There are days when I don’t get out of my pajamas, don’t brush my hair, hardly speak a word to any living being. Though I am able to enter into muttering and grunting exchanges with inanimate things like my laptop, the stove, cookery books. Some books are good for reading, other books are best for hurling across a room, aimed either at someone’s head or simply hurled for pleasure, for the gratification to be derived from launching something heavy into the lightness of air, listening to the whoosh, followed by a thump, thump, thump.
It is best, on such days, not to look in the mirror. On such days, when bumping into the mirror, I either go back to bed and pull the blankets over my head, or go out into the garden. There lies salvation, so you might think. Not always. Last week I came up against the dishevelment and chaotic overgrown
of the white garden
“White Garden” is a grand and preposterously inflated term for what is merely a large bed in the middle of the backyard, between our offices and the chicken run. I was originally inspired by the idea of the alluring night scents of such famous gardens as Vita Sackville West’s at Sissinghurst in England. I’ve written about the development of “my” white garden in the book I began many years ago and am just picking up again, Gardening in a Strange Land. Suffice to say now that this “garden” was a misconceived project in many ways, but one that I have never quite been able to relinquish. Like those grand passions that have seized and consumed and derailed one from sensible existence, and that somehow won’t go away, even after years of therapy and self reproachement and rapprochement too, even then they won’t go away.
When the chickens were let loose to roam the the backyard, before their run was built, they laid waste my little oasis of gentility. After they were confined by the stylish run that Matthew built, rather than seizing the opportunity to begin again, differently, I couldn’t resist, I just couldn’t stop myself from buying six packs of tiny white flowering plants and even now and then a four incher foxglove, and I even inveigled Steve to start me some white hollyhock. I began dreaming.
But neglect turned my dreams to dust. So I turned my back on the white garden and gazed upon the mass of Brazilian plume flowers
Jeffrey keeps reminding me (ironically, but i can detect an undertone of alarm) of what his mother would have said – that in these times (behind closed doors, unseen, unsocialized) we must not go to pieces. Or as Alexandra Fuller’s family would have said, in her marvelous Zimbabwe memoir, Let’s Not go to the Dogs Tonight.
So I pull myself together, reach for the beautiful ceremonial green bowls hidden away from quotidian life on a top shelf, and make a dish of marinated egg yolks with sushi rice.
And along with it:
steamed bok choy
The bowls, combined with the use of chopsticks, seem to introduce a modicum of etiquette into the low-key savagery into which the house- and-garden has descended.
We eat the sushi and eggs while watching Baby Face. Barbara Stanwyck, in this gratifyingly wicked pre-code movie (i.e. before censorship) plays a woman on the make, who manages to rise in the world by seducing and using, with immense joi de vivre, one poor man after another. She tries reading Nietzsche, but tosses him aside in favor of a manual on Etiquette.
my I-phone caught her in the act
Baby Face revives me, and I get to work on the white garden. The bulbs – mainly different kinds of Paperwhites and some ornithogallum – are gorgeous when they bloom. But then the long green leaves loll and languish all over the bed and can’t be cut yet because as long as they are green they are supplying nutrients to the bulbs underground. And then the brugmansia which smells so divine at night drops its flowers and leaves which get tangled in the rose bush which in its turn is growing into the mandarin tree. Craig prunes the mandarin and cuts back the Iceberg rose – a daschund that thinks it’s a great dane.
I start by tying up the bulb greenery to at least make some room,
clean up the Brugmansia debris, pull the far-from-white nasturtiums, and wonder about the maderense geraniums that have migrated from the chicken run, small now but destined to be huge and purply pink blooming.
All kinds of forgotten wonders emerge as I squirrel away:
a closer look reveals phlox, antirrhinums, dianthus and diamond frost euphorbia. The dianthus is so shy that it’s blushing.
and most miraculously
the two foxgloves are there, beginning to open, reaching skyward
Exhausted by all the renovating work but battling a self-satisfied cheshire cat grin that has settled in to my face I stagger into the kitchen and bake a triumphant
that we eat with strawberry compote and freshly made yoghourt
Jeffrey took me to Thornton hospital the next day and dropped me at the front. I negotiated very easily through several stations, several questionings, until eventually I made it to the Jacobson wing for Outpatient Surgery. The hospital was quiet, none of the usual hustle and bustle, and because the nurses were less harassed (though no doubt stressed by Covid) they were very genial and chatty. The bone marrow biopsy this time was a dream, after feeling pleasantly drowsy I drifted off and then was woken, not having felt at all the drilling through bone.
At home I walked through the arch of scented Sombreuil and onto the porch, where
the jasmine is now blooming
I stop and breathe, give thanks that we remain safe and alive. On the other side of the porch
the purple mandevilla
almost the sole survivor from when I bought the house, Annie must have planted it.
There are days when I don’t get out of my pajamas, and simply can’t face mixing up the dough for another effing loaf of bread. My friend Patricia Montoya posted a link to an article by Sabrina Orah Mark in The Paris Review (May 7, 2020). I stole her title today by way of homage because it resonated so precisely, the cackling it induced made me feel so much better. When Orah Mark called her her mother to complain that, like most of us, she couldn’t find either flour or yeast, anywhere, her mother retorted: “Fuck the bread. The bread is over.”