One of the best things about visiting Aquiares, a coffee finca on the slopes of the Volcan Turrialba in Costa Rica - after the verdant beauty of the rainforest, after the profligate tropical flowers, after the symphony of tropical birds, and after the food (pie of frijoles and plantains, mangos, papayas, and guanábanas) - is the bookshelf full of actual, real, good books. (Guanábana photo by the estimable Roger Bruce.)
For many years, my parents made an annual odyssey to Aquiares with a group of friends, old Smithies, local friends, faraway friends; the actual, real, good books on the shelves were brought down by those friends and left there for others to read.
Honestly, the good ones were all brought down by Dorothy Monroe, a dear friend of my mother who was possibly the best-read person I have ever known or will know. When Dorothy gave you a book, it came with a note that pithily introduced you to the novel you were about to relish; when she thanked you for a book, you received a handwritten review, full of specific details and observations. Here are the frontispieces from just a few of the books contributed by Dorothy over the years.
Just because we find ourselves in tropical paradise does not mean, however, that there is any less awareness of looming dementia.
Dorothy of the fine inscriptions, Dorothy of the NYRB Classics, is now in a Memory Care facility in Massachusetts. Her days are spent in confusion and anxiety; above her bed is the life size portrait of her as a young ballerina that hung above the mantle in their beautiful 19th century house. Her friend, my mother, is next door to me, struggling with jigsaw puzzles and clipping articles from the paper, articles she can neither read nor comprehend. She looks at picture books.
There is nothing I can do about the the invasive incursions of Alzheimer’s into the brains of these two lovely ladies, my mother and Dorothy; all I can do is read W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants or J.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, and be grateful for the choices they once made.