Looking out, it was a grey wolf sea, with a steel-grey haze obliterating the islands that hover on the horizon. White capped rollers raced in across cruel grey and glacier- green water, and when the waves hit the rocks spilled over in sheets of white foam blowing high in the air. Low tide is almost more spectacular than high tide, because the water hits the rocks instead of flowing over most of them.
Later, I put on a hood and jacket and walked out into the storm. The wind was thrashing the trees and making much the same sound as the roaring sea. First I walked to the garden of some friends overlooking the little harbour. It’s usually like a shining green jewel set deep in high rock and forested walls. It was calm, the only sign of the storm being the muddy-looking water.
These friends own the goats and are away overseas for some weeks, so I pocketed the lemons lying under the tree. It was only a little tree, but had been so nurtured and well fed, that where one lemon would normally hang, between five and ten weighted down each fragile branch. The scent of the blossom still growing swirled round the tree before flying in the wind.
As I walked down their long drive, between two rows of palm trees, three little speckled red hens came running out of a nearby garden, and solemnly picked their way behind me in single file. I felt like turning round to stroke them, but they weren’t keen on this. The way they followed me reminded me of Konrad Lorenz’s imprinted geese, and I hoped these little hens weren’t busy imprinting themselves on me. They gave up in the end, and returned home to where their supper was awaiting them in the hands of a pretty girl in a cream poncho.
Strolling back in the flying rain I walked down the cul de sac to say hello to the three goats, and give them a little leafy, twiggy treat. Robert, the grumpy old billy- goat, would keep dropping his mouthful in order to snatch the little darlings’ twigs from their mouths. So I had to do a dodgy dance to try to fend him off while the babies managed an uninterrupted munch for a few minutes.
As I turned round to come home, I heard a piteous whine. It was Zeb, the black and white pointer who lives opposite the goats, and sometimes escapes to come and see me. She had her head to the fence, hoping I’d come and say hello to her too. Of course I did, and while I was doing so, Kate, her owner, came out and asked if I’d like some new-laid eggs. Would I? So when Zeb and I had finished our tete- a- tete, I returned home the delighted carrier of six fresh eggs.
I laid them carefully with the glowing yellow lemons on the garden seat at the top of the steps, and continued my wander in the storm. We live on a tiny peninsula sticking out into the sea, our house facing one way, and on the other side of the little neck of land, the old village graveyard faces out to sea in the other direction. Beneath spreading trees, it holds the graves of the earliest settlers in this place, and the latest inhabitants.
I walked on the wet grass between the graves, heading for the end of the cemetery where it ends in a deep crevasse where the sea throws itself against this neck of land. Here I look down on a flat rock fifty feet below. The seas crash over it in rough weather, or lap against the sides on calm days, revealing tempting still green depths and white rock below the waterline, where I’d love to swim if I could get down there. Today it was almost invisible beneath thick sheets of green water swirling over it and spumes of foam flying through the air.
As I stood looking down here, as I so often do, I realised that every time I come here, I think of Pincher Martin, and William Golding’s description of hell. Pincher Martin scrabbling desperately to escape the raging seas, and clinging onto the slippery rock and slipping back down again into the tormenting cauldron of murderous waves… over and over again … not a pleasant remembrance, and one I try to banish, but it always comes back … just as I never see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, in the flesh or in pictures, without thinking of Golding’s ‘The Spire’ and his painful story of spiritual disintegration. Thank goodness I’ve avoided reading ‘The Lord of the Flies’, as I know I would be tormented by that too.
Today, the wind crashing through the old pohutakawa trees – which were probably growing here when my hero, Captain James Cook sailed past in 1769 – was bringing down lots of small twigs and gnarly broken branches. When they’re dry they’re wonderful to start the fire with, and the peasant in me can’t resist gathering bundles. This was a successful foray and I returned home with a big armful of wet branches and twigs to dry out in the garage. Pohutakawa trees grow to the size of a good oak tree, and have dark green, hard, crunchy leaves all the year round. They’re sometimes called the New Zealand Christmas tree because at Christmas they’re smothered in flaming red blossom, and here, where the whole coast is ringed with them, they are a unique sight.
And so back home to a blazing log fire, with the haunting and tender sounds of Handel’s opera Julius Caesar still ringing through my head. I went to see it for the second time in three days yesterday, five hours of it, and would see it again – and again, if it was available. Today I Googled Caesar and Cleopatra, since I only knew of Anthony and Cleopatra. And yes, Handel hadn’t messed around with history, Caesar and Cleopatra had had a love affair, she had borne his only son, and she stayed with him in Rome until his assassination.
So well before her alliance with Mark Anthony, she had loved Caesar, and he her.Knowing this made the exquisite songs of their love affair in opera seem even more poignant.Cleopatra inveigled her way into Caesar’s presence rolled up in a carpet, and in the opera sang a song of enchantment for him. I read somewhere that Cleopatra’s glorious song to Caesar: “v’adoro pupille” (I adore you, eyes,) is the most seductive love song ever written. I can believe it. In Natalie Dessay’s version she didn’t seduce, she poured out her heart. It was beautiful.
And this life seems so beautiful too, with all its gifts and grace notes, allusive thoughts and memories, the stormy seas and wild winds, the hens and the goats, the centuries of music and aeons of love, the lemons, the eggs and the firewood!
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
The pantry was bare. So I made a treat I haven’t made for years – cheese aigrettes. All I needed were things like eggs, flour, and grated Parmesan which I always have in the deep freeze. So into a saucepan went two oz butter and half a pint of water. When boiling I added 4 oz flour and stirred hard until the whole mixture was coming away from the sides of the saucepan, leaving it clean.
Off the heat I mixed in 3oz Parmesan and two egg yolks, beating them in separately. Add salt and pepper, and then fold in the stiffly whisked egg whites.That’s the easy part. When the mixture is cold, drop small rough pieces, about a teasp size or bigger, into hot fat. Don’t fry too quickly or the outside will brown before it’s cooked inside. But if the fat is too cold, the aigrettes will become greasy. It takes about four minutes for each batch to cook.
Fish them out with a slotted spoon onto some kitchen paper to drain, and serve with grated parmesan sprinkled over, and a dash of cayenne pepper. With salad, they’re crunchy, filling and delicious.
Food for Thought
Life, for all its agonies of despair and loss and guilt, is exciting and beautiful, amusing and artful and endearing, full of liking, and of love, at times a poem and a high adventure, at times noble and at times very gay; and whatever (if anything) is to come after it, we shall not have this life again.
From Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay English novelist 1881 – 1958