Very early morning. The sun was not yet risen and the whole of Crescent Bay was hidden under a white sea-mist. The big bush-covered hills at the back were smothered. You could not see where they ended and where the paddocks and bungalows began…there was nothing to mark which was beach and and where was sea. A heavy dew had fallen. The grass was blue. Big drops hung on the bushes and just did not fall; the silvery, fluffy toi-toi was limp on its long stalks, and all the marigolds and the pinks in the bungalow garden were bowed to the ground with wetness. Drenched were the cold fuschias, round pearls of dew lay on the flat nasturtium leaves. It looked as if the sea had beaten up softly in the darkness, as though one immense wave had come rippling, rippling – but how far? Ah-aah, said the sea.
Katherine Mansfield – The Bay; photo from my visit to Oregon Cannon Beach last year.
How lovely it was to be alive and walking up the village street at ten o’clock in the morning. I curved the soles of my feet luxuriously over the mottled cobbles, round as turkeys’ eggs, that had been brought up from the sea shore maybe fifty years ago, and felt the heat of two hours’ sun stored in them.
Every Eye by Isobel English – an intriguing novel that interleaves the story of a woman’s new marriage (moving backwards from the departure in honeymoon to the first meeting) with her remiscences (moving forwards from 14 to 33), the mysteries unravelling as she goes.
A lot of bombs at Greenwich, one of them as I was talking to E over the phone. A sudden pause in the conversation and the tinkling of glass.
I: “What’s that?”
B: “Only the windows falling in.”
George Orwell – diaries
I think of that time of year as a time of green things. Green like me, and unlike the city. Around the same time as the green melons, fruit sellers started to sell yesil erik, green plums…
My first year in Istanbul I didn’t understand the plums. They are small, almost like oversized cherries, and hard. The second year we sit in the heat with whiskey and a saucer of salt in a spot where we can see the Bosphorus flow. Take a plum, bite a piece out, and dip the wet opening into the salt – just so, not too much. Now take another bite. Now a sip of whisky. The salt and the cold tart flesh and the smoky liquor and the ships that go by with their red – blue – grey containers packed high like a child’s wooden blocks do make sense. I begin to laugh. Now, I look forward to the green plums each year.
Green plums in FARE Istanbul. Image by @niftyswank
My husband died in Rome, in the prison of Regina Coeli, a few months after we left the Abruzzi. Faced with the horror of his solitary death, and faced with the anguish which preceded his death, I ask myself if this happened to us – to us, who bought oranges at Giro’s and went for walks in th snow.
Natalia Ginzburg, “Winter In Abruzzi” (1944). Republished in the essay collection The Little Virtues, and reminiscent of “Maman, what are we called now?”
Fine, rather warm. Some rain last night. A few sweet peas up.
Footmarks of tortoises in the mud could easily be mistaken for those of a rabbit.
Sowed sweet peas (only about 1/2 dozen of the others have come up), carnations and violas.
George Orwell’s diaries are an unexpected mix, especially this period in late 1938 Morocco when we counts eggs as anxiously as Bridget Jones her diary.
It has been a matter of pure joy to me, a very serious woman, to find that the property planned and prepared food brings acolytes into my life who are unimpressed by my abilities either as a novelist or as a femme fatale….I write as an introvert, attempting to turn an intangible loveliness into a tangible conception. But I cook as an extrovert, singing at the top of my lungs, in ecstasy and the certainty of fulfilment.
I’m charmed by Marjorie Rawlings’ discovery that different activities can unlock another side of you. This is from “I sing as I cook”, an American Vogue article from the 30s and another selection in the Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs collection named a few days ago.
Maddy Vegtel wrote an article in American Vogue in the 1930s about the experience of becoming a mother in your 40s. It’s fascinating and more down-to-earth than many such articles would be now.
Firstly she points out that the couple really know whether they want kids and probably know themselves well enough to guess what parenting will be like for them.
Then there’s been a chance to live life already (“she may have had a nine to five job, with dashing madly home to dash madly out again far into the night… she has travelled and travelled with husband and without”) and even better “At twenty-five, one might tear one’s hair at having to miss a divine party and shriek when you find that you just simply can’t wear that little tulle any longer. At forty, you certainly don’t. You’ve worn a lot of tulle, have gone to a lot of parties, have drunk a great many drinks.”
But best of all is the sense of centre that you gain with age: “You are lying on a couch. A friend drops in and says “oh, you should be taking a firm, brisk walk.” You are taking a firm, brisk walk and another friend says “You really should be at home, lying down.” Do you get flustered? No! You smile and say “I suppose I should…” and go on doing exactly what you want to do.
Eventually I realised that it’s this sense of a life well lived without worry, fully enjoyed and chosen, that permeates the article and makes it so enjoyable as a woman, whether read by mothers or not. Find this and other gems in the collection “Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: the first 100 years of women’s journalism”
In winter, you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china teaset were vibrating on a silver tray…You fling the windows open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, pearl-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers.
A bit of an odd choice to read about Venice in winter in June, but Joseph Brodsky’s essay was just what I wanted for a bout of travel lust. Each winter for seventeen years he’d return to Venice for a month:
This is a time for reading, for burning electricity all day long, for going easy on self-deprecating thoughts or coffee, for listening to the BBC World Service, for going to bed early.
”Waterlogged” by Joseph Brodsky
In the Second World War, John Steinbeck wrote a weekly column for the American press about the war. It was heavily censored, and certain themes (the tough decency of the American soldier, in particular) got repeated a lot. But one of the best was from the first 4th July in London after America entered the war. In a few hundred words, Steinbeck both pays gratitude to the English girls trying so hard to be neat in their worn dresses, making friendly conversation, and ruefully acknowledge that the cake and sandwiches can’t beat hotdogs, sweet corn and lobster on the beach, that the cool dancing in Trafalgur Square can’t replace the raucous chaos of Coney Island not the friendly girls “Mabel on the Ferris wheel”. It’s a brilliant snapshot of nostalgia and two nations.
Detail from a painting by Childe Hassan; Steinbeck’s collection “once there was a war”