Beekeepers and Dostoevsky

IMG_3467

A party of six settled at the next table, all countrymen in homespun, rawhide footgear and sashes, but two in broad-brimmed hats of plaited osier, the others in cloth caps…untroubled smiles and good-humoured wrinkles round their eyes and the corners of their mouths. Anyone would have felt calm and happy in their neighbourhood. Appropriately, as I divined…they were itinerant beekeepers travelling up and down the region and tidying up the hives for the winter.

IMG_3469

One of many gentle passages in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s conclusion to his trilogy of his walk from Holland to Turkey in the mid-1930s, The Broken Road. I also liked his description of reading in bed in a loft above a wheelwright’s shop on a rainy day (“Dostoevsky ever since, and even the mention of his name, evokes a momentary impression of rain and fresh-sawed wood.”), or meeting the hotel-maid Rosa, who treated him to a nannyish scolding for wet shirts and lost belongings, and whom he treated in return by taking her to a showing of The Blue Angel, which evokes memories of her time in Vienna as lady’s maid to a grand hostess.

IMG_3470

Not to fret

IMG_3445

The days, the days they break to fade.

What fills them I’ll forget.

Every touch and smell and taste,

This sun, about to set

can never last. It breaks my heart,

Each joy feels like a threat:

Although there’s beauty everywhere,

its shadow is regret.

Still, something in the coming dusk

whispers not to fret.

Don’t matter that we’ll lose today.

It’s not tomorrow yet.

IMG_3433

Shades of Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson in Kate Tempest’s collection “Hold it Own”. Photos of small things that give me pleasure.

Heavens to Betsy

 

IMG_3450

Reminded by Beth Bonini’s cheerful Instagram feed of these delightful books (I’ve posted about their companion volumes here and here before), I think I’m getting ready for a re-read.

IMG_3451

Lots of commentators compare these books to Meet Me in St Louis, and as well as the period details (the hairstyles! the dresses! the slang! the excitement over a telephone!), what I love most is the inherent optimism – progress is always good, and friends and family remain stable whilst welcoming new developments – but also the complete acceptance that a job, writing, singing, making your own mind up, are all important to a girl and in no way conflicted with the rest of her being.

IMG_3452

I find it depressing that a modern book wouldn’t show this, or would have to make a big point about it. Written in the 50s about the 1900-1910s, Betsy, Emily and Carney are in fact far more progressive than any characters today.

Amy Sweet

IMG_3446

“I climbed three rickety flights to her flat to share her gulls’ eggs, and as soon as I reached the door, I knew that Amy’s home was not as other homes. Instead of a bell push or door-knocker, a Persian scimitar was attached precariously to the door, and you had to announce yourself with that…Amy herself let me in, wearing an exotic deshabille consisting of flimsy Turkish trousers, a short embroidered velvet jacket and masses of jangling gold bracelets. Her hair was hidden under an enormous Russian fur hat, with blonde curls escaping here and there… I squeezed into the narrow hall, nearly smashing a blue Victorian lustre with my right shoulder…Having negotiated this hazard, my left elbow banged into a china  jardiniere holding a castor-oil plant which sprouted to the ceiling. My head just grazed a small chandelier which hung from a hook, and the feather on my hat tickled a row of china jugs hanging on a shelf on the wall… “Wait a few minutes,” said Amy, “and I’ll bring in the lunch.”

IMG_3449

Lesley Blanch (photos above),sketched by her colleague Anne Scott-James in her memoir In the Mink. Cunningly, Lesley’s pseudonym recalls Amy in Little Women, and Lesley’s own adventuring was certainly wrapped in similar levels of fantasy, coquetry and almost overpowering femininity as Amy March. Later on Anne remarks that she always liked to appear in public swathed in masses of veiling, but she also accurately recalls how within a few days of “Any” leaving for Tunis or Helsinki, her friends were writing to her begging her to come back. Whilst I don’t think I could have stood her in person, Blanch’s own writing is irresistible and her fluttering exterior hid a great deal of determined toughness.

Aratea

At seemingly random points across the composition (but not at all random in reality) the page is studded with tiny squares of gold leaf. These are the stars in the constellation depicted. The text, which runs to several pages, explains that the stars rotate ceaselessly between the celestial poles, and that these are guarded by the bears of Crete, who had protected Jupiter as a baby from his cannibalistic father, Saturn, in return for which they had been set in the sky to mark the poles. They are known as Helice of the seven stars and Cynosura, who has never deceived Phoenician sailors guided by her. Between them…runs a giant snake, like a river, with stars along its body…These are the constellations which we still know as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, with the Plough.

IMG_2769

Tantalising writing by Christopher de Hamel about the Leiden Aratea, here. Image from Medieval Fragments.

Sunshine

IMG_2594

I came across this Virginia Woolf quote below, which reminded me of this favourite book, with its invitation to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” to hire an Italian castle for the month of April. Yes please…

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

If life has a base that it stands upon, it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying half asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind. It is of hearing the blind draw its little acorn across the floor as the wind blew the blind out. It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light…

Midday journey

img_2248img_2246img_2252img_2253img_2258img_2245img_2260img_2262img_2264img_2251img_2244

On the last day of a busy three week run, I managed to get out on a crisp, sunny day for a walk round my area, spotting new things, exploring city churches and seeing spring arriving.

photos February 2017.

It rains

It rains, and nothing stirs within the fence

Anywhere through the orchard’s untrodden dense

Forest of parsley. The great diamonds

Of rain on the grassblades there is none to break

Or the fallen petals further down to shake.

And I am nearly as happy as possible

To search the wilderness in vain though well

To think of two walking, kissing there,

Drenched, yet forgetting the kisses of the rain

Sad, too, to think that never, never again

Unless alone, so happy shall I walk

In the rain. When I turn away, on it’s fine stalk

Twilight has fined to naught the parsley flower

Figures, suspended still and ghostly white,

The past hovering as it revisits the light.

It Rains, by Edward Thomas.

I like the imagery – forest of parsley, diamond (panes) of rain – but what I like most is how he uses enjambement. It creates deliberate, “poetic” ambiguity: Does the fine stalk belong to the parsley or the twilight’s light? It imparts rhythm, either running on to convey the unbroken density of the forest, or allowing Thomas to break a line as he turns away, starting a sentence unexpectedly with a new pace, not at the start but in the middle.

Looking closely, you spot that Thomas cultivated a casual, “natural” speaking voice that was carefully structured, precursor to the stream of consciousness writers, and akin to the transparent deception in Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier, a book published two years before Thomas died. In fact, the mix of detached observation and see-sawing between happiness and sorrow in It Rains fits that novel too.