Which is the genius William Blake at his most lyrical, but I am just plain sick with some ordinary but puzzling gastric flu and I am staying in bed for the day.
The feelings of vulnerability are always intensified with illness, so it probably falls into the category of being hungry, angry, lonely and tired. The low energy and the loss of appetite, the non-specific sadness hanging around. Fortunately I am a great sleeper and I have great faith in homemade chicken soup. I use one of Claudia Rodin’s recipes from her tome on Jewish food, so the chicken soup has a whole chicken set deep in the big orange Le Creuset pot and plenty of lemon juice along with celery, canned tomatoes, garlic, red onion, parsley, peas, plus anything else that won’t sour the broth. It is the golden panacea for any sick person.
If I am still unwell tomorrow I shall crawl out of bed and make my second invalid’s staple, Soupe a l”Oignon, classic French onion soup with toasted snippets of bread and a fine Emmenthaler cheese grated over the top.
While I am in bed I plan to reread Pascal in French. Twice a week I am teaching French to a disabled farmer’s wife from the next valley. She was severely injured in a car accident some years ago and her jaw and palette were smashed to pieces, but she has had surgery and taught herself to speak again. Her son is playing rugby in France so she wants to learn some French before she goes over to visit him. We sit and enunciate slowly and painfully for hours, but the tutoring has revived my passion for French and the literature I studied as a young woman. How surprised her son will be when his mother attempts to discuss medival French philosophy with him over snails and baguettes at the local bistro! At some stage I shall teach her to comment on the weather – il fait beau, etc – but why not discover what the Jansenists of Port-Royal were worried about and how to gamble on the existence of God?
Blaise Pascal: ‘Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.’
The puppies loll in bed with me like voluptuous small Florence Nightingales. They have new collars from the Blue Cross in England, sent by my friend Janny, butter-soft leather and unfortunately very chewable.
At times like this though, I do miss my wise and sympathetic cat, now dead four years. He was the perfect sickbed companion and his purring was a great comfort. When I was feverish he would watch over me like a guardian angel, those large grey eyes flecked with amber never missed anything. The company of animals is one of the rarest blessings of life and altogether undeserved.
Now I am going back to bed. It is a cold and rainy day – il fait froid — and I am glad of the brightly coloured quilt and the furry pups.
Pascal: ‘Happiness is neither without us nor within us. It is in God, both without us and within us.’