‘I don’t know why I feel so queasy and unwell,’ I said to my housemate last night after finishing a bowl of thin chicken soup.
‘You ate 22 striped figs in one sitting,’ said the housemate in a matter-of-fact voice.
Well, not 22, not that many. But a surfeit of figs is probably the cause of illness. And my puppy Chloe, the little white dishcloth, is also unwell and has an upset tummy. We are both on a diet of toast and water.
But my neighbour Tienie grows rare figs from cuttings taken on the island of Capri and old gardens in Smyrna and Istanbul. The figs are luscious and syrupy and very very rich. There are figs white as ivory, almost black inside with purple juices, light golden figs that resemble greengages, gold and brown speckled figs and the delectable green-and-white stripey figs that taste of sticky nuts and honey. I eat them with thick Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche or just by themselves in a small bowl. Then I suffer.
But the great pleasure of being sick and convalescing in bed with a glass of water and open windows and crisp fresh sheets is the time for just reading, rereading old favourites, light reading, skimming the pages to find what happens next, or simply reading the same paragraph over ad over again.
There are books I love to read only when I am sick in bed with time on my hands: Stevie Smith Novel on Yellow Paper; Elizabeth David on the history of ice and refrigeration; the Letters of Elizabeth Bishop; Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson; the short stories of Chekov; the poems of Mary Oliver and George Herbert and Rumi; and the novels of William Maxwell, who said when he was 82, in a last interview:
“`I think it is somehow unimaginative to consider the universe as the product of chance,’ William Maxwell told me. He paused a moment, looked over his tortoise shell glasses, and then continued to type: `I am inclined to say that it is the product of God knows. The evidence offered in Nature is so astonishing and so consistently on the side of an Intention. I did not escape the influence of seven or eight years of Sunday School, and believe we ought to help each other when it is possible, that the self-centered life is a kind of living death, that life on any terms is a privilege and that we ought to be grateful for it and use it to our best ability, and not be frightened or frantic when we reach the end of it. But instead stand, accepting, like a flower that has gone to seed.’