Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Greek to Me!

I've become an audio book addict!  Because we live 45 minutes away from Major Shopping, whether in Aiken, South Carolina, or in Augusta, Georgia, I have ample opportunity to listen to books as I drive to and fro.

Recently, a friend of mine who is working on a book about Milton and his daughter introduced me to the Naxos edition of Paradise Lost, read by Anton Lesser.

I was hooked!  I've listened to many audio books, but this was different.  Paradise Lost is a wonderful poem to read silently, or out loud to yourself, but to have it read to you by a reader as skilled as Anton Lesser is beyond wonderful!

One thing leads to another.  Why not try another big book?  I had read parts of Joyce's Ulysses in college, notably Molly Bloom's soliloquy, but I knew I would never read the whole thing.  Until now.

Now, having renewed the CDs the maximum four times from the library, and having had to carry my home CD player around with me as I cooked and cleaned, listening as I worked, in order to finish the 22nd and last CD before it was due on the final day, I can tell you this.  The most interesting parts of Ulysses are the parts by and about the women!  The Nausicaa chapter, in which Bloom stands overlooking the beach where Gerty, sitting on a rock and fantasizing, watching him watch her, then switching to his point of view as she walks away, and he (and the reader) realizes she is lame -- so sad and lovely.  The brothel scene.  Molly's justly famous soliloquy.

The rest of it, with its endless posturing and bravado among the men, is so much (no doubt accurate, no doubt funny, no doubt Irish!) blather.

So now I'm into Homer.  Listening to The Odyssey, in the Robert Fagles translation, read by Ian McKellam. I am not so enamoured with McKellam's voice, which seems affected to me.  But it's interesting to read about the original "white-armed" Nausicaa, for instance.   T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia)  translated The Odyssey while on duty (as T.E. Shaw) with the R.A.F. in, I believe, India.  It is a prose translation, published in 1932, much admired in its day, and close, as I read it, to the Fagles translation of today.  (The most admired verse translation, I believe, is the one by Robert Fitzgerald).   Lawrence grew sick of Odysseus in the end, his childish craftiness and self-importance, but The Odyssey was a book of major importance to him throughout his life, fueling his own heroic image.   It may be that Odysseus's audacious entry by foot into Troy, escaping again without having been recognized, spurred Lawrence on to attempt the same trick, to disastrous effect, in Deraa.  I"m keeping the Lawrence translation nearby as I progress.

More to follow.  I plan to tackle The Iliad next, and then Dante.  I'm excited!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Last week Louis and I went to Aiken, South Carolina for a book-signing by the author of The Great American House, a beautiful coffee-table book illustrating the allure of traditional residential architecture in the United States.

The author, Gil Schafer, grew up in Cleveland, as I did, and often visited his maternal grandmother's Southern home in Thomasville, Georgia.

Louis and I visited Thomasville several years ago on our way to the Panhandle on vacation.  A distant cousin of mine had suggested that we tour her family's home there, a place called Pebble Hill.  It turns out that Gil's great-grandfather, Howard Hanna, brother of famed Cleveland businessman and politician, Mark Hanna, had established his Southern residence in Thomasville, property that was split into two parcels when he died: one became Pebble Hill and the other Melrose, the home of Gil's grandmother.  So he and my friend Sandy are cousins.

It further turned out that Gil's paternal grandfather's brother had a place in Florida.  He was signing my book as he told me this.  I asked him where in Florida.  He said Palm Beach.  Intrigued, because my maternal great grandfather, C.W. Bingham, had established a Southern residence in Palm Beach in 1896, I asked Gil where in Palm Beach.   He said South Ocean Blvd.  He said it was odd because he'd visited the house once when he was a young architect, and taken many pictures that came in handy later when the house was sold and he was working for the architectural firm that did the renovations for the new owner.  As far as I knew, there were only three pieces of residential property along South Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach, all of them part of the original property belonging to my great grandfather, who split the property three ways for his three surviving children when he died:  northernmost Harry Payne Bingham, middle Elizabeth Bingham Blossom, and southernmost Frances Payne Bolton.

My grandmother and grandfather inherited the original house, known as Figulus.  So I asked Gil what was the street address of his family's property, which he said he couldn't necessarily remember accurately, but when he said the number, I knew it was the property of Frances and Chester Bolton, known as Casa Apava, built in the 1920s..  Yes, Gil offered, his grandfather was Chester Bolton's brother.  So he and I are, at least, cousins by marriage.  What a surprise, what a coincidence, what a charming connection.

If you are interested in architecture, or in social history, you will enjoy Gil's book.  Another book you might want to look at is a history of Palm Beach by Augustus Mayhew called Lost in Wonderland: Reflections on Palm Beach.