the bench


Do most households have a place like this bench? A place where things are set “temporarily” until they can be put back where they belong? (And then they linger there, gathering dust, and friends, until the whole thing is so precariously balanced that something has to be done?) This pretty bench, made of elm, was purchased for $25 at a farmer’s market in Princeton (B.C., not N.J.) in the summer of 2010. It’s become the place where books accumulate. On top you can see the Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare. On the weekend, our actor friend Jeffrey Renn was here for dinner and overnight and we — with friend Liz Young, also here — were discussing The Merchant of Venice. Jeffrey recalled something particular to the First Folio edition and (as it happened) I had the Facsimile so pulled it from my shelves.  “Let’s look it up,” I said! (My children once said that this will be my epitaph, having heard it so frequently during their childhoods. I know there’s probably an app for that now but I love the physicality of books…)  And the beautiful Golden Age of Botanical Art, a birthday gift from John, which had to removed (to the bench) from the coffee table on Saturday night so we could put out pre-dinner snacks for our guests.

Anyway, I’ve just put the Fascimile back on its shelf. And underneath it was a little book I’d forgotten about. The Bill: For Palma Vecchio at Venice, by László Krasznahorkai. My friend Anik sent it to me in the fall. I’d read it then, for the sheer pleasure of its presentation — a 14 page single sentence, addressed to the 16th c. Venetian painter Palma Vecchio (also known as Iacopo Negretti), asking him about his method, his fierce eye, his relationship to the women he painted so sensuously all those centuries ago and who gaze at the reader from the pages of this gorgeous monograph, sewn (!),  with French flaps. This essay is translated by George Szirtes and the book is beautifully designed, generously set in 16 pt. Berthold Walbaum, making it a pleasure to read. How wonderful that Sylph Editions in London care enough about essays and other works that might not find such congenial presentations elsewhere.


I’ve taken it from the bench and will find a more appropriate home for it on my shelves. But not until I’ve read it again.

a basket of spring

Yesterday was my birthday (the last year of my 50s…) and it began with coffee in bed and a pile of gifts — a Tibetan prayer box of old silver set with red coral, books (including The Woman Who Mapped Labrador, Edward Frenkel’s Love and Math, and The Golden Age of Botanical Art), four Provencal place mats bright with olive leaves and bees, a Tuscan baking dish, lovely things for the bath, and other treats. And the day continued sweetly with a little run down the coast on errands, the highway taking us through a landscape rimed with frost.

Last evening we drove to Oyster Bay for a splendid Indian feast co-cooked by friends June and Solveigh and shared with their husbands Joe and John as well as June and John’s son Jordan. The table, set with Meissen and a blue French tablecloth, was a perfect antidote to the chill outside, as was the warm fire burning in the great stone fireplace. A night of talk and laughter and friendship and more than a glass of sparkling wine.

And another gift: a basket of spring, created by June, with tiny narcissus, a butter-yellow primula, damp moss, and a tiny green-leaved plant which looked both familiar and not. Gaultheria procumbens, a cousin of of our native salal (those leathery leaves), and sporting bright red berries. I’ve been checking it out this morning — a new plant always has me looking it up in various places to find out the who, what, and where of it. This one is native to northeastern North America, occurs in Canada from Newfoundland west to Manitoba, and is a source for wintergreen oil. Its common names include American mountain tea, boxberry, Canada tea, canterberry, checkerberry, chickenberry, chinks, creeping wintergreen, deerberry, drunkards, gingerberry, ground berry, ground tea, grouseberry, hillberry, mountain tea, one-berry, partridge berry, procalm, red pollom, spice berry, squaw vine, star berry, spiceberry, spicy wintergreen, spring wintergreen, teaberry, wax cluster, youngsters… I won’t be distilling leaves or making them into tea but simply enjoying the beauty of its fresh green foliage and red fruit and looking forward to the narcissus coming into bloom in the next week or so.