Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Of roses and feasts

Thanks to everyone for sweet birthday wishes and lemony messages. It was a perfect English midsummer's day, the roses in my garden all bursting into flower at once. There was tea and champagne and a Victoria sponge cake from my younger son (filled with jam and cream), and other treats -- a pot of lavender from a friend, three new rosebushes from my mother, a pair of earrings (delicate gold and mother-of-pearl), and some wonderful books: including a recent edition of Sappho, Stung with Love (Poems and Fragments), with a preface by Carol Ann Duffy. The translation is by Aaron Poochigian -- a musical, lilting interpretation, like this one, from a fragment discovered on a broken piece of pottery:

'... roses without number
Umber the earth and, rustling,
The leaves drip slumber.'

Duffy writes of Sappho: 'She was a great celebrator, had a poet's and a woman's eye for the 'gorgeous'; for flowers -- chervil, rose, marigold and sweet clover; for smells -- frankincense, aniseed, myrrh and honey; she loved the moon and 'The glitter and glamour of the sun'; she loved... a good party, 'a gleaming feast'.

Yesterday evening, I visited a friend; we sat with two others on her roof terrace, high above dusty London pavements, close to the top of the plane trees, eating cherries soused in grappa, with homemade meringues and ginger icecream. We talked of heartbreak and romance, of the differences between men and women, of the fragile threads that weave into something whole.

Now the waxing moon rises beyond the magnolia tree at the end of the garden. I have just been outside in the warm darkness, watering the roses, counting my blessings, wishing that the petals would never fall, seeing them drop, pale and beautiful, to the ground, knowing that other buds will take their place; hoping that this moment, this one that now hovers, might stay with me always, wishing again that this one... and that one... could remain unfaded, even as the years turn, as they must do; unbroken, as clear as a word on a page.


Lou said...

Sponge cake,pots of lavender and roses,earrings and books...then quiet contemplation in your moonlit garden.Sounds divine!Happy Birthday,Justine.

kairu said...

It all sounds so wonderful. I will have to seek out the new Sappho.

The plum blossoms in the winter give way to crocuses and forsythia, then comes spring with fragrant hyacinths, lilies-of-the-valley, and bright tulips, daffodils, irises. Then come the peonies, lush and heady, before they fade and the roses begin to bloom in summer. So time passes, and the years slip away; you can't hold onto the falling petals any more than you can time itself. What stays is the memory that you hold to your heart like the touch of a rose petal on your cheek, lightly.

I love the thought of the roof terrace, and even more the thought of cherries and grappa and meringues and ice cream. Delicious!

harriet said...

Sounds like a heavenly day and what beautiful roses. And the Sappho sounds fascinating. Belated birthday wishes to you.

紀廷 said...


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enid said...

should read what a delight

Hannah Stoneham said...

I would love a pot of lavender - I live in France and so it is all coming out right now - so I am getting a lot of lavender envy - i might have to buy one!

Justine Picardie said...

I think I need to gargle with lavender oil, as have vile mouth ulcer, so just as well that I am typing, rather than speaking, as my talking is now rather thick-tongued. All suggestions for remedies gratefully received. V. hungry as I can't really eat. A sting in the tail (or the mouth)?

kairu said...

Oh no! Gargle with warm salt water. Have a bowl of soup (not too hot). Chicken, or miso.

A Bookish Space said...

It sounds like you had the perfect birthday :)

kairu said...

Justine, I thought of you when I went to buy flowers at the farmer's market today. My favorite stand had a bunch of "tussie-mussies," so of course I had to buy one:

It is the last week for peonies, they said, so I bought a lushly green bouquet with a few tight white buds of peonies grounded by some deep purply flower I can't identify.

Then they told me the name of a spectacularly fragrant rose (pale yellow) was "Jude the Obscure," so of course I bought one of those, too.

Anonymous said...

Can't think of anything closer to bliss than your birthday treats! Many more too.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Happy Birthday Justine! It sounds like a lovely celebration.

I can't quite understand how you stay thin.

Stand over your sink and put baking soda on it. Nasty but works.

Anonymous said...


Karen, Surrey said...

A packet of Salt and Vinegar crisp usually helps an ulcer. Good excuse to have a packet of crisps anyway!

Jan said...

So delicious!

Anonymous said...


Caroline said...

Justine - beautiful prose and pictures as usual . Happy belated birthday. Really enjoyed your recent article in Harper's Bazaar on Second Loves and am curious - do you still have your little dog Molly??

Justine Picardie said...

Molly has taken up residence with her daughter and my mother. A dog of a broken home...

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