Sometimes, when it’s really hot, strenuously hot, like right now with these 36 degrees Celsius (or 98 degrees Fahrenheit), I really don’t care for company. I like to suffer by myself, indulge in cold lemonade, refresh it with ice cubes every thirty seconds, these things melt in no time, like zero point nothing seconds, and try to read more than one sentence at a time, as War and Peace might refresh you with all these scenes in snowy Russia, but it wears you down with its obsessive joy for details, Tolstoy could never just let the little things go, the heavy lifting of these 1,200 pages, the one thousand and two hundred pages the details took to be described on, really kill you. Preoccupied with all these activities, I really don’t care for entertaining anybody else but me, I mean it, and please do take this hint: don’t ever come over for a drink! However, there are exceptions to this my summer rule: birds, dragonflies and bumble bees. They are the only houseguests I appreciate this time of year. They help themselves with drinks and food, nectar, pollen or whatever they are having, they don’t ask for the latest gossip or a reflection on the latest political events, they just tweet, fly about and hum, softly, pleasantly, and ever so soothingly.
There’s no film more stylish than Breakfast at Tiffany’s, obviously because of Audrey Hepburn’s glorious looks, she’s always dressed head to toe in Givenchy, but Manhattan in general and her apartment in particular are quite stylish, too, the latter not really furnished, but it had some well-chosen, quite exceptional neighbours—some kept handsome author and a Japanese photographer into intimate portraits—and most importantly, a cat called cat. Cats, to me, are the ultimate accessory. They never bother, except when they’re hungry, they take great care of their fur, they sleep a lot, they go for walks on their own, they’re quite independent, actually, they’re totally aloof which has always been a signature characteristic of interesting people if you ask me, and they never cease to surprise you, sometimes they wake you up at four a.m. and bring a dead mole instead of the usual dead mouse. My favourite attribute, however, is when they visit you during tea time, they lie next to you, ever so nonchalant, and make you forget about your book, and while you sip your tea swooning over them, they have a snack of their own: some blades of grass that make your sandwich look quite dull. I’ve told you, nothing more stylish than a cat.
I have never spent as much time in the garden as this year, a year, where temperatures started rising above 30 degrees Celsius in early spring, a year, where we had breakfast under the walnut tree before it had any leaves on it. Over my morning coffee, I witnessed every single step of a walnut’s circle of life, right now, I’d say the tree is seven months pregnant, the walnuts in their green peel are getting bigger every day. This year, I had rhododendrons in full bloom to my left when dipping a croissant in my morning coffee, and not the kitchen cupboard. I’ve been admiring the blossoms every single day from dusk till dawn, now I’m trying to ignore their decay when watering them, there are just to many to pick them off, it’s kind of a Sisyphean task, I constantly feel compelled to nonetheless as I’ve never been forced to water the rhododendrons on a daily basis before either, which is even more Sisyphean a task, I must admit. But a gardener’s work is never done, so we’re all kind of Sisyphean people, aren’t we? Yesterday, I restarted my eternal fight against snails by dispersing crushed eggshells, organic as hell a remedy, as they are the remains of our breakfast eggs, the shells are supposed to keep those little bastards from devouring our hostas. Over these last weeks, I’ve grown so accustomed to care for my plants every need, they now have breakfast before me, I started to carry my coffee mug with me when hosing them off with the spray gun in the morning, faking some morning dew. Or I tell them it’s raining. You see, plants believe anything you tell them, Sally Brown is my authority on this one, and many other things too, by the way—you do know Sally Brown, don’t you? She’s Charlie Brown’s sister, but if you don’t know him, I really cannot help you. But do try crushed eggshells.
We had a guest who considers herself international. In fact, she’s got two passports, did her baccalauréat in Paris and over the years, she’s spent more time in California than some Hollywood actors. Much more. As a consequence, she constantly speaks four languages, sometimes all of them together, language barriers obviously are not hers to ever cope with, and so we happily adapted: over tea and under the walnut tree, we played Scrabble in three languages. Strangely enough, the extension of our vocabulary didn’t make it easier at all. So I layed out “Dieu” to get some help from above…
It’s never been that hot. Never. For the first time ever, we did not find a single place in our garden that would offer some shade for our tea time. We were stranded. Heatstroked. Sunstroked. Roasted. Burnt. All dried out. All in all, we were desperate—until my father discovered a tiny spot under the ivy covered apple tree. Shade! We went nuts and decided to skip tea and prepone happy hour. A bar was improvised. Ice cubes were fetched. Lemonade was made. Shy beginnings, you know. Then gin was poured. Laughter got louder. People started singing. My mother got kissed by my father. It was heaven! And so I come up with one new maxim: summer can be heaven, if shade and drinks can be delivered. Mark my words!
The other night, I was binge-watching The Durrells, I couldn’t help myself, I just had to, I had fallen in love with their place by the sea, their entire living situation in Corfu is totally gorgeous, much more than the family itself, they’re really lovely but also quite odd, truth be told, I wouldn’t have watched the entire first series in a row if it hadn’t been for their garden, as a matter of fact, I’ve started wondering if our garden has the same effect on people, do they only come to visit for the oleanders in bloom, I would get that, I was most attracted by the ones in the Durrell’s garden, they were most beautiful, and do they endure our conversation over tea only for our hydrangeas, just as I was enduring Lawrence Durrell’s obnoxious love for his morning gown only for his family’s olive trees? Is our garden an escape for our friends where our presence is being tolerated just as long as we keep serving drinks, just as I was tolerating all this English eccentricity when escaping to Corfu last night, a place that’s actually Greek, not English? It’s hard to say, I guess. But I better keep the garden in shape, otherwise I’ll end up as a hermit.
So, there I was, stranded in our garden with my Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte and a cup of coffee, the cake on Spode, the coffee in IKEA, but with no place to have it—after all the rain, the gusting wind, and cold of these last autumn-like days the garden looked a bit dinged up, like it had been in the wars, leaves everywhere, all kind of leaves, some of them from trees that don’t even grow in our garden, branches from God knows where, and dirt in all places far and wide, the garden really was a bit under the weather, even now the sun had come back. But I don’t give in, never, and if I wanted to drink this coffee while it was hot, I did have only one option, just like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, to get along with the circumstances, however unpleasant, and have my Nachmittagskaffee in this utter mess.
But please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m already looking at the bright side of it. You see, after coping so successfully with this afternoon’s tribulation—the cake was really good, by the way—I’m pretty sure now that I can cope with everything the future will bring.
Of course our garden’s not really a secret one, it belongs to a house with an address, as a matter of fact, the postman knows about us and our house, he delivers our mail on a daily basis, sometimes though, when heavy rain weighs down the overhanging branches of our huge magnolia, a magnolia inhabited by a sweeping wisteria at that, the poor guy has to make it through this our jungle, but as soon as he complains, it’s understandable, he’s very tall, 6.5, I guess, we’re all smaller, I’m the tallest with 6.2, anyway, as soon as he complains the branches get cut, but however successful he has made out our house in this green, flourishing opulence, he’ll never make out some of the roses, or the bust my mother put some place years ago and that I rediscovered only yesterday, or the bamboo wind chime, a wind chime that’s mostly mute as the climbing ivy’s leaves not only hide the apple tree’s apples but also block the orchestration of its pieces, until cut free again that is, but then again, if he did know about all that, it wouldn’t be a secret garden, now would it?
There’s that particular time of day called the blue hour, supposedly a very nice moment to celebrate because it’s so romantic, but I’ve never been really aware of when it starts or ends, I seem to have missed thousands of blue hours in my life—today, however, I was enjoying a blue day. While I was having my first coffee in the garden, the one supposed to bring my brain back to life, the blue hydrangeas in front of our blue garage doors suddenly caught my attention, and I couldn’t stop looking at this blue still life all day, from every angle possible. In fact, it’s so beautiful a scenery that I forgot all about my coffee and had to make a fresh one. Later, I mean. Because I forgot all about making fresh coffee, too…