I’ve been absent for several weeks whilst we deftly orchestrated and executed a somewhat major and moderately emotional move. I will write of that on Friday, but in the meantime, lest you have missed me even the teeniest smidge, here, as a trifling placeholder, is a picture of a rather cute couple snapped by my husband a few days ago. It seems to fit rather snugly with the Photo Challenge of the Week titled Liquid of which you can find a veritable treasure trove of other entries here . It was only when ambling through my recent photos to find something pertinent to the theme that I noticed the tiny turtle. I have a propensity for the romantic, for which I make no apology. Therefore, I see her gazing longingly at a suitor positively transfixed by her petite loveliness. For the avoidance of doubt, my fanciful leanings didn’t lead me to intervene and give him a peck on his wide froggy mouth to test for Princeliness.
PS: The title is a line from a song I have sung gustily and quite possibly tunelessly since childhood: Froggie Went a Courtin‘. Here as your bonus is Bruce Springsteen with my favourite of all favourite versions of the shenanagans of the amorous amphibian. I sincerely hope this little croaker is armed with neither sword nor pistol.
By the by, I don’t know if this is a green frog or a bull frog – perhaps a herpetologist could help me out ….
This year my husband and I agreed to spend Christmas apart. Fear not, this is no dramatic announcement of impending divorce, but rather a reflection on the bloated airfares during the season of goodwill. In due time, I will tell of why we presently live one on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, but for now I will keep my council. It was my very own idea and I feel that it was a worthy protest, though I imagine it was inconsequential to the point of silence to those responsible for pumping up the prices with such unfettered glee.
Unwilling to risk being peeved by my own decision, I settled on a different solution to the celebrations than sitting in solitary splendour brooding over a meal for one all the while being eyed meaningfully by The Beady Greedy Bean.
In France, as in many other countries, la veille de Noël (Christmas Eve) is traditionally the biggest celebration. A large and lengthy meal with your loved ones culminates in the stealthy arrival of Père Noël (insert your own word for the snowy bearded wonder with grandeose paunch and snazzy white fur-trimmed scarlet suit) who soundlessly leaves gifts around midnight. It is a time of great joy and festivity for most but for others, to many others, it is a sad, solitary night, a time to dwell on past pleasures and the knowledge that there is little solace in the idea that the sun will rise again on the morrow. I speak of the old and alone. Those whom, for whatever reason, have no-one to care for them, those that subsist on tiny incomes and those that tend to be invisible to the masses. So I signed up to assist the Big Christmas Eve dinner laid on by a wondrous charity called Les Petits Frères des Pauvres. Translated as ‘Little Brothers of The Poor’ you may recognise the international federation it belongs to. If you don’t, I urge you to check it out for yourself. If you feel so inclined.
Donning the compulsary Bonnet dePère Noël, but fortunately no beard nor plumping suit, I had three seniors to collect from their homes, because I had also volunteered my car named Franck. I had one gregarious gentleman (aged a twinkling 98 if you please) and two lovely ladies (87 and 89 respectively). I delivered them to the venue, parked Franck and then joined the, incidentally mostly millennial, gang to serve dinner, play games, sing songs and greet Père Noël bearing gifts at midnight. Before we started and after we had seated our table after table of venerable guests there was a silence to remember those who fell serving in the Résistance. Grenoble is one of three cities and two villages awarded the Ordre de La Libération at the end of The Second World War and it is hard to describe how moving it was, that moment of respect standing head bowed amongst those who were directly touched by the indescribable bravery of those who refused to be cowed.
It was 2 a.m when I finally took my exhuberant and energetic charges home to their still silent dwellings. We had sung songs I knew and others I didn’t, played games that had to be explained to me and others that were comfortingly familiar and danced polkas they foot-perfect, I flat-footed. I feel tremendously priviliged to have been allowed to join in and to give beaming cheer where otherwise there would have been the bitter chill of loneliness in a world that too often scurries past rather than observing, for a moment, and perhaps acknowledging that, if we are deserving of conviviality and gaety and levity and simple companionship, then they surely are too. The waning years of human life should not label the bearer untouchable and past your sell-by date and fit to be cast into a metaphoric bin as though your odour is no longer tolerable.
I was motivated to share this moment by the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge labelled ‘Silence’ and as ever you can view, if you feel disposed to, the far more meritorious entries to the gallery here.
The picture was taken in Massachusetts in February 2016. Of course the United States has seen far more than it’s share of snow this winter season and the fat lady is not ready for the final song yet. I imagine, amongst all the chaos and hardship such weather induces, there has been that sense of muffled stillness that snow produces. That softly muted quiet that I love. Because silence can certainly be golden. It can also be heartbreakingly heavy.
PS: The title is taken from C S Lewis that wisest, gentlest most considered of scolars. He said ‘I have learned now that while those that speak out about their misery usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more’ … I recommend to everyone that, apart from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, you should read his work more widely and that his letters, published in several volumes to the many he corresponded with contain much wisdom, whatever your beliefs or views on faith and spirituality. That aside, I did, of course that morning in the woods, feel that I had stepped into the kingdom of Narnia.
There is a second part to my Christmas which I will chronicle separately in due course
And your bonus: The Tremeloes singing ‘Silence is Golden’. Although Frankie Valley and his Four Seasons recorded it first, this is the version as an English girl that I remember best.
I’m sure I should be quoting Thoreau since this picture was snaffled on Cape Cod last Autumn. You can indeed stand there ‘and put all America behind you’. And it would be highly appropriate. Thoreau spoke much sense that resonates today. If you let it.
Instead though, I am going to tie this to one of my favourite poems. One I learned to heart so I could whisper it secretly under the sheets after lights-out when I was a just-teen and captivated by the idea of love.
I defy you not to be enchanted by it ..
The fountains mingle with the river
and the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle,
Why not I with thine? –
See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
if it disdained it’s brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?
Percy Bysshe Shelley
PS: Those that kindly and patiently follow me, may relax knowing that I have settled in my new temporary nest and that finally, after some epic shenanagins with local internet providers, I am back in my saddle and ready to hit you with more half-baked drivel. I can actually feel the crackling excitement in the wings. In the meantime, I present this to the scrumptuous gallery of offerings for the weekly photo challenge this week asking for
Imagine if you will a real-life, modern-day Saint Francis – not all the high-born and father didn’t like his name stuff, but the animals part. The friend to all creatures, critter-whisperer. That Saint Francis. Well, here’s the thing. I know this man. This latterday guardian of all living things. All living things except humans which might be construed as a crucial difference between this man Frank and the Assisian original.
In fact Frank is of the opinion that there are far too many of us human varmints jostling and barging one another through life, and that instead of dwelling on our own selfish needs we need to protect our planet for those that have no voice and no means to halt the uninvited destruction of their world. I imagine his sentiments are perceived at best as highly eccentric and at worst with a great deal of suspicion by many. But much of what he quietly iterates resonates with me.
I had heard much of Frank before I met him. I knew that he had a squirrel whom he had nursed back from injury and who he had recently discovered was in fact Josephine rather than Joseph. She has the run of his backyard now that she is fit and hale again but during her long convalescence had a tree, a full sized tree, in the house to be her natural squirrelling self in. And for the avoidance of doubt, the house is a modest house, in an ordinary street not a gaspingly vast mansion. She is a cared for and nurtured squirrel and he files her claws regularly since she is not scampering around a wide-open space as she would have been had she not succumbed to a speeding car in the particular suburb of Boston that she lives in. His next door neighbour is a Dental Surgeon and he has asked him to make braces for Josephine’s teeth since he worries that her fang-angle is becoming an issue. Not cosmetically, you understand but rather in terms of her ability to gnaw gustily. Excited to meet this tiny mammal saviour, I had rehearsed my appropriate conversation opener. Donning my most charming and inclusive smile, I commented that I had heard all about his squirrel and that in fact my mother is called Josephine. He stared hard and with undisguised mild alarm and softly murmured ‘Your mother? Is a squirrel?’ Seldom lost for words, my powers of pithy response evaporated and the previously alluring smile froze unbecomingly on my nonplussed face giving me a distinct air of rampantly and irreversibly imbecilic. It turns out that there really is no comeback from the disquieting visual of your mother become rodent.
Most people discourage mice in their homes. Frank calls them ‘the little people’ and actively ENcourages them by leaving all their favourite treats in prominent places. He doesn’t shoo them off the table but rather invites them to share his plate. I do not have a word powerful enough to describe what a peace-loving soul Frank is. Strange certainly but bloodless and I feel remarkably tranquil simply writing of him.
Frank is companion and protector to all animals. He is their true and unwavering friend. He does not do this in the name of anybody’s God but simply because he can and he wants to. Surely that is what true friendship should be based in. Love, decency and kindness. This little traipse into the world of Frank is prompted by the Weekly Photo Challenge dubbed Friend. You can potter through the superabundance of delights here, and in honour of Frank and Josephine here are two plumptuous Squirrels partaking of the feasts I put out daily, when I’m in residence, for their delectation in our Massachusian backyard.
PS: The title is stolen from Zeffirelli’s 1972 film of the life of Francis of Assisi, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ which in turn come from Saint Francis’ own praises for all creatures written when he was very sick himself. I reproduce a little excerpt here because, despite not being of his faith, I am of the belief that a beautiful piece of writing should be celebrated simply for being a beautiful piece of writing, not tainted nor tarred with prejudice, nor owned exclusively by one self-elected sector of society. Simply embraced and cherished. Like friendship.
Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures, Especially to my worshipful brother sun, The which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give; And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great; Of Thee, most High, signification gives.
Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars, In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair. p. 153
Praised be my Lord for brother wind And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather, By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment. Praised be my Lord for sister water, The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.
Praised be my Lord for brother fire, By the which Thou lightest up the dark. And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.
Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth, The which sustains and keeps us And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.
And for your bonus, Donovan sings the title song he wrote for the movie:
‘Brother Sun and Sister Moon, I seldom see your tune – preoccupied with selfish misery’ ….
We might be minded to take that line to heart, do we think?
Gosh, I jolly well hope none of you were holding your breath for this ‘and finally’ moment because if you were you are surely an unbecoming shade of grey-navy by now. But ‘and finally’ it is. My silly series of alphabetic ramblings on a year spent in The New World completes here and not before time, given that it was supposed to coincide with my returning to Europe on 1st December and we are now hurtling through a not so New Year for which I wish you joy and laughter, peace and content and above all things love, which, I firmly believe, really IS all we need. Hey presto bongo here we go:
U. U is for USA naturally enough. I’m a simple soul and I’m as apt to fall for the properganda and misinformation of others as the next girl or boy. It’s fair to say that before I had this opportunity to actually be in this place that it did not really penetrate my consciousness just how absolutely vast and varied it is. And this comes from a person who, in reality, has only scratched the teeniest scritch of New England. Like Europe, the USA is a country made up of lots of different countries except that they are called States. Since I take in my stride the fact that Italy is not at all like Germany, Belgium not a satellite of France but it’s very own bird and Spain certainly not a smidge like Britain it stands to reason when I take my silly specs off that California is really not at all akin to Alabama nor Wisconsin analogous to Texas or Maine to Hawaii. I understood after a while that New England is it’s own special corner of the USA and that it in turn, rather like the place I was born in is made up of five particular personalities who have their own idiosyncracies and peculiaries and delights. It may seem like kindergarten learning but it really did take living in the place to even begin to understand what a colossus it is. When I return, which I hope I will later this year and for at least twice as long, I intend to travel and feel for myself why Massachusetts is no more representative of the whole Union than Florida or Alaska or California or The Dakotas. I should also mention that the British tend to be a bit sniffy about the fact that many Americans have not travelled outside of their own country. Well my people, I have news for you …. I was brought up by parents who believed that it is essential to understand and know your own corner before you start venturing into foreign lands. With such a wealth of terrain, culture and, dare I say, history (for we Europeans tend to be snobbish in our assumption that these Americas are too young to have accumulated substantial history and in that hypothesis we are foolishy wrong), in just this chunk of North America without even venturing upwards to Canada or downwards to Central and South America, it strikes me that it is entirely forgiveable to live a life restricted to this continent.
V. V is for Viagra. Actually it’s for medical advertising but that doesn’t fit my carefully constructed alphabet so I’m stretching the elastic. Coming as I do from the land of the National Health Service where we are entirely at the mercy of whatever is passed fit and fiscally viable to prescribe by a body called (eroneously many would argue) NICE, I was fascinated by the sheer volume of advertising for drugs and medical aids all of which are accompanied by lengthy disclaimers about side-effects uttered by the voice-over artist at death-defying pace in a crescendo from insignificant rashes through paralisis and loss of limbs to death (I am entirely serious). Sometimes they are also chaperoned by the statement that if you are allergic to a particular drug you should avoid taking it. Really? … you know you are allergic but you decide to take it anyway, presumably in a fit of boredom that might be alleviated by a jolly solid and possibly deadly bout of anaphylaxis. In the case of Viagra, a slinky lady is seen to be skillfully seducing a fellow who is clearly very willing indeed to be enticed, and voice-over man states very distinctly that if you experience an erection lasting more than four hours you should seek immediate medical help. I nearly choked on my passion fruit the first time I saw this advertisement but when I asked meekly if anyone else found this odd I was greeted by tumbleweed and a sense that I was very clearly a foreign body. Or V could be for Vermont. We visited the North Eastern Kingdom at the outset of Fall and I left a little of my heart there. Not only did I get to wave at Canada from Newport (and get waved at by an amused train driver hauling huge cargo behind his glorious richly hooting engine) and to see the burgeoning of the incredible gilded spectacle of leaves donning their most outrageous regalia before falling away to leave the trees slumbering for winter; I got to stay in an enchanting log cabin at a magical place called The Olde Farmhouse in Danvilleand I got to sate myself on covered bridges which have long been an interest that blossomed into an obsession when Meryl and Clint played out their sweet-sad love story in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’. Covered bridges are not a purely New England oeuvre, they pop up in varying density from Alabama to Quebec. Indeed you will find a few in Europe too. I unswervingly adore them. They are evocative of so much to me from Headless Horsemen to Beetlejuice and endless galloping horses clattering over them on some or other grainy film on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I’m pretty sure John-Boy Walton must have driven over one in that truck of his and certainly there were imagined teenaged canoodlings with whoever was the dream squeeze of the hour in my youth peppered with American TV which was surely so much more enticing than anything Oxford could possibly offer a gauche girl like me. They just seem so romantic and being incapacitated from our usual walks and hikes gave left us free to hunt them down and snap and be snapped in my best Meryl poses all over this beauteous landscape.
W. W is for White Mountains. My leg injury put the brakes on our aspiration to hike all the 4,000 footers of the Presidential Range through late Spring and Summer but we did walk up Mount Eisenhower in December (naively without poles nor crampons) which revealed the most exquisite Narnia moment as we hit the snow-line (or more accurately that day, the ICE-line). I’ll be back and with The Bean we will conquer those peaks and drink in the magnificent panaramas this range exposes over New Hampshire and Vermont. And W has to be for Weather. I am of the opinion that if those bonkers nutcases that boarded the rickety Mayflower in 1620 had not landed at Plymouth and colonised what became Massachusetts, that it is entirely possible it would have been left to it’s own devices. It seems to me, a girl used to a little cold and a little heat that no-one in their right minds would willingly settle in this climate of extremes. In my year-long tenure the temperature plummeted to -24°F (that’s -32°C) and rose well into the 90°sF (40°sC) with high humidity in summer. I, being British, am hard-wired to be weather obsessed. I make no secret that had I my time again it would be as a weather girl and in idle moments I can be found practicing my sweeping hand gestures (with back to map) and seemlessly eddying between hilarious weatherly quips and serious warning face. Here though my fascination snowballed (quite literally) into a full-blown mania and I found myself lipsinking and second guessing my two favourite weather men Mike Wankum (yes, really and no giggling in the back row please) and the sublime Harvey Leonard. Both are incumbant on WCVB-TV and were I not happily married I might suggest a meteorological ménage-à-trois whereby we would huddle together and discuss the gravity of all the impending storms that we would watch closely for the viewer to facilitate a worry-free day for them, safe in the knowledge that the W-Team had got it covered. And of course we would be zealous in ensuring that all were versed in what effect the weather will have on a Patriot Game …. never mind that juggernauts might be crashing off bridges or houses washed away in floods, the important thing, the really important thing is whether The Gronk is going to get cold toes whilst he struts his finest at Foxborough. And if you are wondering what The Gronk is – Rob Gronkowski is Tight End for the New England Patriots … well you did ask. As a point of interest, last winter brought few storms and relatively little snow (which still seemed a fearful lot to me) to Massachusetts but Harvey was watching all sorts like a rear-gunner in a Lancaster bomber presumably swivelling hither and thither on his stool as he craned his neck for the best view. Despite this, however, he managed to entirely miss the two biggest we had, so twice I opened the back door to let The Bean (6″ at the shoulder) out for her morning airing to watch her quite literally submerge headlong into the snow mountain and then reverse indignantly shaking legs, tail and ears of the cold white stuff that encased her. Comedy value rating 10/10
X. X is for Xing. The first time I saw a sign saying Ped Xing I thought it was some sort of martial art. Then I saw Equi Xing and chewed on what on earth it could be for days. Finally my husband put me out of my misery. It means crossing. So Ped is Pedestrian and Equi is Horse aand there are many others including my favourite Moose Xing which they never did but they might have which is quite beguiling to a dull English girl like me. I don’t know if this is a New England foible but I must comment that America seems to love a little shortening (and not just in pastry). I find it quite endeering though it did make it near impossible for me to complete the weekly X word in the local paper as I struggled with acronyms and initials and generally had to content myself with the kids korner (stet K) to satisfy myself that I could fill in a grid at all and believe me even then it was barely.
Y.Y is for Yard. In France I have a jardin, in England I had a garden and in the US I had a Yard. This took a little getting used to because in England a yard is generally a concrete area and if it is domestic, typically swing-a-cat-at-your-peril tiny. In Massachusetts we have 1.6 acres (almost 3/4 hectare) of which much of the back is woodland. HB2 is proud of the fact that he has left this to be mostly natural not out of laziness but to ensure the wildlife have unimpaired habitat. We have chipmunks and squirrels as previously noted, we have deer and groundhog and skunk and racoons, turtles, toads and snakes and bullfrogs who croak their glorious bass choral mass through the night in mating season beating out their territorial warnings beginning with a loan booming bellow and rapidly escalating as not to be outdone they all join in their admonition of none shall pass here; there are mice aplenty which we discourage from the house and there are opossum. for me, I am ever hopeful that the black bear spotted in our neighbourhood will take up residence in our backyard but so far it has resisted my open invitation to join my Teddy Bears Picnic. And there are birds. If pressed I will admit to previously being phobic of birds and yet the birds captivated me when I was incapacitated by my leg injury and I turned into something of a latterday Snow White. I counted over 30 species from the rudely red Cardinals to the tiny gutsy Chickadee (state bird of Massachusetts) and graceful bluebirds which had me whistling Zipadeedoodah zipadeeay tunelessly; little Titmice with big startled eyes and mourning doves with their soft gill-of-field-mushroom-pink plumage. And occasional visitors including brown headed cow birds, grackles and starlings who fly in lairy gangs and face off like avian Sharks and Jets in a backyard West Side Story. Raptors too flying in on spec and emptying the yard in a fraction of a flash as their threatening sillouette looms stealthily overhead. The chipmunks were keen to nibble up the cast offs of the messier birds, sitting sweetly under the feeders and gratefully gobbling the nuts and seeds that hit the deck, their cheeks swelling comically like a child with mumps. The squirrels were less polite and we eventually conceded that the only thing to do was to give them their own food which they took an eternity to find (squirrel brains are quite tiny I imagine) but once found were bluntly offended if I forgot to replenish them regularly. And Yard sales. How I love Yard Sales. Sometimes they are efficiently advertised for weeks ahead both on a special website and by hanging signs on lamposts and trees and other times you are driving along and just like that, there it is …. the contents of attic, bedrooms, garage, shed, barn or any combination of the above and more spewed onto lawns sometimes neatly laid out and priced, other times just there and ask me. You can pick up fantastic bargains or you can find the owners a little over-confident of the value of their legless dining table – it’s all part of the fun. And finally I must give a nod to one of our neighbours who I am convinced sat with a pair of powerful binoculars trained on his lawn and ran out with nail scissors when a blade of grass was audacious enough to grow taller than his compulsory short back and sides – or possibly he used hair clippers to keep it so epically uniformed but I’m sure he remains appalled at our un-American approach to grass as a status symbol …. for me I’m happy to let it grow awhile because those dandelions are so damn pretty!
Z. Z is for Zucchine which ranks high amongst the vegetables that I had to remind myself are named differently than I’m used to. A zucchine is a courgette, an eggplant is an aubergine, a ruderbager is a swede and so on. This is not leading anywhere except that I haven’t forgotten my promise that I will write a piece devoted to the tangle you can get in when speaking English in America and vice versa. Z should also be for Zamboni. My first Ice-hockey (or more correctly, if I’m in the vernacular, just plain hockey) game was in Cambridge between Harvard and Cornell. I have been to a couple of games in England where it is a low-key sport but this was much more serious and although I must report that it was not the gmost exciting of contests – end of the Varsity Season and all played out, I imagine, I got the flavour and mostly I got to dream of driving a Zamboni in the break between each period. I too could sit like a casual cowboy on his non-bucking bronco, ironing that ice to sleek perfection and effecting effortless turns as I float on my grandiose and frankly heroic beast to the unfettered admiration of the packed stadium. Or at least that’s how I imagine it would feel. In fact it’s probably rather a self-conscious exercise and as thankless as the groundsmans task on a cricket pitch …. we see it, we admire it but we never really acknowledge it …. And finally Z is for Zzzzzz which is probably what you are doing now that you have endured the whole of my saunter through my sojourn in the States. I thank you for staying with me and I’ll see you on the other side ….
PS: If you want to read the other nonsense in this series simply type ‘The Question is’ into the search box – I shan’t be offended if you don’t. And as your long-service medal, here are my favourite moments from The Bridges of Madison County. I am you see, hooked on the memory of you, USA.
This Eve of Christmas I wish you all a peaceful and joyous festive season and the hope that whatever path you choose from here that it may bring you to the best of all things yet to come in your life.
My picture, taken in the woods near home in Massachusetts reminds me of the wisdom of Robert Frost and fit’s perfectly, at least in my opinion, the photo challenge set by WordPress this week titled ‘Path’ … if you are twiddling your thumbs for a moment you might like to take a look at the full gallery of beauteous entires here
And PS: I have tended to opt for the road not taken in my own life and it has made a difference which others will doubtless take pleasure in judging the value of. And so, living as I did this past year in Massachusetts which, though not the birthplace was the home and deathplace of Robert Frost, this poem which has been tucked snugly in my heart for as long as I can remember, seems appropriate to share with you as we all gently propel through the holiday season and towards the New Year.
To recap – I will be leaving this New World on Thursday 1st December, exactly a year after I arrived from Europe. To celebrate my year here I am making a little tribute to what I will miss and what I won’t miss so much, by way of an alphabetic account surgically divided into five to be posted on my five last days. If you want to catch up simply type ‘The Question is’ into the search box and you will be magically transported to my plentious tome. Procrastination, get behind me … here come my Foxtrot to Juliet tidily presented in their rightful order:
F. F is for Freedom. And before you think I am going into a diatribe about the land of the free or freedom of the individual or freedom of speech, rein in your horse because I’m not. If you only know me a little by now you surely know that making such political statements is not my style. Mostly. I’ve got as many dents in my halo as the next girl and satin knickers can make the best of us slide off our pedestal from time to time but in general and particularly when I am a guest (as I have been here), I keep my mouth and my typing fingers taped. So F is for the Freedom Trail The Freedom Trail runs through Boston for 2 ½ miles and leads you through the area where as Bostonians have it, history was made and the course of the world changed forever. And I can’t argue. In effect what you are seeing are the collection of places that formed the end of English occupation and rule and successful struggle for Independent free rule for the people who had made this place their home. That the people are proud of it is entirely justified, athough I do think the term Boston Massacre might be a teeny bit optimistic for a death toll of 5 at the hands of some British soldiers which in terms of modern gun crimes in this country is frankly feeble. Ooops – sorry, I said I wouldn’t be provocative so on that note I will step decorously back into my gilded cage and recommend anyone who ever has the chance, to visit Boston which is undeniably a beautiful city and assuredly oozes and reeks the history on which this great nation was built.
G. G is for Gobbler. In my recent post on Thanksgiving and Christmas, I talked a fair bit about Turkeys. What I didn’t mention is that for me, the live wild ones register high on the excitement richter scale when I spot them. You’ll round a corner and come to a halt as a rafter of them saunter casually from one side of the road to the other, you can spot posses of them pecking idly in gardens and cemetaries and it is common to stumble upon a gang of them in a parking lot seemingly preparing to queue for a donut or pick up some groceries. The collective nouns for Turkeys, by the way, are rafter, gang or posse which conjures marvellous images of the Wild West for me and a gang of turkeys-gone-bad in secret locations high in the rocky wilderness, plotting their next violent bank robbery whilst the good-guy turkeys collected together by the Pinkertons are gathering in a posse to bring these no-goods to justice. I haven’t decided whether there are horses involved nor if it is safe to allow them a saloon … would alcohol just make it ugly? Anyway, back on point – imagine my delight that on Thanksgiving morning, aided by my amazing Allard Brace which enables me to walk and run as elegantly as I did before my accident, which is not to say that I will ever be graceful but simply that it is my normal gait rather than the comedy-clumsy carriage caused by being left with ‘drop foot’, honestly imagine my delight as I lined up to run our local Turkey Trot which is riotously called ‘The Gobbler’. I truly gave thanks at the end when I picked up my time and it was only seconds slower than I had been before my sorry tale of busted leg woe and that Gobbler has spurred me on to knowing that I can get back to full fitness which in turn means I am able to pursue a couple of personal goals that I had thought had been crushed. Back to the feathered colossi …. my husband was almost taken out by a low-flying one not so long ago – in the retelling it seemed to resemble one of those huge, lumbering Lancaster Bombers en route to the Rühr Valley to release Barnes Wallace’s recently perfected bouncing bombs to destroy the Möhner and Edersee Dams. In this case, the bomber had failed to gain sufficient altitude and was heading straight for the windscreen of the car. Given the sheer bulk of the birds in question I am confident that a lucky strike would have been extremely unlucky for them both. I am also relieved that it didn’t release an egg in its moment of horror when eyeball to eyeball with Two Brains it thought it had gobbled it’s last …
H. H is for Halloween. In Britain and in France Halloween is creeping in and becoming a tradition but I can honestly say that Europeans have an awfully long way to go before they can say they are fully conversant with this bad boy. For a start, I have never EVER seen so many pumpkins. And practically every house is decorated with jackolanterns and black cats and witches and ghouls and sinister cobwebs and whilst trick or treating is, I am told, mildly on the decline, you still witness tiny, small and slightly larger children dressed as every conceivable and many inconceivable incarnations of their own or their parents imaginings, with their predictably enormous bags to contain the booty that is on offer at all houses not inhabited by grouches (whose porch lights tend to be forthrightly turned OFF). Many communities have special events and they are all about Fancy Dress. If you are a runner, expect to run in costume if an event falls on or around Halloween. And the next day …. the day that I thought I would nip in and pick up a cut price pumpkin to put out for the critters. Gone. Not a pumpkin to be had. Whether this was because the locust hoards had grabbed every last one or whether it was because they are swept away to make way for Thanksgiving and pies of every conceivable type imaginable (and some that shouldn’t BE imagined) I know not. But I do know that my smart plan to feed the squirrels backfired and I shall have to be niftier another time.
H is also for Harvard which in reality is the reason I am here. Two Brains is a well-seasoned Harvard boffin and has been these past 27 years. That is why he is here and that, by proxy is why I am here. But Harvard as you quickly discover is NOT in Harvard. Harvard is a lovely town just west of where we live and contains a place called Fruitlands Museum which provoked my recent borderline obsession with birds (more later). Harvard University is in Cambridge which in a personal way is fortuitous. I’m English born and from Oxford. Cambridge are Oxford’s arch rivals. When I was introduced to my husband I presumed, knowing he was a Professor, that when he said he was based in Cambridge he meant OUR Cambridge and although that is a teeny hike West to East in England it is inconsequential in the context of facilitating the possible blossoming of a romance. Call me slow. Call me dense, dopey or downright retarded but the fact is that it was quite some while later that I realised that he actually meant Cambridge Massachusetts …. fortunately by that time I was a sufficiently smitten kitten to fling caution aside, ignore the doubters who gave grave warnings about a long distance relationship and these few years later, I can graciously report that it was the best decision of my life. Kismet dresses in many kimonos but tends to favour an open heart.
I. I is for Ice-cream. Mainly it is for Ice-Cream parlours like Erikssons just over our town line. These shrines open up some time in April each year and close again at the end of summer presumably when the student workforce returns to school. The array of flavours is staggering and the size of a single scoop is positively swoon-worthy. I always have two. On summer nights people gather in their cars and park up in the heat and pick up dessert on the fly. For me it is the most delightful incarnation of what I imagine American Tradition to be. I’m from the Happy Days, American Grafitti, Grease era and these places somehow seem to evoke that time in my past when I dreamed of being in an imagined American dreamland dancing, cruising in an open top car with a bench front seat and being what seemed to be the epitome of free-as-a-bird young. Envision my glee when my daughter was staying and we took her for one last ice-cream before she flew back to England and a whole platoon of vintage forties and fifties cars paraded into the lot. The owners were delighted that we wanted to take pictures and affably invited us to sit in the cars ‘that’s the whole point of having it’ said one. Sadly the pictures are on HB2’s phone and despite having a cavernous intellect he has never been fully in control of a cell-phone and thus they are entombed and I can only offer my meagre descriptive powers to try and evoke them to life.
J. J is for Jeopardy. It’s fair to say that I am obsessed with this iconic quiz show. Alex Trebeck hosts us 5 or 6 nights a week and I sit glued and giving my answers in the acknowledged style. For the unititiated this means that if the answer is a person you must preface with ‘who is’ and if it is anything else you preface ‘what is’. In Britain we had a programme called ‘Mastermind’ and my definition of a triumph was when I answered a question in a contestent’s specialist subject (in other words they were some sort of an expert) round correctly which they either couldn’t answer or got wrong. My definition of a triumph here is when I can answer a question on Americana correctly that none of the contestants get right. This tends to bring forth an unseemly whoop and sadistic grin and I transform into something eerily resembling Ghengist Khan after a successful pillage. And this is probably why it is time for me to take a gracious pause from this country and leave you all in peace for while. But not before I have noted that J is also for Jelly which I call Jam and Jello which I call Jelly. And J is for Jiffy-Lube. This is a national chain and I am sure they are absolutely wonderful but I can assure you that we would never EVER call a place by that name in England for the same reason as in France it is unwise to ask for Vaseline …. we tend to associate the word lube with something you slather on your nethers when the lights are dim, the music breathy and the atmosphere hot. Which explains why this overgrown schoolgirl has a peurile snigger to self everytime I pass one ….
PS: You surely were waiting with breath a-baited for the predictable PS and never one to disappoint, here it is. Jeopardy first came to my attention unwittingly in the marvellous movie What is ‘The Bucket List’ with the incomparible Who is Jack Nicholson and Who is Morgan Freeman (whose character -Who is Carter Chambers – is as obsessed as I with What is Jeopardy) – here’s a snippet if you care to watch it.
The top and bottom pictures were taken in Spring the second season I experienced here.
On Thursday, I will have been here for exactly a year and to mark this significant anniversary I will be leaving on a jetplane not knowing when I’ll be back again. As it rightly should, that decision rests with the venerable United States Customs and Immigration Service.
It has been a captivating sojourn in many ways and so as I prepare to depart, I leave you with an alphabetic homage to the melting pot of things that I’ve loved muchly, not loved quite so muchly and been altogether bemused by whilst living an everyday life in this USA.
Not wishing to tax you, I’ve divided the alphabet into 5 almost even chunks so today we have the Alpha to Echo of ‘Osyth Stateside’:
A. Let’s start at the very beginning, which is, Miss Andrews tells us, a very good place to start! A is for American and the first thing you learn here is that being American means a micro-awareness of your heritage which one is given by way of introduction. ‘Hi, I’m Delores O’Fanakapan …. my father was Irish-American and my mother was German-American but my Great Great Great Great Grandfather was actually Swedish-American’. The builder who is working on this house is Italian-American and always says ‘ciao’ at the end of every conversation but was entirely confused when I spoke to him in Italian. He’s not Italian. His ancestors were. You can buy an Ancestry DNA kit for $99. I’m altogether tempted …. Which brings me to A is for Accent. To be very clear, I don’t have an accent … I speak what the British would regard as BBC English circa a distant and all but forgotten epoque, but here my accent is an object of fascination. My husband has a Scouse (person from Liverpool) accent, particularly when folded into the bosom of his family, and sounds entirely different to me. I would be ribbed as posh in Liverpool, but here we collectively have a British accent. It’s not unsual for people to simply not understand us. Therefore I have developed a sort of verbal tick – I automatically repeat what I have just said but very very slowly and a little too loudly. And I smile. A lot. As for the language of American English – that deserves a post all of it’s own and it shall get one. Suffice for now that I speak American like a Spanish Cow in the same way as I speak French comme une vache espagnole.
B. B is for Beaver … they live here and are probably no more exciting than a badger is to a Brit but for me they are a source of amazement and delight. From their tree felling to their lodge building to watching them silkily cutting through the water and stealthily, silently diving under for a quite breathcapturing length of time in the river at the end of the road I am captivated and I will miss them deeply and achingly. I would include B is for Bear because we have had recent sitings in our town but I haven’t seen one yet so it feels a little like cheating. Instead I will say that B is also for Biscuits which is VERY confusing for a well dragged up English gal. A biscuit is what I call a scone and I would serve it with butter and jam and if I was feeling greedily decadent, clotted cream, but here it is served with gravy which isn’t even vaguely brown but palest creamy white and it has bacon or sausage broken up in it. What I call a biscuit you call a cookie. Biscuit means twice cooked, cookie’s are definitely once cooked because they are delectably chewie and often absolutely gargantuan. Biscuits in my venacular are dry and snappy. Rather like me. It’s fine though, no hard feelings – I’m very happy with your biscuits and I’m extremely satisfied with those cookies. And I do know that you know about scones too … and may I say that B probably should belong to Baking because heavens to betsy you people can bake!
C. C is for Critters … where I, as an English girl have wildlife in my garden you have critters in your yards. And they are all SO cute! C is especially for Chipmunks with their tails at 90 degrees to their bodies like a flagpole and those squidgeable little stripey faces … honestly and surely, no-one could say they are not adorable. I had one in the kitchen on a hot day in summer. I don’t know who was more surprised. Fortunately The Soporific Bean didn’t notice …. The critters here include skunks (they walk SO slowly and awkwardly it is hardly surprising that they get rolled over on the roads a fact that is signalled by their singular stench from a great distance) there are turtles and frogs and bullfrogs that belch and groan in chorus all night long in summer, which I find surprisingly restful, and we have a groundhog that lives under our shed, there are raccoons (generally referred to as bandits) with their masked faces and little leather gloved hands and pink tailed oppossums and there are squirrels – big fat bruising greys that are sometimes black and look like they’ve been pumping iron and steroids and little red ones that nip about at a crazy pace and treat me to their finest squirrel pose when they find nuts or corn to nibble. We also have ground squirrels which I believe to be the love-child of a red squirrel and a chipmunk – perhaps I should try Ancestry.com DNA on one ….
D. D is for Diner. I worship at these holy temples. They vary of course but the good ones …. with wonderful staff who fill your cup with coffee tirelessly and cook breakfasts and lunches or that combined wonderment called Brunch … eggs, bacon, sausage, home-fries and a short stack with oozing butter and smothered in maple syrup must rate as one of the finest of fodders the world over. And the opportunity to eavestrop on the best of intimate conversations ranging from politics to pumpkins and cosmetics to contractors is irrisitible. Or I could drive by D for Dunkin’ Donuts (‘America runs on Dunkin’ if you didn’t know) but my husband doesn’t. In fact recently at our nearest Mall and suffering from terrible bun-lag (a condition discovered by my mother many decades ago which is that moment when you are shopping and you start to fade and only cake will revive you), I persuaded him to queue with me at the Dunkin’ (by the way I don’t think there is a single community, plaza or mall n Massachusetts, birthplace of Dunkin’, that doesn’t sport it’s own, however small) … he is a man of fastidious palette and I don’t think a Dunkin’ has ever passed his lips – I was so sooooo tempted to go for the Reeses Peanut Butter filled caramel topped cream donut but the look of absolute and abject pain and disgust on his face made me volte face and opt instead for a sober plain pumpkin ring. It was nice. It was really nice but the regret will live with me ever more (or until I can sneak one on my own and guzzle it in solitary splendour some day over the rainbow).
E. E has to be for Election (that Presidential one in case you are in any doubt) but only to note two things. The first is that I have been genuinely privileged to be able to follow the proceedings at first hand from Primaries to President. And a privilege it is. I noted once before, in France, that my opinion is of no interest to anyone but I was fortunate to see it with my own eyes – watch entire news programmes, read several newspapers and journals, watch the ‘Town Halls’, the debates and the interviews, speak to people whose country it is and who were going to vote for someone, as the spectacle, a gruesome bloodbath that might have been more fitting to an amphitheatre full of baying Romans watching Christians wrestle lions and Gladiators Gladiating, unfolded. I feel extremely lucky and my American friends who have been embarrassed by the antics and apologised – please, there is no need. To be in a country which is electing it’s leader rather than in another gathering snippets and thinking you have the facts is a quite amazing opportunity and I am glad I was here. What I was horrified at was the manner in which the media conducted itself and I do hope that a little less partisan behavior might ensue one day. Sadly, I think it won’t. In fact I have often noted that the British have an unfortunate knack of embracing the worst of this side of the Atlantic whilst seemingly being blind to the many wonderful things they could grasp and cleeve to and it seems the British media is becoming smitten with the same tune so I fear we just have to go with it and try to retain our own faculties sufficiently to understand when we are being beaten round the head with someone else’s opinions rather than being given a plateful of news to sort out in our own sweet way. E is also for Enormous. I thought of making B for Big but it simply doesn’t cover it. Everything is humungous. Cars, trucks, cups of coffee, meals out, banners (starspangled and otherwise), TVs, houses – everything is just so much bigger than I am used to and on occasion I have felt like Alice after embibing the cherry tart, custard, roasted turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast spritzer and shrunk herself to teeny tiny. We drive a mini cooper which is possibly not helpful. And E is for Eggs. I’ll take mine over easy …
So there you have it a little stroll through a few of my favourite things and a nod to my not so favourite. Meet me back here tomorrow and I’ll treat you to my F-J if you can stand it.
PS: The title is from Henry David Thoreau in a journal that he started at the suggestion of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. You cannot, simply cannot be here in this corner of New England without getting immersed in the pair of them. Thoreau’s impact on modern American thinking cannot be underestimated and it is a further joy to me to have been able to walk in his footsteps on more than one occasion.
The first and last pictures were both taken in Winter when I first arrived.
There are few inalterable facts in life but the one constant that we all have to adhere to is that one day we will die. What comes after that is up for debate and despite an abiding interest in philosophy which promotes an interest in religious teachings from all belief systems, I don’t profess to have any finite or valuable answers. Therefore I think that it is hugely important to LIVE a life. In this one single life that I will assume I have until some bearded or loinclothed but surely extremely sage bloke sends me back for another go it has to be what I adhere to. By living a life I don’t mean indulging in excesses, I simply mean not wasting valuable time looking back because another inalterable fact is that we can’t change the past. This week two things have put that notion of mine into sharp focus.
The first is the death of a beautiful lady not ever a close friend nor even actually a relative though we would have considered ourselves family for complicated reasons that are not mine to bore you with here. She died on Monday, she was the same age as me and I can think of no sound reason why she should have been taken relatively young. That’s the nature of life and death …. they have no real sense when you distil then to their meanest dregs. All I know is that it is harsh on her husband and her children and her family and her friends and I grieve for them whilst selfishly collecting myself and giving myself a sharp reminder that life is fragile and I have little and probably no control over its end point.
The second is the fact that next Thursday (24th November) marks the 25th anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death. I remember what I was doing when I got the news. I remember my body entirely giving way in discreetly Streatley (-on-Thames) as I caved in, sobbing the great overwhelming, body racking sobs of a person who felt a hole had been punched in the world. His was a death that effected me. Let me shed a little light on that. Apart from being, with a huge proportion of the world, a fan of his music, his voice and showmanship, I had the privilige of working for Queen in the early 1980s. In those days not so far away, and this shocks my daughters, we were not allowed to acknowledge that he was Gay. We had a public story and we stuck to it. Things really have changed in those three decades and it is a huge mistake to say we have not progressed. We have. And Fred did much to influence that change. By the time he died less than a decade later, the world was openly comfortable with his sexuality and it had not remotely been detrimental to record sales in the way that those that managed his career had been fearful it would be those few short years earlier.
When I left it was in the fine style of an arrogant little madam. I had categorically made my fine mind up that the dinosaurs that dubbed themselves Queen had had their day and anyway, they were quite clearly underpaying me. They called a meeting. Fred was sent downstairs to speak to me. I stood as he descended the stairway – one just did, it wasn’t demanded but his presence was so dynamic and it was somehow compellingly correct to rise even for a modish and edgy avante garde force such as me. ‘I hear you want to leave us’ he said having stepped backwards up two steps of the same staircase to speak to me eye to eye (I’m brushing 6′ and wore stilettoes with my drainpipe jeans or rara skirts and he, like so many extraordinarily large personas was actually not at all a tall man) ‘won’t you stay’. ‘I don’t WANT to leave’, I countered ‘it’s simply a question of money’ … it was a slight of hand that any member of The Magic Circle would be justifiably proud …. I barely realised his hand had extended and grasped mine as he shook it firmly and equally firmly said ‘it’s been such a pleasure to have you as part of our team’. Lesson learned … never try to use money as a bargaining device even if you know the collective wealth of your employers is stellar and, as I was to learn just two years later, never EVER underestimate a authentic star. I was in the VIP enclosure at Wembley as he walked on stage on 13th July 1985 to lead Queen’s set for Live Aid. I looked at his face and I said to my neighbour (who I didn’t know from Adam or Eve) ‘he’s going to OWN this baby’ …. I don’t think anyone will ever argue that little nugget with me.
It happens that this 24th November which quite incomprehensibly marks a quarter of a whole century since this remarkable, vibrant and nonsensically talented human left the earth is also Thanksgiving Day in the USA and given that I will actually, for the first time, be here in the US for this momentous day and given that whatever petty nonsense may affect my life either day to day or policitally, I am ALIVE I will personally be giving thanks for the life I have, for the life I share and for the sheer joy that alive should bring. I will not be presumptuous enough to forget that for many it is hard to be thankful but I will hope that all can at least find cheer in the rising and setting of the sun and the fact that there is air to breathe. Death comes to us all and when it does there is no moment to regret the moments that you forgot to be thankful. So I implore you to put politics aside, squish ill-will, banish anxiety about things you can’t fix and just be the best version of you that you can be. Not just on Thursday but throughout your days, however many they may be.
PS: The title is from a Queen song ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’ which was actually written by their drummer, Roger Taylor for the soundtrack of the film Highlander – we both attended the Premier but I’ve taken up far to much of your time already so that story will have to wait for another day ….
The picture was taken on Cape Cod the day before the Supermoon shone as dazzling as sunlight … it amused me that it was sitting silent-sweetly in the sky behind us as we focussed all our efforts on the setting of the sun, seemingly waiting for the perfect moment to pinch the glory from its effervescent brother.
And here, because you knew I would, is your bonus:
I’m a simple soul and I’m a fortunate one. Not because I have riches that I can greedily count in gold pieces stashed in a safe box in a bank vault in Zurich, not because I have jewels to gloat over nor lands to survey from my ivory tower. I’m fortunate because most of what I need I can get simply by surveying the beauty of a landscape and preferably by being in it. I need little, I lust after less. Mostly. I’m imperfect so I am allowed lapses of grace from time to time. It makes me more interesting. That is my excuse and I will doggedly stick to it as long as I draw breath after which time people can say what they like and I won’t give a damn.
I have been here now in every month that assembles a year (today is November 1st) and I have been here through all four seasons. Fall (Autumn it would be if I was in England) is my favourite out of four favourite seasons. Here in New England it is truly glorious. Nature’s blaze of glory before she breathes her glacial best and ices the landscape and the flesh for the grey and gloomy months of winter. Those months when a blue sky is like a venous opiate lifting the spirits from varying degrees of malaise and doldrum to a frenzy of good cheer and often as not casting one back to the weary treadmill of a life lived in darkness as the days shorten such that you are never home in daylight. I paint a despondent picture – actually I love winter as much as I love her three sisters – there is delight in the darkness, as one gathers oneself into a snuggly woolly pully and drinks cocoa or vin chaud in front of an open fire. And for me Christmas, for others Hannukah, Eid, Diwali, las Posadas, Kwanzaa. And making no apology for hefty comfort food. And snow. Mostly I love snow and ice and frost. So winter I malign you unfairly but Fall you are the Fairy Godmother that transmogrifies landscapes such as this one into a trinket box of ruby and amber and coral sparklers and the once lime verdant slime on the water hushes its tones to paler green lying effortlessly chic on the glistening water like an elegant cashmere shawl thrown casually over the liquid satin evening gown of a ’30s siren.
Yes, I’m a fortunate girl. Fortunate to be able to witness all of this and fortunate not to need more.
I define transmogrify as a magical transformation and not necessarily specifically into something grotesque or comical as Websters insists. For example, Cinderella’s pumpkin transmogrified into a sparkling glass carriage – surprising and enchanting certainly, absurd if you are splitting hairs but not at all freakish or repulsive. Correct me by all means, but I am confident that I have it right. Pedant is my middle name when not using Osyth and it happens that my definition concurs with the Oxford Dictionary and after all I AM an Oxford girl ….
PS: The title is from Pete Seeger’s wonderful song made legend by The Byrds. The lyrics, with a few deft strokes of his own were borrowed from The Book of Ecclisiastes. I think it rather apt to read and absorb his version as we face the last week of the bloody slanging match that is the election here and the equally bloody wrangling in England over whether or not Article 50 should be triggered. I will remain decorously silent in opinion but believe me it is hard for me to tape my tongue on either issue.
Turn! Turn! Turn!
To everything, (turn, turn, turn). There is a season, (turn, turn, turn). And a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to reap. A time to kill, a time to heal. A time to laugh, a time to weep.
To everything, (turn, turn, turn). There is a season, (turn, turn, turn). And a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to build up, a time to break down. A time to dance, a time to mourn. A time to cast away stones. A time to gather stones together.
To everything, (turn, turn, turn). There is a season, (turn, turn, turn). And a time to every purpose under heaven. A time of love, a time of hate. A time of war, a time of peace. A time you may embrace. A time to refrain from embracing.
To everything, (turn, turn, turn). There is a season, (turn, turn, turn). And a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to gain, a time to lose. A time to rend, a time to sew. A time for love, a time for hate. A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.