Sunday, March 24, 2019

Re-Reading Rebecca: Feminist Fable or Patriarchal Proverb?

It's been too long since I read Daphne Du Maurier's classic Gothic suspense novel, Rebecca, peopled with intensely satisfying, but pathetically limited characters: a young heroine who vaults from the frying pan of a horrible job as companion to a frustrated, jealous older woman to a newly horrible job as the wife to a rich Downton Abbey type with a terrible secret. He's as miserable as she is, his modus operandi "forget the past!" and his marriage proposal an insult: "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool," he answers when she mistakes his proposal for the offer of a secretarial position. 
As a child on a seaside vacation with her non-aristocratic parents, the nameless heroine buys a postcard of his family manse, Manderley. Little does she imagine (oh, but she dreams) that one day she'll become the princess of that castle. The main conceit-- we know plenty about this nameless young princess and next to nothing about her dead predecessor but her name--Rebecca--has always impressed critics. The heroine's "unusual," she says, name is never given, but lately we've arrived at the usual suspect, incest. Du Maurier, apparently asked strangers what they thought of it, only hinting at her own story. But her nameless heroine marries a man twice her age and treats him exactly as a five-year-old might treat an adored, and strict, father: the young wife never asks questions and blames all his bad moods on herself. She fails to resent his grumpy-to-outright hostile, his patronizing behavior. He's just wonderful, she thinks, no matter how cold, how uncommunicative, how breathtakingly insensitive. Are they even having sex? When his sister asks if she's "starting an infant" and hopes she's not doing anything to prevent it--because Max, the meanie husband, wants a son and heir--the heroine's certain she's not pregnant. When the most intriguing malevolent character, Mrs. Danvers, passionately loyal to the dead Rebecca and passionately jealous of this young whippersnapper of a bride who dares to take her place--invites the young woman to jump out the window, we see how cruel women can be to other women. And how far a jealous mother might go?
By the end of the book, we've seen a desperate young doormat of a heroine in the narrator; the wickedest of stepmothers in Mrs. Danvers, whose hypnotic powers remain chilling; a woman whom we might call a feminist or free spirit in Rebecca, whose daredevil ways have charmed Mrs. Danvers since Rebecca's childhood, who laughs at all men and tells "Danny," that she'll live the way she wants, meaning she'll take lovers if she feels like it; who taunts Max, her husband, that she might be pregnant but that the unborn lord of the manor isn't his son; who enjoys stirring up the adoration of "Danny," so bereft that a year after Rebecca's death she's still fondling her shoes and sniffing her never-washed nightgown.  One more thing (and spoiler alert!) we're given to understand that Rebecca had "a certain malformation" of the uterus, which meant she could "never have a child" but she never seems to have wanted one--a sure sign of a bad girl back in 1938--and her punishment is that she has cancer of the uterus, still incurable today and then untreatable. Re-reading the novel I realize I'd gotten my first ideas about any cancer that strikes women from Rebecca: I believed, and I must have been about ten when I first read the novel, that Rebecca had cancer because she was evil. She must have done something---I couldn't have told you, but back then I believed in good girls and bad girls and I'd figured out that she was bad. Of course good girls won--the ending of the novel rather complicated my theory, but I won't spill the beans. Read the novel: it's enough to make you throw your phone in a drawer and ignore your email.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

There'll Always Be A Brexit*

I give you attest, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I give you attest, Ladies and Gentlemen!
May we disband division's hell
Save dignity and discord quell
While plans may change and go awry
There'll always be a Brexit
While there's some reason, lame
Wherever there's objection small
Beside a pile of gain
There'll always be a Brexit
While speachifying's sweet
Where overturning's meet
A million missing votes
Red, white and blue
What does it mean to you?
Surely you're loud
Shout it proud!
Britons awake!
The Empire's poo 
We can't depend on you

Squabbles remain
These are the chains
Nothing can break
There'll always be a Brexit
And Brexit shan't be free
If Brexit means as much to you
As Brexit means to me.

*With apologies to Vera Lynn

Saturday, March 9, 2019

My Unconventional Way of Avoiding the Flu (a Mom-Blog, Cancer-Lady Special)

I don't like flu shots. Their results seem too unpredictable. The last time I got one, years ago, I felt exhausted for days. I have friends who get sick right after getting them. I also know plenty of people, including my oncologist, who experience no ill effects whatsoever. But even she admitted that a colleague got sick right after the shot. 
The shot is, of course, recommended especially for people with my diagnosis, namely metastatic breast cancer. But I don't think I could cope with getting sick and exhausted while cooking three meals a day, doing laundry, looking after my husband and children, teaching eight courses, grading a bunch of student essays, term papers and exams, taking two writing courses, producing various essays, and fielding the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. That's a partial listing of my daily activities. I am also afraid of the flu shot in the same irrational way that I am unable to follow the German custom of inviting everybody out for your birthday and paying for them, or at least throwing a massive, catered affair. The thought of the shot fills me with fear; the thought of following that particular German custom makes me burst into tears. Isn't that silly, especially the latter? Probably I have too many fond memories (tinged with my hometown, New York) of being the Birthday Girl and being fêted by friends.
So I invested in ten or twelve bottles of hand sanitizer that sit in various coat pockets and on my desk at work. At home, I've also got peroxide, which is said to be especially efficacious at combating germs from stomach flu.
I slather my hands religiously with these substances. I am more focused than an obsessive-compulsive person when it comes to keeping my hands germ-free. Right after I touch the button that opens the tram door, the handle of the cart at the supermarket, the keypad for entering my pin, I whip out the hand sanitizer. Every time. So far, so good, but we're only in March. If I can stay healthy for the next month, I'll breathe a sigh of relief and feel that I was right.P.S. Of course I use hand cream, too. The kind that restores moisture.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Accidental Asparagus: A Mom Blog Recipe

Here's what happens when your husband and younger son want meat, meat, meat for every meal, your older son is vegan and your daughter is vegetarian, verging on vegan: you get confused. You try a baked asparagus recipe when you'd really rather just blanch the asparagus and slip it into the pasta primavera you're already making .  .  . you had some idea you'd just make one dish for this meal. You were wrong! One child really, really, really, mommy, wants baked asparagus! Pleeaaassse! So okay. I've got my laptop flipped open to baked asparagus recipes, I'm thinking they sound dull, I throw in a few  tomatoes, add more olive oil. Oops! It's not olive oil! That's how the asparagus . . . accidentally . . . turned out well. Here's the recipe:

Asparagus--washed and drip-dried. Plop it into a pan on which you've theoretically rubbed a paper towel steeped in olive oil. But if you're like me, you just dump the asparagus into the pan, realize you should have poured the olive oil in first, pour it in and flip the asparagus around with a spatula to get it sort of covered. Dump in a few baby tomatoes, the salt, the pepper, the garlic salt or, if you're less lazy than me, the fresh pressed garlic. Then add a dash of what I mistakenly thought was olive oil (Just a little more!) but what turned out to be balsamic vinegar. I think I added around a tablespoonful. Sighed. Too late to get rid of it. Slid the pan into the pre-heated oven (200º C) and hoped for the best. 
Surprise! The stuff tasted great. The balsamic vinegar brought out the sweetness in the asparagus. Very tasty indeed. Accidents happen--it's just so rare that they make things better. How long did I bake it? I forget. Probably half an hour. 

P.S. I just made EXACTLY the same mistake with roast chicken. That is, having stuffed a lemon inside the bird's cavity, having set the bird, complete with salt and pepper, on top of sliced red onions, boiled carrots, boiled potatoes, garlic, I splodged on what I fondly believed was a dash of olive oil. But no. Not. I'd used balsamic vinegar again! To which I added a cuss word or two and that splodge of olive oil I'd intended. Again, perfect. There's just something about balsamic vinegar that really improves things.

Not going to try this on chocolate mousse. If only because my recipe doesn't call for olive oil.