Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
That is T.S. Eliot from his poem ASH WEDNESDAY. It feels appropriate. We are having difficulty with our empathies, our will is useless, it may be a detriment to us, and though we know stillness is both a remedy and a necessity we squirm within our skins like six year olds at an incomprehensible grownup event.
My latest evidence of this was when a friend told me she had heard on the radio that those 80 and above would not be allowed out of quarantine when everyone else was. I was precipitated into immediate belligerent rebellion and outrage not a notch above the reaction of the teenaged daughter of a friend who when told her boy friend would not be allowed to visit her caterwauled in anguish, “Oh Daddy, you’re soooo unfair.” It may not be true. I hope not.
Among my many luxury problems, I am tired of cooking. I cooked two to three meals a day for about 20 years. I was a very good cook; I enjoyed cooking. Somewhere around the age of 78 I stopped enjoying it and took to restaurants, even traveling the metro three stops to a favored one. I have not been doing badly but I’m definitely sullen about exercising this slightly atrophied muscle. I look in cookbooks for inspiration but what they inspire are thoughts such as, “Too complicated. Too many pots. I can’t get up to Balmes to the store that has shrimp paste.”
Too many pots is a bottom line objection. I find I want to clean two pots at the most at the end of a meal. But I also know that to leave the pots in the sink is not only the act of a sloven but that there is a mysterious retributive backlash for such minor acts of procrastination. Some how the abandoned pots have a malign, accusational quality about them. They shame.
Part of my cooking has taken the form of a game. Various people, of divergent tastes have stayed in my apartment over the years leaving behind edibles, mostly starches. I have spent recent weeks using up half or quarter boxes of spaghetti, macaroni and bow ties, a couple of half used bags of quinoa. But the big challenge has been a large bag of lentils I bought myself for an Indian receipt. I didn’t feel like lentil soup, which would have been the obvious solution. I found a receipt for dhal in an Indian cookbook that can be frozen. You serve it with a topping of garlic butter. It is very nice but still it is going to take a long time to consume all those lentils. It was a big bag.
Along with using up edibles, I am “using up” books. I inherited my Aunt Liz’s library. It was small and largely composed of histories, biographies and historical novels written from the 1930’s to the late 50’s. I have been making my way through these, most old and out of date, but not the less interesting for that. I have read now in fact and fiction about Richard III, one of the first biographies to absolve him from the Tudor slander, so stirringly told by Shakespeare, of having killed his nephews, Warwick the Kingmaker, an earl whose reach for power exceeded his life, Queen Elizabeth, a survivor if ever there was one, Sir Thomas Moore, one of the rare righteous in English or any history, a superbly written novel about Harry of Monmouth (Henry V) and a slender volume about Jane Shore, a goldsmith’s wife who became and stayed the mistress of Edward IV. She is mentioned in Shakespeare’s RICHARD III.
They are all interesting personalities but I was hooked by Jane Shore, despite the fact that the novel by Jane Plaidy is not particularly well imagined. Plaidy has her tricked into the arms of Edward by a woman Pandarus, I suppose to make her more blameless. But Jane interests me, not because of her sexual adventures which were many and varied, but because she was by all accounts a nice person, even Edward’s wife liked her. She successfully talked the King into helping people and forgiving them.
Under Richard, who was a prig, she had to walk through London in her kirtel, a one-piece undergarment. It increased her popularity and the men of London came out to see what King Edward had admired. I found myself annoyed that Plaidy gives Jane the kind of end a bad girl is required to have. In the novel she dies in poverty, a beggar on a street corner in London. The actuality may have been that she retired to a not unpleasant middle class life and died in bed.
There is a forty-page poem in MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES, a source much used by Shakespeare, about her. I have been trying to find this poem on line with no luck. When Edward died she went on to other well-heeled lovers. I like to think of her comfortable in a cottage outside of London in her old age.
I pile these books up as I finish reading them to be given to my son, my grandson and others who are interested. At the moment I am on Churchill’s HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLE, the first volume. I am amused at how thoroughly it reflects his worldview.
Once I am finished with England I go on to France and then Egypt, which fascinated my Aunt. It was the last foreign trip she took, a Cook tour. She became very ill, returning to the U.S. That experience made her give up her foreign travels. I believe she was eighty.
So in quarantine I am spending time with my Aunt Liz who has been dead for thirty years. She was born in Reed`s Landing on the Mississippi in Minnesota when paddle steamers took travelers up and down the river in 1887. She went to New York to study at Columbia and get away from her mother, a ring-tailed witch. One night she went to see a Japanese dancer and was so entranced by his performance that she went back stage and asked to become his student. She learned Japanese dance from him, then Indian dance from an Indian woman who was his friend and toured with her troupe. She danced with the Ziegfeld Follies, although she was not one of the long stemmed roses, being a diminutive five foot three. I thought she was the most interesting woman I had ever met until I was eighteen or nineteen and began to know women who ”did things” besides cook tuna casseroles.
The clapping has started. I must go to my balcon and join.