My friends, I have spent the past week in la-la land. No, not that La-La Land. This one that my mum used to refer to when I was a girl. As in: “Why haven’t you dusted the livingroom yet? Have you been off in la-la land again?” And usually I was. Off in la-la land, I mean. Dreaming of a book I was reading, or a movie I’d seen, reliving stories in my head, or making up my own. And definitely NOT dusting. Ha.
I think I spent much of my childhood and a good portion of my adulthood in la-la land. Not completely aware of my surroundings because in my mind I’m somewhere else. Wherever the book I’m currently reading has taken me. In this old post from 2014, I first wrote of my love of reading, and what I considered to be the consequences of loving books and stories so much. As Penelope Lively wrote in her wonderful novel Consequences: “books take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return.”
So when the thermometer reads twenty-five below zero like today. When the sun shines out of a clear, cold winter sky like above, and it’s too cold to venture out skiing. Or when the snow falls sideways and the streets and sidewalks are treacherous like below. Then one is wise, in my opinion, if one does not have to go anywhere, to curl up in front of the fire with a good book. And limit one’s travel to literary journeys. And that’s what I have been doing lately. Spending most of my time in literary la-la land.
I’ve been stuck in Italy for the most part. Reading and loving a book called Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby. I first heard about travel writer Eric Newby on this episode of the Slightly Foxed Podcast, all about travel writing. If you love books, not necessarily new books, and you haven’t sampled the Slightly Foxed podcasts then you must give them a try. They are very entertaining, and very civilized. I love them.
Love and War in the Apennines is Newby’s memoir of his time in Italy during WWII: of his capture and imprisonment, his escape, and his attempts to evade the fascists by hiding out in the mountains, helped by peasant farmers who hated the fascists as much as he did and who risked their lives to help him. It’s a wonderful book. So full of detail of the places and the people, and laced with good humour despite the deprivations he suffered. As Sam Jordison wrote in The Guardian, Newby’s prose “flows as easily and naturally as a river to the sea.” I’m only halfway through the book because, like so many books I’ve loved, I keep putting it down so I don’t finish it too soon.
When I was looking at articles about the book and about Newby this morning before I began this post, I was delighted to read that the Slovenian girl named Wanda whom he met and fell in love with when he was imprisoned in Italy, and who, along with her family and friends, helped him and other prisoners escape, eventually became his wife. Until this morning, as far as I knew he escaped and never saw her again. Don’t forget I am only partway through the book. But I read this morning that he returned to Italy after the war to find her. How fabulous! “Guess what?” I yelled to Hubby who is also reading the book. “Eric marries Wanda!” Oh, I do love a good happy ending. I don’t mind being in a literary la-la land of war and deprivation if I know there’s a happy ending coming.
When I bought Love and War in the Apennines, I also purchased another Eric Newby book. Something Wholesale is described as his “life and times in the rag trade.” After the war and before he began his writing career, he spent time as a commercial traveller for his family’s garment business. Selling ladies haute couture and, from the sounds of the publishers description, not having fun. I can’t wait to start it. But first I have to get him out of the Apennines.
And when I’ve not been in the Italian mountains in my head this week, I’ve been on a grand estate in Yorkshire. I’ve been torturing myself by watching Downton Abbey from the beginning. I know, I know. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for a costume drama. And an even bigger sucker for the costumes in the costume drama. Especially if it’s set in the early twentieth century.
In the evenings, in front of the living room fire, while Hubby watches the hockey game, I’ve been watching old episodes of Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime. On my iPad. And I am loving this series all over again, even though I know what happens.
I am loving watching the evolution of style, the hair, the hemlines. I am developing a new appreciation for Penelope Wilton’s character Mrs. Crawley. And I am savouring all of Maggie Smith’s performances. Especially in those moments I’ve forgotten. Like the scene where she forces the vicar to marry Daisy and William on William’s death bed.
And even though I know the sad moments are coming, I cry all over again when they do.
The other night, as Hubby sat and raged at the Ottawa Senators, I was wielding my kleenex as Matthew asks Mary to dance, even though Lavinia lies upstairs recovering (we all thought) from Spanish flu, and even though he knows he and Mary cannot be together. Well, not until the Christmas episode at the end of season two. “Jeeze, Suz,” Hubby quipped when he saw my tears. “The Sens are not playing THAT poorly.”
Oh, the drama of Downton. And the melodrama. It’s got inside my head. And I know it won’t leave until I finish every last one of the episodes of every last season. Although I may skip the part where Matthew gets killed. I may be in Yorkshire la-la land most evenings. But to relive that episode would be too cruel.
And just to complete my trifecta of la-la land journeys, I went to the movies with a few girlfriends the other night. And we saw Living with Bill Nighy. Set in London in the fifties and written by Kazuo Ishiguro, we were all set to adore this movie about an aging civil servant, Mr. Williams played by Bill Nighy, who feels in his last days that he has never really lived.
We didn’t adore it; it’s too quiet a film to use dramatic words like “adore.” But we did feel transported by it. And over wine and dinner and dessert, we discussed the beautiful cinematography, the amazingly moving overhead shots of work-a-day London of the fifties, the pathos that never turns into melodrama, the anti-climactic climax, and the ending that is not necessarily happy, at least for Mr. Williams, but definitely more hopeful than the other Kazuo Ishiguro movie I’m familiar with, The Remains of the Day.
It was a great night out. We had a laugh, and a really good dinner. We caught up on everyone’s news. Toasted the new school semester starting the next day for my friends who are still teaching. And even more enthusiastically toasted the fact that a couple of us did NOT have to go to work the next day. The next day was the tenth anniversary of my being retired. I find it hard to believe it’s been that long.
The journey home after dinner was a bit fraught. It had been snowing all day and even harder since suppertime. The roads were not great. I had to keep my wits about me. Night driving in heavy snow is not something I have to do much of anymore.
And as I turned into our small street I did sigh with relief. And I smiled at the sight of our neighbour’s brightly lit up hockey rink. Our neighbour has given his grown up kids and his grandkids a wonderful gift in building that rink. Hubby and I love to watch them play on it. And even on that very snowy, cold night I noticed two hardy skaters on the ice. If you listen carefully you can hear the swack as a stick hits the puck. A quintessentially Canadian sound, in my opinion.
I was happy that my night at the movies got me out of my own head. A little anyway. I’ve been spending too much time in la-la land. But the laughs at dinner, the snowy drive home, the sight of those two kids skating in the snow brought me out of the Italian mountains of the forties, out of Yorkshire of the twenties, and even out of London of the fifties. For a while. Except I’m sure there is hockey on television tonight, and I still have most of season three of Downton Abbey to get through.
Maybe I should take a break and watch the hockey with Hubby. Ha. Be serious… will you.
How about you my friends. Have you been catapulted into la-la land lately. Or, like me, do you find that you are a regular visitor and have been all your life?