The weekend of the killer tomatoes. There are jars and jars of tomato puree on shelves in the coolest darkest part of the kitchen. If I never see a tomato again, it will be too soon.
Last night we packed a wicker basket with cold roasted chicken, salad, ciabatta, juices and mineral water, then went off to a folk music concert in a large garden. Through the fronds of the old flamboyant tree above where the folk singer sat, we could see lines of scarlet fire running up and down the mountains and above that a swelling sickle belly of moon. It is too dangerous at night to send helicopters or firefighters into these mountains after nightfall, so the fires raged unchecked all through the night. This morning the valley is smoky with shreds of ash still falling.
A friend’s daughter sat with us and as usual drank far far too much. Her mother was embarrassed and exasperated. I don’t get exasperated with drunken people because it took me nearly 30 years to stop drinking and nobody made the slightest difference once I was in the grip of that compulsion.
I’ve written here before that the term ‘alcoholic’ is essentially a self-defining identity, that only the drinker can decide if she or he is alcoholic as opposed to ‘just overdoing it now and again’ or drinking because my husband doesn’t understand me’. Many of my university friends drank far more than I did, ended up in emergency casualty with alcohol poisoning, drove cars into garage walls while drunk, bungee-jumped into ravines while drunk, had black-outs and behaved extremely badly while drunk. And then they sobered up, got a life and assumed adult responsibilities, cut out the partying, drinking and wild antics. Others, like me, carried on quietly drinking to excess, and others still, who had never touched alcohol at university, began to drink when they found themselves alone with a child all day or going through the turmoil of divorce, or just because at 5pm the vodka was there.
It is also true that alcoholism is an open secret and most of us can tell when someone’s drinking is out of control. We may need to name that destructive irrational behaviour for our own sanity. All the same, unless that active alcoholic wants to get sober and wants it badly enough to ask for help or to make radical life changes, there is nothing to be done except to protect oneself and step away. In my experience, severe and chronic alcoholism is a messy business that takes no prisoners.
The wild fires in these mountains are known as runaway fires because they race out of control within an hour or two and will change direction according to the prevailing wind or the presence of volatile brush or timber, dead grasses, dry leaves, haystacks. Even when the wind drops, the fires will go on burning on blackened and scorched earth for days.
Driving home in the smoky moonlit heat, the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen on the car radio:
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
and a freight train running through the middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
I’m on fire