Another window. This was taken on a historical tour of Val-Kill but took me back to my own history rather than Eleanor Roosevelt’s. When air conditioning was scarce, a screened-in porch very much like this is where I spent my summers reading. I did not expect to feel so at home in a place I had never been before.
I have had it up to my eyeballs with superheroes. They were invented for 12 year olds to ease them into and out of adolesence, not to keep society perpetually in adolescence. We have the technology to do the harm that the villains do – and we use it. We don’t possess the super powers the heroes have and we largely ignore our own capacity to do good in favor of sitting, mouths agape in service to the glorified high provided by gratuitous violence and rampant disrespect for human life and dignity. Batman, as I recall, does not have super powers – he is mortal. He, nor anyone like him, came to the rescue when the Joker came to call in Colorado.
Are we learning anything yet?
I understand parables and fables and the constructs of fiction and I like special effects. I love movies, have always loved movies, have found tremendous solace and wisdom in movies. Movies are not an escape, though, if they don’t feed all the parts of your mind, and if you don’t do anything beyond the screen that comes from thoughtfulness. I realize the need for escapism borne of a poor economy and a real world punctuated by war and senseless violence. Back during the Great Depression the folks we now call The Greatest Generation turned to movies that shared their pain and lifted their spirits (The Grapes of Wrath, It Happened One Night, Public Enemy, 42nd Street, Top Hat, Red Dust, Rebecca), not sociopaths and explosions that stoked their anger and underscored their impotence. We have some lovely movies out now (Moonrise Kingdom) but they are not the ones that have PR budgets in tens of millions, midnight showings and top grosses (pun intended). We set Hollywood’s priorities with our ticket money and our internet hits – what are we telling them?
Yes, our leaders in government, politics and religion are failing us (and some of them are stoking our anger, too, with their politics of divisiveness, class warfare and hate), but maybe if we gave them the same level of attention we do these overwrought, overviolent and oversexed films they might have some incentive to get some work done. It’s not enough to weigh in about the latest cable news brouhaha – we need to understand what is actually happening. It’s work. It’s important. It’s the kind of thinking that makes you mad in a good way. We desperately need heroes in real life, and we will not find them at the movies. We will find them in the mirror.
Addendum: Ross Douthat from The Times weighs in.
Our heat wave is nothing compared to what they are suffering in the Midwest, but it’s been a few weeks since a good rain and this is the first time I have seen birds fly directly through the sprinkler’s spray. The early spring brought the bears out of hibernation ahead of schedule and they are showing up all over the place – the most recent within walking distance of our house. Local naturists say that the bears’ feeding schedule has been disrupted and this has somehow sent them in search of alternative sources of food. It is hard to say whether the foxes roaming the neighborhood every evening are part of the trend or the usual order of things. All I know is that I find fur and tails (squirrel, rabbit) and feathers (chicken, hawk, and mourning dove, I think) in the yard almost every day. And last weekend when I went out to see what the kids were doing down the street and it was dark, I heard such a commotion in the woods from all sides when I opened the door that I turned and went back in the house, grabbed my car keys and drove to find them. Our neighbor told me that when he takes his dog out he shines a flashlight in the woods and counts the pairs of eyes that look back.
I don’t know what it means – the drought, the snowy fall and snowless winter, the collapsing glaciers – but part of me wonders if while we are inside on our screens trying to make sense of it we can find a way to save the world crumbling outside. And so I move the sprinkler around systematically to sate each corner of the yard, standing each time for a few minutes, mezmerized by its tick tick tick, and hope that it is enough.
Yesterday was a spectacular day in Lenox, MA, and we made an unscheduled stop at Edith Wharton’s home there, The Mount. A thunderhead had popped up out of nowhere and we were looking for a vista from which we could view the storm. While the storm passed south of us it provided some wonderful light for garden and interior photos, and I came away with so many beautiful windows. Wharton’s first book was about interior and garden design, and her love of light and appreciation for a good cross breeze is evident in the design of this house, which she built in 1902.
The window above is from the recently restored bedroom suite that included a sitting room. According to the literature, even though the sitting room has a writing desk, Wharton wrote in bed and let the finished pages fall to the floor, where her secretary would retrieve them and type them up. I find this detail enviable and impractical – oh, to be able to write as beautifully as she did and from the comfort of bed, but it makes my back hurt to imagine it. But it makes perfect sense to be writing while looking out a window with a view like the one below.
Visiting historic sites always seems to involve, at some point, a note that areas have been restored to reflect their original beauty based on photographs or narrative descriptions because the authentic buildings, furnishings, paintings, fixtures, frescoes and floors have been sold, lost or destroyed. I get annoyed that people didn’t think to preserve these details all along, particularly when they achieved fame in their own time. Then I think about modern times (our place in history somewhat less secure than Edith Wharton’s in 1912), and I imagine the docent saying, “The original Home Depot oak and laminate cabinets and linoleum floors are recreated here to the best of our ability using photographs and written descriptions of the home from that period.” Never mind.