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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal: Waking From Dreams of Tolkien Imagery; Surprising the Nieces; Finishing "The Small Rain" 
6th-Aug-2008 06:26 am
Geneva Evening
I do hate it when I wake up aforetime and cannot get back to sleep. I woke from a dream that seemed to be reviewing moments from 2001, particularly the pre-release images from Peter Jackson's then-forthcoming The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. I had been commenting on my interest in the films to students from when I started teaching, as I had been following the films from long before filming or even casting had begun: from back when Jackson was finishing up the screenplays and hawking them to various studios, until New Line Cinema finally had the foresight and the courage to bet their whole house on the thing. Still, at this point from which I was dreaming, I only had Jackson's pre-released images to work from, most of which were dead-on, relying on Alan Lee and John Howe's artistic guidance, as he was. I had yet to see some of what I thought real mistakes in direction, which I'm sure I've complained about elsewhere: where Jackson substitutes his sledgehammer for Tolkien's feather, such as in my disappointment of how over-played I thought the supporting part of Galadriel had been played.

I had been moved by the first teaser poster, a print of which went up as part of my classroom decoration, all of which I intended as passive lessons for those zoning out during my course. This image was of Frodo, rather devastated-looking, I thought, or perhaps a look of dawning comprehension and horror, holding the One Ring, the seemingly-innocent locus of evil in his story. I dreamt back of talking about this image and others with students, until I awoke.

But I especially remembered, then, the effect on me of a still of Cate Blanchett playing Galadriel, speaking with Aragorn. We didn't actually see this scene, if I recall correctly, in the briefer, theatrical cut of the film. But I saw the picture, here, in the Cannes 2001 booklet on The Fellowship of the Ring, where the long Moria sequence had been screened. That image, set against the book's portrayal of Galadriel in my memory, and not the heavy-handed route Jackson would lead Blanchett down – that image devastated me. I can remember tearing up just looking at it. That might seem over-reacting, I know, but you have to make allowances for this novel being the biggest literary influence in my development outside of Scripture, and for the context of the story itself. Setting aside Cate Blanchett and just seeing Galadriel is what did it to me: imagining – and now seeing this moment – the portrayed moment was overwhelming. Think of what we feel looking into the eyes of another human being: the depths of emotion, understanding, and communication that we have had in those most honest of moments when we dare make eye contact with another human being: "dare" because we know how vulnerable such communication can be. Imagining looking into the eyes of Galadriel – a supporting character in all of Tolkien's mythology who had grown in importance to me over the years, until I could finally see the deep meaningfulness she held for him, not least as drawing upon his image of Mary of Nazareth – imagining looking into Galadriel's eyes takes that vulnerable human moment to a level I don't know if any of us could endure. At this moment in Tolkien's mythology, Galadriel is over 7100 years old. That's the thing. Can you imagine it? Imagining looking into the eyes of someone with that much experience, that much life coming through them – it broke me up. It breaks me up. I don't know that I could manage it. I wonder what kind of similar effect might have been a result of the Incarnation. Waking to some dream echo of that particular moment of imagination, well, perhaps it was no wonder that my thoughts were already stirred up too much to let me get back to sleep.

My little joke yesterday, or whatever I should call it, went well. Jim, Leslie and the nieces were flying into Milwaukee from LAX after visiting Jim's sister, Juliet, who with me is Godmother to Grace. Since my work right now is either reading or reading-and-writing, I could easily do the "reading" option and take my work on the city bus with me, which I did, and headed down to the airport. And so there I was reading, sitting off to the side of the walkway out to their gate when they came walking along from where the plane landed. I feigned surprise to see the girls, wondering what they were doing here in my town, but I think no one caught that amazing thespian moment. Mostly I was relieved that Jim and Leslie seemed to take it as a pleasant surprise and not me being completely annoying. So I got to hear the girls talk about petting a penguin at SeaWorld, seeing Shamu do a nighttime show, seeing pelicans, holding starfish – oh, and Auntie Juliet, too. Leslie was the one who thought to mention their going on a whale-watching trip (apparently blue whales are in season now, which got me incredibly excited to hear, though they didn't see a thing) and described to me how the whole lot of the girls got seasick on the unusually rough waters, and the parental perspective of the pleasures of one's daughters taking up the sport of synchronized vomiting. Haley (no worse for her fall, I heard with relief from Leslie, even scrambling right back up on the monkey bars when she had the chance) and Grace gabbled to me about things they had seen while Jim and Leslie dealt with baggage recovery, and in a few quick minutes already had the shuttle to their hotel where they had left their car the week before. The car was packed out with kids and luggage, so they couldn't offer me a ride when they mentioned their intention to grab some food. I rather thought they were talking pretty much in terms of fast-food on the way out of town, and so I didn't even suggest their coming north to my downtown section of the city, even though getting downtown and back out isn't the long affair that it can be in Chicago. Had they had the time, I would have loved to do one of my deli-run/picnic dinners down by the Lake with all of them. Nor did I think to recommend one of the few remaining A&W restaurants to them, 10 or 15 miles south of the city on the interstate, which is my favourite fast food place to stop when heading in their direction.

I took the 80 bus back downtown and walked back from the Wisconsin Avenue stop instead of waiting around to catch a connection for the last mile and enjoyed the early evening sun, and just reading as I walked. I decided to head over to the Courtyard early and just picked up my reading there. It's been my habit for some years to spend my outdoor summer on Marquette's campus in the Courtyard of the Fountain in front of the Chapel of Joan of Arc. This year, though, when I've been in town, it's become my particular habit to spend the last hour of the light reading there, sometimes work, but often to take that time to break with a novel. Then I finished The Small Rain which I had read well ahead on when I was feeling under the weather the other day. The simplest difference in reading that this time, which I should have expected, was simply that since the last time I had picked it up, I had been to the place that much of it takes place in: Switzerland around Lake Geneva. The images were therefore more crisp than I usually get out of a book where I'm supplying the visuals to the author's descriptions entirely out of my collaborative imagination. Now, instead, I was flashing back to my train ride back from Italy around the north end of the great Lake, and of sitting next to it, sipping drinks with the fabulously fun Nicod sisters as Erik and I were getting to know them.

Somehow, yesterday evening was just kind of perfect in light, temperature, and relative quiet. I enjoyed myself immensely, missing only the roses around the fountain, which had been trimmed back a few weeks ago. I shared a smile with a young woman who also came a bit later to read in the Courtyard, and who had the look, I suspected, of a new graduate student, newly moved to campus and trying out the ambiance for herself: I've seen that style of drifting around looking and testing different sitting-spots before. I glanced occasionally at the Chapel, which was originally in the Rhone Valley as well, as I recall, or over at the Dove of the Holy Spirit relief high up on the Memorial Library wall, and the occasional gull flying overhead. I was very conscious of my lack of real knowledge and feel for classical music as I finished the book, scattered throughout with the names of pieces from various composers. The next time I read The Small Rain, I resolved to do what I did the last time I read Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy: to go on iTunes and make/buy a mix of pieces mentioned, so that I can enter more fully into the author's intention by resonating with the soundscape she invokes in citing the music. I don't really know what separates the great pianists from the proficient ones, I suspect. With classical music, I'm still at the most basic level of discernment of "I like what I like." That's not bad, of course: in a certain way, that's the most honest of all taste, and the one that most defies any pretension. Still, the world is full of ears that have been conditioned to the likes of Brittney Spears: I'd like to be more sensitive to the music that the real musicians know is good playing. Buying the setlists from The Small Rain and its sequel A Severed Wasp, however, will set me back a few pennies, as they're rather full, even discounting the fictional compositions of Katherine's father and those of her husband. And then there will be the long process of listening to multiple versions on iTunes, trying to decide with my limited knowledge and ear which are the ones worth investing in. But the reading game me cause to think about music in new ways, and of my efforts, or lack thereof, in really opening myself up to certain forms.

And for the first time, I think I finally truly understood the title of the novel, which, while good in itself, made me feel rather thick for not having worked it out much earlier. Of course, that feeling, too, might ultimately be good in itself, or at least good for me....
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