Got up while it was still cool outdoors and began filling pots with compost and soil. The great challenge of the coming decade (aside from staying sober which goes without saying, ahem!) will be gardening with backache. I have found that it is wise to move more carefully and deliberately because a sedentary career in front of a computer — as well as years slumped on couches with a good book – have resulted in a twingey back. Each morning I do back exercises watched by fascinated small dogs and keep stomach muscles as taut as reasonably possible to take strain off the back, but gardening means bending over pots or weeding or reaching into low-growing bushes with secateurs and that has become an unhappy experience.
The cherry-red coral gums are now flowering alongside the roads, as is the Bauhinia galpinii, called the ‘red orchid tree’ by international growers. We know this as Pride of De Kaap or Vlam van die Vlakte, a scrambling untidy shrub that behaves like a creeper let out of school, running wild through more sedate bushes and trees. It originates in the De Kaap valley of Mpumalanga, but is found all over South Africa. The five-petalled flowers have a delectably vivid colour somewhere between a bright red and a lively orange. Linnaeus the great botanist named the Bauhinia first in 1753. He looked at the twin leaves split like paired butterflies and these reminded him of his friends Johan and Kaspar Bauhin, herbalists and plant lovers who were identical twins. When the light fades, the leaves of the Bauhinia close as if a woman was snapping shut a little fan.
If there was such a thing as a parallel life, I would blissfully spend it studying botany. Or geology or microbiology. One of the sadder little side effects of alcoholism is that we forget how endlessly enthralling and glorious the natural world all around us really is. And how threatened, but that is another story.
One of the themes of my own writing and one I search out in other writers is diaspora, the experiences of exile, loss, repatriation, emigration, homecoming or homelessness. The movement of refugees across borders, the struggle to begin again in a new country, the regrets and nostalgia for what was left behind. There is a new collection of short stories, Binocular Vision, out from Edith Pearlman and reviewed in the New York Times. How history repeats itself:
The lovely “Purim Night” describes a 1947 celebration at a displaced persons camp in Germany. The residents are mostly Jews, awaiting admission to other countries. The war is over, but shortages still abound, and there are no supplies with which to celebrate the holiday. “As for the meal preceding the party, it would consist of the usual dreck: watery spinach soup, potatoes and black bread. Eisenhower had decreed that the displaced persons camps be awarded 2,000 calories per person per day; decent of him, but the general couldn’t keep count of newcomers, they came in so fast.” Nevertheless, the refugees are fueled by hope: everyone has survived, everyone is dreaming of new homes in Israel, America, England, and invention thrives. The holiday is celebrated by wildly creative means.