Today there is rain. There is rain, the Grand National on the radio, live from Aintree, there is a dog with a sore foot (and the wherewithal to skirt around the giant cone of shame on her head to nibble at it, surreptitiously), a visit from the people who grew up in our house, a cake to be baked, my oldest son and his lovely girlfriend, and a visit to the mercado in East LA. As it never rains in Los Angeles, this offers the opportunity to stay home, to be lazy, to reflect, to clean, to re-organize, to do all the things one normally doesn't, because of the ridiculous sunshine and blue skies. Today is a day that feels like Norway. Not enough exercise, not enough reading, too much contemplating, too much napping, and an ongoing sense of wasting one's time.
My lovely boyfriend is in London and he calls me to tell me he has been to a see an exhibit of a Norwegian artist I adore, that he has been to a German film done in one take, that he has eaten a cheese sandwich, and been on the set of a movie he is working on, and I feel that I need to achieve something more than washing the bedsheets and cleaning the kitchen. I rinse and soak the dog's foot in warm salt water and think of my grandmother's cure for everything, growing up as she did alongside the Oslo fjord. I slather the foot in antibiotic ointment, I grumble at her for trying to lick it, but I take off the cone because it's just a weapon of torture as far as I can tell. I look at the piles of books by my bed, on my desk, in my room on the shelf, and wonder why reading has become so hard for me: the thing I loved most in the world, except for walking with dogs or riding horses. I wonder why getting through just one is such a chore. I watch the dog's foot swell and wonder if she should be on an antibiotic, but I don't want to overreact. I carry her with me to East LA so she won't lick the foot, and make her sit on my lap till she falls asleep.
I listen to the Grand National, and think of my whole family with their bets. My mother bets on three horses. It's a tradition. My father always bet on many of them, some to win, some each way. I miss England at the beginning of April, esepecially when it's raining here, and that's how I decide upon the cake, a fruitcake from Mrs Beaton, from a recipe my mother sent me. It's here, if you'd like to try it. Our Sunday tea cake. After a big lunch and a nap and a black and white film, tea in the blue and white Danish cups and crumbly, moist fruit cake.
The cake is a way of assuaging homesickness, of course.
I'm still passing through this place, with its owls at its greenest time of year, with the yellow flowers that bud like stars just for a week or two, with its eucalyptus beetles and it coyote brush, sage and golden yellow lantana. I wonder whether the hillside should be terraced and whether we need three different types of groundcover, whether the acacia redolens will work in the shady areas, whether the patches of rock can be reclaimed. I'm passing through. It's home but it's not home. I'm a stranger still, I know this. People ask me where I'm from all the time. I say "Hollywood" and know I'm being churlish. Thirty years I've spent in this place with its wooden sided cars, and its longboards, pink camellia, bougainvillea, banking nasturtiums and women with big hair held in place with a visor (you still see them, on the lawns outside their Beverly Hills houses, waving at a neighbor or a walking companion, in similarly prolific amounts of make up). And then of course the hills, the stark beauty of the sagebrush, the blue skies, the impossibly warm seas. But it's not damp, or uncomfortable, or grumpy. Just today. And I'm still answering the question about where I'm from.
I'm from the Chilterns. Yes, it's near London. No, it's not Kent. Yes, near Oxford. Oh, did he? A Rhodes scholar. Ok. Yes, those dreaming spires. Cotswolds. English breakfast. Say something? Ha ha, no it's you that has the accent.
Where I'm from, I'm no novelty. We eat peardrops still. He brought me some at Christmas and I keep them by my bed and mete them out only on an as needed basis, essentially to assuage home sickness. Yes, it still lingers, annoyingly. You can't move back, you're not English any more, they say. I don't think they know how cruel they are being when they say this. I'm not really anything, to be fair.
My grandmother was Danish and moved to Norway. My mother was Norwegian and moved England. I am English and I moved to California. My Californian-born daughter is now in Denmark, and when we were there, we visited the church in which my great-grandmother was christened. Everything is a circle, as the New Seekers so wisely sang.