Of course, in June days become as long as they will be. James Russell Lowell called the month “the high tide of the year.” I have spent time working in the yard.
I expected, and received, no conflict from several bees, who have for weeks been working in the lavender blooming by my front porch. I weeded and cut out dead growth as they buzzed about, each of us content in our own work. I enjoyed other animals. A fussy and buzzing horsefly lighted on a nearby plant. At first I felt a slight alarm, but then I smiled, realizing that the buzz and fuss were only part of its self. Earthworms unearthed quickly seek soil again. Iridescent dragonflies darted by. And in early evening, after sunset, a firefly came, floated in front of me and signaled twice. I wondered what the message was, if anything.
A friend brought tomato plants, which I planted in large clay pots. She gave me directives as to staking and tying them. “I use strips of plastic grocery bags, because they are the gentlest material to use,” she said.
A Surprise Encomium.
It was a good reunion at the home of a former cast member. We followed the fellowship, food and drink there by attending the Bare Theater and Raleigh Little Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The surprise for me was a full-page ad, featuring a photo of the copy of our program and this: “The cast and crew of the 1978 performance of Macbeth at Smithfield-Selma Senior High School reunites and honors drama teacher and director William Oliver. The student cast and crew members are grateful for the guidance and encouragement they received under the tutelage of Bill Oliver. He awakened our creativity, brought us out of ourselves and taught us to dream, to read, and to love the stage.” It was another reminder that teaching was an excellent vocation for me. I felt happiness, pride for my former students, and humbleness.
It felt like going home, a visit to a local church where once I taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. An old friend greeted me with a small package of chocolates for Father’s Day. There were warm greetings and handshakes from many I knew. During the last hymn a friend joined me in the pew to sing with me the first stanza of the closing hymn. She gave me a warm hug as she left to prepare for after-church tasks. The minister seemed surprised to see me and gave me hearty greetings. I was reminded of a definition of home by Robert Frost, “Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
When I arrived home late the night of the solstice, I was amazed to see high in the trees of all the neighborhood, hundreds of lights from fireflies. It was as if all the trees had been decorated with twinkling light. I learned that fireflies mate at the time of the summer solstice. I had never seen anything more beautiful in Nature.
Notes on Readings. Fiction.
William Golding, The Spire (1964). Harvest, 1992.
The novel concerns the dean of Salisbury Cathedral and his obsession to build a spire for it. There is an early conflict with the master builder, who knows that the cathedral cannot support the weight. The dean comes to believe that his will in the building of the spire is the will of God, and he pushes all workers and church officials to complete it with faith that it will not fall. Meanwhile, he is afflicted by ill health, sexual desire for the wife of one of the workers, his inability to pray and confess. In his dissolution he does not perform his duties of the church.
The plot, a narration of the dean’s descent into irrationality, never presents the dean in a positive light. The spire is not completed, and characters are spiritually and physically harmed by the dean’s decision. He does come to soul-harrowing revelations from others at the end of his life, and the narration of his death is moving.
This is not casual reading. The writing is marked by heavy use of symbolism and stream-of-consciousness technique.
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Sleeping Giant. Knopf, 2015.
In Dark Ages England an elderly couple journey by foot to a neighboring village to find their son. Along the way they ally with a Saxon warrior, a boy bitten by a dragon, and Sir Gawain, a knight and nephew of the late King Arthur. Their travels take them on many wonderful and marvelous adventures, including to a monastery where the monks practice mortification, through underground tunnels occupied by a monster, on a river plagued by pixies, to the house of forsaken children who are watching an ogre in a ditch die from eating a poisoned goat, and to the lair of a dragon. Before, during, and after these adventures, the characters remember events from their pasts, reflect on war, loss, love, and contemplate mortality and purpose. The somber ending is beautiful. It is a book I will look forward to reading again.
Notes on Reading. Nonfiction.
Joseph Mitchell, McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon. In Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories Vintage, 2008.
There are twenty-seven essays. The twenty-one stories in Part I are factual, followed by three fictional stories set in New York City (Part II), and three fictional stories set in southeastern North Carolina (Part III). All were originally published in The New Yorker between 1938 and 1955.
The twenty-one factual stories of Part I include sketches of the lives of a saloon and a gin mill; alarming descriptions of the lives and activities of gypsies in the city; portraits of a street preacher, a bearded woman, a homeless couple, deaf-mutes at a club, Native American steel workers, a gifted child, a man on a campaign to eradicate profanity. The three fictional stories of New York City recall O. Henry; those in Part III, Faulkner. I look forward to returning to his volume for three more books of stories.
Duncan Emrich. Folklore on the American Land. Little Brown and Company, 1972.
For decades I have used this book as reference, but I find that it reads cover-to-cover as a good study and introduction to folklore. The first four chapters focus on the study of folklore and the guidelines for the collecting of materials. There follow sections on names (place names, nicknames, cattle brand, hound dogs, Ozark Fiddle Tunes, quilt names, for example), children’s folklore (riddles, game rhymes, among others), street cries, legends and tales, folksongs and ballads, beliefs and superstitions. Although the author is jauntily disdainful of those who disagree with him and overtly proud of his achievements, the collections here are comprehensive and interesting. The book is fun to read and gives a good overview to who, in heart and custom, we are. The black-and-white photographs bring to the reader good images of American places and people.
If I Were Going. France.
Many times early June has been a time I’ve visited France. If I were to go again, here might be my itinerary for a two-week trip.
Days 1 and 15, fly to or from Paris.
Day 2. Arrive in Paris. Rent a car. Drive to Giverny, about an hour’s drive north of Paris. Here is the home of painter Claude Monet, where he lived from 1883 until his death in 1926. Here he painted his huge canvasses of water lilies, which one can see in Paris. I would take a long stroll in the gardens, especially around the water gardens, good for the body and spirit after the trans-Atlantic flight. I might tour the house to learn about Monet’s family and life there. If I want to see American paintings, I might go to the American Museum nearby. Giverny is a good place for a light lunch. From there I would drive to Rouen, check into a hotel, have dinner, and explores some area of the city before early bedtime.
Day 3. Rouen. Since I lived for a month in a suburb and spent many days exploring this city, this would be a good stay to enjoy familiar sites again. (1) Notre-Dame Cathedral. The facade has all three periods of Goth architecture. (2) The Old City. There are restored half-timbered houses, The Archbishop’s Palace (scene of the trial of Joan of Arc), St. Maclou’s Church (Gothic flamboyant style). Its court yard is now surrounded by a school for the arts and was a medieval burial place for plague victims. The Place du Vieux-Marche (the place of the old marketplace), especially the contemporary St. Joan of Arc church (1979) and the Rue du Gros-Horage, with the great clock from 1527. Several museums: Fine Arts, Ceramics, Joan of Arc, Flaubert, Corneille, Antiquities, National History. These is much to choose from.
Day 4. The D-Day Beaches. I would drive to Arromanches, to see the museum of D-Day Invasions. The museum presents models, documents and artifacts, and an excellent film in English. I would proceed to Omaha Beach and stroll and meditate at the American Military Cemetery. Along the shore there is a beautiful place for a picnic. I might visit other beaches: Sword Beach, Juno Beach, Gold Beach. I might visit the German Military Cemetery. I would drive to Bayeux to spend the night and perhaps visit the cathedral and see the tapestry from the 11th century that commemorates and tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror.
Day 5. Mont St. Michel. I would spend the next day at “The Marvel of the Western World,” exploring the abbey and the medieval town. I would spend the night, have lamb for dinner, and include a “trou Normand,”a shot of Normandy brandy. I would be sure to take the night Son et Lumiere Tour, one of the most spiritual experiences I have had.
Day 6. St. Malo. I would drive here and explore the medieval walled city, from which Jacques Cartier departed to find Canada. There were pirates here, for the town was a control-point of the English Channel. The seashore around this area is magnificent. I might fish or swim, and I’d surely enjoy seafood for dinner.
Days 7 and 8. I would explore my three favorites castes in the Loire River Valley, perhaps others. I would drive to the town of Amboise, where I would spend two nights and from there explore at least two other castles in nearby towns. Amboise is a fortified castle in a combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles. In walking distance is the small castle in which Leonardo Da Vinci lived and worked when Francis I brought him from Italy to bring Renaissance culture to France. A the small museum IBM has presented working models of Da Vinci’s inventions. Amboise is a small, relaxed town. The next day I would visit two pleasure castles, the magnificent hunting lodge palace of Chambord, the largest of the castles in the area, surrounded by a park of 13,000 acres. There is a central corkscrew staircase excellent for photographs and playing on. Perhaps the most interesting and beautiful pleasure castle is Chenonceaux, built across a river. It is fully restored, and the setting is a beautiful place for walks and picnics. I might spend a few moments at each of these other castles: Villandry (16th century gradens), Azay-le-Rideau (like Chenonceaux, but it sits in a moat), Chinon (where Joan of Arc asked Charles VII for an army, with a museum for the saint), Usse (inspiration for Charles Perrault in his telling of the legend of Sleeping Beauty.
Day 9. I would tun in the car and take a train to Cannes, on the Riviera.
Days 10 and 11. Cannes. It’s time to relax from sites and to explore and enjoy beaches. I like the beach at Cannes instead of that at Nice. The beach at Cannes is sand; the one at Nice is rocks. I would have to use the public beach, which is nice enough. I would spend time exploring the old town, swimming in the Mediterranean (there are hardly any waves). I might take a boat out to the Lerin Islands for hiking swimming, and picnicking. Back at Cannes, I would enjoy the night. There are excellent bars and restaurants. I might take Le Train Bleu, an excursion train that would take me to other resort towns on the coast.
Day 11. I would take an overnight train to Paris.
Days 12, 13, 14. Paris. I would check into a two-star lodging and explore the metropolis. Since I’ve seen the major sites and monuments several times, I would spend the days strolling in a relaxed and mindful way along the Seine River. I’d stroll in the Germain de Pres area and have a pizza. I’d visit the Rodin museum and the Orangerie to marvel at Monet’s paintings of the water lilies. One night I would walk down the Champs-Elysees. Another night I would visit Montmartre to sit on the steps of the Sacre Coeur church and watch the lights of Paris come on. One night I would walk in the Latin Quarter, the student district. At a sidewalk cafe, a Poire Belle Helene (ice cream dish) and a salade verte, and a croque monsieur, would complete my Paris experience.
If I were going, would you like to go with me?
Thanks for reading. I hope your summer is going well.