New Year’s Eve and I woke up and thought once again how grateful I am to be sober, watching the patterns of sunlight and leaf shadow on the walls. A quiet supper with friends, sitting out in the garden under a blue-white moon talking over the decade just past and sharing plans for the year ahead. A decade that began for so many of us with the repeated images of passenger planes crashing into twin towers over and over again, the start of another world war.
For breakfast there were slices of ice-cold sweet watermelon and tumblers of apple juice. This evening we shall have some simply grilled chicken and green salad with cos lettuce and wild rocket. The supper last night with my former art teacher was not a great success. She continues to resent me for withdrawing from her art classes, considering my departure a personal affront even though she recognises that our ways of painting are like chalk and cheese. All through the evening she took little jabs at me and glared ominously over glasses of iced tea. I smiled back unhappily and said nothing. Restraint of tongue does pay off at times and the others present were greteful to be spared any sharp exchanges. And it was the art teacher’s birthday and she was wearing a mauve chiffon top and her favourite diamond pendant. According to my calculations she must be at least 82, but she has stayed 78 for three years now. I hope she welcomes me back into her good graces in 2010 but I’m not holding my breath.
All night she had the music of the 1940s playing and reminisced about her youth, riding elephants in Ceylon and going to bohemian parties aboard a houseboat on the Seine in Paris. My eyes filled with tears listening to her stories and the Big Band compositions of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, George Gershwin, the later Nat King Cole and Count Basie. Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Some day he’ll come along/ the man I love…’ When I was a child, many of my parent’s older friends had been young in the early decades of the 20th century and talked about India under the British Raj or pioneer Kenya, vanishing living memories even then. The poverty of Europe after the First World War, watching Robert Scott’s expedition leave England for the South Pole in 1910, the Spanish influenza that devastated Kimberley in 1918 and killed 40-million people worldwide. Living memories passing into history textbooks.
The first decade of a new century, the decade in which I finally sobered up. And it is a relief, glancing back at the last 10 years and forward to a year of uncertainies, hopes and fears, that I only have to live for today. Stay in the present, in this here and now. And stay sober for another 24 hours.
Happy New Year to all of you.
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial: a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.