Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Spanish": A Rant

O.k., here is a rant I've been repressing since the fall of 1958, when I first landed on these shores.

It has to do with what Americans mean when they say that someone is "Spanish."  It used to be that when people would tell me "Oh, I used to know a Spanish boy in high school," I would ask what part of Spain he was from.  And invariably it turned out that the person was Cuban, Mexican, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Panamanian, Venezuelan, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Bolivian, Paraguayan, Uruguayan, Chilean or Argentinian.  But never, not once, was he Spanish.  He spoke Spanish, or some version of it, but he was no more Spanish than someone from Kansas is English.

Now, when I'm told that someone is Spanish, I just nod.  It's highly unlikely that the person is from Spain--after all, there are only forty million of us, as opposed to some five hundred million Spanish speakers south of the Rio Grande.  Spanish people come from across the Atlantic.  We are Europeans, and though we share certain cultural and linguistic features with Latin Americans, we are as different from them as a Californian is from a Yorkshireman.  Not better, not worse--just different.

Latin Americans in the U.S.  have introduced the word  "Latino," which is short for latinoamericano, to describe their origins.  Of course "Latino," absent the americano part, is also inaccurate, since it necessarily includes people from Spain and Portugal, who were conquered by the Romans before they, in turn, conquered the New World.  But I've quibbled enough.

And here is a sub-rant, about the Castilian and Catalan languages, which are often confused.  Until the fifteenth century, Spain consisted of a number of separate kingdoms, each of which had its own language.  Then Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married, subjugated all the kingdoms, and imposed Castilian as the official language of the new country. So what is generally called "Spanish" is actually the tongue originally spoken in the central region of Spain.

But the other regional languages--Aranese, Basque, Galician, Aragonese, Asturian, Leonese, Cantabrian, Extremaduran, Eonavian, Fala, Riffian, Calo and my own native tongue, Catalan--are alive to this day, despite centuries-old efforts at suppression by the central government.  With the exception of Basque, whose origins nobody has figured out, they are all Romance languages and not dialects of Castilian, but languages in their own right, just as French, Italian and Portuguese are.

And finally, a sub-sub-rant, about the supposed "lisp" of Castilian speakers which, according to a legend popular with Americans, originated with a Spanish monarch's speech defect.  Castilian speakers are perfectly able to pronounce the "s" sound--but they associate it exclusively with the letter "s."  They pronounce "Susana" not as "Thuthana," but the way you would.

However, the letter "c" when it precedes "e" or "i," and the letter "z" are pronounced "th." Thus Castilian speakers pronounce zumba (which means "he, she, or it buzzes") "thumba."  In Latin America and in the south of Spain it's pronounced "sumba."

That said, there are Castilian speakers who are afflicted with a genuine lisp.  How can you tell?  They are the ones who say "Thuthana."

I would like to end on a humble note:  I know perfectly well that one's sensitivity to regional and linguistic distinctions is dictated by culture and identity.  My mother teased my father because he spoke Catalan with an accent from Barcelona, whereas she spoke with an accent from Lleida, 100 miles to the west.  As a result, I am exquisitely aware of the contrast between those two ways of speaking.  But I cannot distinguish between an Australian and a New Zealand accent, or even a Queens and a Brooklyn accent.  And as for the origin of the differences between Sunnis and Shiites...I'll tell you in a minute, after I check on Google.

But I'm glad I got the Spanish and the lisp bits off my chest.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Yak Glovelettes

Shopping for clothes these days is complicated.  It used to be that all I had to worry about was finding something that looked and felt good on me, but now when I buy so much as a t-shirt I worry that on its way from the farthest corners of the globe it has consumed its weight in fossil fuels and left polluted rivers and impoverished villages in its wake.

So I am grateful when designers demonstrate awareness of ethical and environmental matters.  Gudrun Sjoden offers "Swedish design with a green soul."  Eileen Fisher's site showcases a collection of progressive corporate practices, encompassing employee health and happiness, environmental responsibility, and efforts to empower women in developing countries.

Why then did I snort with derision at a certain item in Eileen Fisher's latest flyer?  The model is wearing a jacket of boiled wool and made-in-the-USA organic cotton jeans, and her hands are warmed by fingerless "glovelettes."  The glovelettes are "encrusted with crystals...[and] knit with yak herded by nomads."



Yak indeed.  And not, God forbid, feed-lot yak, or yak herded by people who go back to their village every night, but yak herded by nomads.  Remember the three wise men crossing the desert on camels with their cargo of gifts?  It used to be you had to be the Son of God to rate such exotic goods, but now all you have to do is point and click.

I mean, really.  It's just a pair of gloves.

And yet, I know that nomadism as a way of life is disappearing from the planet, and soon highways and suburbs and slums will obliterate the high pastures where the nomads wandered with their herds.  So maybe buying gloves knit from nomad-herded yak is not just silly, but an act of kindness to the nomad and his yaks and the grasslands with their earthworms and their bees.

Can it be that shopping these days has become a spiritual act?  I think it has, and that's o.k.  In this cold and soulless world, we have to take our spirituality wherever we can get it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Innocent In Coffeeland

For years, although I liked nothing better than a good, strong cup of coffee, I drank instant coffee at home.

Then, for a long time, I gave up coffee along with dairy, wheat, and sugar, and lived mainly on weak tea, green vegetables, and will power.  One thing I clung to, however, was a glass or two of wine in the evenings, but during my recent bout of shingles I had to give that up as well, because of the narcotic pain meds.  And when it was over I thought I'd see if continuing to abstain from wine would have a positive effect on my health.

But I cannot forgo all worldly pleasures, so I decided to compensate for the absence of alcohol by letting coffee back into my life.  And this time it wouldn't be Nescafe, but real coffee.

I didn't know much about making coffee, but I disliked the taste of over-boiled coffee, and didn't want yet another electrical appliance cluttering my counter.  I wanted to make coffee by a simple method,with a beautiful implement.

From what I could see on the internet, the pour-over method seemed the most direct--you put some grounds in a filter and poured hot water over them.  And you could make it in a Chemex.  Chemex pots look like they came from a chemistry lab staffed by Italian designers.  They have an hourglass shape and wear an elegant wooden belt around their waist.  They have been enthroned at MOMA as exemplars of contemporary kitchen sculpture.  I wanted one.

The only problem was that the Chemex requires a disposable filter that is not sold in supermarkets.  That, and the idea of throwing out a filter every day of my life put me off the Chemex, despite its beauty.  But wait!  It turned out that a tiny company in Seattle--where else?--was makinga  permanent filter for the Chemex.  Unfortunately, it cost $90.

But the ever helpful spirits of the internet, who had figured out what I wanted without my ever having told them, came up with a Japanese variation of the Chemex, a Hario, that used a cloth filter.  It even had a wooden belt around its waist, and although the cloth filter looked like it would be a pain to clean I was ready to put a Hario in my virtual basket.

Before hitting "buy," however, I thought I should check exactly what the pour-over method involved.  I found a number of videos featuring solemn guys in aprons officiating at altar-like counters.  On the counters were arranged the ritual vessels and implements of  the pour-over method, which I learned was the purest, most artistic way of making coffee, and the one allowing the officiant a maximum of individual expression.

The objects on the counter were:  a tiny digital scale, a grinder, a digital timer, a filter, a cup, and a kettle.  Having ground and weighed the precise amount of coffee, the instructor put it in the filter and turned on the kettle.  But not just any kettle. The right kettle had a skinny s-shaped spout to allow him to pour the water over the grounds in the proper way.

This pouring was the most sacred part of the ritual.  Once the water was boiling, he turned the kettle off and let it rest while, with his index finger, he made a hole in the middle of the grounds.  He picked up the kettle and carefully poured a little water into the hole, letting the grounds "bloom."  He set the timer for exactly three minutes and, starting at the center of the grounds, slowly poured the water in an outward spiral motion, timing it so the last drop would come out as the timer bell dinged.  He removed the filter, took a sip, closed his eyes and all but genuflected.

I thought I could dispense with the scale and the timer, and I already owned a grinder, but clearly I would have to invest in one of those swan-neck kettles.  After another hunt for the ideal conjunction of function, looks and economy I purchased one, made in China but with a vaguely Italian name.  And then I was ready to buy the Hario coffee pot with the cloth filter.

But at the last moment my personal shoppers in the ether offered up yet another possibility:  a Hario pot with a plastic mesh filter that would be much simpler to clean than the cloth one.  Unfortunately, this pot was nothing much to look at--no hourglass figure, no adorable wooden belt.  Exhausted by my search, I put aesthetics aside and bought it.

It should be obvious to you by now that the kettle and the pot have arrived and I have become a priestess of the pour-over coffee-brewing method:  the sun isn't up yet, and look what a long post I've written.






Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Iris On Happiness


The British novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, wrote, "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats."  At first this sounds like hedonism with a small "h," possibly resulting in enormous weight gain.  But what Iris is really telling us is to pay attention, and when we do, we discover that most ordinary days are in fact a long succession of small, sometimes tiny but nevertheless pleasurable, treats.

When I was young, I had nothing but disdain for small treats.  I was focused on big ones:  a degree, a job, a mate, a child, a house.  But once those treats are in place, what is left?  One could start all over again:  get another degree, find a new mate, have another child.  But those treats are problematic, and require a lot of energy.

It used to be that people got the big treats and then they died.  Now for most of us there are years and years to fill after the big treats have been bagged. What is left, to ease the string of decades between the age of the big treats and the end of life, is the small stuff.   So it's important to become adept at inventing and identifying small treats for ourselves. 

Sometimes the treats are so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye, and it's a good idea to carry a magnifying lens so as not to miss any that might go unnoticed.  And we need to train ourselves to look forward to our small treats, and then to remember and be grateful for them afterwards.

I stumbled upon this practice all by myself--or perhaps it was divine inspiration--in the darkest times of my CFS.  When the day from dawn to dusk had held nothing but misery and malaise, I would lie in bed in a tangle of frustration, unable to sleep and endlessly rehearsing all the things I hadn't been able to do.  Then one night, to calm myself, I began to go over the last sixteen hours with a mental magnifying glass, starting with getting out of bed in the morning, and noting every single good thing that had happened to me, no matter how small.

It turned out that even a particularly bad day was a succession of continuous small treats.  There were so many, and counting them was so relaxing, that before I knew it I fell asleep.  But while I was going through the process I was amazed at how studded with good things those miserable hours had actually been.

What kind of things? There was the comfort of waking up in a warm house on a cold day, the jade plant blooming next to the sunny window, the spouse's offer to fetch pizza for dinner, the freedom to lie down when I absolutely had to, the dog at my side...these were all, when I focused on them, reasons for happiness and deep gratitude.

In Catholic school we were taught to every night, before going to sleep, make an examination of conscience, reviewing any faults we had committed during the day.  I have since replaced the examination of conscience with the counting of small treats.  The practice of gratitude, because it leads to happiness and contentment and thence to generosity, is just as likely to make me a better person as the awareness of my failings.

So now that the era of big treats is mostly over for me, I lie in bed at night, fingering my day bead by bead, a rosary of continuous small treats.  And long before the end, I always fall asleep.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rainy Sunday At The Farmers' Market

At the nearby farmers' market there is a little old couple--actually, they are probably my age, but never mind--who sell potatoes.  Tiny red ones the size of meatballs;  deep indigo ones bursting with phyto-nutrients; and waxy, buttery, elegant fingerlings.

Most of the vendors at the market sell more than a single product.  Especially at this time of year, the vegetable farmers sell everything from chard to pumpkins;  the meat sellers offer squash;  and even the potter sets out a basket of garlic next to her mugs.  But not the potato couple.  They only sell potatoes.

In a crowd of vendors most of whom look like graduate students who ditched their dissertations to go back to the land, the potato couple are old-time farmers.  They've been growing potatoes for so long that they've come to resemble their product, short and squat and a little lumpy.  She deals with the public and he deals with the truck and the tent and the crates.  She refers to him not by name or as "my husband," but as "He," as in,"He planted a lot of Dutch Creams last spring."

I imagine their farm, a no-nonsense place north of here.  No Araucana hens laying colored eggs in charming coops, no mache or endive sprouting year-round under glass.  Just potatoes, and maybe an old dog, and the two of them at the kitchen table with the TV on now that the children are gone.  And on Sundays, the trek to the farmers' market to sell to summer people and flatlanders and leaf-peepers who park their SUVs by the side of the highway and carry their purchases in New Yorker totes.

Last week when I went to the market the heavens suddenly opened and the rain came down in torrents.  Tents flapped and leaked;  people could hardly hear each other speak for the noise of the water; and the Indian summer day suddenly turned cold.  The potato couple's tent was at the bottom of the field.  He had strewn a bale of hay in front of the potato table, but I nevertheless sank down to my ankles in mud.  She was doing her best with customer relations, but I could tell that she wanted to go home.

How much longer, I wondered, will they be able to do this--planting and weeding and harvesting and storing the potatoes, plus the endless round of farmers' markets?  Do they have any help at the farm?  Do they have savings, a pension?  

Except for the wealthy, buying produce at the farmers' market is a moral gesture.  Yes, the food is usually better than what you find at the supermarket, but it is a lot more expensive. It doesn't make immediate financial sense, but buying from these small local farmers is an act of faith and hope in, and charity towards, the community.  Vermont, which  has the lowest rates of church attendance in the country, leads the nation in the proportion of food that people buy locally, and even on that rainy Sunday the parking lot was full and cars were lined up by the side of the road.

This is good news for the potato couple, and for the young families with their college degrees, their  home-schooled children, and their dreams of raising food sustainably.  But given the perennially shaky economy, I wonder how long Vermonters will be able to continue to support their farmers.

For as long as possible, though, those of us who can would do well to spend part of our Sunday buying garlic from the potter, some soup bones from the meat lady, and a couple of pounds of tiny red potatoes from the potato couple.  There are, after all, many ways of attending church.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More Crimes Against Nature: Lemon

The list of crimes against Nature in my Vermont garden is getting longer.  Along with espaliering an apricot tree and growing figs in a pot, I am attempting to produce a crop of Meyer lemons.

As with the apricots (three in this, the tree's first year) and figs (nine, in ditto) the lemon crop will be tiny--five, if they all make it.  I have known every one of those five lemons from conception--in fact, I was responsible for the conception of one of them, because when the tree first bloomed it was too cold to take it outside and I had to pretend I was a bee and fertilize the blooms indoors with a watercolor brush.

Meyer lemons, the offspring of a lemon and a sweet orange, originated in China, where they are grown in pots as ornamentals.  They are sweeter and more floral in flavor than ordinary lemons, and their yellow-orange skin is thinner.  Although they had been in this country since the early 1900s, they were rediscovered at Chez Panisse in the 1970s and later popularized by Martha Stewart.  Fancy chefs love them and have figured out a hundred uses for them, most of which are way too complicated for me.

Last winter I was so assiduous with my brush that a dozen flowers set fruit, and I was concerned about how the tiny tree would bear their weight.  But I needn't have worried.  When the little lemons got to be a quarter-inch long they all but one dropped off.

When the weather warmed I took the tree outside thinking that the sun and air would do it good, but with no thought of further fruit.  It surprised me by immediately covering itself in blooms again.  This time there were real bees to do the job, and most of the blooms set fruit.  Again, most of them fell off, but four persevered. 

Now they are tennis-ball-size, but still green.  The weather is turning colder by the day, and I worry that the lemons will not ripen properly indoors, so every evening I bring the tree inside, and take it out in the morning when the sun begins to warm the patio slates.  If it doesn't rain for a couple of days, I water it.  If the wind picks up, I move it to a sheltered spot. 

The four apple trees surrounding the patio watch all this and smirk.  They have withstood ice, snow and drought.  They have been chewed by Japanese beetles, buffeted by high winds and had their flowers decimated by late frosts.  They have not asked for help with fertilization or insect control.  Despite all this, hardy New Englanders that they are, they have produced a mountain of deep-red, crisp, sweet apples.  Now, without any fuss, they are shedding their leaves and going to sleep.

I don't blame them for smirking.  Why go to all this trouble for five measly lemons?  Because I'm human, of course.  Which means that I'm attracted by what is exotic, and delicate, and needing extra care--the tender perennial, the long-finned fish, the white cat, the tiny dog.  It's not just aesthetics or, in the case of fruit, gluttony.  It's the challenge of shaking my fist at Nature, showing her that I can do some things she can't.

As if.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Crimes Against Nature: Fig

Any day now, the Angel of the Killing Frost will descend to put an end to the 2013 gardening season.  Vermont gardeners will store away their tools and retire to their wood stoves with a book, tablet, e-reader, laptop or, in the lucky areas that have reception, smartphone.

Usually I can hardly wait for the Icy One to alight on our hill.  The thought of roasting another batch of eggplants or freezing another quart of beans makes me grow faint.  But this year is different.  This year I have a fig tree, with figs on it--seven, in fact.  It used to have nine, but I ate two.  They were so splendid, fat and ripe and warm from the sun, that I resolved to do all I can to bring the rest to, well, fruition.

This means frequent watering--my tree is in a pot--with buckets of fish-manure-enriched water from the goldfish tub.  It means sheltering it from the wind in the corner of the south-facing wall of the house and the enclosed porch, where it can grab every drop of sun and warmth that the waning season has to offer.  And it means going out a couple of times a day to see if there is anything I can do to make it more comfortable.

This way, even with the temperature hovering dangerously low at night, the figs still ripen, one at a time.  And I eat each one mindfully and reverently, amazed that such Mediterranean sweetness can  emerge from this Puritan soil.

It is a crime against Nature, or at least a misdemeanor, to try to grow figs in Vermont.  Figs need long strings of warm, sunny days to ripen, a moderately dry climate to concentrate the sugars in the fruit, and temperate winters.

The label on my tree, a Brown Turkey, assures me that it will be happy in its pot and survive temperatures as frigid as -10F.  People around here say they remember winters when the temperature would stay below zero for weeks on end, and reach twenty- and thirty-below at night.  In my nine winters in Vermont there's been nothing like this.  Occasionally there will be a fifteen-below night, but things soon warm up.  Still, I don't want to take any chances with my little tree, and am researching thermal blankets made especially for tender plants.  The fact that somebody out there actually makes and sells plant blankies tells me that I am not the only crazed gardener on the planet.

Why, you ask, go to all this trouble for just a couple of figs?  The answer lies not in the figs themselves, but in the warm sweet smell of the raspy leaves, which sends me back every time to those long-ago Catalan summers and the buggy rides to la figuera grossa, which was so enormous that the entire extended family, including the horse, could eat their lunch and then nap in its shade.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Duckweed

Ping and Pong, my fantail goldfish, live in a large tub in the sun porch.  The tub's amenities include a gravel floor and a little bamboo fountain that oxygenates the water and provides background music around the clock.  There are also a couple of aquatic plants, but they look meager and sparse and I thought that Ping and Pong, sociable though they are, would like a place to hide when they want privacy.

I spent some time trolling aquarium sites and found rave reviews of something called duckweed.
This plant, beloved of goldfish for its high protein content, not only gives them shade and privacy but keeps the water clean by discouraging algae and consuming excess nitrogen. You can buy half a cup's worth for $5.99, plus shipping.

I had a package of duckweed in my virtual basket--nothing is too good for P&P--when something made me want to find a picture of this fabulous plant. While Google Images was loading I looked out at the frog pond in the patio and made a mental note that it was time to yet again scoop out the weird, alga-like green stuff that has covered the water surface all summer long.  Google finished loading, and there, floating greenly on garden ponds and choking out entire lakes in South America was...the very stuff that I had been so dutifully scooping up and throwing out since the spring.

The common duckweed, Lemna minor, is a simple plant, consisting of two or three tiny bright-green leaves that lie flat on the surface of the water and trail a long, hair-like root below.  It has more protein than soybeans, which is why ducks and other waterfowl are so fond of it. It shelters the vulnerable young of aquatic creatures and takes up excess nutrients, which explains why the usually murky water of my pond has been exceptionally clear this season, and teeming with tadpoles, frogs and salamanders.  It is excellent food for laying hens, and is eaten by people in some parts of Southeast Asia.

I ran outside, scooped up a bunch of duckweed and brought it back to the goldfish tub.  Ping and Pong immediately disappeared under it.  Then I scooped up some more and called the hens.  They looked at it skeptically and backed off.  The mother superior, a Barred Rock with a bright red comb, took one bite, thought about it, took another, and the rest of the girls followed suit.  As they pecked I wondered how those people in Southeast Asia prepare their duckweed.  They probably saute it with a little garlic, and sprinkle it with soy sauce...

Lesson for the day:  before you go hunting for treasure on the internet, look in your own backyard.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Arachnicide

Every October, just in time for Halloween, the spiders lay siege to my house.

These are not the charming orb-weavers that E.B. White immortalized.  They are not the wispy critters that swing from the ceiling on a single gossamer thread.  They are big, dark, and fast.  They are wolf spiders.

I would much rather have real wolves at my door--come to think of it, I would love to have wolves at my door.  But instead I have these silent, faceless, scuttling beings intent on joining me indoors.

With the first cool nights they congregate by the door between the sun porch and the garage, and strategize.  The smaller ones squeeze through the chinks between the door and the jamb.  The big ones wait for me to open the door on my way to collect the eggs at night and they rush into where there is light and warmth, and the dogs' water dish, where they refresh themselves.

Last fall the invasion happened one evening when I was alone in the house.  It was sudden and  Hitchcockian, and my only defensive weapon was a spray bottle of water laced with a few drops of dish detergent that works like a charm on the tiny ants that occasionally visit our kitchen.  But the wolf spiders were way bigger and tougher than the ants.  They just shook off the water and kept coming.

Next I tried dousing them with organic apple cider vinegar, but ended up getting most of it on my clothes.  I finally resorted to gross mechanical means:  the fly-swatter and my own feet, clad in sturdy clogs.  When my spouse finally arrived he found me pale and disheveled, sipping weakly at a glass of Cointreau.  I told him I had killed at least a dozen spiders, and his response was, "But why?"

The horror of that night stayed with me all year.  I knew that fall would come again, and with it the wolf spiders.



Then I remembered something from my camel-cricket-fighting days in Maryland.  Camel crickets are big, pale, silent beings that haunt people's basements in the southern latitudes and also are obsessed with coming into the house in the fall.  They will, if the mood strikes them, jump on you.  The only thing to deter them was borax, the white powder that you add to your laundry to make clothes brighter.  I would sprinkle it on the basement steps and when the crickets landed on the stuff they would just sort of wither and die.

This fall, as soon as the sumac started to redden, I was ready with a box of 20 Mule Team Borax.  I sprinkled it around the edges of the porch floor, and really went crazy in the garage, especially near the door to the house, mounding it until it looked like snow drifts.  I don't know exactly what the stuff does to the heavily armored wolf spiders, but it seems to slow them down as they walk through it, which gives me a chance to whack them with the fly swatter.

And whack them I do.  Every night when I go to collect the eggs I carry the swatter and manage to bag  a couple of spiders.  There don't seem to be as many as last year, and very few have gotten into the house.  So my borax barricade appears to be helping.

I am aware that my spider-killing mania is at odds with most of the principles that I otherwise hold dear.  Spiders, my spouse never tires of reminding me, are beneficial.  I should live and let live.  "Not when they are the size of an egg and crawl inside my barn boots," I counter, swatter in hand.

All this is surely rooted in childhood.  One of my aunts was terrified of spiders, and I must have caught my fear from her.  On the other hand, my mother would literally lose her mind if you showed her even a picture of a mouse, and I did not catch musophobia from her.  In fact, I actually like field mice, with their big babyish heads and bright little eyes, and if they didn't poop so much and carry noxious viruses I would keep one as a pet, as Beatrix Potter did.  None of this makes a shred of sense, I realize.

The annual mouse migration into Vermont basements will probably start tonight, when the first frost is predicted to arrive.  The mice come in hordes, much more numerous than wolf spiders, and, not having a cat, we are reduced to killing them ourselves.  Or rather, my spouse does it, setting traps every night and feeding the dead to the chickens in the morning.  Me, I avert my eyes and wipe away a hypocritical tear.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Writing Bed

One day when I was in the depths of my recent shingles attack, I set up the double bed that spends most of its life folded inside a convertible sofa in the downstairs guest room.  I

I put on a blue fitted bottom sheet, stacked some pillows against the back, and folded a crocheted afghan across the bottom.  Then I lay down, exhausted, and closed my eyes.  Bisou came streaking into the room, took a flying leap and landed beside me, and gave a big sigh.  I sighed too, a sigh not of pain or discomfort or boredom, but of contentment.  I had solved the bed-and-Bisou problem.

Knowing the limits of a spouse's tolerance helps to keep a marriage going, and in the case of my particular spouse Bisou's body on the conjugal bed is beyond those limits.  In normal times, Wolfie and Bisou sleep on their own bed at night, on the floor next to my side of things.  During the day, I do my reading or writing or napping or mindless staring into space on various sofas and chairs where Bisou and I can be in close bodily contact.

But when the shingles hit, I was too sick to sit on a chair or even recline on a sofa.  I needed to be in bed, but I also needed my comfort spaniel.  Hence the recourse to the guest bed during the day.

I'm feeling better now--today I even did the laundry--but I'm still spending a lot of time on the guest room bed.  I have the phone nearby, and a cup of lemon balm tea from the lemon balm jungle at the back door.  A good lamp on either side of the bed, and a view of the trees turning russet along the driveway.  Also my Kindle, for when I get tired of writing.  And when I get tired of reading I can close my eyes and subside against the pillows, one hand on Bisou's silky back.

Compared to this, the living room, the sun porch, and my study, have come to seem pretty spartan.  In those rooms you cannot flow seamlessly from snoozing to reading to writing and back again.  You have to make an executive decision about what you're going to do and where you're going to do it, and then you have to get up and implement it.  It's a vertical kind of existence, and I am really getting fond of the horizontal.

The tradition of writing in bed is a long and honorable one.  Before central heating, lots of writers wrote in bed, for practical reasons.  But even in the twentieth century, when houses became more comfortable, Proust, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, George Orwell and Truman Capote all took to bed in order to write.

Why is that?  It's possible that the bed evokes a less formal and therefore less intimidating feeling than the hard, flat, cold surface of a desk.  In bed, you can just scribble and jot, whereas at a desk, you have to WRITE.

And perhaps the bed, with its softness and warmth, its invitation to recline and even to close the eyes, offers a physical conduit to that dreamy state in which the internal critic retreats and the poor neglected subconscious comes out to play.

Just curious:  how many of you like to write in bed?