healing: midsummer

“I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I do not know. / As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.” —Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth

***

Every summer, I scuttle down the front porch steps without shoes, propelling myself towards our gravel driveway, where I make my way tentatively over the crumbled, jagged forms of scattered copper rocks. By the end of the season, the soles of my feet become calloused and strong, and I stride without wincing, without any hesitation.

***

The thing I remember is the feeling of dirt beneath my feet. Stepping gingerly into the garage, looking for a terra cotta pot or the like, I had left my sandals inside. After scanning the laden shelves, I noticed a tin watering can with a withered brown plant inside. We quickly removed these brittle remains, and the budding green thyme plant nestled itself happily within its abode, supplied with new soil. It overspilled its bounds.

***

“All that matters is to be at one with the living God / to be a creature in the house of the God of Life. / Like a cat asleep on a chair / at peace, in peace… / feeling the presence of the living God / like a great assurance / a deep calm in the heart.” —D.H. Lawrence

***

Inbox (1 unread): “Dear Mattea, I am delighted to inform you that your scholarship application has now been processed, and you have been granted a postgraduate award in the School of Art History. Congratulations! If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

***

Juneteenth: an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marking the day—June 19, 1865—when the news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas. They had been free for two years. They just didn’t know it yet. Their lived reality didn’t align with the words scrawled upon the page, skeletal, black upon white—by a man who confessed he cared more about saving the Union than he ever did about slaves. On September 18, 1858, Lincoln assured an audience: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” No right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office, or to interracially marry. Who decides what freedom looks like and when it is won?

***

Memento (2000):  “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”

***

To the gentle baker who remembered my name after only meeting me once, the one with the gentle eyes, the one who insists that I take a box of pastries home with me after my shift so they will not go to waste: thank you. I wish the world was wholly made up of such kindnesses.

***

I am reading, and I am waiting. I am healing. Colette, Annie Dillard, then Fitzgerald. This chapter of untethered postgrad life with abundant time for contemplation has awakened me to the deep need for healing in my own life—in areas I thought I had already surrendered, in issues I thought I had processed and put behind me long ago. I have also had my eyes opened anew to the desperate need for healing and reform throughout my own nation. My heart is heavy, but this is no excuse to turn away. Each Instagram story is the face of a precious child of God we have lost too soon, a linked resource, a petition, a plea. So I read up on environmental racism, dietary racism, misogynoir, police brutality, and the intersection of race and mental health stigma. What is the difference between simply breaking and breakthrough? How can we make this last? What seeds are we planting? What will they become? How many will stay to tend the garden and how many will be left to partake of the fruit? I’ve been clinging to a quote by Rilke about loving all our unresolved questions so we can live into the answers. Lord, come.

sweetbitter (4/1/20)

Happy National Poetry Month!

meditation #1:

a handful of berries in the morning,

bitter then sweet in alternating grace.

they lie, smooth as pebbles, trembling slow.

these are the days that must happen to you,

and these are the fruits placed in front of us:

the chaff and Chaucer’s sentence al sooth.

you are you, neither Socrates nor Persephone.

you are the grinning totem, the lodestar.

 

so the sunlight falls across us in waves,

cleansing us for we expect nothing in particular,

tugging us nearer to the start of all things,

and nearer still to the stirring of branches above,

of wildflower yearning and velvet bees abuzz.

in the realm of sweetbitter, think not of me.

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

Chatsworth House: A Rendezvous with Mr. Darcy

For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my absolute favorite films is the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. Now, before anyone starts an uproar, I also enjoy the 1995 BBC mini-series. However, considering its total length of nearly 6 hours, I often find myself gravitating to the newer rendition instead with its dazzling cinematography and enchanting score (which I often listen to whilst studying). For those unawares, Chatsworth House was used for filming the scenes at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, in the 2005 film.

Everything about the estate is extravagant, even from the start. Lush. Decadent. Gilded. Its simultaneous magnitude and emphasis on minute intricate detail is altogether breathtaking. Chatsworth belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The history of Chatsworth began with Elizabeth Talbot, known as the Countess of Shrewsbury or Bess of Hardwick. A native of Derbyshire, she married four times and became the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England (after the Queen, of course). It was in partnership with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that she bought Chatsworth in 1549.

Visitors at Chatsworth today can view magnificent works of art that span 4,000 years — ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures, masterpieces by Rembrandt, and work by modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal, and David Nash. The statue seen above (which you may remember from the 2005 film) is “A Veiled Vestal Virgin” by Raffaelle Monti — ordered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire after a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan, Italy. Other treasures include an extensive geological collection and the library’s early copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America and a prayer book that once belonged to Henry VII and then Margaret Tudor. (The library also possesses many volumes of poetry, perhaps partially due to the influence of Georgiana, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who dabbled as a poet herself. She is portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess, which was also filmed at Chatsworth.)

The gardens and grounds of Chatsworth are no less exceptional than the interior of the manor, featuring a Victorian rock garden, a labyrinthine yew maze (which I proudly navigated in record time), a waterfall, and acres of other wonders. There are over five miles of walking trails and impressive gravity-fed waterworks abound, such as the 300-year-old Cascade seen above on the left. There is a prominent focus on sustainability that can be especially seen in features such as the Kitchen Garden, which supplies fruit, vegetables, and herbs for the manor house and has done so for years. 20 gardeners total are necessary to keep the estate pristine.

The greenhouses at Chatsworth are acclaimed throughout Britain. However, some grander elements have been lost. During and after the World War I (1914-18), there was not enough coal to heat the conservatories and, therefore, many plants, especially of tropical varieties, died. Because of the expense of restoring, maintaining, and heating, the property’s renowned Great Conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, the largest glass building in England of its time, was demolished in 1920. Still, horticulture is very much alive at Chatsworth. When we visited, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was in full swing, which is quite the affair. We declined visiting its separate encampment of vast white tents (think The Great British Baking Show multiplied by five), begonias, and ferns as admission is separate and ranges upwards of £34.00 per person. Tickets are now on sale for the next flower show, June 5-9, 2019, if you’re interested.

Visiting Chatsworth House was one of my favorite memories from my trip to the UK! As I strolled around the gardens and it began to softly rain, I couldn’t help but think about the appeal of moving to some little cottage in Bakewell and being able to pop over to Chatsworth for picnics in the summer or their cozy Christmas market in the winter. As you exit the manor through the gift shop (oh, how clever), you come face-to-face with a bust of Matthew Macfayden (the anointed Mr. Darcy of 2005) — a lingering prop from the film. A cheeky sign underneath reads, “Please do not kiss.” Or perhaps it isn’t so cheeky; maybe, in the past, this has been a real issue. Of that I cannot be sure, dear readers. Regardless, when I saw the likeness, I could not help but recall the iconic scene shot in Chatsworth’s sculpture gallery:

“Do you not think him a handsome man, miss?” “Yes. Yes, I dare say he is.”

Stratford-upon-Avon: A Shakespeare Lover’s Dream

Yes, I have Sonnet 116 (and a few others) memorized.

Yes, I have read Othello three times and Hamlet four times.

Yes, I wrote a 20 page research paper on the feminist interpretation of Ophelia.

Yes, I would identify myself as a Shakespeare enthusiast.

With that being said, Stratford-upon-Avon was a bit of a giddy dream. Even if you aren’t well-acquainted with the Bard, it’s still a lovely, flourishing town worth visiting in Warwickshire, England. However, if you do plan on undertaking the full Shakespearean experience, which I heartily recommend, then a Full Story ticket is most definitely the best option for you. These are cheaper if purchased online in advance and, if you are a college student like me, then you receive a special “concessions” rate: £18.90 for entry into all five of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s historical sites. (Note: We did not visit Mary Arden’s Farm.)

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

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It’s fascinating to think that a wee William Shakespeare once toddled around in this abode’s humble kitchen and likely played outside right here. John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden, lived in this cottage and raised eight children (of which, William was the third to be born). In 1568, John became the Mayor of Stratford, which was the highest elective office in the town and perfectly suited for owning this, the largest house on Henley Street. Because of his father’s lucrative position, young William was able to attend the local grammar school. For a brief time in the 1600s, part of this property was leased as an inn: The Swan & Maidenhead. Now, the home is protected by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and visited daily by eager tourists from all around the world. Surrounding the cottage itself is a garden full of herbs and flowers with literary significance in Shakespeare’s works. For example, fennel from Hamlet and lavender from The Winter’s Tale. Nearby, a devoted thespian recites Shakespearean monologues from heart. When we stopped to listen, he recited from scenes in Othello and Henry V. A gift shop beckons next door as well as a small Shakespeare museum with a copy of his First Folio.

New Place

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New Place was Shakespeare’s family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. Alas, the residence was tragically demolished in 1759 by Reverend Francis Gastrell in a fit of spite (who also infamously chopped down a mulberry tree planted by the Bard), so a garden is all that remains — assembled in loving memory of what was once present. Shakespeare bought New Place with funds he had earned as an established playwright, and it is believed that he wrote several of his later plays there, including The Tempest. Flagstones are scattered throughout the garden, containing snippets of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. There are also markers indicating the original blueprint of New Place and where each room would have been.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

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Anne Hathaway’s cottage was truly my favorite spot in Stratford-upon-Avon — a tranquil rural oasis tucked away on the fringes of the town. When we arrived, the place was charmingly decorated for a vintage garden party straight out of the 1950s — complete with a Victrola phonograph playing some lilting swing tunes and gals decked out in overalls and scarlet kerchiefs à la Rosie the Riveter. Built in 1493, this home belonged to the Hathaway family, successful sheep farmers, for generations. Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s future wife, was born here in 1556. It is also here that, during their courtship, they would reportedly huddle by the fireplace (seen in the center below) and converse with hushed tones, banter, and laughter. The grounds are extensive and stunning, even including an orchard. However, we were prevented from exploring fully as the site was closing down for the day. Unperturbed, we fled to the cute tea house across the road and ordered a (non-alcoholic) ginger beer or two.

Hall’s Croft

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Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, lived here with her prominent physician husband, John Hall. The home actually served as a school in the 1800s and was not purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust until 1949 and not opened to the public until restorations had been completed in 1951. There are beautiful gardens to the rear of the residence, containing medicinal herbs that John Hall would have utilized in his practice. While some physicians of the time relied on astronomy or blood-letting, he valued holistic treatments made from plants, herbs, and geological minerals.

Newton Was a Child Once

From primy youth

               we do dawdle in a

                        perpetual spring

 of our own creation.

                                                  All is budding vanity

                     to be grasped, tasted, and enjoyed

                                         until it, quite suddenly, isn’t.

                                                                                                                         We cling to the belief

                                                                          with pudgy primrose fingers

                                                                                                         that, if only we dare try,

                                                    we could fly — soar even —

                                           until gravity strolls

                                                                  into the whirring room

                                     of contraption and wonder

                                and coughs rudely — conspicuously —

      and, inevitably, we are told

to let go.