Archive for February, 2011

The city of ruins will rise again

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

It’s hard to think of anything other than the Christchurch earthquake. I have friends with family in the area so there’s been a fraught time of waiting to hear – most are now accounted for, and that’s a relief. Other friends have emailed me to pass on good news (Margaret Mahy’s fine, which I hadn’t even thought to worry about; Maurice Lyon’s friends are also OK and that’s also great to know.) But there’s still one Tuesday Poem poet unaccounted for: all we can hope is that he’s fine and just hasn’t got power for the internet or a cell phone connection Fingers crossed for you, Andrew.

Unless you’re on the spot it’s difficult to imagine just how hard it is for everyone without power or money (no ATMs) or sewage supplies, and having to dig out the liquefaction thrown up by the shallowness of the quake, and children and pets crazed with fear, and the continuing aftershocks.

One Tuesday Poem poet posted Bruce Springsteen’s song lyrics for ‘My City of Ruins’, which is an anthem of encouragement with a chorus of hope that I’ve been singing since I read the post: look for it here.

There is a blood red circle

On the cold dark ground

And the rain is falling down

The church door’s thrown open

I can hear the organ’s song

But the congregation’s gone

My city of ruins

My city of ruins

Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!

Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!

Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!


And everyone I know sends love and thoughts of courage. Kia kaha, people of Christchurch.

Tuesday poem: The mad scene

Monday, February 21st, 2011

James Merrill, and his partner David Jackson, were familiar figures in Key West when I first started to come here about 25 years ago. David had a house here, and they used to come down – like other northern ‘snow birds’ – to avoid the worst of the winter up north, although I think they also spent time in Greece.

I knew David a bit and liked him a lot, although to my regret I never met Jimmy, but I want to feature one of his poems today, in honour and in memory of his time here.

THE MAD SCENE, by James Merrill

Again last night I dreamed the dream called Laundry.

In it, the sheets and towels of a life we were going to share,

The milk-stiff bibs, the shroud, each rag to be ever

Trampled or soiled, bled on or groped for blindly,

Came swooning out of an enormous willow hamper

Onto moon-marbly boards. We had just met. I watched

From outer darkness. I had dressed myself in clothes

Of a new fiber that never stains or wrinkles, never

Wears thin. The opera house sparkled with tiers

And tiers of eyes, like mine enlarged by belladonna,

Trained inward. There I saw the cloud-clot, gust by gust,

Form, and the lightning bite, and the roan mane unloosen.

Fingers were running in panic over the flute’s nine gates.

Why did I flinch? I loved you. And in the downpour laughed

To have us wrung white, gnarled together, one

Topmost mordent of wisteria,

As the lean tree burst into grief.


One fine road trip

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

We’ve just been on a terrific road trip into central Florida from Key West. I do love a road trip in any circumstances and this was as good as they get: easy driving on quiet backroads, good weather (OK, it was a bit nippy to start with, but it warmed up later and I stopped thinking wistfully about the snuggly cardigan I’d left behind) and lovely people and places to meet along the way.

One of the games we played in the car was a comparison between Good Things in the UK and those in the USA, but the latter came to mind so thick and fast that we stopped making the comparison and just enjoyed the ones we were experiencing. (Some examples. Clean loos absolutely everywhere, even in places that in other countries you might think twice about visiting. State parks in abundance, and all with excellent facilities like picnic tables and no litter, plus genuinely helpful signs & leaflets, and volunteer staff filled with enthusiasm. Food in little cafés and restaurants along the road delicious and cheap. And in supermarkets, if a piece of wrapped fruit – papaya, say, or pineapple – says “ripe and ready to eat” you know what? It absolutely is.)

One of the first things to catch my eye was this plantation of palms, spaced with such formidable regularity as though the UK’s Forestry Commission had been at work.

I was also amused by this pedestrian push-button instruction: a street called Shade is rather sweet, especially in a town (Sarasota) where there are many streets with names like Shade or Shady, and I also like the one called Ringling. (The circus of the same name used to have its winter quarters here, and there’s an enormous complex of museums and galleries bequeathed to the city by the astonishingly rich John and Mable – yes, Mable, spelled that way against expectation – Ringling.)

The main destination of this trip was to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic homestead at Cross Creek.(It’s a State Park! With great facilities!) She’s a writer I’ve admired for years, and yes you have heard of her – her Pulitzer Prize winning novel was “The Yearling” – and the visit was a big treat for me. The house is lovely, and now restored to look largely as she left it, but her orange groves were neglected and have now returned to a tangle of dense hammock growth. Still, the State Park people have planted a few token orange trees in her yard: here’s one of them.

And two road trip signs that are worth recording:

A sign in front of an ankle and foot injuries clinic that said: “Walk-in appointments available”.

And a piece of graffiti:

“Save the Earth. It’s the only planet with chocolate.”

Manners and happiness

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

While thinking about the new theme of my blog I started trying to compile a list of essential good manners because I think, no, I know, that manners are central to happiness. It’s not only that manners soothe (or maybe smooth) the turning of the wheels of social endeavour, although they do precisely that. It’s also that both the exercise and the experience of good manners makes you feel so good.  It’s a simple but effective route to happiness.

So here are my first thoughts, some gleaned from other people; some my own. More will follow in due course.

  • ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are essential ingredients in any conversation. That’s any converation.
  • Able young people should give up their seats on public transport for older, less mobile people.
  • If someone pushes past you in a queue, give them enough space to fall flat on their face, or pinch them hard on the bottom while whistling innocently and looking the other way.
  • If you’re invited to a meal at someone’s house it’s good manners to comment positively on the food, and to call or email or write the next day to thank them.
  • Speak about people as if they’re there — ask yourself when gossiping, would I like to be spoken about this way? And if you must gossip – and most of us must – follow the Terence de Vere White golden rule: only gossip about someone to another person who knows them as well – or as little – as you do.
  • Try to be kind, even when you don’t want to have to bother.
  • Be grateful – for life, for moments of happiness, for health.

Paddle faster!

Friday, February 4th, 2011

I have always had a great affection for bumper stickers, which segues into an equally affectionate regard for witty graffiti. Many years ago, when I was a young and mostly foolish person masquerading as a free spirit, I made use of the unusually long journey coming up from London’s Hampstead underground station to street level by writing a graffiti of my own on the lift wall. (“If work were a good thing, the rich would have grabbed it for themselves long ago.” And please note, with admiration and respect, my use of the subjunctive.)

Anyway. The classic Key West bumper stickers are SLOW DOWN, THIS AIN’T THE MAINLAND and ONE HUMAN FAMILY, both fine in their way, and if my bike frame had space for either of those I would stick it on.  Last time I was in town I saw what immediately became a new favourite: PADDLE FASTER! I HEAR BANJO MUSIC! (And if you’re too young to get that reference you need only to rent a DVD of ‘Deliverance’. When you’re old enough, of course.)

Again: anyway. There is now a new jeep in town plastered in good bumper stickers, and yesterday I finally remembered to (a) take my UK iPhone out with me so I could photograph the jeep if I saw it, and (b) search the known hangout spots for this particular jeep.  So here are some (OK, not very clear – sorry) photos of the results – my favourite is WELL BEHAVED WOMEN RARELY MAKE HISTORY, although WILL WORK FOR WORLD PEACE and  YOU CAN HAVE EVERYTHING BUT WHERE WOULD YOU PUT IT?  have a lot going for them. too.

But maybe the best of all isn’t on the jeep at all, and as far as I know isn’t yet a bumper sticker. It’s a notice in the kitchen at the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture in London, and it says this:

DON”T THROW IT AWAY.

THERE IS NO AWAY.