A Poem for Sunday

I’m not giving up on this yet, despite fairly direct feedback from La that perhaps I should… Stubborn, I guess…  And anyway, what could be better than some poetry to combat the Sunday blues?  Not much that’s legal, I say.

At any rate, today’s unwanted poem comes from Edwin Arlington Robinson, an American poet who Wikipedia informs me won the Pulitzer prize three times in the 1920’s.  I don’t know much about the guy, but I read the below poem during English Lit class my sophomore year in high school, and it has stuck with me ever since.  I think it’s because, to me, it represents such a simple and understandable tragedy — that of time leaving you behind.  Sad, maybe, that I have always seemed to identify with a drunk old man stumbling around on a hillside, but, there you go…  I hope that you will find something within it that resonates as well.

— Bridget

Mr. Flood’s Party

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will.”
Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.
Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.
“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—
“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below—
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.
— Edwin Arlington Robinson

The Written World

For as long as I can remember, I have loved books.  As a child, I hoarded them in my room, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Anne of Green Gables to my brothers’ old Choose-Your-Own-Adventures.  In grade school, I feigned illness so that I was sent to my aunt Francie’s house, where I could sit in my uncle’s big comfy armchair and read from a pretty leather-bound collection by the front window.  I exchanged favorites with my cousin Eileen and raced her through Little Women to see who could finish the biggest book in the school library first.  (After a long time coming to Jesus, Neen, I can finally confess to you that I skipped twenty pages towards the end to secure my victory). 

I spent four years in college studying them, countless hours leafing through them in libraries and bookstores, and many a late night unable to put them down.  Like wine, books make the world rosier, more familiar, easier to appreciate and understand.  They are companions with whom I will spend a lifetime…

I had a father-in-law who loved books as well.  My husband would argue that he loved to buy them, and that it was my mother-in-law who actually read them.  Whatever the facts may be, the truth is that I now think of him when I think of books.  His memory is an extension of that rosy world, as are the homes he welcomed me into in Dublin and Westport – homes that were fittingly chock-full of books.

Tomorrow he will be gone four years.  As happy as I am that he is a part of my book world, we continue to miss him terribly in this one.

– Bridget

Thanks – Abridged 2011 Edition

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” 

– Ernest Hemingway

1. Parentals. As cliché as it may sound, this year family is striking that gratitude chord in me. With a move from Chicago to DC, my husband and I found that my parent’s invitation to crash in their basement for a few months was a welcome one, and at the very least an economical choice while we acclimate ourselves to the East coast. Yes, I am fast approaching 30 this February and, why yes, thank you Mom, I do like my eggs over medium. To my delight and shock this transition (read: regression) has been nothing short of lovely and I find I am in no particular rush to exit- hope you are reading Mom and Dad! So the long winded “thanks” numero uno is reserved for my p’s – love and thanks.

2. Seeing Eye Dogs. There is little more inspiring to me: I think they are one of the most special creatures on earth and while I do not need their service, I am thankful for those that do.

3. Geese honking. The sound reminds me of Maryland’s Eastern Shore in autumn – best heard on Thanksgiving morning. Two more days – can’t wait.

4. The Movie – Clueless. Perfect fodder for everyday quotes. (“That was way harsh Tai” and “Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972.”) A perfect answer to any mood.

5. Great In-laws. If I didn’t already know how lucky I am, hearing friends’ horror stories and those never-ending demonic movie representations are a helluva reminder.

6. Vest Weather. Dan calls it “vest weather” and I call it my favorite time of year: fur or fleece, puffy or shearling – yet another nod to the crisp fall that I adore.

7. Memories. They make me a little teary after that third glass of wine or make me laugh out loud (to the annoyance of fellow commuters) on the train ride to work. 

8. Trust. In attempts to make trust tangible, cherished bracelets/rings/necklaces are shared among certain friends as purveyors of trust. Warning: the aforementioned trust exchange most often (and terrifyingly) makes an appearance in shared cab rides home after several cocktails.

9. Hobo Joe. A comforting character I encompass when at my most base: warmth is found in an oversized sweater and you might as well abandon that glass – your wine is best swigged from the paper bag it came in. Mr. Joe is best assumed on cold, rainy afternoons.

10. Wine. And Cheese.

Happy Thanksgiving


The Calm Before The Storm

The house is quiet.  And partially clean.  Laundry is on and the shopping list is, well, a work in progress.  Thanksgiving is almost (but not quite) here.  Before it arrives, wielding a 20-pound turkey that I will somehow manage to cook, I thought I’d take a quick pause for some much-needed reflection.

Everyone is always thankful for the same old things – loved ones, health, happiness, etc.  That’s because these are the things that have been on humanity’s list since the dawn of time.  While I am of course thankful for the old standards, rather than restate the obvious, I’m going to take a different approach.

Top Ten Things I Am Thankful For That Usually Don’t Make The List

10)  Garlic.  OK, maybe not exclusively garlic, but it’s representative of cooking, and truly, is there anything better than the smell of garlic and onions in a pot at the start of a great recipe?  The answer is no.  There is not.

9)  Fall.  Specifically, leaves crunching, comfy sweaters, hot drinks and football.

8)  My Dog.  To be exact, the way he plays at the dog park and wags his tail in his sleep.

7)  Nostalgia, as illustrated in the shoeboxes full of pictures that I keep from “the olden days.”

6)  Predictability in the form of romantic comedies I have seen a million times but continue to watch time and again all the same.

5)  Anticipation of a party, a present, or a reunion with a friend.

4)  The fact that I get to visit Ireland and the above picture regularly.

3)  Laughing so hard you can’t speak.

2)  Having dreams – yes, even as a grown-up.

1)  And of course wine.  (It had to be said).

What (almost) makes your list?

— Bridget

A Poem for Sunday

On Seeing The Elgin Marbles For The First Time

My spirit is too weak—mortality
   Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
   And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
   Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
   That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
   Bring round the heart an indescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
   That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time—with a billowy main—
   A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.
— John Keats

Suite Francaise

As promised in a post last week, ThisWine’s first book review is on Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.  As opposed to my earlier post, I have actually read the book at this point, and I managed to come up with a few feeble insights.

But first, a quick summary.  The book is actually made up of two “movements”.  The first, entitled “Storm in June”, tells the story of the evacuation of Paris on the eve of the Nazis’ arrival in June 1940.  The second, “Dolce”, takes place in 1941 in a small village during the Nazis’ occupation of France.  There were a few more movements planned for the novel, but the work was never completed (see below).  Each movement follows the experiences of several sets of characters – soldiers and former soldiers, women and children, farmers, bankers, writers, aristocrats, and even a priest are all introduced and observed as they struggle to endure the war.

Now for my commentary…

1)  This book is extremely well-written.  While I would not call it an easy read, given the subject matter, I will say that it was still easy to get caught up in the pages for hours.  Nemirovsky sets the scene clearly, yet takes care not to let setting or actions overtake the real focus of the novel, which is the people.  If you allow me to sound a little crazy for a moment, it is like she sets her sights on one of her many characters and picks that character up like a suitcase, then proceeds to dump all of the contents of that suitcase on a table.  She picks up each item and analyzes it, turning it over, examining it with a magnifying lens, hitting it against the table to test its strength.  Then she methodically packs everything up back into the suitcase and throws the suitcase into the overhead compartment so that she and the reader can continue the journey.  Nemirovsky is a master at the art of characterization.

2)  This book is infinitely sad.  I’m not pulling a spoiler when I say that there isn’t much happy news for any of the characters.  Reading this book forced me to take a hard look at what life must have been like, and must be like, for inhabitants of countries at war.  You read of the mother whose son is lost in action, the wife whose husband is a prisoner, the married couple who lose their spots in a car leaving Paris, forcing them to walk.  You read of the man who steals petrol from a fellow traveler, the farmers who lose their ability to harvest when the Nazis requisition their horses, the woman who rushes her family out of their house during a bombing, only to realize she forgot her invalid father-in-law.  You read these lines, which of course break your heart, but they also inevitably lead you to wonder, “What would I do?”.  The sadness of this book is that people actually went through it – it’s all real, and there is no way to take the edge off it.  The story is harrowing.

Despite all that, I can’t help wanting more.

3)  It is unfortunate that this book is unfinished.  Irene Nemirovsky was arrested and taken to Auschwitz in 1942, where she died.  She had completed first drafts of “Storm in June” and “Dolce,” and she kept a journal that laid out plans for the remaining sections of the novel.  Her daughter, who was only a child at the time that her mother was arrested (and who escaped imprisonment by going into hiding), kept the manuscripts with her throughout her life.  The book was finally published in 2006.  In its entirety, I am convinced that Suite Francaise would have been one of the great works of literature in the 20th century.  I wish it had been completed, if nothing else, because I closed the book wishing for some redemption.  The story is more terrifying because it has no ending.

… So there you have it.  A serious attempt at a very serious book.  I may need something a bit more light-hearted after all that.  Stay tuned for Peter Mayle up next.

– Bridget

When I Lived In Europe… And Didn’t Drink Wine

On the steps of Montmartre, 2000

For my entire junior year in college, I studied abroad in Leuven, Belgium. I refer to this period elitely as My Time In Europe and start off many a story with a commanding “When I lived in Europe…”. It was and remains one of the greatest experiences of my life — I was young, surrounded by friends, and a continent away from any reality I’d ever known. I was smart enough to get by doing minimal work, attending class sparsely, which freed up my time to focus chiefly on the following activities.

  • Dragging luggage across crowded platforms to catch various trains.
  • Falling dramatically in and out of love.
  • Losing my passport.
  • Trying on shoes I had no business buying.
  • Sitting in various town squares watching the well-accessorized world go by.
  • Dancing on tables.
  • Ambling through museums.
  • Eating my weight in baguettes and gouda cheese.

One regret I do have from My Time in Europe is my failure to take advantage of resources and proximity to cultivate a basic knowledge of wine. I shudder to say that I had little to no taste for the stuff back then. Food? Clearly. Art and culture? But of course. The Belgian propensity for brooding, furrowed brows and all-black ensembles? Absolutely. But wine? Well, I literally didn’t even know what I was missing… So I suppose that gives me all the more reason to go back.

– Bridget