10 Forsythia Grove
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT
June 8 1997
My Dear Harriet
Thank you for your last missive, written in a style both pensive and triste. You must be patient with yourself darling; a move towards a life of one’s own takes both time and travail. Have you made any progress towards obtaining a Cuban visitor’s visa and decided what you are going to do once you reach Havana? I suggest that, if possible, given the current political climate, you try to stay in a casa particular, because this will afford a greater opportunity to embed yourself in the culture of the country – and its concerns – while you are there. With regard to the Cuban economy, visits to one or two cane sugar plantations would seem essential! I also suggest that you look up the songs of the Latin-American singer (and activist) Mercedes Sosa, who has given voice to lyrics written by Cubans, amongst others. Indeed, she has been seen as giving ‘voice to the voiceless.’
You asked me recently if Meribel’s ashes had been returned to me, and also what I was intending to do with them. Her ashes did arrive – packaged in a tasteful, be-ribboned, box – and when I opened the box I discovered that the ashes of a cat occupy only handfuls of space. I drove up to the wildflower meadow over at Colonel Mustang’s in a daze almost. I recall walking through the trees, whose great boughs were ruffling in the breeze, rehearsing the prayer I would say when I reached the meadow’s long grasses. While en route, I saw the Faire Dinkum in the distance, for she had been coppicing the Hazel trees on the edge of the gardens. We stood, together, under the dense canopy of a Hornbeam and, almost as one, arranged ourselves in a stance of respect, while I uttered a few words to someone called ‘God’ – in memory of Meribel and what she had meant to Pom-Pom, who had loved her. Who knows why we feel impelled to engage in these rites of passage, for those whom we have loved, and why we cannot let go without remark and consecration of the ground. When I bestowed the body of my cat into the arms of the indelible air, and into the sacrament of the moment, I thought that she was of the earth now: the place has her.
And now, all around the old house, and up its high stone walls, the roses are blooming. I go back and back again to Rosa ‘Sombreuil.’ It is a beautiful name is it not? And, like many roses with loveliness in their syllables – and form – it is named after a heroine. Mademoiselle Sombreuil was the daughter of the Comte de Sombreuil, governor of Les Invalides during the French revolution. When he was subsequently imprisoned for his role in attempting to overthrow the monarchy, his daughter went to him and sat, immovably, by his side. She apparently said to his accusers that, if they were going to execute her father, then they would have to execute her too. The legend tells us that she was, indeed, allowed to succeed in her request for mercy – but only on condition that she drank a glass of blood obtained from the bodies of recently-executed nobles. Whether or not this is so remains a moot point, for Mademoiselle Sombreuil herself denied the act, stating merely that the glass had been stained with red. And yet she apparently retained a life-long abhorrence of the sight of a glass of red wine.
The rose itself is the most gorgeous confection of quartered ivory petals and, when it flowers, I go back to it (on its wall) over and over again. It flowers and it flowers and it flowers, pushing up new red stems each Spring. It is an old rose – a tea climber – introduced from France in 1850 or so and capable of attaining a height of up to 10 meters. The quilled petals of each bloom grow so closely together that the reproductive parts are scarcely visible and would be hard for any pollinator to reach. And that is the case with very double roses: the petals are so many that they crowd out the anthers, ovary, and stamens – rendering the rose infertile. Nature, as I’m sure you know darling, has determined that the optimum number of petals consistent with fertility is five. And the open yellow bosses of the dog rose, with its simple five-petalled flower is a testimony to this.
Well I must dash Harriet. I am off to view some acres of Rhododendrons, which flourish upon a seam of Green Sand!
P.S. I must say, now that I have returned from the above viewing, that the Rhododendron – for all its height and showiness – offers no equal to the rose, with all its sumptuousness of scent and great diversity of form and colour. I may be biased here dear, but once you have seen one Rhododendron leaf, I feel you may nearly have seen them all!