell where his own face is painted out. Finn Atkins as Charlotte, a small and square fireplug of a woman, evinces a determination and ambition that could be the film's center were it not for the fact that every other family member's characterization is depicted with equal power. Chloe Pirrie as Emily, with her darting desperate eyes, reveals a kindness and compassion alongside her very wildness. And Anne, gentle and consoling, completes the tryptych with her understanding.

No, it's not a conventional narrative or a romance. But it's a riveting, fresh and unforgettable revisit that takes you to the heart of the Bronte story.