I was reading an excellent post by Sheila O’Malley on Before Sunrise (which I found in a link on her post celebrating Richard Linklater’s birthday today) when she revealed a detail I’d never noticed before (and I say this as someone who’s seen the movie more than 10 times. The only movie I’ve seen more times is Amadeus). This detail is that Céline and Jesse meet and start their walk on June 16 — Bloomsday, when a young James Joyce went on a walk with Nora Barnacle, his future wife and muse (it’s also the day — June 16, 1904 — when the whole of Ulysses takes place). To clarify, June 16 is the day Céline and Jesse met on the train, June 17 is when they went their separate ways. And then I realized something.
As some long-time readers know, I lived in Japan for several years. Notice the dates in that linked entry. I took off on June 15. I landed in Japan on June 16. My first full day there was June 17. Had I left a year earlier, I would’ve arrived exactly 100 years after James and Nora went on that fateful walk.
The only difference between the June 16 events listed above and my own is that mine didn’t involve falling in love with a woman. It involved falling in love with a country. More than that, those three years witnessed a transformation in how I viewed myself, others, the US, and the world. To quote O’Malley (who quotes Joyce), I “stopped living ‘in fragments,'” and if I feel somewhat fragmented now, it’s only because my connections have weakened over time.
After I moved out of my parents’ house (for the final time), my dad told me he’d send me everything I owned when I turned 40. Luckily for me, he waited an extra year.
One of the fascinations of receiving these items (mostly movies and music) is to see what I was into at an earlier age that seems like a mistake now.
For example, Celine Dion.
Now, I’m not here to bash Dion. She has a great voice, but despite being far from my favorite singer in high school and college, I bought three of her albums: The Colour of My Love, Falling into You, and Let’s Talk About Love. Excluding classical music recordings, the only other artist who I bought as many or more CDs from is the Dixie Chicks (who I still like better than Celine Dion). True, Falling into You won a bunch of Grammies, including best album (beating out, among others, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness — a better and more ambitious offering by Smashing Pumpkins), and it’s my favorite album of hers that I own, but it also contains my least favorite song by her (or by any artist, for that matter): the pure schlock “Because You Loved Me,” complete with awful melody, horrible orchestration, and lyrics that are two steps below the worst of Hallmark card greetings. I’ll be honest, I only bought Let’s Talk About Love because of the song “My Heart Will Go On.” Though about as well-written as, well, a James Cameron movie, the merging of melody and vocals make this song just about perfect in its emotional impact.
I haven’t seen Titanic since it came out in theaters, and I ended up seeing it late in its run (in 1998, but before the Oscars). I enjoyed it, but I was a much younger, more inexperienced person back then, which is not to discount my thoughts on the film, just to point out that — like all those albums I bought when younger — my tastes since then have changed. Would I enjoy it as much if I saw it now? Who knows?
I saw it with my friend and her then-boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend). The boyfriend didn’t want to be there, and said disparaging comments in not the softest voice as the ship was sinking, including a highly sarcastic, “That’s so sad,” at the emotional climax of the film, when all of us in the theater wanted to focus on our tears and not on thoughts of physical violence. Plus, I had to pee with so much gushing water on screen, and so missed part of the movie –as did many in the audience. Listening to the song again made me want to see the movie again, which then made me wonder when the last Titanic survivor died, which led to me to Wikipedia articles of the last survivors of other maritime disasters (the Lusitania, the Empress of Ireland, the General Slocum). And then I remembered that I used to love reading about the survivors of these disasters as a kid. Well, okay, I was more interested in the disasters themselves, but I was six when they discovered the Titanic on the seabed floor, and I remember watching A Night to Remember on TV (and reading the book when a bit older), so this fascination had its roots in then-current events.
In this time of quarantine, I feel we could learn several lessons from these past tragedies. First, so many people died on the Titanic because they weren’t prepared for a disaster. There were too few lifeboats and the crew was inexperienced in loading them. Second, most of the people who died were in steerage, so as in most catastrophes, the poor got hit hardest. Finally, despite the massive loss of life on all these ships (and steamboat, in the case of the General Slocum), there were survivors. Often they were scarred by their experiences (if they were old enough to remember them) and kept those scars all their lives, but the fact is that they grew up and had lives of their own for all those people who didn’t.
I started writing this back in January, right after Kobe Bryant died. Much has changed since then.
2020 started with an impeached President, dire climate warnings, and the death of a beloved basketball star. It can only get better from here. [UPDATE: actually, it can get a lot worse.]
I read this article imagining that the world population finally gets its shit together in the next ten years. It shows how, with radical (though very doable) change, we can make our quality of life so much better than it is now. Also, I found two articles dealing with possible cures for cancer. One comes from T-cells that latch onto cancer cells — and only cancer cells — while the other comes from a man’s very aggressive T-cells, which have shrunk life-threatening cancers in his system and rendered masses that should be cancerous, non-cancerous.
With John Bolton’s “bombshell,” the Republicans might actually have to follow the Constitution and the rules of a trial and actually call witnesses [UPDATE: not happening because Republicans have had all their spines removed, minus Mitt Romney). I’m not holding my breath that two-thirds of the Senate will vote to remove him, but anything is possible [UPDATE: also not happening]. Hopefully Pence also gets caught up in this scandal and is removed. More likely is that people who usually don’t vote in elections get so pissed off that they vote in this next one and remove all Republicans from power [still waiting on the update for this one, but their handling of COVID-19 is making this scenario look more and more likely].
MARCH 2020: I wasn’t sure how to proceed with this post after the Senate didn’t do its job and remove a criminal President from office (nor censure him), but then a pandemic came along. Gatherings have been limited since last Wednesday. I’ve been out of a job since Friday the 13th (they closed the theaters where I work). Restaurants and bars have been closed since Tuesday, except for take-out and delivery.
I’m in the middle of writing diary entries about the approaching pandemic, and if it gets worse, I’ll have even more time to write about it. In the meantime, here’s what supermarkets around here look like:
Grocery stores and hospitals seem to be on the front lines of this pandemic. Many stores have reduced hours, and/or offer senior-only shopping hours early in the morning. If we’re really 10 days behind Italy, a complete lockdown (or as close as can be mustered) might be in our future — unless our experiments with social distancing and hand-washing work. Some people are paying attention, but looking around Seattle, I see many people who walk around as if invincible. Even if the symptoms of the disease are mild (and mild only means “no need for hospitalization”), having any kind of flu (particularly one that could lead to pneumonia, which could lead to death), is not something I want to risk, even if I’m young and healthy.
But there is hope. Helpers are everywhere. For cinema staff who were furloughed along with me, our GoFundMe campaign raised $20,000 in less than two days (and it’s still going). People I hadn’t heard from in ages offered aid, advice, and empathy. I received texts and messages from so many people that first weekend that I spent most of that Friday and Saturday crying at their generosity.
Also, while COVID-19 is much worse than the flu (for starters, there is no vaccine or cure), it’s not as bad as the Black Death (which wiped out almost a third of Europe) and it isn’t targeting young, healthy individuals, like the second wave of the Spanish Flu did (though the mortality rate is about the same). Maybe, too, people will realize that healthcare should be a right, not a for-profit business, and people who are trying to profit off this tragedy will be thrown out of Congress. Maybe we’ll start taxing the rich more so that we can have emergency funds stowed away for these types of emergencies, rather than send people a one-time payment for less money than most of them pay for rent. Finally, at some point, this virus will be beaten by herd immunity and/or a vaccine. In fact, I hope this disease is a death-knell to the anti-vaxxer movement.
I leave you with this: one of my friends decided to play all 24 studies in J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 as a Lenten project. She began posting videos right before COVID-19 jumped to American shores. As a balm to the daily updates of death, infections, and incompetent leadership, they are essential listening. Enjoy.