Thursday, September 18, 2008


All harvesting, all the time. Tuesday it was honey. Yesterday basil. Today sage, lavender, mint and chives. Should chives be dried or frozen?
But my mind keeps wandering to Luis Fernando Verissimo’s Borges and the Eternal Orangutan. Verissimo is a Brazilian writer I found totally by chance in the library last week. (I was there to pick up the new Paul Auster but the librarian – not one of the regulars of whom I am mostly very fond – curtly informed me that I had waited too long to pick up the reserved book and it had gone back to whatever larger library it had come from.) His book The Club of Angels was on the New Book shelf, oddly since it was published two years ago. But I immediately recognized the distinctive size and shape and elegant/smart design of a New Directions book and I am always drawn to ND books, and not just because they took a leap into the unknown and published my first novel oh so many years ago, but because I just tend to like their authors, especially the foreigners, especially the Latin Americans. The Club of Angels is the story of a group of men who get together and eat fabulous meals. Then their leader, Ramos, dies of AIDS and is mysteriously replaced by a cook talented beneath their wildest dreams. Except that following each meeting a member of the club dies. And even knowing that one of them will die, they continue to meet, continue to dine sumptuously, in full expectation of the end. Which makes it sound like a fairly normal book, which it is not.
But that is not the book I am distracted by as I dry herbs and make carrot soup and bake eggplants, but another Verissimo book, Borges and The Eternal Orangutan, which I read late into the night last night. It seems to be about a solitary man who adores Borges and meets him in BA at some esoteric conference at which a much-hated German academic is murdered inside a locked room. À la Poe. And Borges refers siempre to Poe, and it is all referential. And because I harvested all the sage – and there was a lot of sage - today and am hanging it to dry in the hearth room downstairs to be used to fuel in the bee smoker, it seems to me that Poe knew more about herbs than I ever will. According to Culpepper’s Herbal (originally published 1649) sage is a very useful plant and a decoction of it “provokes the urine, brings down women’s courses and expels the dead child”, which almost made me nervous until I read of some other herbs, also recently harvested chez nous. Mint will “Stay women’s courses and the whites”. (I have no idea what is meant by the whites.) And lavender will “provoke women’s courses and expel the dead child and afterbirth.” While basil will “expelleth both birth and afterbirth and as it helps the deficiency of Venus in one kind, so it spoils all he actions in another. I dare write no more of it.” So said Culpepper.

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