‘And so we will go on, one week up and one week down,’ Boss wrote of the Abbey Company to Elbert Wickes in 1933. A screensaver quote for my laptop perhaps?
This week I wrangled with: shoddy Californian plumbing, screeching coyotes, maniac drivers on Sunset Boulevard and a heap of NUIG scholarship forms. Through it all I’m trying (some days successfully, some days not) to keep writing. When it got too much, I decamped to The Grove.
The Farmers Market at The Grove is a favorite spot for Los Angelenos to shop. It’s a faux-Venetian piazza complete with valet parking, wine bars, a fountain show (and working plumbing). At Christmas, there’s artificial snow every hour. Boss used to bring a young Christine here to watch Bob the Baker make green-frosted donuts into dinosaur shapes. I should have tried to find Bob’s grandson, but somewhere between Mac, Anthropologie and Barnes & Noble, I got distracted.
Stationed on the balcony of Barnes & Noble cafe with a heap of history books, I could see the fountain show, enjoy the last dying heat of the day and imagine I was in … Well, it’s less medieval Italy and more Las Vegas really!
In October 1939, the US signed a Neutrality Act to say that they were not getting involved in World War 2, but on 4 November they passed an amendment to allow them to sell arms to European countries. By May 1940, Roosevelt was talking about the US as an ‘Arsenal of Democracy’. I could go on and on: dates, treaties, agreements and politicians. But how many of us shape the story of our lives by historical events? Even today, when I have constant Internet access, I have a limited knowledge of what’s happening in Ireland, or the Middle East. Frankly, it’s not currently impinging on my own reality, and my own reality is tricky enough to negotiate.
Some months after Aideen arrived in Hollywood, huge anti-war rallies were held in Los Angeles. Thirty-five thousand people crowded the Hollywood Bowl and surrounding hillsides to voice their resistance to the fighting. Also that year – Jiminy Cricket singing ‘When you wish upon a star’ in the Disney film of Pinocchio was top of the charts and Aideen’s radio was playing comedians and comedy shows almost back-to-back. In the dance halls, young people had discovered the frenetic energy of the Jitterbug, and California elected a Democratic governor for the first time in 42 years. All of this gives me rich historical ‘context’, but I still need the personal ‘text’ to tell this story truthfully.
The ‘WPA Guide to the City of Angels’ for the 193os was recently re-released. It was produced originally to provide jobs and income for American writers during the Depression, and works as something like a historical ‘Lonely Planet’. It’s the equivalent of the ‘Rough Guide’ that Aideen could have purchased when she got off the Southern Pacific train from New York. (By the by, a round trip ticket to NYC that year could have cost her 90 US dollars, the equivalent of just over a thousand dollars in todays money. A huge investment for an actress that had just been deprived of two weeks salary for walking out of a show.)
The WPA Guide is the most useful book I’ve found, listing the cafes and restaurants in her area, mapping the parks she may have walked, and the cinemas that showed newsreels before movies and those that did not. [Aideen liked newsreels; one of few ways to keep up with events at home.]
The Divorce referendum brings up vague memories for me, but I’ve no idea what I was doing when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. On September 11th, I was shopping with my mother for a new coat. Inane perhaps, but I was beginning my first proper job, I was terrified, and somehow the purchase of the right coat was crucial. At the same time, I’ve had moments (the letter, the look, the phone call) when all I knew as solid went up in flames before my eyes; when my world tilted just enough to send me sprawling over the edge, freefalling into the unknown, careering into a future I hadn’t planned or wanted. We all have such moments in our lives. They don’t tend to receive their own headline in the Irish Times or end up on J-Stor.
Slowly this week, the moment Aideen’s world was blown apart, when life as she knew it tumbled – her personal September 11th – has started to take shape in my imagination. Of course, if you want to know when and where and how it happened … You’ll have to wait for the book!
Click this link for: When you wish upon a star … Because I know you want to hear it now!