Monday, June 18, 2018

What the World can be

Hello, dear reader.

I am absolutely obsessed with Daphne DuMaurier. Obsessed, I tell you.

We spent the last week in Cornwall with DM's charming adult children, in the most beautiful little stone house with big grey windows overlooking the St Austell Bay. A tiny harbor had been created with large slate rocks, and so at high tide, you could dive into a balmy turquoise lagoon. It was cold, I suppose, but then again, I'm not half Norwegian for nothing. We brace ourselves, we Vikings, and we pound our chests, and we dive straight in. "Wait for the glow! Wait for the glow!" said DM. "It will come!" He is referring to the numbing sensation that overcomes you when you are in cold seawater, when suddenly your whole body begins to tingle with warmth. The house is big with lovely old wide panels of wood on the floors, heated stone tile in the bathrooms (I mean, how spoiling!), Egyptian cotton sheets, big fluffy white towels and more than a splash of Farrow & Ball. The sitting room contained huge grey linen sofas with pale blue velvet cushions. So comfortable! There were cupboards full of games, and shelves full of books, and a little lawn area just to the south of the house where you could take advantage of the sun after it had gone behind the hill. The trek down to the house from the little lane where we parked the car was about 10 minutes, so you can imagine, there weren't a lot of people about. A little barbecue was built into the slate cliff in the walled garden, and we spent many lazy evenings grilling and drinking pinot grigio.

The best part was the morning. The sound of the waves and the sun blazing in the bedroom window at 4.30am, an orange ball of light reaching out towards us like an illuminated runway; a Munch sun, I thought. That magic time that only comes at this time of year, right around the solstice, when every creature is marveling and no-one gets enough sleep because they cannot bear to close their eyes when the light is so beautiful.

And Charlie has the most amazing knack of finding the best walks. Up and down the South West Coastal Path we went. The first day was best, and I suppose it always is, because everything was new. We walked from the house up and down steep hills and cliffs in the woods and emerged on a path that followed a hay field, overgrown, blowsy, full of nettles, foxgloves, bindweed, tiny pink flowers I still can't identify, hanging oak branches, the end of the gorse, still yellow in parts. The path is a narrow channel and you have to watch your feet. Thistle did best because she's closest to the ground, but I can't imagine it must've felt very nice to be whipped in the face like that (she's only about half a foot tall). And on the left of us was the sea. Dramatic and turquoise and big and crashing. Above us, blue skies, no clouds, seabirds. And to the right cattle, big fat heifers with long eyelashes and lazily inquisitive. The path took us to Black Head, past a plaque commemorating the life of Cornish historian and poet A.L. Rowse and then up a hill laden with blue and pink flowers, clover, buttercups, wild cornflower and on to the cliff top. There we stopped and marveled. There is no other word for it. The wind was blowing us, the sun was shining down of us, the seabirds were calling, and two fisherman were balanced on a rock far below us, their picnic satchel propped up next to them, a flask of tea on a flat pad of grass. It was a place of communion. A place to rejoice and give thanks, to pray, to meditate, to tune in, to feel at one with the world. He said something like "With all the tumult on earth, this will still be here. The sea, the flowers, the wind blowing through it. It reminds us of what the world can be." There was so much beauty that I cried.

But then I discovered Rebecca. And, dear reader, I could not put it down.

I am happy I have a plane journey on Thursday, because I shall be starting Jamaica Inn.

Love to you all, and apologies for being such a sporadic writer.

xo

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cottages and Kind

I must tell you a little about this little cottage I'm renting: it's beautiful, old and rickety, and plopped on the green away from the road, diagonally opposite the cricket pitch. Summer nights are enhanced by glimpses of men and boys in white running around and cheering gently. This is the blowsy time of the year. The bluebells are disappearing, but the cow parsley and buttercups are rioting outside in the long grass, the other side of our garden wall. Reluctant DofE hikers and dog walkers amble past and the dogs rush the five-bar gate without fail, protecting their kingdom. The house dates back to the  17th century. It's a Grade II listed cottage (which means, essentially, you can't pull it down or do much to it without a lot of permission). The doorways are about 5 foot 2, and the ceilings just a little bit higher than that. (If DM stands upright in the bathroom, for example, he hits his head. He is 6 foot 3.) In the kitchen and in the sitting room there are big old brick inglenooks, frame in heavy oak beams. I rather suspect that the rats have there houses there, where it's warm. There are two extremely narrow and winding staircases which we have all fallen down, at least twice, including the dogs. The floor in the bedroom is at 45 degree angle and the bed frequently slides towards the window. All of the window frames are rotting and there is peeling paint in a jaunty shade of racing green on the doors. The inside doors have old-fashioned latches and there is a hole the size of a fifty pence piece on each of them (which answers the question, where do the mice come in?). Despite the fact that the solid old walls are filled with two-hundred year old rodent poo, and that there a small insects eating holes in the ceilings, and it's hard to drive in a nail to hang a picture, despite the fact that the kitchen is dark and you have to walk outside in the dead of winter to get to the large fridge, it's a very happy house, a very charming house, a house, to be honest, I've fallen in love with.

From the kitchen door, there is a path that leads straight out to the small garden gate, which is covered with so many layers of peeling green paint, that it no longer shuts. The path is flanked by wild pink roses, blue irises from Cornwall, orange poppies, and cow parsley. But there are signs of peonies and aquilegia and allium popping up. It's impossibly beautiful. After months and months of greyness and low-slung skies, there is sunshine and that impossible, chlorophyl-filled green everywhere, layer upon layer of it, punctuated by the snow-like hawthorne blossom.

Outside the backdoor, apart from the wild, wild grass, there is a huge bay tree, a huge hazel tree and a rather nice slab of old concrete where there must be a well, but it has become the sunning place of choice for the dogs.

The truth is, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to live here. I am a hybrid. I am other. I am neither one nor t'other. I just don't know how this country works or what the secret codes are, or what group I'm meant to attach myself to. I don't know if this bleeding heart liberal who has LA in her heart is going to be embraced here by the Brits.

So, here's the thing, when I was in LA, pining for the Chilterns (apparently that's my thing: living in a state of longing) I had so many British friends who would come to stay or want to hook up when they were over, who would send children to stay (all delightful, let me say), but now that I'm here, apparently I'm less appealing. It's quite strange. It's a little bewildering. I'm not one to feel sorry for myself, but I'm just not sure if this is where I can be. Or perhaps I am too impatient. Perhaps it does take years. Perhaps all the years and experience and success in business and being ballsy and out there and in charge and shouting about feminism from the rafters isn't in fact what sells you here in Blighty. They just don't care.

And so I am writing about my cottage, which I love. And showing pictures of my happy dog and my fat bay mare on Instagram. And then I think about Vonnegut and kindness and hope that if I continue to try to be kind, things will change. Who knows?

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Chiltern Way

I just can't get over what this is like. Birds singing. A breeze. So much birdsong. I've got buttercups on the left of me and cow parsley on the right (here I am! 🎵) and oak branches hanging thick and green over the path. The dogs are in front of me. Pigeons. Also blackbirds, songbirds. And the sun just dappling through the leaves. Quite hard not to sound like a complete ninny.







 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Reasons to be Cheerful. One, Two. Three.

Dear Lord, shoot me now if I have to continue to live in a country where the sun appears once every two weeks if you're lucky. I'm perched on a concrete slab in the garden, listening to birds, laptop on lap, dogs at my feet, staring at verdure and bluebells and white puffy clouds about which Wordsworth would swoon. The sun is out. For the first time in a while. The sun is out and all is well with the world. There is light.  Finally.
☀️"First of all we shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark." 
This is from the Big Book, ie the AA big book. It's perfect, isn't it? And that's how you feel after a week of oppressively grey skies.  

I shivered in London yesterday, completely inappropriately dressed for driving rain, in jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt and my lovely navy blue Miu Miu coat which sounds grand but is a serious dog hair magnet. Freezing and grumpy, I ordered the rose mint tea at Le Comptoir Libanais. They pour it from a height into little glasses. It's just slightly sweet and warms your hands. I was waiting for my old workmate from Los Angeles. We started out in the business together. He taught me Yiddish words and brought in warm bagels and cream cheese from the best deli on Pico every Friday. We went to meetings at Avenue Pictures together, in his old Toyota which reeked of cigarette smoke, and laughed. He came in looking fifteen pounds lighter and announced that his mother had died a month ago. I didn't know. I hadn't been told. But I could feel the weight of it, the weight of his sadness, which stayed with me on the train all the way home. I didn't know what to say really. The death of a parent makes you question everything, makes you look at the world differently, blows you apart. He showed me pictures of his mom in cats-eye sunglasses, with a necklace of flowers, grinning, in Acapulco, 1972. Acapulco! Where all the chic-est people went in 1972. Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, my friends' parents from suburban Philly. 

At four ayem I had a crisis of confidence. I wanted to tell everyone "I've lost my confidence. I don't know who I am any more." And I thought better of it. I thought it didn't look very professional. But later, in the the morning, I confided to DM. I knew I was drowning in it and I had to find something that would make me feel like it was going to be all right. I found Cyril Connolly, he of The Unquiet Grave, witty epithets and contemporary of George Orwell, Cecil Beaton and Anthony Powell. "In 1967, Connolly settled in Eastbourne, to the amusement of Beaton, who suggested he was lured back by the cakes they had enjoyed in school outings to the town." And why wouldn't you move somewhere for cake?

But this is what I found:

“The secret of success is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore.”   -- Cyril Connolly.

And somehow, this helped me sleep. 

Why do we not learn? Why do we not remember the things that have to be done to remain in light? (My favorite Talking Heads track is here.)

Once again, with feeling: Here are the things you should do every morning to remain on the right side of your mental health if you are prone to anxiety or depression.

1) Do not drink. Or, do not drink in excess. You will wake up with a deep sense of existential angst and paranoid anxiety.

2) Get out of bed when you wake up. Greet the day. Walk the dogs. Listen to the birds.

3) Meditate. This lovely woman has some good ones on Instagram (we used to do Kundalini together in LA: here. You only need three minutes. Or, if you don't meditate, just breathe a bit. This is helpful. It's important to expand your belly as you slowly breathe in, and to contract your belly as you exhale.

4) Shower. The water is healing. The water will help you.

5) Be in nature. Walking among trees, even for 10 minutes, will help you.

6) Connect. Reach out to friends.

7) Practise kindness. This is never a mistake. Especially, be kind to yourself.

8) Make a gratitude list. What are you grateful for? (Today, I'm grateful for the blue skies, the puffy clouds, the birdsong.)

9) Love those you love as much as you can.

10) Music soothes the soul. Do not allow yourself to be without it.

11) Read. Poems help me. Trashy novels may help you. Whatever takes you on an adventure outside your own life is worth reading.


Friday, April 13, 2018

The Taxi

The Taxi

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Walking

"This is how we should start every day," I say as we slosh through the mud on April 10. It's pissing down. There are puddles the size of ponds. The trees are hardly budding. To cheer myself up I sent a Christmas-style email letter to all my Cali girlfriends last night trying not to sound too desperate. "Oh it's lovely here. Refreshing! Great for the complexion!"  DM is circumspect. "It's quite wet" he says, as the Frenchie fords another stream. The sky hangs down oppressively. I am beginning to understand the British pre-occupation with the weather.

We wake up in the morning earlier now that the light comes in the window before six. The birds make it hard to stay sleeping. I noticed this more acutely when I first moved here and experience spring and the coming of light. The sheer joy of the birds made me want to be out in it with them. Especially when the sun was shining.

I'm always surprised and happy to see him there next to me, usually with his headset in his ear, listening to the morning program on Radio Four while drifting in and out of sleep. Whatever bad dream I've had, whatever anxiety I've felt in the early morning evaporates when I see his sweet face. And he brings me tea. I hear the same routine every morning; the kettle boiling, the clink of the cup, the sound of the teaspoon with its swift tune on the side of the cup. Dum bara dum bum. Dum DUM. And invariably, with the tea comes the question "is it raining?" Every single morning. "Is it raining?" This morning, boldly, I asked "why does it matter?" We always put on waterproofs and hats and gumboots; we always prepare for the worst. It is counterintuitive to me. I come from where the living is easy, where we prepare for nothing but earthquakes. You barely need underwear in California. Birks, a dress, a pair of cotton knickers, some someglasses, sunscreen, a bottle of water, a few dollars, and you're on your way. Although I tell people that all you need is a dress.

The morning habit, the way I like to start every day, is to walk the dogs before eight, before everyone else is out, while the village is still sleepy. I try to notice things. The little violets on the footppath to the field. The swathes of ramsons on the common (enough wild garlic soup for weeks). The tiniest, imperceptible buds on the cherry by the gate. These little signs are what keep us going. The notion that we are moving slowly into another season. The lambs with their mothers. My mare's coat which is thinning out, becoming silky as summer approaches.

Boiled eggs, toast and tea and then a day of work.

"Are we co-dependent?" he asks as we walk down Parrotts Lane listening to morning wood pigeons. "What does that mean? It's sort of like existential. I know what it means but find it hard to articulate." "Wrapped up in and allowing for the other's neuroses but in a bad way," I say, as articulate as a table. I think of Paul and Linda but I don't say this. "Perhaps it's when you fill my wine glass just a little too much?" I say. The most healthy thing about this relationship, I tell him, is that we can be apart from each other. Even now, when he is upstairs at the desk, and I'm at the kitchen table. I'm aware that he is here in the same house, but we don't have to be side by side, conjoined.

Second relationships are very interesting. You are both scarred by marriage, in very good and very bad ways. You don't want to make the same mistakes again. We are both intuitive and emotionally attuned enough to know that you can't always be sure of this. We are attracted to things that we're comfortable with, even if they are extremely toxic. This doesn't feel toxic to me. It feels gentle and kind and intimate in a way I've never really known before. There is no place we can't go. That feels refreshing. And healthy.

The further we go, the more established our rhythm. We begin to ignore the mud and the drizzle. Our cheeks are rosy. This might be called the flow.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Sardines

Inspired by my trip to Boston, where tinned fish is code for hip, I served up an incredibly easy pre-lunch snack for my Sunday guests; something for them to nibble on while I made the Yorkshire Pudding in the kitchen. (By the way, my Yorkshire Pudding rocked, which surprised me because I convert every amount from mls to cups, per my American nature, and then guesstimate. But they rose like little mushroom clouds. Hurrah!)


Sardines at Saltie Girl, Boston


What you will need:

A pretty wooden board or platter (I used a beautiful one my son made for me.)
Two tins of sardines in olive oil (I use Portuguese. Open the tins and leave them there, glistening in their little coffins.)
A jar of roasted peppers, whizzed up in the food processor with a clove of garlic and some olive or chili oil (this is scrumptious and people who protest the sardines can just eat this on bread)
A little bowl of mustard
Crackers or bread
Cold, good butter
Sea salt

The thing about sardines is that people think they don't like them till they try them. You will be surprised at people's reactions.

At Prune in New York, they serve sardines with Dijon Mustard and crackers.
At Saltie Girl in Boston, they serve them with red pepper relish and sea salt.
It's your choice.
I'm just delighted to be re-introduced to these versatile little fish.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Fosbury Flop

It really does suck when you discover you're not invincible.
I'm currently lying in the bath while DM brings in kettlefuls of boiling water, and pours it in. I scrunch up my knees so I don't get burned to allow the heat to permeate. He sits on the loo seat next to me in his Philadelphia Eagles hat and asks me if I want another cup of tea. My back is really quite sore. Am I really someone who is going to discuss my ailments? Apparently so. Yesterday, on the first truly springy spring day we've had, a full on sunny day, my girly mare decided that the perfect confluence of events -- sunshine, spring grass, wind in the trees, coming into season, a jumping lesson -- would be the ideal opportunity to spook like mad at a ghost the other side of the fence, scoot her bottom underneath her while snorting with flared pink nostrils and do the most enormous buck which took her from one side of the ring to the other. I pride myself on my ability to sit to bucks, but it was a big one. "Yup. That was a big one" said my trainer, Chris, stalwart and sage-like. And I flew right over her ears as if I were mid Fosbury Flop, and landed with a resounding thwack flat on my sacrum and my head. Yes, I was wearing a helmet. "Don't move for a bit" said Chris. "No shit, Sherlock" I thought. There is that momentary assessment: Am I alive? Is anything broken? Who am I? and then I look up at Bella's beatific face: she is standing next to me looking confused, quizzical. Dude! You put me here!
"Look at this!" says Chris, like a boy scout. "This is where she took off;" he points to a hoof print in the sand, "and this," he says, triumphant "is where you landed." There is a good twenty feet of expanse. I don't know whether or not I deserve a medal.
Last night, DM ministered to me in bed. Red wine. Queer Eye. Chicken Tikka Masala. Heaven.
So I shall hobble today.
And I shall ponder my mortality.
Have a perfectly lovely weekend, dear friends.

And never stop taking risks. It's what keeps us alive.
What's that quote "the most creative things happen outside of your comfort zone."