Coco before Chanel

The big disappointment in this
was that I didn’t really enjoy looking at the

This defect is inherent in one of the good qualities of the
movie — it’s about the period in Coco Chanel’s life when she’s
looking at all the clothes around her and hating them and
thinking she could do better.

But except for the last scene, where she’s wearing a Chanel
jacket and watching her models go down the runway, we don’t
really see any examples of her doing better — the dress she
designs for herself to replace the “feminine” one her
“protector” has bought her seemed fairly pedestrian to me. The
little black dress she designs to go dancing with her new lover
is better, but we don’t really see it very well.

Looking at the movie as either a moralist or a feminist, I
think the script romanticises the demimondaine lifestyle,
although I’m sure the writers would dispute that. The
self-centered lord of the manor whose mistress she becomes is
realistic enough at the beginning, but his conversion to
supporter of her design career is completely unconvincing.

I mentioned a few
weeks ago
that I hadn’t yet seen any of the other
candidates for the Best Costume Design Oscar, but I was rooting
for Bright
to win it anyway. This is part of the competition, and
having seen it doesn’t change that opinion any.

When Everything Changed

I enjoyed reading this
by Gail Collins, who’s one of the New York Times
columnists I read regularly. It’s not so much a comprehensive scholarly history, as
a collection of the stories about women’s issues in the last
century. They’re well-told. And even if you lived through it
all, you’ve probably forgotten even some of the good ones.

Of course, if you lived through it, you probably have your own
stories that are as good as plenty of these. I kept thinking
about the time (probably in the mid-70’s) I didn’t get a job I was interviewed for, and the
person who did get it was a married woman. My mother was
incensed, because she thought I should have had priority over
someone with a husband to take care of her.

Another good part is that Ms Collins
followed up on what happened to the characters in the stories. So
a woman who in the 50’s was famous for having been able to iron a
shirt in 12 minutes was interviewed in the assisted living
facility and said she only owned one skirt, because she wears
pants everywhere these days. And she gets both Gloria
Steinem’s and Phyllis Schlafly’s reactions to Sarah Palin.

Ebook experience

Most of my ebook reading has been fiction. Terry Pratchett
does put footnotes in his fiction, and the most recent one I
bought did the right thing about making the footnotes links.

This Adobe epub book does even better and has a link back from
the footnote to the place in the text where it occurs.
Unfortunately, when you move to the link, it doesn’t appear at the
top of the screen, so you have to scan the whole page to find the
footnote you were looking for.

Another annoyance was that the page numbers (unnecessary,
because they’re redundant to the Adobe Digital Editions display at
the top of the window) obscure some of the text.

The illustrations came out very well. They were all at the end
of the book, with no links between them and the text that refers
to the same subject. This is probably similar to the dead tree
book, but it’s a place where an ebook could provide some value
added. And flipping between different sections of an ebook is a
bit more difficult than with a dead tree book, so publishers
should be thinking about these things.

But on the whole, I’m glad I was able to take this out of the
library as an ebook, even though I wish someone would crack the
Adobe epub format so that I could have read it in more comfort.


I think this
was Roman
first movie in English. I’d say it’s a good one to
start with if you like arty European movies and don’t want to
bother with subtitles. And if you don’t mind movies about mental illness.

The most artful aspect of the movie is the urban sounds. The
beginning of the movie is largely the interaction of Carol, the
main character, played by Catherine deNeuve, who is going mad, and her sister and a
coworker, who have their problems but are dealing with them. The
sister is clearly irritated by the trolley bell which is very loud
in the apartment she and Carol share, but after it passes, she
forgets about it. Carol tenses when it stops, and remains tense,
and then tenses more when the next irritation comes.

Another aspect that’s well done is the way the apartment
looks. One of Carol’s hallucinations is that giant cracks are
opening up in the walls. Of course, there are cracks that should
be fixed; there are ornate plaster ceiling medallions that might well come

Another very well done piece of acting is the smells. Of
course, even people like me who’ve just installed the latest in
home theater equipment don’t have smell-o-vision yet, but one of
the things that happens in this movie is that after her sister
leaves, Carol isn’t coping with anything at all. So she takes a
rabbit out of the refrigerator, and puts it down to answer the
phone, and never gets the ability to put it away. So of course it
attracts flies, which adds to the jangle of annoying sounds. But
after a while, everyone who comes into the apartment wrinkles
their nose in increasing horror, so you really do know how it smells.

If you don’t think too hard about the plot, this is a
remarkably good movie. Of course, someone who can’t put the
rabbit back in the refrigerator couldn’t really murder two
ordinarily fit men on the first try. So of course one of the
things to wonder about is whether that really happened, but if
not, why did the sister scream like that when she got home?

What version to watch

I put this on my Netflix list when the New York Times reviewed
the recent release of the Criterion edition. I have linked to the
blu-ray version, because that’s the one I watched, but I doubt
that this is a movie that particularly needs blu-ray. The extra
dots were probably good for watching plaster cracking, but the
sound (apparently originally in mono), was only mixed to stereo. So if you
don’t bother with director’s commentary (I didn’t), you may well be just as
well off with the $10
older transfer.

Bonnie’s keepsakes

In the course of cleaning out Bonnie’s house, of course I threw
out all kinds of stuff that would have been necessary if someone
wanted to write a biography of her.

Of course, if someone did want to do that they should have come
and taken all the stuff off my hands, and they didn’t.

I did take a small cedar box with some things she must have
wanted to save, mostly from college or before. I scanned three
letters from that box, so I’m posting them here mostly for her
friends. As far as I know, they’re from before any of her friends
that I ever met knew her.

I apologize for the orientations in the PDF,
and also for its size. Transcribing them was interesting for the
number of errors even highly literate people put up with in a
handwritten note.

Summer job

The last letter was from a woman who had hired her to cook for
her family for the summer of 1963. I think Bonnie did recall this
job fondly; I remember her mentioning the rowboat. She was 20
that year.

Bayberry Bluff
South Orleans, Mass.

July 20, 1963

Dear Mrs. Rogers,

Forgive me for not writing to you long before this to give
you word about Bonny. She is doing a most satisfactory job for
us, unfazed by the size of the family, a refrigerator too small
for the present situation and a gas oven whose regulator is
ailing and irreplacable [sic]. I gave her ample warning on all
these points, but she has handled the situation with composure
and always with a smile, which is a joy to me. And her meals
are so good always!

I hope she is enjoying her summer. We take her in the
sailboat which she seems to enjoy particularly and she takes
many shorter expeditions in the row boat and has one or more
daily swims. We are very glad that she wanted to come to

With kind regards to you and your husband. I am yours

Susan M. Brooks

Microbiology research

The other two are from Mary
, who was President of Radcliffe College when
Bonnie was there, but from these letters must also have been
teaching a microbiology course. I had no idea Bonnie was at
all interested in microbiology.

Both letters are postmarked 1962, so Bonnie would have been 18
in the Spring, and turned 19 in June.

PS. — I guess I’ll send you the actual data too.

Radcliffe College
Cambridge 38, Mass

Office of the President

Sunday 4/1

Dear Bonnie:

Your plates were beautiful! The VI series ran approx [table
omitted from transcription]
but there were no variants that I would wish to differentiate on any
plate. There weren’t even any that I would question — ie some
like the ones you showed me before. I gues [sic] they are
pretty rare except in old stock or other aging cultures.

There were some odd differences in size — ie — plates VI
9-12 had small colonies whereas VI 13 — 16 had very large

Now What?

Have a good vacation! M.I.B.

Radcliffe College
Cambridge 38, Mass

Office of the President


Dear Bonni:

Thanks for the excellent report!

You’ve developed a great deal of scientific insight in one
year. It would mean a lot of study but you could do this stuff
if you wanted. In any event I think you have an appreciation of
the demands of investigation which will stand you in good

Its been nice to have you in class.

Mary I. Bunting

Roman Polanski

I know every other blogger weighed in on this a few weeks ago,
but I had Wanted
and Desired
, the documentary about the original trial, in my
Netflix watch now queue, and I wanted to see it before I
pontificated. I got around to watching it last night.

I was pretty sure the current difficulties Polanski is in
aren’t an example of the creeping police state mentality that
the cases of Gates
and my
seem to be, since this involves someone who has
actually been convicted of something. But I couldn’t tell from
the news reports what the actual story about plea bargains and
time served was.

If you’re interested, you should watch the documentary. But
the short version is that he was indited on a series of
charges, and the one he was willing to plead to was “unlawful
intercourse”. This is less serious than rape, but can still
lead to a 20 year sentence in state prison.

The sentencing problem the judge faced was that there were
enough issues with the conduct of the trial that he didn’t want to give a sentence that would
be appealed. But he thought Polanski should serve some time in
jail. The only sentence that couldn’t be appealed was the 90 day
“evaluation”, which in Polanski’s case took only 42 days.

The judge was outraged that he had achieved only 42 days in
jail and was trying to bargain for more time in jail when
Polanski decided he didn’t trust these bargains and left.

The documentary focuses on the views of the two principal
lawyers in the case, the prosecutor, who looks a lot like Robert
Redford, and the defense attorney, who looks something like Sam
Waterstone. Of course, what you really want is the point of
view of the victim and of Roman Polanski, both of whom are
interviewed, but understandably don’t want to talk about the
more painful aspects of the issue.

My gut opinion is that this is not the way to protect 13 year
old girls from being exploited by older men. This isn’t an
example of random police power, but certainly does indicate that
the intersection of the courts with the media and the political
system can lead to undesirable results for both victims and

So if Polanski manages to not come back, I won’t be outraged by
any miscarriage of justice. If he does end up coming back, I hope
any additional sentence can be mostly time served in the Swiss
jail, which I would guess is a lot more civilized than the
California State Prison. (I’m not the only person who thinks
that — the reason the 90 day evaluation got done in 42 days was
that the prison officials were concerned that they wouldn’t be
able to protect him.)

Hobson’s Choice

I watched this
last night, and enjoyed it a lot. It’s about a
woman who does all the work for a family with a mostly absent
father and two lazy sisters.

Not that I believe the fairy tale about getting capital for
your business from the first person you ask and paying it off
before it’s due. But the fairy tale about a woman deciding what
she wants and going and getting it is a lot of fun to watch.
And she gets to be the fairy godmother to the bootmaker in the
basement who hasn’t ever thought of getting a better job or a
better place to live.

The key sentence of the plot goes, “This business runs on the shoes you
make which sell themselves and the boots everyone else makes,
which I sell.” So obviously they should go into business for
themselves, and ditch the parasites.

Which they do. Unfortunately, the “happy” ending has them
coming back to the original shop and taking care of the
alcoholic father, but at least the lazy sisters are out of the
picture. The Cinderella ending I always imagined after “and
they lived happily ever after” was better, but the one in
Rossini actually leaves her still dealing with the father and
the stepsisters, so probabably I’m just being too escapist about
my fantasy life.

The cinematography of the alcoholic delirium is a bit dated,
but Charles Laughton’s acting of a man who’s drunk himself into
oblivion and incapacity is really good.

Anna Karenina reread

(free Gutenberg
) is one of the books I reread fairly regularly.

In this
case I was inspired to reread it sooner than I would have
otherwise, because of looking
at the chapter about using a scythe
. I had remembered
reading that, but not how detailed the description of how you
swing it and how often you have to whet it was. So I thought
there were probably other detailed descriptions of how 19th
century farming worked that I didn’t remember and would enjoy reading.

It turns out all the descriptions of how people did their work
were more detailed than I remembered. So I’ll point you at a few
I really enjoyed.


Serfs on private land were freed in 1861 and on public land in
1866. Anna Karenina was published serially in 1874-7 and in book
form in 1878.

So how a landowner got the farm work done with a different
relationship to the peasants that neither he nor they were used to
was a hot topic of conversation.

Here’s a conversation Levin has with a peasant who has done

Over their tea Levin heard all about the old man’s farming. Ten
years before, the old man had rented three hundred acres from the
lady who owned them, and a year ago he had bought them and rented
another three hundred from a neighboring landowner. A small part
of the land–the worst part–he let out for rent, while a
hundred acres of arable land he cultivated himself with his
family and two hired laborers. The old man complained that
things were doing badly. But Levin saw that he simply did so
from a feeling of propriety, and that his farm was in a
flourishing condition. If it had been unsuccessful he would not
have bought land at thirty-five roubles the acre, he would not
have married his three sons and a nephew, he would not have
rebuilt twice after fires, and each time on a larger scale. In
spite of the old man’s complaints, it was evident that he was
proud, and justly proud, of his prosperity, proud of his sons,
his nephew, his sons’ wives, his horses and his cows, and
especially of the fact that he was keeping all this farming
going. From his conversation with the old man, Levin thought he
was not averse to new methods either. He had planted a great
many potatoes, and his potatoes, as Levin had seen driving past,
were already past flowering and beginning to die down, while
Levin’s were only just coming into flower. He earthed up his
potatoes with a modern plough borrowed from a neighboring
landowner. He sowed wheat. The trifling fact that, thinning out
his rye, the old man used the rye he thinned out for his horses,
specially struck Levin. How many times had Levin seen this
splendid fodder wasted, and tried to get it saved; but always it
had turned out to be impossible. The peasant got this done, and
he could not say enough in praise of it as food for the beasts.

“What have the wenches to do? They carry it out in bundles to
the roadside, and the cart brings it away.”

“Well, we landowners can’t manage well with our laborers,” said
Levin, handing him a glass of tea.

“Thank you,” said the old man, and he took the glass, but refused
sugar, pointing to a lump he had left. “They’re simple
destruction,” said he. “Look at Sviazhsky’s, for instance. We
know what the land’s like–first-rate, yet there’s not much of a
crop to boast of. It’s not looked after enough–that’s all it

“But you work your land with hired laborers?”

“We’re all peasants together. We go into everything ourselves.
If a man’s no use, he can go, and we can manage by ourselves.”


One of the distinctions that’s drawn subtly between Levin, who
works his farm and takes care of his animals and the urbanized
noblemen, who like horses but just pay someone else to take care of
them, is how carefully he notices whether they’ve been worked too

Here, he’s on his way to go hunting with Veslovsky, previously
described as a quite uncongenial and superfluous

Vassenka was extremely delighted with the left horse, a horse of
the Don Steppes. He kept praising him enthusiastically. “How
fine it must be galloping over the steppes on a steppe horse!
Eh? isn’t it?” he said. He had imagined riding on a steppe horse
as something wild and romantic, and it turned out nothing of the
sort. But his simplicity, particularly in conjunction with his
good looks, his amiable smile, and the grace of his movements,
was very attractive. Either because his nature was sympathetic
to Levin, or because Levin was trying to atone for his sins of
the previous evening by seeing nothing but what was good in him,
anyway he liked his society.

After they had driven over two miles from home, Veslovsky all at
once felt for a cigar and his pocketbook, and did not know
whether he had lost them or left them on the table. In the
pocketbook there were thirty-seven pounds, and so the matter
could not be left in uncertainty.

“Do you know what, Levin, I’ll gallop home on that left
trace-horse. That will be splendid. Eh?” he said, preparing to
get out.

“No, why should you?” answered Levin, calculating that Vassenka
could hardly weigh less than seventeen stone. “I’ll send the

Later on, one indication that the affair with Anna is
destroying Vronsky’s ability to concentrate on the matters that
used to be important to him is the way he loses the horse race
that he’s been spending time and money on for weeks or months:

remained only the last ditch, filled with water and five feet
wide. Vronsky did not even look at it, but anxious to get in a
long way first began sawing away at the reins, lifting the mare’s
head and letting it go in time with her paces. He felt that the
mare was at her very last reserve of strength; not her neck and
shoulders merely were wet, but the sweat was standing in drops on
her mane, her head, her sharp ears, and her breath came in short,
sharp gasps. But he knew that she had strength left more than
enough for the remaining five hundred yards. It was only from
feeling himself nearer the ground and from the peculiar
smoothness of his motion that Vronsky knew how greatly the mare
had quickened her pace. She flew over the ditch as though not
noticing it. She flew over it like a bird; but at the same
instant Vronsky, to his horror, felt that he had failed to keep
up with the mare’s pace, that he had, he did not know how, made a
fearful, unpardonable mistake, in recovering his seat in the
saddle. All at once his position had shifted and he knew that
something awful had happened. He could not yet make out what had
happened, when the white legs of a chestnut horse flashed by
close to him, and Mahotin passed at a swift gallop. Vronsky was
touching the ground with one foot, and his mare was sinking on
that foot. He just had time to free his leg when she fell on one
side, gasping painfully, and, making vain efforts to rise with
her delicate, soaking neck, she fluttered on the ground at his
feet like a shot bird. The clumsy movement made by Vronsky had
broken her back. But that he only knew much later.

Birth Control

I’d never noticed before that Anna tells Dolly that she’s using
birth control after the difficult birth of her daughter:

“Well, and the most legitimate desire–he wishes that your
children should have a name.”

“What children?” Anna said, not looking at Dolly, and half
closing her eyes.

“Annie and those to come…”

“He need not trouble on that score; I shall have no more

“How can you tell that you won’t?”

“I shall not, because I don’t wish it.” And, in spite of all her
emotion, Anna smiled, as she caught the naïve expression of
curiosity, wonder, and horror on Dolly’s face.

“The doctor told me after my illness…”

“Impossible!” said Dolly, opening her eyes wide.

For her this was one of those discoveries the consequences and
deductions from which are so immense that all that one feels for
the first instant is that it is impossible to take it all in, and
that one will have to reflect a great, great deal upon it.

This discovery, suddenly throwing light on all those families of
one or two children, which had hitherto been so incomprehensible
to her, aroused so many ideas, reflections, and contradictory
emotions, that she had nothing to say, and simply gazed with
wide-open eyes of wonder at Anna. This was the very thing she
had been dreaming of, but now learning that it was possible, she
was horrified. She felt that it was too simple a solution of too
complicated a problem.

“N’est-ce pas immoral?” was all she said, after a brief pause.

“Why so? Think, I have a choice between two alternatives: either
to be with child, that is an invalid, or to be the friend and
companion of my husband–practically my husband,” Anna said in a
tone intentionally superficial and frivolous.

“Yes, yes,” said Darya Alexandrovna, hearing the very arguments
she had used to herself, and not finding the same force in them
as before.

“For you, for other people,” said Anna, as though divining her
thoughts, “there may be reason to hesitate; but for me…. You
must consider, I am not his wife; he loves me as long as he
loves me. And how am I to keep his love? Not like this!”

She moved her white hands in a curve before her waist with
extraordinary rapidity, as happens during moments of excitement;
ideas and memories rushed into Darya Alexandrovna’s head. “I,”
she thought, “did not keep my attraction for Stiva; he left me
for others, and the first woman for whom he betrayed me did not
keep him by being always pretty and lively. He deserted her and
took another. And can Anna attract and keep Count Vronsky in
that way? If that is what he looks for, he will find dresses and
manners still more attractive and charming. And however white
and beautiful her bare arms are, however beautiful her full
figure and her eager face under her black curls, he will find
something better still, just as my disgusting, pitiful, and
charming husband does.”

Dolly made no answer, she merely sighed. Anna noticed this sigh,
indicating dissent, and she went on. In her armory she had other
arguments so strong that no answer could be made to them.

“Do you say that it’s not right? But you must consider,” she
went on; “you forget my position. How can I desire children?
I’m not speaking of the suffering, I’m not afraid of that. Think
only, what are my children to be? Ill-fated children, who will
have to bear a stranger’s name. For the very fact of their birth
they will be forced to be ashamed of their mother, their father,
their birth.”

“But that is just why a divorce is necessary.” But Anna did not
hear her. She longed to give utterance to all the arguments with
which she had so many times convinced herself.

“What is reason given me for, if I am not to use it to avoid
bringing unhappy beings into the world!” She looked at Dolly,
but without waiting for a reply she went on:

“I should always feel I had wronged these unhappy children,” she
said. “If they are not, at any rate they are not unhappy; while
if they are unhappy, I alone should be to blame for it.”

These were the very arguments Darya Alexandrovna had used in her
own reflections; but she heard them without understanding them.
“How can one wrong creatures that don’t exist?” she thought. And
all at once the idea struck her: could it possibly, under any
circumstances, have been better for her favorite Grisha if he had
never existed? And this seemed to her so wild, so strange, that
she shook her head to drive away this tangle of whirling, mad

“No, I don’t know; it’s not right,” was all she said, with an
expression of disgust on her face.

“Yes, but you mustn’t forget that you and I…. And besides
that,” added Anna, in spite of the wealth of her arguments and
the poverty of Dolly’s objections, seeming still to admit that it
was not right, “don’t forget the chief point, that I am not now
in the same position as you. For you the question is: do you
desire not to have any more children; while for me it is: do I
desire to have them? And that’s a great difference. You must
see that I can’t desire it in my position.”

Darya Alexandrovna made no reply. She suddenly felt that she had
got far away from Anna; that there lay between them a barrier of
questions on which they could never agree, and about which it was
better not to speak.

I browsed Wikipedia on the history of birth control, and the
only suggestion relevant to what method Anna might have been using
is in the
barrier contraception article
, which says:

The diaphragm and reusable condoms became common after the invention of rubber vulcanization in the early nineteenth century.

Since Vronsky clearly doesn’t know she’s using birth control,
it couldn’t have been a condom.

Election description

As an election official, I was interested that the mechanics of
the secret ballot in 19th century Russia gave even less assurance
that the voter had voted the way he wanted to than our paperless
voting machines:

The district marshals walked carrying plates, on which were
balls, from their tables to the high table, and the election

“Put it in the right side,” whispered Stepan Arkadyevitch, as
with his brother Levin followed the marshal of his district to
the table. But Levin had forgotten by now the calculations that
had been explained to him, and was afraid Stepan Arkadyevitch
might be mistaken in saying “the right side.” Surely Snetkov was
the enemy. As he went up, he held the ball in his right hand,
but thinking he was wrong, just at the box he changed to the left
hand, and undoubtedly put the ball to the left. An adept in the
business, standing at the box and seeing by the mere action of
the elbow where each put his ball, scowled with annoyance. It
was no good for him to use his insight.

Conclusion (for now)

There were lots more interesting passages that I can use the
next time I feel like letting Leo Tolstoy write my blog entry for
the day.

The passsages quoted above are all ones I don’t remember
noticing much before, so even if you don’t enjoy them, it doesn’t
mean you won’t enjoy lots of other things about the book.