Up well before dawn and watered the garden against the heat to come. My elderly neighbour helped mend my sprinkler system, a crude business of a thick patched hose and smaller tubes, but it runs along the front of the house and may keep some of my little grey bushes of santolina, helichrysum and the climbing aloes and heliotrope alive. Sun just breaking over the mountain peaks as I finish weeding and mulching. Turtledoves chuckling overhead in the loquat trees. I like to stand bare-legged in the low spray, deadheading and with no fierce sun on my back yet. Life returned to sweet blessed ordinariness.
Fennel, bronze and a wild lemony green, racing to seed in the back garden, yellowy pollened umbels and the seeds I can collect in a little brown paper bag and dry. Plaited shallots and garlic drying in the kitchen. In the hedge there is the ‘Black Knight’ dark purple panicles of the buddleia, swarming with bees and butterflies.
The poet Zbigniew Herbert on the Greek landscape, so many parallels here:
“Whoever comes here with the palette of an Italian landscape painter will have to abandon all sweet colors. The earth is burnt by the sun, parched from drought, it has the color of bright ash, sometimes of gray violet or violent red.”
Today I must make preserves or jams from all the fresh peaches and plums in the kitchen. Not looking forward to standing over simmering pots and pans of syrup and boiling fruit, sterilising jars and finding reliable rubber rings. I don’t have an aptitude for this kind of culinary skill — but the fruit cannot go to waste, the jams and clear amber or crimson jellied preserves will be needed in winter. And it is my turn to make soups for the valley soup kitchen, more than enough vegetables and homemade chicken stock for the 10-litre pots. Some left-over panettone the housemate turned into a delectable trifle.
On the whole nobody ate too much — probably due to the heat — and we all went for long walks and swam, a healthy enough festive time. We talked and talked. The usual human tensions and squiffy dynamics at moments, what else?
A note I made in a journal late last night: The fear of abandonment so deep in each of us. So I never plant a herb or plan for a meal without some presentiment of loss or failure, a small darkness nudging at my elbow. And when it comes to expectations, the sentimental is the enemy. As it is with writing.
The learning curve that is life in sobriety.
IN RESPONSE TO A REQUEST TO
“EXPLAIN THE SECRET OF TEACHING”
If I explained aloud, then it wouldn’t be a true explanation,
And if I transmitted it on paper, then where would be the secret?
At a western window on a rainy autumn night
White hair in the guttering lamplight, asleep facing the bed.
—Gido Shushin, translated by David Pollack