Therapy Plant?

I have begun talking to plants. A plant.


It all started when I read a news story about plants reacting to anaesthesia just like humans, by entering a sleep-like state, and then coming out of it. This couldn't help but evoke the question of pain and whether plants feel it, etc. And by extension, a lot of other things, like life being on a spectrum.

Also, our friends Marj and Tom, who stayed in our apartment while we were in France last fall, were worried that my husband's pet orchid was not responding well, indeed languishing for lack of hearing him playing the flute playing in the mornings before he went to work. Marj began to cheer the orchid up with recorded music. And the orchid was in splendid condition when we returned, even making new flower buds, only now starting to open.

Marj left us a little lime tree (well, sprout), which, since I've been tending it, has started dropping its leaves: over-watering? under-watering? lack of sun (we face north)? Or do I need to talk to it? Sing to it? Touch it?

All of the above.

In the morning I stroke a leaf or two and cluck over a yellowing leaf. If no one's listening I may sing a bar or two of a romantic Italian aria I learned in singing school a couple of summers ago.

You know, it's a lot less work than an animal pet or a bird.  I think I could start to see it as a companion, as my therapy plant.

My Desk

I'm sure I've said before that I work in bed: I like to have my legs up to work and read and I also like to be able to spread my materials around me, books (usually several, open, though at the moment I'm fixated on a Scottish poet called Douglas Dunn), glasses (reading, computer), coffee (instant), snacks (unsalted baked almonds)... . In this house, in this position (on the bed, legs out), opposite me are two windows and between them my official desk, which is one of those banquet-sized, rectangular, folding plastic picnic tables people rent or buy for 'events.' It's just the right length for that stretch of wall and I ordered it from Amazon for about $50 when we moved into this place 3 years ago, as a temporary solution to the desk problem. Above it is a large c17th plan of Paris, a gift from our former landlord, a Stanford art historian who thought we should have it. 

On the desk, right to left: a printer, some black file folders, some notebooks propped up by a two volume set, orange and red, of the Webster's dictionary that I 'stole' from my parents' bookshelf about a decade ago, lying flat. On top of them a jar of pens and pencils, my backup drive (which I wear around my neck when I fly in case I have to leave my laptop behind when my plane goes down and I have to ditch); my laptop, when it's not in bed with me, a lamp (Ikea), my agenda, some stacks of stuff (books I plan to read and don't want to forget about, tax forms...) and, most important, a monitor that allows me to go back and forth between two screens when I have some proof-reading to do, but which mostly serves as a place to prop a couple touchstone postcards:


1) Chardin's still life, Le gobelet d'argent (silver timbale, three apples, a silver bowl with a spoon...); and

2) Monet's Magpie on a fence in the snow.

They are the last things I look at before I turn out the light at night.

Tarte Tatin

Wonder why the weather is always the first thing that comes to mind? Because it's easy? Because it is what the world notices on waking? Anyway, it's at least 20 degrees warmer here than in Paris, or even the Vaucluse, but I've got over the shock of California weather, for the moment, and only  grumble when it rains and I can't take my bike to go where I want to go, or just for a ride. I am working on 'new' or new-old poems--ones that didn't fit into The Hotel Eden, the title of the new book (August), whose manuscript I sent to Carcanet last week. I should also conclude my Baudelaire, but I'm afraid to, because I know there are changes I'll immediately or eventually want to make, when it's no longer possible. Not finished but abandoned in despair--Valery, I believe.

This afternoon I'm driving over to Berkeley for the Poetry Group meeting: discussion then dinner, picking up friend Peter on the way. My contribution to dinner will be the usual--a tarte tatin, which I will head off and prepare for 8 people, but cook in Berkeley.


Several times I've wanted to write here, and then something else came up and I put it off. On Tuesday morning I sent the manuscript for the new book to Carcanet, and tried to put it out of my mind. This wasn't too hard to do because Wednesday we flew to San Francisco, which took most of the day, and then one is too jet-lagged to think of much besides domestic tasks: stocking the fridge, unpacking, trying to remember where I put my...slippers, say...four months ago. Friends were staying in our apartment in our absence, so we'd made closet and drawer space for them. 

Yesterday I sorted mail and went to the first meeting of a seminar on campus: Sepp Gumbrecht on 'Bliss and Literature," 3 hours a week. The first week of classes here is Shopping Week. The students can go to different classes, then choose the ones they want to take. The amphitheatre was 90% full. The first reading was the scene in the Illiad where Priam goes to Achilles to beg for the body of Hector. I've just reread the passage and my notes from yesterday; which made me think about the difference between happiness (my translation of the Illiad speaks of happiness) and bliss, as well as about bliss and that literary chestnut, the epiphany. This because another thought took me to Eliot's Burnt Norton, where he seems to be having an epiphany or moment of bliss or happiness, towards the end, a moment when the flow of time becomes meaningless. I need to reread the 4Q.

Not blissful was the flight from Paris to SF, because there was a small child nearby, who was probably handicapped in some way we couldn't define, but which involved hyperactivity and long bouts of screaming. When I realized he wasn't misbehaving I also realized that his parents were doing an extraordinary job of taking things in stride. 


Palais de Justice, Conciergerie

I love the bells, right now church bells ringing at noon on Sunday. Perhaps it's the end of the mass? If the wind is right I can hear 3 different sets of bells sometimes. And I don't worry if I go out without my wristwatch, because there is always a clock or a bell to tell me what time it is.

It has been raining steadily for the last week, though with breaks, during which we go out and walk, mostly along the Right Bank of the Seine which has a good long stretch of quai now reserved for walkers, bikes, roller-bladers. Yesterday we went over to St Gervais, Couperin's church, behind the City Hall in the Marais, for an organ concert. Took a bus over, walked home along the Seine which is very high. Boats--barges--can go upriver past the Pont Neuf on the western tip of the Isle de la Cite. The water is brown and moving very fast, and the quai is closed after the Pont Neuf, because it is flooded.

Last week I was heading to the Centre Pompidou and got sidetracked by the Palais de Justice, partly because the line was short. Wandered in and all around, then out and into the Conciergerie next door, all this inspired by reading Balzac's Courtesans over Christmas.

And now to lunch. Putting the last touches on my new Ms, The Hotel Eden, for Carcanet.

Happy New Year! Bonne Année!

We returned to Paris on New Year's Eve afternoon after two weeks in the Vaucluse with the whole family and a number of our cousins. By and large, the weather was perfect, sometimes cold and clear, occasionally rainy, though I think we managed to get out for walks or bike rides most afternoons. In October the hills were full of colour; at this time of year they are more monotone, blacks and browns of vineyards and fruit trees, and the grey-greens of olive trees, and groundcover like thyme and rosemary. It's different but also beautiful.

We had the whole family, including cousins, for the traditional Provencal 13 desserts: two buches, various sweets, plus fruits and nuts and champagne, on Christmas late afternoon. My sister-in-law collected everyone at their house the following afternoon, and another cousin had a smaller group (without the kids, tired of socialising by then) the following day. Then our children began to trickle off back to Paris and England or the US, and for the last couple of days we were alone again, with a heap of laundry and a collection of leftovers, and our books and walks. One day it was sunny and windy and the sheets dried in no time (only ours, the kids had done theirs).


Back in Paris, where it is wet, though yesterday we got out for a long walk along the Right Bank Quai. I've just finished reading a very long Balzac novel (Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes), whose last book or two take place in the Conciergerie, the old prison (where Marie-Antoinette and Sade were held) on the Isle de la Cite. Balzac gives a detailed explanation of the French Justice system of the period, and describes the prison from the inside and I wanted to stare at it from the banks. I probably should revisit it, but not this trip. The last time I read Balzac, a lot of Balzac, was a long time ago and we were living in Marseille. It is quite a different experience when you know the city well and appreciate how much Balzac had to know to write the book--not just about the physical city and its institutions, but also, of course, about every level of society, from thugs to princes.

My favourite sort of week

with almost nothing on the agenda, or nothing but whatever turns up at the last minute. Yesterday I meant to have lunch in Montparnasse with a friend, but we got our wires crossed and I ended up eating by myself in a sunny (yes, there was sun) window table-for-two, and felt very grown-up. Today it is pouring rain (again), the church roof is wet wet wet, the stones are black-wet, I am working in bed (on top of the covers) with my feet on a hot water bottle. Rereading some Helen Vendler essays and discovering other, more recent ones, online. Tonight we're having dinner in the restaurant around the corner, which, always charming, but not always extra-good for the food, changed ownership and is now serving excellent food, along with the charm. I'll probably go to the gym, read some more. I think I may at last have got into 100 Years of Solitude, which is suggested reading for a class I hope to audit after Christmas when we're back in Stanford.

Thanks to something Vendler said I added a new/old poem to the Ms, whose deadline is rapidly approaching. It seems to fit, but really you need time to assimilate corrections, and time is what you don't have with deadlines approaching. Ideally the editor will tell me that x poems are crap and should be junked. Ideally.

Lunchtime. We leave for the south in a few days so it's cleaning out the fridge time. Two sets of kids arriving after our departure and spending a couple days before they join us, but they either eat out or have finicky diets.

Oh, and note here that the Cafe de la Mairie has expanded into the storefront next door on the Place St Sulpice and will be renovating. They promise they will not turn into the Deux Magots: "The Cafe de la Mairie has its own tradition." Yes. But they can redo the WC.