A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hot Toddies

Tonight was the monthly meeting of the Downtown Book Ladies discussion group. We met at Maggie's to discuss Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra. Sue had suggested the book, so she was charged with leading the discussion. She's a Mt. Holyoke alumna, and it shows.

Sue had taken a trip fairly recently to Spain, and had visited the Alhambra. The record of her trip--photographs and so forth--was neatly scrapbooked, and she brought along her substantial album for us to peruse. Also several pertinent books. She gave an impressively researched talk, placing Irving and his subject in historical context.

Things went a little downhill from there. Maggie was serving hot toddies, along with splendid little cookies and some clementines. Miss Rose and Mr. Lucky, the beagles, chased each other nonstop around the room, knocking things over and trying to make off with treats. The conversation became very animated, if not downright silly at times.

It seemed that everyone present had not only visited the Alhambra, but had driven the exact harrowing mountain roads that Irving describes in such picturesque detail. Every mention of a passage in the book turned into a vivid recounting of one of our own travel experiences. We might have been around a campfire, telling tales...very like the characters that populate Tales of the Alhambra, or that other great Spanish adventure (to which Irving frequently refers), Don Quixote.

I'm extremely fond of Washington Irving; I think he's way underrated as a writer. He certainly knew how to tell a story--viz. "Rip Van Winkle" or "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Rereading Tales of the Alhambra, I was struck by the echoes of Cervantes and the parallels to his masterpiece. I don't remember having noted them before. The framing of the stories--tales within tales, the unhurried pace, the many digressions, the vivid characterizations, etc. etc. Not to mention the setting, and the frequent direct references to the earlier work.

If Washington Irving was looking down from his literary heaven at the Downtown Book Ladies, I'm sure it was with indulgence. Irving loved partaking of good food and spirits, especially in pleasant company. He loved Europe, especially Spain, and most especially the fantastical and romantic Alhambra. Above all, he loved telling a good tale.


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