My housemate called to say her flight north has been delayed. She is reading a Patricia Cornwall detective novel and drinking caffe latte.
Back at home, I am slowly and generously composing a big soup for myself: in Italian, minestra is soup and minestrone is big soup. Minestrone is a miraculous answer to the problem of leftovers, but needs to be made on a very gentle, scarcely bubbling simmer for about three hours. It always tastes better the next day. Along with various echt-Jewish chicken soups, minestrone is a wonderful comfort food. It freezes well, especially if you don’t add pasta or potatoes. I divide up freezer portions and then add pasta (penne or bowties or little gnocci–type shells) to the remaining minestrone in the pot.
Today my minestrone is composed of red onions, carrots, celery, parsley, courgettes, French beans, pak choi, butternut, broccoli, lentils, barley, cooked chicken, pancetta, ripe tomatoes, red peppers and some cooked borlotti beans , with penne rigate pasta added for the last hour. As is the way in life, it looks and tastes better than anything served up to the guests this weekend. I am going to eat it in a deep ceramic soup bowl with an old heavy soup spoon while sitting at the kitchen table reading and looking out at the garden. I may or may not add garlic, anchovies, pine nuts, capers, origanum — this kind of minestrone is a bold and rich soup that holds multitudes. A friend of mine makes her best soups after Christmas, amazing broths of distilled turkey and goose and roast potatoes, right down to the brussel sprouts. On the whole I opt for simpler soups but it is satisfying to know that no left-overs need be wasted.
In those first few months when I was learning how to stay sober, I made myself big nourishing soups at least twice a week and they made me feel mothered.
What I shall read as I spoon up my minestrone is Tchekov, whose every story is about perception with heart. Every single character in a Tchekov narrative is trying to come to terms with time, the relentlessness of change, mortality. And failing. Lives that are grounded in failure. Located in the silliness of our lives, that we fuss with petty concerns while the inexorable presses up against us, unnoticed until it is too late. And the background is 19th-century Russia, the farway distances of the steppes, the pine forests and dachas by snowy rivers, the mud and the conversations of lonely passers-by, the shabby rooms and cooling samovars, yapping dogs, improbable fairgrounds, the winters silencing the conversations, blanketing the cities, the rivers freezing up like conversations that go nowhere. I have been reading the subtleties of Tchekov for nearly 36 years and I find something new and surprising each time I read one of the stories.
In the garden my daylilies are flowering all at once, bronze, scarlet, yellow, orange, butterscotch. It looks like the circus has come to town.