Madame is in house.

(Many years ago, when this blog was on Blogger rather than WordPress, I had a similar post talking about the history of my nom de trivia. I seem to be repeating myself a lot lately. Sorry. Most of you haven’t been reading me for ten years, so would not have seen the earlier post.)

I have started an “Art of the Day” project on my Facebook timeline. Each day I post a different picture — usually, but not always, a painting. (I have, however, shown the Lewis chessmen and a Faberge egg.) This week, since my birthday is on Friday, I am going to show some of my very favorite paintings, the paintings I would be willing to go out of my way to a museum to see. (With two exceptions: I have already posted “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper and “The Milkmaid” by Johannes Vermeer, which may be my favorite painting of all.)

One painting I will post this week is not really one of my favorite paintings — it’s not even my favorite portrait — but a portrait of one my favorite historical figures, and an intellectual hero of mine. Anna Louise Germaine Necker de Stael led an adventurous, fascinating, exciting life, and falls into the category of “why isn’t this woman better known?”

Many people are working to get more recognition of all the women in STEM fields that have been ignored: Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Lise Meitner, etc. This is a good and very necessary thing. However, women in other fields have not gotten their due, either.

Germaine Necker de Stael — usually referred to as Madame de Stael, was a late eighteenth and early nineteenth century intellectual badass. She influenced political thought for decades, even after her death. She ran the best salons in all of Europe and was friends with the brightest cognoscenti. She furthered the spread of Romanticism. She had three kids who survived to adulthood (as well as two daughters who died in infancy), and it is thought they were by two different lovers. (Gotta love the French.) That’s only a part of her life.

Today, most people remember her (if they remember her at all) for her quite quotable observations of people. Most notably, she once said “The more I see of men, the better I like my dogs.” (To be honest, I don’t speak French, so I am not sure if she meant people or males. Either way, it’s a great quote.)

Two centuries later — the early nineties — AOL came into existence. The Rocket Scientist and I were early adopters: I still remember getting messages saying “We’ve added our 50,000 member!” As a relief from the stress of parenting two young children, I became a host in the Trivia chat room. It was a lot of fun: in addition the actual hosting, I had to write games, which was intellectually challenging. I ran a game named (rather prosaically) Trivia with Pat and one that was dedicated exclusively to history called The Time Machine. (Pro-tip: depending upon how you word the question, everything becomes about history.)

I wanted to run a game on more serious lines. As I define it, trivia are things people might or might not know, but generally speaking are things people really don’t need to know. I wanted to run a game about information, things that people should have already learned, in my opinion. (For example, in my other games I would never ask about the Kristallnacht, but in this game I did, mainly because people need to know about it. I hoped, probably unrealistically, that those who didn’t know what I was talking about would go find out.)

I needed an alter ego. Madame after the indefatigable Madame de Stael–how could I not? I needed an name (after all, Madame is merely an honorific). I had recently watched a miniseries on the life of Guiseppe Verdi. I was taken by his second wife, an opera singer named Guiseppina Strepponi. She did end up marrying him (after they had been living together, much to the consternation of the small Italian town they were living in). After that, she was Signora Verdi.

Thus was Madame Verdi’s Information Parlor born. It ran for a little while, until I was overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a pre-schooler and a toddler, one of which had special needs. I was sad to let the gig go, but writing the games took too much time, and as AOL’s numbers increased it became more difficult to get into the chat room and the regulars were often crowded out.

I kept the name though. I had an email address that incorporated it, and when I started playing trivia, that was the name I played under. (At least when I was playing by myself; I have played under several team names when playing with others.) I even have a t-shirt with my team name and a picture of Madame de Stael on it.

I like her. Madame Verdi is smarter than I am, and tougher, and oftentimes snarkier. She knows what she’s doing — or least seems to. She tries to be nice to people however; no matter what persona I adopt that matters to me a great deal.

I hope she’ll be around a long time.

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Good Friday Prayers.

Today is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, the day when, according to Christian theology, Christ was crucified. For the first time in years I opened up the Book of Common Prayer and looked at the Liturgy for Good Friday.

The Anglican tradition has a lengthy set of prayers for this day. Some of them are easier than others: praying for the hungry and homeless, the destitute and oppressed; the sick and wounded; those in loneliness, fear, and anguish; those who face temptation, doubt, and despair; the sorrowful and bereaved; prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger.

There are a set of prayers about people being called to the church, which I mentally ignore, except for the last one: it is a prayer for those who persecute others in the name of Christ, that God would open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience. This is my favorite prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, although I wish they had an explicit prayer for those who have been persecuted in the name of Christ.

But there is one set of prayers that draws me up short. The Liturgy calls on us to pray

For the President of the United States,

For the Congress and the Supreme Court,

For the Members and Representatives of the United Nations

For all who serve the common good

Whoa. Talk about difficult. Okay, I have no problem praying for the Representatives of the United Nations. May God give them health and wisdom. I have no problem praying for those who serve the common good — there are a lot of them out there.

But Donald Trump? Mike Pence? Mitch McConnell? These men do not serve the common good and have shown themselves impervious to attempts tp correct their corrupt ways. If anything, they have gotten even more brazen in their efforts to continue their unprincipled power grab as time goes on.

My brain keeps praying for Trump and McConnell, though: it keeps praying they get coronavirus and die. In as painful way as possible. I find myself praying for Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to get coronavirus and die, too, although in a gentle, painless manner.

I keep feeling these are improper prayers, and I think that praying for death for someone shows a damaged soul.

But right now it’s all I can manage about these men.

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Friends.

One side effect of this quarantine is how much more I see of my friends on Facebook. Not that I am spending more time on Facebook (if anything a bit less) but they are spending more. (Probably due to to increased time at home, given the quarantine.) And the more I read their posts (including what they link to) the more I realize that…

My friends are awesome.

Not merely in the “Great” or “Terrific” sense of the word but in the deeper “fills me with awe” meaning. They are those other things as well, but what I like about them most is the way they live in the world.

They are variously funny, thoughtful, compassionate, gentle, honest, fascinatingly creative, righteously angry, appropriately sarcastic. Some of them are spiritual, but not the empty spirituality of some (not all) organized religion. Even those who are religious are respectful of those who are not.

They want the world to be a better place.

I can’t think of a better group of people to be friends with.

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Coping. Or not.

The quarantine is taking a toll on me.

I have a history of both asthma and pneumonia, so my family adamantly refuses to allow me to help shop. (Which is annoying for other reasons: sometimes you just need Phish Food, and you can’t run to the store and get some.) I can’t bring in income because even if I were working at the job I held most recently I could not work at home. My thoughts of getting a part time job until the November election are pretty much hosed.

I feel useless. I help clean, but due to medical issues there is a limit to what things I can do and for how long. After my tremors caused me to drop a small plate a few days ago, it was decided that I should no longer do the dishes. Unlike Shel Silverstein’s boy, I wasn’t trying to get out of doing the dishes.

Today was the hardest, though. I decided to sort my jewelry. I had more than I remembered, and looking through only fueled my creeping depression.

I have a lot of jewelry, almost all of it handmade (except earrings — the Rocket Scientist usually gives me those). I use to love making jewelry.

I can’t make it anymore. I have probably well over $300 worth of beading supplies in my beading bag — enough to make a lot of pieces, although I really need a bunch of Swarovski crystals in various sizes. (Just as well I don’t knit.) My hands have been getting worse and worse — typing takes forever. The fine motor skills needed for beadwork — let alone wirework — have deserted me.

And then there is the jewelry I have. I have made jewelry for sale — years ago. I sold to friends. Some of these pieces I made with the thought of sale, I think. I can’t really remember. I know sometimes I made bracelets because I didn’t have one that matched my outfit. I would wear bracelets almost everywhere. Why did I stop that? I don’t know.

It’s not just the jewelry. I am bad about keeping in touch with people, and I have made life more stressful more myself. I worry about two friends in particular, who do not use Facebook, so I can’t check in with them easily. One emailed me back after a few days (things were crazy for her). The other I have not heard from, but he is in prison. I doubt the prisoners are social-distancing, and I had to write him a physical letter, and I have not heard back from him.

Thank heaven for Facebook. I can get a good idea how many (maybe not all) of my friends are doing. I think I will wait until the outbreak is over to decide whether to give it up, as I have my Twitter feed. I do have to limit how long I spend on it every day. I find myself wanting to cry, sometimes.

It’s a matter of finding something meaningful to do. I have started an “Art of the Day” in my Facebook feed. Every day I post a picture of a piece of art — usually a painting, but also pieces of jewelry, or sculpture. (One of my posts was a picture of the Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum.)

Finding artwork to post is fun. I trawl around the Google Arts and Culture collections, looking at museums I have never been to. I also checked out the websites of museums I do know: the Rijksmuseum, The Louvre, The Orsay, The Met, The Getty.

I started doing this not just to have something to do, but because all of us need something to look at that has nothing to do with the coronavirus, or the corruption in the White House that is spreading tentacles outward (much has it has been since DJT took office), or voter suppression, or anything else. I am trying to make people’s day just a mite better.

Maybe I’m not so useless after all.

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Identities

You may notice a slight change in my profile. My good friend from college, Jane*, has been insisting for a while now that I remove the word “former” in front of “lawyer.”

“You think like a lawyer,” she said. “You write like a lawyer. You think and write differently than you did before you went to law school. Face it, you’re going to be a lawyer until the day you die.”

She may be right. In any case, I promised her I would I would change my profile. It’s nice to have people appreciate my writing.

Now If I could only remember to proofread like a lawyer.

*Jane is a litigator. I think she’s wonderful, but I would never want to face her in a courtroom.

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This is war… sort of.

In the first World War people bought war bonds and planted gardens. (Some of those bond drives — especially in Philadelphia — themselves proved fatal to civilians who got the H1N1 flu there.)

In World War II, people went without sugar and stockings and a great many other things and planted gardens.

There have been four wars since then (five if you count Afghanistan and Iraq as separate wars). We’ve have never been asked to sacrifice in any of them — except for the troops and their families, of course.

We’re in a war now, or at least Donald Trump thinks of himself as “war president.” We might as well be in a war; people are hurt, people are dying, people are facing the loss of jobs and businesses. Even people who are fortunate to have a safe income during this emergency are stranded at home, away from friends and family. Our hospitals — especially in New York — are being slammed.

Not all of us are acting like we’re in a war, of course. Of course, there are people hoarding. There is the medical equivalent of war-profiteering. Behind the scenes, the guy running the response thinks that because he has spent a few weeks studying the issue he is more of an expert than doctors and epidemiologists.

One big difference between WW II and now? We have no leadership. With a crisis of this magnitude…

We need Franklin Roosevelt.

We got Donald Trump.

We need Winston Churchill.

We got Donald Trump.

We need John F. Kennedy.

We got Donald Trump.

We could even use Ronald Reagan, and definitely Barack Obama.

We got Donald Trump.

We have a President who, rather than work with the states to mitigate the worst of this crisis and save countless lives, indulges his vanity. He reduces supplies to states such as New York and Michigan, whose governors are critical of him, while giving Florida, a state he favors because the governor is his lackey, all they ask for and more.

We have a President who “leads from behind,” telling states that the federal government is “back-up.”

We have a President who played down or dismissed the pandemic as a hoax even as the first cases were cropping in the US. Whose Administration sent PPEs and masks to China even as it was clear to scientists that we were facing a disaster in the making here at home.

We could use FDR, telling us during the Great Depression that all we have to fear is fear itself. We could use Winston Churchill, urging us to be strong in our fight against the enemy. We could use JFK, telling us to find an answer “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Instead, we have Donald Trump.

May God have mercy on us all.

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Communication.

This is one of my favorite paintings, the portrait of George Harley Drummond by Sir Henry Raeburn.

It’s not a significant painting. I’m sure if you drew up a list of the top hundred paintings in the world, it wouldn’t be on there. Even on a list of the top thousand. Maybe in the top ten thousand.

The first time I saw it I was wandering the British section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I looked at the museum note next to the painting:

“The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important. It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should be so prominently displayed.”

I started giggling, because really, the fact that the horse’s hindquarters are prominent is not curious at all. (I once showed the painting to a fourteen-year-old and asked him what he thought the painter was trying to convey and he answered without hesitation that “the guy was a horse’s ass.”)

I sat on a nearby bench giggling. A very serious couple came by, so I stopped giggling, so as not to disturb them. I still had a huge silly grin on my face. They looked briefly at the picture, and then (although I was not giggling anymore) glared at me. If looks could kill, I would be pushing up daisies. I was breaking the unwritten rule of art museums: always be serious. I know making noise is disruptive to other people, but just sitting there, smiling? They found my mere presence problematic.

I drew two conclusions from this incident:

Lesson One: Art is all about communication.

Art should make you feel, or think, or maybe just observe. It’s not something to be marked off of some list (saw the Mona Lisa, check! Saw the Venus de Milo, check! Saw the Sistine Chapel ceiling, check!). The artist is speaking to you.

Not all art speaks to me, of course. But artists that don’t speak to me (Mark Rothko, say) may speak to you. And some works by artists I normally don’t like draw forth unexpected emotions in me. I am not a Picasso fan, but Guernica made me cry. Salvador Dali’s work, for the most part, I look on with a shrug, but some of his religious paintings make me feel something like reverence. I emphatically dislike Jeff Koontz’s work, except Puppy, which makes me inordinately happy and which is the screen saver on my phone.

I was in the Museum of Modern Art once, during an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work. I rounded a corner and came across a series of paintings of black and white newspaper pictures of young women. I read the title, Student Nurses, and didn’t need to read the further description. They were paintings of the newspaper pictures of the young women murdered by Richard Speck in Chicago in 1968. In addition to making me feel sad, it caused me to think about the commodification of tragedy. And about how the victims of mass murder aren’t remembered while the killers become household names. And how these young women had gained a fleeting fame that they would never have had if they had lived.

An older couple came by, looked at the description, shrugged and moved on. I was appalled — how could they not find that moving? — but in retrospect, the paintings didn’t speak to them. That’s okay.

And it’s okay for me to laugh at the portrait of George Harley Drummond, too.

Oh, that second lesson? It was this:

Two large apple martinis at the bar in the Met is probably one large apple martini too many.

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