If you’ve never sat in a car listening to a seven year-old happily sing along to an old Rolling Stones song about anti-depressants, utterly oblivious to the lyrics, then you should. Works far better than any little pill.
Just back from a trip to San Francisco to visit my sister and her family. Parents in tow. Normal service (whatever that is) to be resumed shortly. Here’s to a bloggy 2009.
The voice that had halted Jette’s afternoon walk belonged to my grandfather, Frederick Meisenheimer, and in fact Jette’s intuition had been exactly right: he was singing directly to her. Frederick had watched her make her way around the path, following the same route she always followed. When she passed in front of the bush he was hiding behind, he crossed his fingers and began to sing.
This was no impromptu performance. Frederick had been watching Jette walk through the Segerpark for several consecutive Sundays, enchanted by her unusual size. He had spent his time between those delicious weekly sightings wondering how best to attract her attention. In the end he had chosen to ambush her with an aria, che gelida manina, from Puccini’s new opera, La Bohème. The opening lines translate as your tiny hand is frozen – not especially appropriate, given that Jette’s hands were not, even by the most charitable standards, tiny; they were also rather clammy due to the unseasonably warm weather. Still, Frederick knew what he was doing. When he had finished, he stepped out from behind the hedge and thrust a concoction of lupins, dahlias, and pansies into Jette’s (big, sweaty) hands. By then, caught squarely in the cross-hairs of Puccini’s gorgeous melody, she was helpless.
My grandfather did not look like the sort of man who could pull off a stunt like this. If you are picturing a suave, attractive suitor, think again. Physically, he and Jette were a good match, insofar as neither of them quite met the prevailing expected standards, and neither of them especially cared. He, too, was huge, in every sense: taller than Jette by an inch or two, he possessed a quivering gut of heroic dimensions which he made no attempt to hide. Waves of thick red hair washed across his head. Instead of the prim moustache favoured by most Hanover men, he wore a magnificent ginger beard which sprouted from his cheeks in chaotic exuberance.
For the next few weeks, Frederick and Jette met each Sunday afternoon by the same privet hedge. They walked side by side around the gardens, although every so often Frederick would step away from Jette and break into song. He serenaded her with Mascagni, Verdi, Donizetti, and Giordano. My grandfather was a terrible ham. He acted out every lyric as if his life depended on it, changing from lovelorn Sicilian peasant to fiery French revolutionary with barely a breath in between. His histrionics earned baleful looks from other passers-by, their quiet Sunday strolls disturbed by this barrelful of song, but he ignored them all. Jette soon learned to do the same. With Frederick by her side, the rest of the world retreated.
Before long, the young couple began to live for their Sunday walks, the long weeks in between a grey sea of pernicious tedium. In each other these two oversized misfits found refuge from the choppy, unforgiving sea in which both had been unhappily drifting. Frederick was enraptured by all of Jette’s big-boned loveliness. He was simply grateful that there was so much of her for him to worship. And Jette loved him right back. She adored the lines he had first whispered through the privet hedge:
Per sogni a per chimere
e per castelli in aria,
l’anima ho milionaria.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I’ve the soul of a millionaire!
It was Frederick’s capacity to dream that dazzled Jette the most. When she was with him, anything was possible.
[More later. I’d love to hear what you think. If you can’t comment on the blog itself (it’s a bloggers closed-shop), shoot me an email: email@example.com.]
Always, there was music.
It was music – Puccini, to be precise – that first drew my grandparents into each other’s orbit, more than a hundred years ago. It was an unusually warm afternoon in early spring, in the grandest municipal garden in Hanover, the Segerpark. My grandmother, Henriette Furst, was taking her usual Sunday stroll among the regimented flowerbeds and manicured lawns so beloved of city-dwelling Prussians. At twenty-five, she was a fine example of Teutonic rude health: Jette, as she was known by everyone, was six foot tall, and robustly built. She walked through the park with none of the feminine grace that was expected from ladies of her class. Rather than making her way by trippingly petite steps on the arm of an admirer, Jette clomped briskly along the gravelled paths alone, too busy enjoying the day to worry about the unladylike spectacle she presented to others. Rather than squeezing her considerable frame into the bustles and corsets that constrained the grim-faced ladies she so effortlessly outflanked, Jette preferred voluminous dresses which draped her outsized form like colourful tents. She swept along in a dramatic, free-flowing swirl, leaving all those rigidly-contoured women hobbling in her wake.
And then, as she passed a sculpted wall of privet, a song drifted out from behind the topiary. The singer was male: his voice, as clear and as pure as a freshly-struck bell, fell on Jette like a shower of jasmine. She stopped, stilled by the tune’s simple beauty. Even cloaked in mellifluous Italian, Jette could hear hope and enchantment in every syllable. Unable to pull herself away, alone by the privet hedge, her act of listening felt shockingly intimate. The invisible singer seemed to be whispering in her ear, performing for her alone.
My grandmother, bewitched by song. So our story begins.
Thanks, JB, for the tip. Technical gremlins now removed, the opening salvo of “Paradise” will be on its way shortly.
Bet y’all can’t wait.
I had this grand idea to start posting bits of my new novel up on the blog as a way of hiding the fact that I wasn’t writing anything specific for the blog for long stretches of time. And so I will… if someone can please tell me how to paste chunks of text into the little box which one writes in. Every time I try the text ends up at the bottom of the screen, which doesn’t help.
Any and all suggestions gratefully received.
My friend E (I like this blog etiquette of using initials; its Victorian coyness seems nicely at odds with the technology) is a reader of many blogs, and she tells me that regular updates are crucial if she is to keep returning for more. So I am clearly failing her miserably right now. I suspect that there are more posts posted about why more posts aren’t being posted than any other subject. I won’t make excuses (you know, three jobs, etc. Oh, damn.) But I will try harder.
I sailed through last week’s Thanksgiving holiday without a sarcastic word, here or in real life, about the whole affair. Maybe I’ve been living in America too long. Or maybe I just have a lot to be thankful for, and can’t see the harm in admitting it, however un-English that may be. So I wanted to write about, and give thanks for, the sweetest part of my day: 7 o’clock in the morning.
Actually it’s more like 7.03 or 7.04. What tends to happen most mornings is that I sit in front of my computer for almost two hours, miserably poking at the keyboard, getting nowhere with my book, until about 6.54, at which point inspiration strikes, and off I go, typing furiously and trying to ignore the little clock in the corner of the screen, which is why we are often running a bit late.
When I finally pull myself away from the computer, I walk across the corridor and open Hallam’s door. He is almost always awake, quietly reading a book. He looks up, mutters hi, closes the book, and comes with me to wake up Catherine. We go into his sister’s room together. I open the blinds while he shoves one of her menagerie of soft furry animals into her face, which will elicit either a giggle or a stern instruction to leave her alone. After a few minutes’ coaxing, she will allow herself to be lifted out of bed, be shod with pink fluffy slippers, and carried downstairs. The sensation of her arms wrapped around my neck and her warm cheek next to mine erases all the frustrations of the previous two hours of fruitless literary endeavor. By the time we reach the bottom of the stairs, she is fully awake and (usually) in a splendid mood.
Breakfast options chez George are varied, although Catherine always starts with Lucky Charms, from which she will expertly pick out the marshmallows, leaving the theoretically healthy stuff well alone. The three of us eat together. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. Hallam will often drill his sister on the countries in South America, or have a philosophical conundrum for me. At some point during all this Christina will return home from her early morning walk, and we are four again.
Life being as busy as it is, I often don’t get home until after the children are in bed. It makes me all the more grateful for our little morning routine, a short but unutterably sweet moment before the day has got its claws into any of us.