Delights: September 30 to October 6

September 30: Oh no. Although my mild case of Covid lingers as nothing but a head cold (hurray for vaccinations and boosters!), I tested positive again. I wallowed for a while in the Slough of Despond and imagined hurtling back to “start” in a game of Chutes & Ladders. Mistakingly thinking myself still contagious, I phoned my neighbors and accepted their offer to pick up groceries for me. 

An hour later, Greg appeared on my patio bearing chicken, kale — and double servings of ice cream and Oreos. Greg and Kay must have known that chocolate would build the ladder out of my funk. But their neighborly kindness supplied the rungs.

Harking back to a recent post where I pondered confronting my fears, my friend Joy sent me this reminder.

October 1: My family agreed with the CDC that I was no longer contagious and could be released from quarantine at the beach. I grudgingly (I mean, eagerly) assented and drove home. And I would have driven half way back again if necessary to finish my audio book. 

During jigsaw-puzzling and long walks at the beach, I listened to The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. In this 2018 murder mystery by Stuart Turton, the baffled protagonist must relive the same spooky day over and over again in an effort to solve the murder that occurs each night at 11 pm. Advantages: eight different “hosts” with various attributes that can help him. Disadvantages: a knife-wielding “footman” and rivals for the prize: escape from the Hardcastle estate. I wanted to start it all over again as soon as I finished it. 

Reading Evelyn Hardcastle was a bit like passing through this walkway at the National Gallery of Art. I think I’m moving forward, but the sassy patterns of the lights set me a bit askew.

October 2: I can imagine the conversation: don’t give away those wonderful wicker chairs; someday, we’ll want to sit in your garage, drink beer and gaze at the rain.

And so it was. October is one of the beautiful months in Washington, DC. Mild temperatures, low humidity and sunny skies conspire to pull us outdoors for outings and cocktails. But this weekend, cold rain discouraged even the most intrepid walker, and wind whipped through porch screens. So Kathy and I celebrated her birthday in her garage, on wicker chairs and floral cushions, shielded from the rain, and warm in jackets and fleece. I hope passersby saw us in our snuggery. And maybe they carried our brilliant idea home with them.

October 3: A patio dinner, a riverside stroll, a ballgame under a warm and waning October sun? Nope. Rain and wind dashed my friend Aileen’s and my Saturday plans, so we comforted ourselves with lunch on Monday at a new place in Falls Church. The server practically bounced with joy when I ordered the Reuben sandwich. Two thick sandwiches arrived, with colorful side salads. As we emptied our wine glasses, two to-go boxes floated to our table. The restaurant owner had stopped by earlier, and now she returned unbidden. Eying sandwich halves in front of each of us, she said, “I read minds — and plates.” 

In the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, this piece is called Donna che indica (Woman who points), by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Italian, born 1933. It was conceived in 1962 and fabricated in 1982. It is “nothing more” than a silkscreen image of a woman attached to a mirror. But it pulled me right in.

October 4: This morning after yoga, I made an emergency hummus run to the nearby Turkish market, Borek-G. My teacher, whose grandparents came from Turkey, explained that borek is a savory pastry (not the owner’s last name) and she recalled many hands in her grandmother’s kitchen on borek-making days.

The market owner packaged two tubs of hummus and two boreks for me. As an afterthought, I pointed to a pistachio baklava square. As he put it on a small plate, he said he remembered me from the farmers market. “It’s on the house,” he said. “Just a small way to thank you for visiting the store.”

Bonus: I was standing in front of the donut shop today only because I needed pearl couscous and cacao nibs from the Whole Foods grocery next store. I ordered a fresh cinnamon donut, dropped a dollar bill in the tip jar, and waited out on the sidewalk. The young man eventually came to the door with a bag. “I gave you an extra,” he said. 

These kind young men are not helping my waistline, but their sunshine dispels the persistent cold.

October 5: With three days to spare, I visited two art exhibitions before they close this weekend. The first, at the National Gallery of Art, featured James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl. More commonly known as “The Woman in White,” this monumental portrait — done “in the grand manner” — was considered wildly abstract and even sensationalistic because, defying convention, the painting offered neither narrative nor a named sitter. Instead, the figure stared out past the viewer, with mystery in her eyes.

A detail of Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1861-63, 1872, by James McNeill Whistler, American, 1834-1903. National Gallery of Art, Washington.

And that was the focus of this small exhibition: not the painting, but Whistler’s model, Joanna Hiffernan. The exhibition presented many paintings and prints of Hiffernan and made a strong case that Hiffernan worked actively with Whistler on each piece during their 20-year partnership. I confess I’d never thought of this before: that the model might have a profound role in the creative process, not only as muse but also as collaborator. Indeed, four models consulted with the National Gallery of Art on the exhibition. You can read their insights (and see their own responses to the works) here: The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler

 I left the exhibit with considerable respect for Hiffernan and a bit more for Whistler, who allowed his artistic vision to be enriched by the person right in front of him.

Weary, 1863, by James McNeill Whistler, American, 1834-1903. Collection of the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.

October 6: Back in April, I cheerfully agreed to visit a college classroom to talk about my old job. So it was that today I stood before fifteen George Washington University political science majors to discuss … rulemaking. With joy and enthusiasm, I told war stories, highlighted complexities, and celebrated public participation. I answered questions and beckoned them to public service. I had a great time. And I was this close to wandering by my old office to ask for my job back. But I went to a museum instead.

Bonus: In a July post, I stood awestruck before a collage of torn magazines that replicated Whistler’s Woman in White. Here is a detail of the original and of Vik Muniz’s remarkable tribute.

A detail of Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1861-63, 1872, by James McNeill Whistler, American, 1834-1903. National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Detail of Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, after James McNeill Whistler, from Pictures of Magazines 2 (2013), 2003, by Vik Muniz, American, born in Brazil, 1961. Promised gift of Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C. (Yay!)

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If you’d like to browse my past delights, please consult the “word cloud” featured at the very bottom of this post. Find a theme or two that interests you and sift through the sands. Or learn a bit more about my Blog by visiting my Welcome page. You’ll also see links to four essays that were published in print magazines. I’m glad you’re here!

15 thoughts on “Delights: September 30 to October 6

  1. Hi, Carol Ann, Did you follow the Sackett argument at the SCOTUS today? What is the new place in Falls Church? We get there rarely but lived at 312 N. Maple ave. for 15 years before living for a similar period in nearby McLean where we were until 2004 when we relocated to the Northern Neck. Always interested in new eateries in that area even thoiugh we so rarely visit. Your blog indicates you are doing a great job of “retirement.” Cheers, Bob W.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Bob. It’s so good to hear from you. I walk past your old house several times a week and I think of you. The new place is Harvey’s, where Plaka used to be. It’s got good food and a fun vibe.

      The Northern Neck is so lovely. What a great retirement destination! And yes, I read about the Sackett argument with great interest. Fingers crossed. (And I am indeed doing retirement well!)


  2. So glad to hear you are feeling better – Covid really saps you of energy. I screamed with delight when I saw Symphony in White, No. 1….when I was 18 I visited Washington DC for the first time I remember seeing this painting for the first time and I was struck by its beauty. I think I still have a postcard bought at the time. Anyway, it sounds like a fascinating exhibition so thanks for sharing.

    So many delights this week – the hummus, the little treats…..lovely!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your story about seeing Symphony in White, No. 1 for the first time. Yes, it absolutely has that effect on me too. A few months ago, when I saw the collage tribute, I had the good fortune to approach the image from across many galleries. I was drawn as though by gravity. Even the collage has a magnetic effect. I’m glad to share it with you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I find it so difficult to read the expression on the face of the White Girl, but my sense of it is that (as we would say over here) “she’s not a happy bunny”. It’s a haunting image, is it not. It appears that the exhibition you saw previously came to London. It was reviewed in the Guardian, and although the piece probably doesn’t say anything you haven’t already worked out or come across elsewhere here is a link to it in case you’d like to follow it up:

    I was sorry to read, but not entirely surprised given my own experience, that you struggled a bit to shake off Covid. However, a cinnamon doughnut (or donut, as you transatlantic folk put it) is worth all sorts of discomfort! Drooling right now, as I type this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing the Guardian article, Mr. P. I love its bouncy, appreciative tone. It captures the exhibition perfectly. I also appreciate your comment about the expression on Hiffernan’s face. The exhibition allowed lots of ambiguity about how Hiffernan felt about being the constant object of Whistler’s gaze. I guess I admire him a bit for being forthright in his painting about her darker feelings.

      Regarding old Covid, I’m almost better. And I am still very much “consoling” myself with goodies!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So maybe Hifferman’s expression is one of weary disappointment: “you’re only interested in me for how I look, not for who I really am. You’re objectifying me”? As you suggest, it’s brave of Whistler to capture an expression that implicitly criticises him. This is all conjecture, obviously, but fascinating nevertheless. Incidentally, I also enjoyed Vik Muniz’s reworking of the White Girl – highly creative, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Regarding your last comment, Mr. P., I looked again at “Weary.” All conjecture, of course, but I think I see an “eye roll” by Hiffernan: “I’m exhausted and you’re STILL looking at me???” The interview with the models in the National Gallery of Art link emphasizes how physically and emotionally exhausting modeling is. So, you and I might be on to something… (And I’m glad you like the Muniz!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mystery solved, then. Didn’t we do well!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A cinnamon donut is bound to brighten a day. Sounds as though you are getting your energy back. Yay!!! It seems to me that Whistler was able to go deep into the human psyche with his painting. A kind of miracle, really, but that is what great artists of all kinds do. That collage is remarkable.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I very much appreciate your insight, Laurie. I think he did indeed go deep into the human psyche even when the feelings he sensed might have been directed (in part) at him. For a very good article about the exhibition, take a look at Mr. Platypus’ comment above. I think you’ll like it.

      And thank you for sharing my awe over the collage. I imagine there are a hundred messages in it, but I’m arrested simply by Whistler’s composition and the meticulous collage tribute to it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m delighted to read that you are feeling better. I was also delighted to read about all of the kindness of neighbours, store workers, etc. That you for the uplift!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for highlighting that kindness. I like reading about acts of kindness as much as receiving them. They are indeed uplifting!

      Liked by 1 person

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