Friday, February 28, 2014


The hyacinths are not doing quite what I was expecting. Maybe they are too cold. But I think the bedroom mimics early spring conditions well - it is a steady 50'F/10'C. At least, that is what the little thermometer on an interior wall says.

They do smell good, though.

The polar bear vortex is back, and soon I head into the a crisp 19'F/-7'C in what The Times this morning called "pointless sunshine." I am beginning to worry about spring walks. Spring in June?

All bets are off.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I visited the old Brooklyn hood recently, in order to drop off the spice blend at Los Paisanos on Smith Street, for our custom-boerewors. First, I popped in at Stinky's to buy a bottle of malt vinegar, also for the sausage, and of course I had to bring home a wild boar saucisson (sliced, above, in the tiny dish). It was small and dry and wonderful, and we ate it all, with martinis, which are now called Tupolevs. Well, the perfect martini is a Tupolev. Not every one qualifies. That has a long backstory and perhaps only the cat is qualified to tell it.

And at Sahadi's I bought a ton of spices. Their last two boxes of barberries, green and white and black peppercorns, carayway, fenugreek, paprika, star anise, nigella, and lavender (I'm going to cure a duck breast or two with that - I have always wanted to hang things from this high ceiling), and lots of mustard seeds, so that I can pickle some more (p. 203 of A Delicious Life). It seems to be the best condiment anyone has ever eaten, and disappears in  a flash, with a kind of whoofing sound...

Sherry and cider vinegar have become staples and I can't find them in the Harlem hood. Nor, interestingly, in practical quantities at Wholefoods.

In the meantime, the polar vortex has returned, the oldest patches of iced snow are still greying in shady heaps on sidewalks, and I look at the David Austin rose catalogue every few hours, to try and decide what to put where. Can one have too many Abraham Darby's?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wave Hill's plant combinations in Martha Stewart Living

Photos: Susie Cushner

Wave Hill in the Bronx is a very special garden. It's the kind of place where attention to detail - texture, form, colour - make it possible to focus almost anywhere and find a combination of beautifully composed plants.

These images are excerpted from an article by Melissa Ozawa that appears in March's edition of Martha Stewart Living. In it, Scott Canning, the Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill, explains how they do it. 

I'm lucky to have met Scott, just once, at one of the Nuttley, New Jersey lunches... 

These pictures make me itch to dig and to plant. And to go back out to Wave Hill. It's much faster now, from Harlem.

Stunning... pinks don't usually do it for me but those are wonderful.

 Look for more in the magazine:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Sunlight in the bedroom, and some new books.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What you tell the devil

There is great ugliness in the world. Without exception its source is human.

Not that nature is kind. Nature is indifferent. Nature just is. Good luck being thrown out into nature.

But humans have what nothing else does. Choice. That should be a longer word. Long enough to encompass the chaos, suffering, pain that result from poor choices, easy choices, thoughtless choices, deliberate choices.

There is beauty, of course. Great, grand beauty - the mountains, the woods,  the horizons, the ocean meeting the beach. The things so big they clean you. And there are the small beauties of the minutiae of our lives. The tulips in the vase. The way the little girl laughs. The lady pointing out the rainbow on Lenox Avenue. The tall man in the subway who stops panhandling for a few seconds and addresses you as, 'Hey Red, how you doin'? You be blessed.' The one woman to the other woman with gold lashes in the laundromat: 'Be encouraged. Be encouraged! And fight the good fight. Fight.' So that, folding my husband's T-shirts, I arrange my hair so they can't see I'm crying.  And then the first woman introduces herself to Gold Eyelashes and says, 'My name is Jen.'

The small beauties sustain you.

But sometimes the cloud swallows them whole, too. You know, from experience (the young do not know this, nor have the experience, and I am sure this is why more young people kill themselves) that if you sit still long enough, and hold on, that it will lift again.

And then sometimes the devil turns round and asks over his shoulder, But what is the point? So what? There is just more of the same, down this road.

And it's true.

And that is the devil you must choose to resist, and that is when you have to say, Fuck you, devil, there will be flowers on that road, too. And I will bend down, and I will smell those flowers.

Because what is the alternative?


I loved lying beneath the thatched symmetry of the rondawel rooves in the Kruger. Function and perfect form.

We slept through those black nights. Silent nights. We slept. All night long.

In the mornings we were up before the sun, made our coffee, packed our rusks, and drove through the sunrise-opening gates, to see what we could see.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The dust of Satara

Stirred up by the dawn sweepers.

And by the cars coming home from their evening game drive.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The unpretty winter posts

It is what it is.

Some people hate that phrase. I find it useful.

It's what you say when there is nothing you can do about a situation, and must just deal with it. It can't or won't change. Your attitude towards it can.

And if, like me, you have just binge-watched House of Cards, you'll know that "to improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often." Churchill.

House of Cards. 3 out of 5 stars. When the writers understand the difference between you and I and you and me, I'll give them another half star.

Moving along.

With all the melting snow on the roof, the leak in the gutter on the building's roof has now created a small ice sheet on the deck. Wind and freeze have spread the leak beyond its original dropping-spot, and the water and ice cover five pots.

So the only change I can effect is to shift from anxiety to resignation, and write off the frozen pots and their contents.  They are solid blocks of ice, meaning that, first, they were waterlogged.  Ordinary freezing of the soil and rootball with a normal amount of moisture is OK, but with all this water, It is what it is. Anaerobic conditions for roots. Death. And I think the clay will crack.

I tried to move them this afternoon but they are frozen to the deck in an inch of ice. Apart from the Iceberg (heheh) rose which may be OK, there are about ten lily bulbs (the tall, late-summer Dunyazades) squeezed in here, a clematis, and some strawberries.

Somebody, our landlord, I think, has frozen Internet.

My seeds are waiting to be planted, a foraging friend is taking bets on when he will tap his maples for sap this year, and, inside, I am forcing some white hyacinths. They say, We won't! I say, You will!

We won't! You will!

So they are.

For them, It is what it is.

Que sera, sera (I love you, Doris).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stealth attack

Cue Jaws music: doo-rum, doo-rum, dooo-rum doorumdoorumdoorum!


And then my snowball connected with his rear.

Friday, February 14, 2014


This was a few snowstorms ago, last week.

I can't wait to get rid of that plastic blueberry pot. The blueberry will stay, of course.

Poor kitty. I dried his feet and blew on them. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Vertical city: my town

The view down and north from the Empire State Building. 

We were tourists in our town, for an evening. 

North, past Central Park.

This is a big city. 

 Northeast, the Chrysler and the Queensboro Bridge.

I had forgotten.

 South, downtown.

Sometimes you have to look at a thing from a distance to see how it really is.


Sense of wonder restored.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The far north

I took myself for a walk on Sunday, just before it snowed again. Up here in Harlem we are that much closer to Inwood, at Manhattan's northern tip. A walk over to the A, and then about fifteen minutes on the subway put me at 207th Street. From Brooklyn it would take about forty-five minutes. 

Inwood does not have Central Park's money. Mostly, I imagine, because it is in a working class neighborhood, and you don't get many multi-million dollar donations to a private park fund, here. You can't accuse the streets that border Central Park, on the Upper West and East Sides, of being working class.

I like this park, very much. While there are large ball fields on its edges, which in summer sing with the thwacks of baseball bats, the woods within are deep, and usually empty. And I know it is loved. The man who spent four hours in frigid temperatures stripping and re-coating our clawfoot bath recently lives in Inwood, and was surprised when I told him I knew that park. That's our park! he said. He was Puerto Rican. There are many artists and musicians up here, too, because the rents are still within the realm of possibility.

So, not rich people. Not close. But tax-paying. Which is why I believe a city government should fund its parks. Maybe with  a new mayor, we'll see a shift in civic attitude towards our less well-heeled green spaces.

(Gee. I bet no one misses these little rants of mine. It's Litter Mob déjà vu all over again.)

...and which is all just a long-winded way of saying, only one path here was cleared of snow. In Central Park every single path is cleared within minutes, it seems, of a snowfall. It's impressive. 

Some enthusiasts were playing football. 

And ice, ice, everywhere, all the way to the Henry Hudson Bridge. Longest of its kind in the world in 1936.

Even under heavy snow cover there were plenty of signs of an edible spring. Burdock...

...and pokeweed, below. 

You can hear Robert Frost, can't you?

I did.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. The snow in the middle of the path was hardpacked, but on the edges you still broke through the frozen layer.

The hill above is the same one as the hill below, whose photo was taken in mid March, 2012.

What will this year be like? What will we find on the first spring walk on March 24th? Sign up and see...

I crunched south.

I passed the spot where I met the Korean man some springs ago. The one with the tame woodpecker and the art etched onto the forest floor. 

No one was there, but someone had left seed for the birds.

They scattered as I walked up. You can't sneak up on anyone or anything in snow like this. It's like hearing a mastodon approach on a sea of egg shells.

But once I'd stood still for long enough they came back. There were five cardinals, and juncos and house finches. Just like on the Harlem terrace. And some chickadees, too. High in an old tree I counted five downy woodpeckers at work on different branches. I've never seen them congregate, like that.

I made out two organic shapes on a branch and, looking closer through my lens, saw that they were doves - not moving a feather. Sleepy and cold. The temperature felt mild by our new, polar vortex standards, at just below freezing.

I spent another half hour in the woods before turning to crunch out again.

Back on the streets of Inwood I found a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint and bought  a slice ( I had a choice of cheese or cheese) and slurped it at a ragged table. It was delicious, well seasoned with hot red pepper.

And then I went home.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow thoughts

It snowed again yesterday.

Best winter, ever.

The wires and branches that crisis cross the backyards behind our building are frosted.

I love the snow. 

When one looks back at our building, from the terrace (the view one will have when sitting out there) it's very flat.  

I am eyeing a website that sells slim birch poles.

Birch poles will save the day. You'll see.

I think.

...when the snow melts, of course.