Few things in life are more disagreeable than coming down with a bad cold when you have three deadlines staring you in the face. The human brain is a miraculous organism, but it doesn’t much care for being asked to generate stylish prose between sneezes. Instead of writing, I’ve spent the past four days watching TV, reading comforting books, sucking down endless mugs of hot tea, sleeping as much as possible, and waiting impatiently for my lungs to dry up.
Among other things, I watched Dumbo, which I hadn’t seen since childhood, and Twelve O’Clock High, which I’d never seen. Dumbo turned out to be even better than I remembered, and the pleasure I took in it was greatly enhanced by the fact that I watched it in the company of a nine-year-old boy whose sense of wonder has yet to be impaired by the onset of adolescent selfconsciousness. Not only is it wonderfully concise (sixty-four minutes, the shortest of all the classic Disney features) and animated with enduring freshness and charm, but the score is full of fetching details (I especially liked the Hammond organ in “Pink Elephants on Parade”).
What impressed me most about Twelve O’Clock High, by contrast, was the climactic bombing raid, which consisted for the most part of actual footage of aerial combat shot by American and German military photographers and assembled with skill and intelligence by Henry King. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that all old war movies are euphemistic: Twelve O’Clock High, like John Ford’s They Were Expendable, is startling in the frankness with which it portrays the hard choices that must be made by men in combat.
What books did I take with me to my sickbed? Rex Stout’s And Be a Villain, Prisoner’s Base, and Over My Dead Body, three of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels, Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, and Victoria Glendinning’s 1992 biography of Trollope. Only the last of these was new to me–I prefer twice- and thrice-read books when I’m feeling low–and I got much more pleasure out of it than a middle-aged man with a summer cold has any right to expect. I ran across so many fetching quotations in its pages that I thought at one point to devote all five of this week’s almanac entries to Trollope, but I’ve changed my mind. Instead, I’ll empty the bag in one fell swoop:
• “The getter-up of quotations from books which he has never read,—how vile he is to all of us!” (Travelling Sketches)
• “There is nothing perhaps so generally consoling to a man as a well-established grievance; a feeling of having been injured, on which his mind can brood from hour to hour, allowing him to plead his own cause in his own court, within his own heart,–and always to plead it successfully.” (Orley Farm)
• “God is good to us, and heals those wounds with a rapidity which seems to us impossible when we look forward, but which is regarded with insufficient wonder when we look backward.” (The Bertrams)
• “Can it be that any mother really expects her son to sit alone evening after evening in a dingy room drinking bad tea, and reading good books?” (The Small House at Allington)
• “He would use the simplest, plainest language, he said to himself over and over again; but it is not always easy to use simple plain language,—by no means to easy as to mount on stilts, and to march along with sesquipedalian words, with pathos, spasms, and notes of interjection.” (Framley Parsonage)
On the whole, it was a pleasant weekend–or would have been had I not felt so lousy–and the cherry on the sundae was a phone call from my brother in Smalltown, U.S.A., who reported first thing Sunday morning that my mother has profited enormously from a recent operation to relieve her chronic back pain. “She’s standing four inches taller,” he told me. I stood a bit taller myself when I heard the news.
I’m still under the weather, but deadlines wait for no man. On Sunday I made myself start writing again, and I’ll be spending the first part of this week doing the work I had to put aside last week. Come Friday I’ll be back on the road again, traveling to Virginia and Washington, D.C., to see plays by Shakespeare and Ibsen and paying a visit along the way to one of my favorite Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, the Pope-Leighey House. I’ll be blogging, too, but don’t expect anything too ambitious until next Monday. A busy blogger boileth no pots.