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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Thursday
Mar302017

In Which Nella Larsen Went To Europe To Escape Her Marriage

In Quicksand

by ALEX CARNEVALE

She had just published her masterpiece, Passing, but Nella Larsen was alone every weekend in the summer of 1929. Her husband Elmer Imes was a brilliant physicist. After ten years of marriage, he vacated the premises to meet women, sometimes in faraway places like Canada. "He needs it," she wrote sadly in a letter to her friend Carl Van Vechten. Nella was left to amuse herself in Harlem, where the heat was usually pretty sticky. She decided to learn how to swim.

Carl Van Vechten
Her husband was denied a lucrative position at the University of Michigan at the last moment, and decided to relocate to Fisk University in Nashville. She had no intention of going with him. All her friends were in New York. She did long to be in a new situation, but Nashville was impossible: Nella had been expelled from Fisk as a teenager for violating the dress code, and some of those administrators were still there. She channeled her planning into her work. She would pen a novel "partly in the United States and partly in Europe," she wrote in her application for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

As George Hutchinson notes in his phenomenal biography of the writer, Nella went on to explain that "the theme will be the difference in intellectual and physical freedom for the Negro – and the effect on him – between Europe, especially the Latin countries Spain and France. I have never been in these countries and therefore feel I am not prepared without visiting them to judge attitudes and reactions of my hero in a foreign and favorable or more unfavorable environment."

Before her departure for the continent, she found out the name of her husband's Nashville-based lover. It was Ethel Gilbert, a white administrator at the school. She said nothing to Elmer Imes — what could he tell her about their marriage that she did not already know? Privately, she was a mess. She spoke only to Van Vechten about the situation. Elmer wrote to the author of the controversial Nigger Heaven, that he should "cheer Nella up occasionally. She seemed a little blue about my leaving."

Nella traveled to Nashville in May, dreading having to look the woman her husband was sleeping with in the face. lmer knew that she was shortly off to Europe on her fellowship, but she when she confronted him with evidence of the affair in New York, he begged her not to end the marriage. They agreed to separate and revisit things upon her return.

The S.S. Patria departed for Lisbon, after a brief stopover in Boston, on September 19. Nella stayed in the Avenida Palace Hotel there. The best room in the place was ten dollars a day. Lisbon struck Nella as a clean, happy city. Two white Virginians who had relocated to Nice showed her around the theater district. Much of Lisbon featured citizens darker than Larsen herself. She could not get Elmer's affair out of her mind. It was all the more present, knowing he was with Ethel and in love while she was all alone.

She took the train to Madrid and sailed from Barcelona to Majorca, an overnight jaunt that had her arrive at dawn. She found the island a charming refuge, meant as it was to be a safe haven for expatriates and tourists. She moved into the Hotel Reina Victoria, a lavish outpost where she contracted a mild case of pneumonia.

the Hotel Reina Victoria

She was yet to begin her book on Europe, instead focusing her attention on a story about a cheating man living in New Jersey. She wrote to her husband and Van Vechten regularly. To the latter she suggested that she was "trying to make up my mind to take a house. I can get a very good and a servant for fifty-five dollars a month. Food for the two of us will come to about thirty dollars a month. The only thing is that I have to take the house for six months and how do I know what I'll want to do next May?"

She ended up taking the villa until May 1. She struggled to meet people, even expatriates. "Perhaps being a bit lonely is doing me good," she wrote Carl optimistically. Elmer sent Nella a check for her expenses beyond what the Guggenheim Fellowship covered; at Fisk he pulled down a salary of $5,000 a year. She spent what he sent her quite freely, troubling Elmer, who told Carl that "I am rather holding my breath and pocketbook for Nella's needs. She has seemed to need a great deal so far."

"The work goes fairly well," she reported to the fellowship committee. "A little slower than is usual with me. But – I like it. Of course that means nothing because I really can't tell if it's good or not. But the way I hope and pray that it is is like a physical pain almost. I do so want to be famous."

Elmer Imes
Nella amused herself with an another self-exile, a Scotsman named Norman Cameron who had fled the civil service in Nigeria. He introduced her to Robert Graves and Laura Riding, more permanent residents of Majorca confined to their own seclusion. Norman introduced her to the local society, but she did not stay in Majorca long.

Because she did not look her age – she was 40 – Nella fit in well enough with younger people. Learning polo and going out at night left her precious time to work on her New Jersey novel, which she had titled Crowning Mercy. Her relationship with Mssr. Cameron had been unceremoniously ended by a younger German girl was living with the Graves. She went on to Paris in May, where a plan to visit Carl's friend Gertrude Stein was foiled by problems of timing.

In Paris she met Arthur and Rose Wheeler, who had retired to Paris after Arthur had made substantial sums in the New York finance world. She heard less and less from Elmer, for whom his wife's absence was a case of out of sight, out of mind. He was also upset about her spending and lavish Paris digs near Montparnesse (Man Ray lived underneath her). Elmer sailed to Europe with Ethel Gilbert, and they toured Austria and Italy together. Nella's novel, now called Mirage, was rejected by Knopf.

Fisk University

By the time Nella Larsen finally returned to the United States, both parties had lost any faith in the possibility of salvaging the relationship. Nella briefly moved to Nashville to enhance her standing in the divorce case. A judge would award her alimony of $150 a month, which was around half of Imes' weekly salary.

She wrote to her friend Dorothy Peterson,

About the divorce. I've about come to the conclusion to get it here. It can be done discreetly in ten days for a hundred dollars or so. Can you imagine that? There are about eight grounds for divorce in Tennessee:

1. Adultery.

2. Desertion for two years.

3. Failure of wife to remove to the state if husband is living and working in Tennessee (Note these last two. It explains a lot, especially why I am here still after coming for a mere visit).

4. Habitual drunkenness contracted after marriage.

5. Non-support.

6. Commission of a crime.

7. Bigamy.

8. Cruelty.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Nella in nursing school, second from left

Wednesday
Mar292017

In Which We Felt Complete In The Air

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

My boyfriend (of four months) Ian, and I were at a movie last week. He brought into the theater a massive box of popcorn slathered in butter and ate the entire thing himself. I could barely focus on the film given the show that was occurring in the seat right next to me. To make things even worse he offered his sticky hand to me afterwards and I was too shocked to vocalize my disapproval. I still feel like there is butter on my hand.

I know I'm nitpicking a little and other aspects of this new relationship are a lot more positive, but it is difficult to completely put this experience in the past. Am I overreacting?

Janine H.

Rk5TFxA.jpg

Dear Janine,

A lot of binge-eaters prefer to do their most important work in the dark. The fact that Ian allowed you to view him in his natural environment was from his perspective, an important step. You can bet that Ian has serious issues with his food, all beginning when he was a young Ian growing up in the Hamlet of Saw City, Missouri. Children often escape domineering parents or uncomfortable home situations through the magic of cinema, and if they are not getting the requisite calories at home, a folksy theater vendor might slip a young boy an extra bucket of popcorn that some finicky theatergoer rejected for being too buttery.

Personally, I feel that butter is an abomination, a story that begins in Fountainhead, Montana....

There will always be things about other people we don't like or fully understand. Getting closer to our knowledge of others and accepting them constitutes some level of personal growth.

If you're not at that point yet, don't blame yourself.

Hey,

As a heterosexual woman, I was wondering what the best way to give a guy your number and basically let you know that you are interested in is? In college I was used to meeting people naturally and developing a friendship. In my new city a lot of people are already in relationships and thus it's awkward. I just wondered if there is a simple way to convey availability without coming on too strong?

Kelsey U.

rRHTNDC.jpg

Dear Kelsey,

If you are talking about people you slightly know as acquaintances, the best thing to do is state plainly that you just broke up with your boyfriend. They will ask the reason, which is a decent conversation starter although you will quickly want to move onto other things, and so will they. The made-up reason that you should give for the breakup is usually, you moved here and did not want to do long-distance. If you have some other dealbreaker you can also mention that up front, e.g. "He wouldn't abandon his cat Meeples!" or "He wanted me to get a hysterectomy!"

If you are talking about randoms, it is usually best to get to know them in a general sense, after which you can use the dumped gag. Telling other people your own relationship status generally gets them to reveal theirs without a minimum of fuss. If they suggest they are single, then you can offer a friendly drink. When they arrive, they will quickly realize they are at the beginning of the most important sexual and emotional journey of their lives.

 

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Tuesday
Mar282017

In Which We Were Jewish Once And Young

Passed Over

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
creator Amy Sherman-Palladino
Amazon Studios

Until she takes the stage Midge (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) is unlike any character we have ever seen before on television. Her outward face, delicately applied during the early morning while her husband believes her to be asleep, is that of a Manhattan housewife whose parents (Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub) live floors above her in the same building. Her two children consist of a young boy named Ethan who may be autistic and a baby with a massive head. Her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) depends on her completely, and so when he announces he is leaving, we are not the least bit surprised.

Midge measures her calves and thighs, and claims she goes through this intense process on a weekly basis for ten years. When she cooks, it is with a hat that a woman twenty years older would be far more comfortable in. In other words, she is not really comfortable with herself at all.

We saw far more of truly ethnic portrayals of Jews in decades past. Most were contrived by Woody Allen, who did the work of the ADL in showing that traditional stereotypes about the characters of Jewish people were sometimes true, sometimes false. The ways in which they were true were charming personality quirks which allowed them to survive the difficulties if their lives as American immigrants, Allen explained, and the ways in which they were false painted Jewish-Americans as hard-working, patriotic citizens in therapy for the rest of their lives.

Midge Maisel is also somewhat religious – she refuses to eat nuts in the early morning of Yom Kippur, for example. It will be intriguing to see if she leaves her religion behind as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel goes to series, since almost every white person we see on the small screen has zero relationship with religion of any kind. Amy Sherman-Palladino's father was Jewish, and to some extent her ways of speaking have always been rooted in the cultural and environmental proximity that forced Jews to adapt by talking quite a bit.

It is strange that the women Sherman-Palladino writes so well for rarely struggle with poverty. But then, few shows on television deal with this theme in general. There was a time in the past where Rory and Lorelai were really living hand-to-mouth, and I will never forget the astonishing episode when Lorelai's mother viewed the place her daughter and granddaughter were living all that time. Lorelai made it, however, and hopefully The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will show us what it takes a single mother to survive on her own.

Sherman-Palladino has never received sufficient credit for the amount of visual perfection she achieves in her hour-long dramas. Gilmore Girls had a wonderful camera and the small Connecticut town of Star's Hollow where Rory turned into such a tragic figure was particularly evocative. On her short-lived masterpiece Bunheads, she gave us the porcelain charm of California, although we were unfortunate to spend so little time there. Given the task of creating New York in the late 1950s, Sherman-Palladino spares no expense in detailed stormfronts and meticulously wrought apartments. She never forces her characters to inhabit anything less than a fully realized world.

After her husband peaces out, Midge takes up a stand-up career of her own. She is not completely terrible, but it is still hard to watch stand-up routines written for other people. Even being forced to view her husband stealing wretched Bob Newhart bits feels like an excruciating waste of time.

It would be better not to have to watch her perform at all, since her life off-stage is so much more exciting than what she explains of herself when she is on it. Her struggle relating to her children seems a mere proxy for her inability to directly address the world at large in something other than a costume. We completely understand why her husband left her, and we are surprised that he even made it this far. What kind of person toasts herself at her own wedding? We are wanting desperately to find out.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.