Yesterday dear friends came for lunch. They brought a bottle of Steller’s Jay Brut, a sparkling wine from the Okanagan made using the French champagne method. It’s a wine I’ve had before but yesterday, in the company of flowers, stories, a friendship that we determined began in the summer of 1985, it felt like exactly the thing to drink. We sat at our sunny table and ate frittata with asparagus, garden leeks, and feta, roasted potatoes with rosemary and winter savory from the herb table on the deck, and a salad of new greens from the pots I’ve brought out from the greenhouse to the upper deck–kale, arugula, a lettuce called Drunken Woman, and a mixed pot of spring mesclun greens. John made his vinaigrette, for which he is always asked the recipe. We laugh about this because I showed him how to do it–Dijon mustard, minced garlic, good olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a bit of pepper, stirred until it emulsifies. While we ate our lunch, a Steller’s jay came to the post to peer in, wondering about seeds. We talked about the jays, how I think of them as my most reliable friends because they came daily during the dark weeks after John’s double hip surgery that went sideways (not the hip surgery itself but an nerve injury suffered during…), followed by some unsettling heart issues that landed him back in hospital almost as soon as we arrived home from 2 weeks in Vancouver as he recovered from surgery, and all this during the pandemic, before the development of the Covid-19 vaccine. We were advised to stay isolated in order to give him the best chance of recovering from everything without the added difficulty of illness from the virus. So we did. Daily the jays visited and I looked forward to the blue flutter as they settled on the railings by the sliding door leading from our kitchen to the deck. Once John had moved beyond the heart issues and was becoming stronger, dutifully doing the exercises learned at his physiotherapy sessions, our friends asked if they could come for a distanced visit outside. It was winter. But the day they came was bright at least and I’d set up two tables on the deck, 2 meters apart, and put boards of cheese and other treats on the tables, along with some wine. When they arrived, they were carrying a box holding two casserole dishes of halibut cooked with pine mushrooms and three cartons of homemade chicken noodle soup. Put these in the freezer, they suggested, and enjoy a dinner you haven’t cooked yourself.
So I thought of that day as I sipped my Steller’s Jay sparkling wine, as I looked around the table, and listened to news of distant children, of bird sightings–they live on Oyster Bay, in sight of a little island where geese nest, where ducks dive and expostulate, and where ancient fish traps show up in the mud during the low summer tides.
Everything has its own history. Friendships, fish traps, bird migrations, the plates on the table which John and I bought in Bath in 1979 and carried home wrapped in jeans in our backpacks. Who used suitcases in those days?
Later we went to the upper deck for coffee. I went ahead with our friends and brought up an extra chair, explaining we were still in the process of setting up for summer. It’s the deck where we grow the tomatoes, sit after our early lake swim with coffee, and return to late at night to watch the meteor showers in August.
John brought up coffee on a tray and poured it out into tiny cups. Both friends commented on the cream jug. Of course there’s a story. John bought it for his mother in Venice in 1972 for the equivalent of $1.35. I don’t think she liked it. Her taste ran more to English china with roses in soft tasteful colours. I don’t remember her ever using it and when she went into care near the end of her life, the jug came to us. It was made on Murano though John didn’t go to Murano that trip. We went later, in 2009, in November, walking every inch of that beautiful haunted city. And for me it was haunted for another reason. My father was dying. When I’d left Canada, my father was sort of stable and I visited him several times. But by the time we arrived in Venice, things had changed. My brothers and I had made a plan and when I called my oldest brother from Paris, then Venice, wondering if I should come back immediately, he said, No, stay and enjoy your travels. Everything is in place. On the day we went by vaporetto to Murano, we also went to Torcello at the north end of the lagoon. It was a grey day, impossibly beautiful, and we went to Santa Fosca, a 12th century church built in the circular Venetian-Byzantine style. I lit a candle for my father, telling him I loved him and I was sorry I hadn’t been a better daughter. The scent of smoke and candlewax and cold stone, and yes, I cried. I felt close to him there. That evening I called again, from a telephone booth on a dark canal, and was told he’d died the night before (which was morning where we were, maybe even as I was lighting a candle for him on Torcello), and somehow Venice and its ghosts was as familiar as my hands holding the taper, the match.
On the table, the little jug from Murano, holding its own history of gifts given, gifts received, abandoned, returned. While we drank our coffee, two Steller’s jays chased each other from the arbutus to the big firs on the edge of the woods. I saw a mother bear send her two cubs up one of the trees a few years ago when she realized I was watching them amble through the moss. She went deeper into the woods and they bleated in the trees until she decided I wasn’t a danger and they scooted down. Everything, every place, has its history, its stories. Some days I wonder if I want to know how many years I have left on this earth. Would I want to know? Would you, I asked John. No! was his reply. This morning I put away the dishes we’d used for our lunch yesterday, tucking the Murano jug back into the cupboard over the sink. The jays arrived, eager for their breakfast. And I took out a handful of seeds gladly.
2 thoughts on “the Murano jug”
Imagine not appreciating that gorgeous jug, brought by your son all the way from Italy! Glad it’s being put to good use now. What a lot of wonderful stories, Theresa. Thank God for stories. How could we live without? But there are people who just live and who do not weave stories out of the things and people and creatures around them. And then there are writers and poets, who never stop.
I love this little jug, Beth. And I often wish I’d bought wine glasses on Murano. So many beautiful ones, the artisans working in studios as they have for centuries. But how would I get them home? Then twice over the past ten years I’ve had meals with friends who DID buy the wine glasses on Murano and said, Oh, they ship them. It’s done all the time. (Duh…)