October 16, 2011

England, England.

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden – demi-paradise -
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
—Richard II, Act II, scene i

London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.
—Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Jack Pitman has a big dream.  Tired of seeing England’s once-proud heritage degraded, he’s going to rebuild it in his own way.  But not out of altruism—his version of England will be aimed at wealthy tourists who want the best of England: 30- minute journeys between Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace, hearty rustic folk building hayricks by day and dispensing wisdom and understated humor by night, aerial battles between the RAF and the Luftwaffe capped by presentations of medals by the King and Queen.  No loungers from the former Empire need apply.
Pitman and his creative team face a few obstacles.  The three most important elements of real estate, and of empire building, are location, location, location.  Sir Jack wants a conveniently placed, quintessentially English locale without the nuisances of representative government.  What better place than the Isle of Wight?  Easy enough to sway the locals, puff up the island council to royalty, and declare independence from Old England.  And if a little clause makes Sir Jack the owner and final authority over the whole island, well, it’s only honorary, and he’d never actually exercise it.

I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire:  God would never trust an Englishman in the dark.
—Duncan Spaeth

But what aspects of England and English history will the island portray?  The female-free (and possibly homosexual) band of Merrie Men in Sherwood Forest?  The Magna Carta in period or Modern English?  The witty Samuel Johnson or the foot fetishist with atrocious table manners?  Nell Gwynn as the underage mistress of the King or the wholesome seller of oranges?  And what do you do when the re-enactors begin take their roles a little too seriously?

I like the English. They have the most rigid code of immorality in the world.
—Malcolm Bradbury

But the famously devoted family man has a secret and bizarre sexual predilection which proves his undoing.  Paul, his Idea Catcher and Martha, his Resident Cynic, discover his secret and use it to take over the England, England project and steer it in a direction they prefer.  Along with the King and Queen, Sir Jack is relegated to occasional public appearances tightly controlled so he doesn’t go off message.
Martha is our guide to the entire bizarre project.  Her job is to use her cynicism to search out England, England‘s weak spots and force others to answer her objections.  And when she takes over the top spot, her jaded view of humanity lets her govern the project as a benevolent but absolute monarch, but her own blind spot is lurking.

There’ll Always Be An England —Vera Lynn
…even if it’s in Hollywood. —Bob Hope

Barnes’ characters are complex—even the buffoonish Sir Jack has more to him than his Falstaffian exterior might suggest.  Martha’s cynical exterior hides an idealistic core doomed to constant disappointment, which feeds her skepticism.  And, when all the manipulating, backbiting, treachery, violence, and legalisms are over, England, England emerges with the kind of secret history that really forges a cultural identity.
The story does end on a redemptive note, even if it plays into nostalgia for an England that probably never existed.  But it is Barnes’ satire of English society and of the world’s perception of the English that really make the book a fun read.

Mating in Captivity-(a thin book).

To love is to merge. Wrong. Merging is what happens when you see the other as your security. That's death to sex. Good sex requires a spark. A spark requires a gap. Cross the gap, feel the sizzle. No gap? The best you can hope for is a cuddle. ツ

“At the time of the Clinton affair, I was intrigued at how adultery could become a matter of national political agenda in the U.S. Why was it, I wondered, that this country seemed quite tolerant of divorce, and rather intolerant of infidelity, when the rest of the world had traditionally been more tolerant of infidelity and less so of divorce? Around the same time I was at a national conference on couples therapy and, there too, I was struck by the overemphasis on pathology and the lack of any mention of the words pleasure or eroticism when addressing a couple's sexual life. The claim that sexual problems were always the result of relational problems and that one should fix the relation and the sex would follow, did not bear true for me. I saw loving, caring couples whose desire was flatlined, not resulting from a breakdown in intimacy. So I began to question a host of assumptions pertaining to sexuality and intimacy in long-term relations that were spoken as truths; they seemed unexamined to me.”

So here is Esther Perel to suggest that we, men and women alike, have it wrong. Good sex doesn't have to end when the hormones cool. Lust doesn't have to devolve into companionship.  And as for intimacy in the bedroom, a little goes a long way.

Not for Perel a how-to book of ridiculous exercises you can practice to rekindle the passion you once knew. If she had her way, you'd never consult a manual again. You might, however, write a dirty letter about all the hot things you'd like to do to your partner-or that you'd like done to you. Or maybe you should start two e-mail accounts just for the sexual dialogue between you and your mate.

But she's the mother of your child!

But he's the guy who only gets his kicks from online porn!

Perel has heard all that. Many times. She's not fooled underneath those smart rationalizations are hearts that still want to believe in hot sex with someone you know. The problem, she says, lie in the unspoken assumptions of most marriages.

 “There is no such thing as 'safe sex,'” she writes. Sex requires mystery, excitement, uncertainty. Which means not knowing everything about your partner. You find that threatening?  You'd find it less so if you stopped equating intimacy with sex.

Here's a radical thought: don't do everything together. Cultivate your own set of friends. Create differences, not affinities. “Ruthlessness is a way to achieve closeness” - ponder that for a while.
She hates the verb “have” when used in relationships for her no one “has” anyone. Relationships are negotiations, not assumptions. 

Eroticism, she says, is “sexuality transformed by the imagination.”  So, start dreaming.  There's a big payoff: “Nurturing eroticism in the house is an act of open defiance.”

It is not by flaying our erotic impulses into banality and duty that we fortify them. It is sometimes by averting our eyes that we see most clearly, and feel most strongly. The 1960s freed us to look squarely at sex. Our own decade might free us to look at something else besides -to look not more, but deeper.

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich