The news is full of characters straight out of Dickens. Any grace on the national stage drowned out by sounding brass and trumped-up charges. The winning suit for our new house of cards held in tiny fists and we, I can't help but fear, my friends, We the People were the high stakes lost in that backroom poker game. All we're left with is the trumpery of gold-plated tin and tribal triumphalism while the brass band brays both loud and long its uncertain, unsettling sound. It's such a pity so few of us read Websters Unabridged anymore. The label warnings are clear.
What could Dickens have made of this? This brass-faced American burglar who could have been a model for Mr. Honeythunder --
" . . . Is he a large man, Ma?"
"I should call him a large man, my dear," the old lady replied after some hesitation, "but that his voice is so much larger."Nicholas Nickleby, since you've already schooled the horrid Wackford Squeers, maybe you can tell us how to extricate ourselves from the clutches of our thieftain's whacked out right-hand man, baneful abandoned banner-carrier for alternative-truth (which used to be known by a shorter name: starts with L, ends with E; you'll have to ask yourself if you are the I who has gotten caught in the middle of it). And humble-hypocrite Uriah Heep, have you come to life to be our penny-weight Veep? Meanwhile, and I quote from the newsroom of the House Outside the Pale, "Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman," and meanwhile, I note, in the kitchen of spin, we have a Spicer to season facts for public consumption. Ditto and Spicer, isn't that a little too contrived a change from "Joshua Earnest," the outgoing press secretary of a more aspirational, or at least euphemistic, administration? We are calling a spade a dig-stick with a vengeance these days.
Needing to get out of my head, we drove down into the city. Caught a movie, The Arrival. It's slow and murky, but never loses my attention. I emerge from the story only with the closing credits, feeling cleansed and energized. The action of hope working on me, I guess. Fritz says, "I can see your antennae twitching. There's something there for you, isn't there?"
We had found an old-time cheap-ticket movie theatre and for $2 I think I'd like to see the movie again, right then. But there's no late show for Arrival and instead we go see some profane shoot-em-up slug-fest. It feels like a violation -- the gentleness and stubborn thought broken and trampled by brainless violence and shallow noise. Whatever light I'd caught is lost.
On the screens at home: Aleppo
Aleppo is one of those towns that always showed up in the books I read. The crossroads of the Silk Road, the world's first consular city -- which means that in Aleppo, diplomats from Venice, France and England were allowed to look after their nationals in the region rather than just live at court to represent their king.
The name Aleppo is from the Italian Aleppo, from French Alep, from Ottoman Turkish حلب (halep), from Arabic حَلَب (ḥalab), of uncertain origin -- as so much of everything these days is.
Folk-etymology of this ancient city's name explains that it is from Arabic حَلَبَ (ḥalaba, “gave out milk”), reflecting the even-more-ancient tradition of Abraham giving milk to travelers, the man of hospitality so renowned that even angels came to visit.
Aleppo was famous for its souks -- its rich and intriguing bazaars--for its large Christian population, for Baron's hotel, a required stop on the Grand Tour, British headquarters during WWI, where T.E. Lawrence stayed and the Lindberghs and the Roosevelts, archaeologists, royalty. In the books I read of wandering archaeologists, round-the-world cyclists, and others of their ilk, Aleppo is always the safe place they get to rest, the gracious and generous welcoming city in that tradition of Abraham rushing around to provide a meal for the three angels.
Now in Aleppo children have no milk and there is no safety there.
I know this has been happening in other places. But here is a storied place - a place made real to me through years of reading about it - and it is being destroyed. And the people who live there are posting videos they fear may be their last asking someone in the world to help them. What is my mission now that we are moved and my work in my old town is finished? These Syrian refugees weigh on my mind. I have no home myself but that's just figurative, just moving and homesickness. They haven't moved at all: it is their home that has abandoned them.
But the best I can do is sign up for a training for working with refugees that will happen in February. None of this seems real. All around me a hard relentless plot grinds on.
Bleak House. Great Expectations. The Mystery of Edwin Drood.