Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sturm und Drang

Ok, the above was all about Goethe and German CULTURE - in big letters - in the late eighteenth century - read all about it via Google, just like Granny did - but since it translates roughly as storm and stress, sturm und drang will do equally well for her right now: not just her ongoing pre-election angst, but the bloody awful weather; halcyon Canaries where art thou? Heading for the south Atlantic or something, or north, melting all the poles? Currently, the rain is lashing against the window: it has lashed against Granny too, twice, since yesterday, largely thanks to the Beautiful Wimp going AWOL - once when she took him for a walk, the second time when she was taking him down first thing this morning to get him to his day station. Along with the rain, the wind is lashing at the window, blowing the cat door in and out; she wonders if it will survive the winter. Currently the cat is curled up inside asleep not liking this weather any more than her, so Granny has closed the door, for a while, cutting off the howling draught. (Memo to self, remember to open it before she leaves the room so that the cat can get out to pee; or worse.)

Even with all this rain, Granny's part of the island hasn't greened up yet; plants needing to be hardy here, they don't seem to get round to germinating till nearer their usual time. Her dip of land is still stony and arid - apart from the north face under the windows currently being lashed, where plants have appeared well before their time- she feeds some of that green stuff to the goat which loves it; chomp, chomp, chomp. Up north though, the hills are turning green already and the long grass blowing, all this unheard of for the end of October. Granny's chief problem is getting her washing out: she doesn't have/use a dryer. Dryers consume hideous amounts of electricity and give out a lot of heat, an environmental disaster - so a washing-line does for her, even in London, where she uses the balcony to hang stuff out if the weather is good, dries them on clothes horses in the back room if not - or even in the sitting-room at a pinch. (And they do dry there, really, in not that much time, even when the heating isn't on - it isn't on mostly, during the day, even in winter. One advantage of a flat is that you are well insulated by your neighbours, above, below and all around.) Here, when the sun comes out - or even if it doesn't - the wind merely has to blow - washing dries in a flash on the line in the back patio. She used to hang it on the roof, which could be exhilarating, not to say dangerous in a northern gale, so they discontinued this practice some while back: Granny misses her wide views though, when pegging stuff up, despite the struggles to control the wild animal billowings of sheets and duvet covers, wondering if she and they together are about to be blown out onto the land. It can be quite a struggle to pin stuff down lower down, sometimes, but at least it's not actually dangerous even if it can feel like hard work. Oh what a virtuous, environmentally aware Granny she is (if you forget her tendency to take planes, far more than she should.)

A small comment here; please dear American friends, don't take offense at this. But Granny was quite surprised, given what a huge amount of the world's energy resources is used across the pond - and what a huge amount of the world's pollution is chucked into the atmosphere by said use - at how few washing-lines she saw when she was there. Apart from ex-nun painter friend and her friend next door - one of whom is English and the other who spent fifteen years in the UK, so they know about washing-lines - everybody had dryers and used them as a matter of course: she can't remember seeing any washing hung outside, anywhere. What? In California? With all that sun? Enough said. Granny, an avid inspector of labels, origins, liable to create a traffic jam in every supermarket she visits - 'why's that old woman getting in the way?' - was also surprised by the lack of fair-trade goods - coffee, tea, chocolate, cotton - on sale. And this in an economy that invented the concept of the farmer's market - (well actually they've always had them in France, Italy, Spain of course - but what of that: it took the US to get such things into the UK. And about time too. A pity they are so expensive though.) How about thinking of local small producers elsewhere too then? Why not?

Not much fairtrade in Spain either. Granny brings her coffee with her from England - as for environmental concerns.....this is the land of the plastic bag. Granny carts her own shopping-bag when she remembers but her refusal of the plastic ones on offer is always met with astonishment. Odd that.

It has STOPPED raining. She'll put the washing on. (Oh no, she spoke too soon. Here comes another cloud; and more rain. No washing today.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

When the cat...

One of Granny's correspondents has thought she was over-exercised about the US election. But she is not alone: here's a quote from a piece forwarded to her by a Californian friend.... by the sound of it this guy has it much worse than her (not least she has only a spouse (of sorts) rather than an ex-spouse to take things out on. And her Beloved has a broad and tolerant back.)

I can't take much more of this. Two weeks to go, and I'm at the end of my rope. I can't work. I can eat, but mostly standing up. I'm anxious all the time and taking it out on my ex-wife, which, ironically, I'm finding enjoyable. This is like waiting for the results of a biopsy. Actually, it's worse. Biopsies only take a few days, maybe a week at the most, and if the biopsy comes back positive, there's still a potential cure. With this, there's no cure. The result is final. Like death.

So: the days go on. The election draws nearer. Here the wind blows again, bringing with it a lot of flies and much cloud. Granny misses Beloved, but she also does things she couldn't do if he was here. Eg - lying on her sofa, listening to a Verdi opera (Trovatore) very very loud one night, rather than watching Gordon Ramsay, of whom she has sometimes seen rather more than she cares to. Or, on another evening, sitting up till midnight watching the video of an Amodovar movie, Matador: one of A's earliest, it's even more over-the-top than most of his recent output - 'Love in Death' a good summing-up, though not of a kind Wagner would have appreciated - or her Beloved come to that: she does not think he would have cared for it. (And actually it is crap. But high class crap. So there.) She does not miss, either, the continual complaints - 'you're whistling' - her hearing-aid, admittedly, has a tendency to go even more rogue than Sarah Palin, but she prefers not to be reminded of it by anyone else. She, after all, has to put up with the thing from the inside, unlike Beloved. And, with Beloved playing all too often Professor Grumpy from Lanzarote, it is, too, a relief sometimes to be spared his continual chuntering at the news - or whatever programme he is watching - about its scientific inaccuracies (eg: 'there's no such thing as human kind').

And finally, she likes being able to eat a lot of pasta - Granny loves pasta, but Beloved does not. Pasta at least involves the use of very few cooking pots, whereas Beloved rarely cooks anything that does not require most of the available saucepans in the kitchen. (This does not include Granny's private cache of saucepans, the ones don't have burnt-off handles, and burnt, no longer non-stick bottoms. Enough said.) Guess who washes up all those saucepans?

Beloved would probably say he likes not being snowed under by paper, when he's alone - and likes being able to get into bed and turn the light off instead of being obliged to read for a bit so that Granny can. And likes not having to listen to her music; his hearing very good, he seems able to hear it, even in the distance and through two closed doors. And likes not 'acting as her whipping boy' which is how he responds to her not always good-tempered complaints of such things as his never folding the washing he brings in from the line but leaving it in the basket all scrunched up, meaning that Granny has to iron more stuff than she'd like. And likes not having to eat pasta, ever, apart from the little rice pasta that he's very fond of and that doesn't seem to count as pasta for him. And likes being able to eat shellfish to which she is allergic. Probably there are a thousand other reasons he enjoys Granny's absences, just as she has quite a few of her own for enjoying his.

On the other hand: despite the pleasure both may feel in being alone sometimes, Granny is pretty sure that he wouldn't want her not to be there, mostly, any more than she would want him not to be there, mostly. Bad-temper, irritation and all it's called married - or in their case rather (un)married life. LONG MAY IT LAST.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hope and apprehension

Granny doesn't think she can be the only person waiting with her heart in her mouth (and realising exactly what that cliche means: it's more exact than most), wondering how she can get through the next twelve days before the election. More polls this morning - Obama improving in all of them, except one, which gives him precisely 1 point of advantage. How this discrepancy is to be explained it's hard to know: but it's disturbing - especially for anyone as wound up around this issue as she is.) And then there's all the things that can happen between today - 23rd October - and then - November 4th. Terrorist attack? Damning messages from Bin Laden (though an Al Qaeda website yesterday - not widely reported in the European press as far as Granny can see - suggested the Osama Bin Laden would be rooting for McCain on the grounds that his presidency was more likely to follow the policies that made American so disliked among non-Americans in general and Muslims in particular, so favouring his campaign - an endorsement McCain, you'd think, could do without)? Some barely true/lying snippet about Obama which would drive undecided voters back to the Republican side? Ballot cock-ups/fraud a la Jeb Bush? Oh and worst of all, the assassination of Obama? - though that might lead to a sympathy vote for the Democrats, this last is a thought past bearing. It is one fear barely mentioned in the press for obvious reasons, but voiced by Timothy Garton Ash in an article in the Guardian this morning, which goes on to say how increasingly Obama is measuring up to the role of president - in the steadiness as well as in the intelligence and the stamina he has shown throughout this campaign; the kind of US president we have all - not just Americans - needed and longed for all those years. TGA concludes with words that coincide exactly with how Granny is feeling about this whole election - that never has there been one that gives everyone such a deep downside of fear and such a high upside of hope.

Journalists - good ones - do get it exactly right sometimes.

Well, Granny like everyone else will have to get through these days somehow. Her uneasiness is compounded at the moment by being alone up here - Beloved left for a week in the UK first thing yesterday - and by the uneasiness of the weather - wind, rain, cold, coming and going across the wide island skies, bang, bang - lash lash - shiver shiver: she even needed her fleece against the chill of the wind when taking the Beautiful Wimp down to his station on the land this morning. (It's Thursday, day of the hunters: his job is to bark them off.)

On the other hand; Beloved's return will be followed almost as once by the arrival of his Beloved daughter, her partner, and best of all the BELOVED BABY. Baby sitting will be required; the prospect of which Granny views with such pleasure, it might distract her somewhat; even more than a little from what is going on in the big world outside.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Granny is still obsessed with the US elections - hunting out every report, watching every video, still holding her breath.... etc etc. What will she do when it's all over she wonders? - what excuse can she use so as not to have to to face into her empty head, onto her empty screen?

Well, she'll have an excuse, briefly, she remembers - on election day she has to head to England for a quick visit to sort out one or two problems on the home front. In the meantime, here's a glimpse or two more of her US visit. She has always loved being in the States: half the time feeling completely at home, the other half as if taking part in a movie - but then her many misspent years in the cinema, watching US films, probably accounts for both sensations and maybe they are the same thing really, even though one gets emphasized over the other from time to time. In Southern California, especially, it's hard not to feel in a movie within sight of the Hollywood sign, or sailing down Sunset Boulevard, or heading for Burbank or passing the bottom of Mulholland Drive. And, damn it, she was staying in the very canyon where, in 'Six Feet Under', Nate, David and Clare's, ditzy new age aunt held her new age parties - and where Nate was seduced at an unpardonably young age by one of the aunt's friends....

All of which made the canyon and Granny herself feel more and less real at one and the same time.

No such issues in New York City; which Granny has adored since the first moment she set foot there. She was staying courtesy of an organisation that has emerged since her last visit fourteen years ago, offering bed and breakfast in private New York homes. Her billet - like, she suspects, most - was in an oldish apartment block, upper West Side in this case, the apartment in no way the glitzy kind you see in series like Sex and the City but as much as if not more typical of New York apartments in general, probably. Most of these blocks were purpose built in late nineteenth or early to mid twentieth century, and are of a kind rare in London (apart from Victorian or Edwardian mansion flats and a few twenties blocks). Many of them are also lived in by people whose family has rented them for years and years: so that even in sought-after areas - relatively sought after - we're not talking Park Avenue here - their rents are fixed and pretty low, not subject to the hikes of the passing rental market, let alone the sale one. Though landlords have been known to try and get the long-term tenants out, the law is against them and they don't usually have much success. Granny has been in several such apartments in her time: one belonged to cousins of hers. All are of a similar character: relatively cramped, compared to mansion flats at least, with white-tiled bathrooms and far from shiny, rounded white baths, most of the rooms opening out from the central one, and most of these rooms crammed with furniture: smart minimalism gets no more look in here than shiny luxury bathrooms and ditto fitted kitchens. Some are minimal in size- there's been comment lately about how small some London flats are getting , but the commentators have obviously never been in one of those New York apartments where a bathroom, a kitchen, a built in desk, a double bed and a built in wardrobe occupy the amount of space allowed for the average British hallway; some look out on a dingy central funnel and are very claustrophobic besides.

The flat where Granny stayed wasn't so small, and certainly not claustrophobic. It wasn't all that big either - not big for a flat in which two children were reared - it was crowded with furniture, had an antique television set - Granny got the Palin/Biden debate fuzzy and only with great difficulty - and the usual, typical kitchen and bathroom. But, on the eighth floor it had a good view: close at hand it looked over the back of the school attended by the Kennedy clan, further away you could see the Empire State Building. There were plants in all the windows and pictures on all the walls - some of them by the dead photographer, more of the fat guru-clad, born-American guru of whom Granny's hostess was an adherent. There were no animals - this was a relief. Granny's cousins, in a similar apartment on the other side of Central Park, had acted as an unofficial animal rescue centre, harbouring a collection of dogs so disturbed and neurotic you couldn't go into most rooms for fear of upsetting them (and getting bitten.) In another room lived a collection of legless or wingless or altogether limping pigeons. No disabled pigeons or neurotic dogs lodging in this apartment, along with the landlady, only an anything but neurotic American-Filipino friend, disabled temporarily by an operation and being looked after here by her mother. And also, of course, briefly, Granny herself.

The hostess, a dancer in her youth, had been married to a well-known now dead photographer, and as a dancer had worked with a company for which the likes of Rauschenberg and Oldenberg had designed - they were always hanging around, she said - had been taught art by Robert Motherwell and been a good friend of Willem de Kooning. Granny apologises for this artistic name-dropping, but en route as she was to MOMA, to view the works of these mid-twentieth century ikons, it was kind of startling: you can see. The landlady was, altogether, one of those typical, wonderfully nutty, aging women of which New York is full - a Jewish nut in this case, like many, though Granny's equally nutty and aged female cousins (the animal rescuers) were as Gentile as they come. The way this typical aging New Yorker adopted Granny, marched her off to MOMA on the one evening it let people in for free (New York museums are disconcertingly expensive, even allowing for the pensioner's rebate) took her out to dinner one night, cooked for her on another- none of this part of her job description which merely included bed and breakfast - Granny could forgive - even enjoy - the attempts to recruit her to the cause of the fat guru: for being scolded for sleeping on the wrong side of the bed - better Feng Shui, she was told on the other. She could even forgive her toothpaste being confiscated, on the grounds it was poisonous (she is now cleaning her teeth with a more innocuous variety pressed on her by her landlady). Her resistance to the fat guru was not held against her. Nor was her refusal of the invitation to an evening of ballroom dancing, dinner included - this was the only kind of dancing the dancer went in for these days - on the grounds that Granny's ballroom dancing - or lack of it - might embarrass her mightily (though not perhaps as much as if Granny had agreed to take part in the pensioner's chorus, the landlady sang with once a week: Granny is an even worse singer than she is dancer.) The two of them became fast friends in all events- Granny does hope they will meet again, very soon. Not least it might be an excuse to visit New York - wonderful New York - again. SOON.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Well: the weather has improved somewhat from its unseasonable excesses - Granny spent a happy hour in her hammock yesterday and Ruby, the goat, has returned from a sexy week with the billy. Describing just how sexy it was - plus gestures - was the only thing that cheered up the once raunchy neighbour who is suffering more these days from bad arthritis, broken nights, loneliness -and- this she doesn't say - an unsympathetic husband ('the other billy goat' she's been heard to call him.) A lively pretty woman in younger days, she was walked out on by the father of all her kids, many years ago, and not much better treated by his successor: the Canaries you see can be just like anywhere else. Granny's much more sympathetic Beloved is going to check her dubious arthritis medication with a doctor friend, but there's not much else he and Granny can do, except be friendly, which they are, though billy owner's indecipherable Lanzarote accent makes communication difficult sometimes, except when she is miming the activities of amorous goats.

Granny meantime is obsessed with American elections, raised up one day by good poll ratings for Obama, cast down next - as today -by doubt from one commenter as to whether this really means he's going to win, and by some detailed not very cheerful analyses of the racist factor, what people responding to the poll are not quite prepared to admit ...etc.

This obsession - chasing up every comment/article in every paper, US and English - could be partly - though not entirely - the election is serious stuff - a means of diversion from her need to get to back to proper - writing - work. It's a terrifying prospect after so long without writing much; she's plagued by every writer's doubt....'can I ever do it again' - and spooked by that awful hole in the world represented by the empty screen, or still emptier page in front of her.

To divert herself still further, she will report one or two conversations from her GREAT AMERICAN trip. All except one occurred during train journeys - where she encountered people quite different from her liberal, educated West and East Coast and New Mexican friends. This is is one reason she's always liked going on train journeys - and bus journeys too in the past. It's hard to understand the US and its huge cultural divide, without some experience of, what real distance means there and of the people who live amid such distances, a long way from anywhere. She spent an entire day once in a bus, going at 70 miles an hour, across a chunk of Wyoming: miles of nothing except, sometimes, fields of pecking oil donkeys; and now and then, many miles apart, odd stands of cottonwood trees appearing in the distance, denoting some archetypal little Western town: a short main street, of mostly one-storeyed buildings, rednecks in baseball caps sitting round the counter in its coffee-shop or drugstore, the Greyhound bus stand, some gas stations and fast food outfits, the inevitable body shop and its accompanying wasteland of dead cars, a few streets of those ubiquitous wooden houses with front and back yards and that's about it. She doubts if such towns have changed much, still. The voting decisions of grass-roots electors, seemingly so devoid of understanding of the world outside their town, let alone America, appear less weird after encountering a few places like this. It's a VAST country; the relative emptiness of large areas - and the endless urban sprawl of others can be hard for a Western European to grasp. (And even harder for one living on a very small and increasingly crowded island, the way Granny does these days. At times the contrast turned her head inside out.)

She sat in the dining-car during her train journey between Albuquerque and Los Angeles - another long ride through often empty and spectacularly beautiful country swept by storms and sun together across huge skies- opposite an ageing and stout farmer and his wife, from Kansas both teetotal (and somewhat surprised by Granny opting happily for a glass of wine after an alcohol-free few days in Albuquerque; not only drinking - but drinking ALONE). They had three sons -one of them a pastor - and eight or so grandchildren and were off on a rare and brief holiday to visit the wife's brother in Sacramento: the farm made it difficult usually to get away. The wife talked about her grandmother - "She came out to Kansas on a covered wagon - it took three months. She went back to the East Coast later, by stage coach. It took three weeks. Later still she went by train. It took three days. Finally she boarded a plane. It took three hours', the story, clearly recounted often, making Granny realise, yet again how close the USA may still be to the frontier, away from the coasts. Though politics were not mentioned, these people were, she reckoned natural republicans - yet altogether too decent and kindly, she suspects, to appreciate the extremes of current Republican election gatherings: she wonders whether they'll still be voting for McCain in the light of all that. Probably. She doubted if the young nerd from Portland, Oregon, sitting to her left would do so though - he was taking a holiday by railway before embarking on his second degree and seemed, long hair and all, a natural democrat. Next morning at breakfast she sat opposite an American Chinese lawyer from Pasadena who claimed - of the financial crisis - that it was in his view a matter of too much regulation rather than too little. He was obviously a Republican too; yet Granny cannot see him being fond of Sarah Palin and her racist rallies either. You see how complicated it all is.

Still no election talk on the slow train journey between Santa Barbara and San Francisco a few days later. Merely an ageing and very tiresome California beach bum, in beard, t-shirt, shorts and beer can, who chatted up every young woman in sight, accompanied or not - 'I'll be getting very jealous soon,' he said at any sign of affection between couples 'oh my go-d-d - oh my go-d-d,' though he met his match with a very demure and particularly young Amish couple - the girl's sleeves to her wrists, her skirt to her stockinged ankles, her head covered in a blue scarf. 'Isn't she pretty, your wife,' he said, but the Amish pair ignored him in a baffled way, sat, motionless, gazing out at the landscape, till called to the dining-car; he like the rest of us might as well not have not been there at all. The beach bum gave up on them. He didn't give up with anyone else, though. Granny realised there were some advantages to being old - he allowed her and the equally aged woman sitting next to her not so much as a glance, did not bother either of them, except to the extent everything he said and did bothered them. He went away in the end. A collective sigh of relief went round the lounge car, by now full of a pensioner group - maybe their appearance was why he went away - on a tour to Vancouver, via Seattle, returning to LA by boat and all complaining about the bumpiness of the train. Granny got two of the eldest - and most disaffected - over dinner: two widows in their 80's, they dreaded the bumpy night ahead and hoped the berths in the boat would be better. One of them came out to California from the Mid West, in 1942 aged 19, had never left.

The final conversation was in the cafe at the Metropolitan Museum in New York; with a woman in her thirties - unmistakably New York Jewish with a raucous Brooklyn accent. She had been to Europe - and Britain - several times, she said, but she was never going to come again, not with the way things were. 'All those Muslims, she said, 'All those Arabs there now, I wouldn't like it any more.' Granny didn't like to ask if she believed the websites claiming Obama was Arab. Though she did point out that many of the 'Muslims' - Granny can't began to reproduce her pronunciation of the word -got along quite well, in quite normal, day to day - and far from religiously defined - life; adding, a bit naughtily, that of two frequently appearing Channel 4 news commentators one was called Faisal Islam and the other Simon Israel. The Brooklyn one did not respond to this. She looked foxed.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

catch up

Sorry everyone. Granny is not in terminal decline - other than, currently, jet-lag- the result of three glorious weeks in the USA, enjoying trees of all kinds -to make up for the lack of them on her island - enjoying friendship, CULTURE (you know how big she is on that one) landscape, politics, god knows what else, in any order you like from Albuquerque to California, north and south, ending in New York. She alternated between quiet times - starting with wandering along the Rio Grande in New Mexico and hanging about among cotton woods, thereby renewing her old love affair with New Mexico - and hectic ones - especially the last few days, renewing an even older love affair - but how could New York be anything else but hectic? Though she did have some quiet wanders even there amid trees -still more trees -in Central Park close to where she was staying. Is there any other big city, anywhere, with a forest slap in the middle? Because that's what CP is, she realised, a forest - even to the ponds threaded through it. She never realised this before: it wasn't safe to wander about Central Park on previous visits. The evil Mr Rudy Giuliani does have something to say for himself after all, making it safe for her and everyone else, Granny thinks: though she does wonder what happened to the sad, now mostly tidied away bums.

No, she is not going to write much more here. Too much to do and recover from. Beloved has a cold coming, the goat is off to be serviced by the billy, the billy's owner presented him with a large bag full of almost over-ripe quinces which have to processed today (by guess who) or they will GO OFF, the rain has been falling more than usual at this time of year, etc, etc, etc: oh and Granny has been watching the latest presidential debate online, etc, etc, etc. (As she kept telling everyone in the US, curious at her intense interest in that matter, 'if you lot sneeze we all get flu'.... a fact illustrated by what's happening this morning in the money and stock markets. Interesting how heartland Americans - she talked to some of them on train journeys - don't get that. At all. No, folks, it's not just a matter of American pockets, American politics, American foreign policies - what you do affects all of us out there in the wider world. US elections 'r us too. And How. Sarah Palin, in particular, is currently chilling Granny's blood. Do you think anyone would notice if we Brits reached across and quietly substituted Michael - in wig and lipstick? Just asking. That's all.)

Some of you folks, of course, in there, and with votes, unlike her, she spent - wonderful -time with. She will be in touch with you shortly. Thanks thanks thanks for now. Meantime, take care. Big hugs to you and everyone.... 'Sta luego..

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