Things lodge in your brain but aren’t understood for years. Years ago, in the throes of an excruciating break up this returned to me: “How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnished, not to shine in use! As though to breathe were life.” I don’t have a lot in common with Tennyson’s Ulysses, but suddenly I understood that, along the pulses as Keats would have it.
More recently I hosted one of my Wonderful Wild Women parties. To these I invite the many WWW that I know, but who perhaps don’t know each other. In honor of summer it was an ice cream and cake party. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. It’s taken me decades to get that.
I have a theory that everyone has a defining paradox. I don’t know what mine is and it would be impertinent of me to say what yours is. So here’s an example, from someone I don’t know and can’t offend: Ben Franklin said something to the effect that you should live as if each day were your last and as if you were going to live forever.
Prayer flags, ice cream and relationships have a lot in common. Prayer flags fulfill their function, in fact become prayerful flags by unraveling. Ice cream can only be enjoyed in circumstances fatal to its iciness. Relationships, well perhaps you see where I’m going.
But you want to know about the ice cream. I made five flavors: cream cheese (yes, sounds weird), cherry with fruit fresh from the Niagara peninsula, malteser with wholesome chunks of organic maltesers, peanut butter and chocolate (if peanut butter and chocolate were people they’d be blissfully con-joined twins), and coffee. I’ve never had a store bought ice cream that did justice to coffee. Homemade ice cream isn’t difficult, as with bread, it is more a question of time than skill, and the results are infinitely better than store bought. I made three cakes: a lemon poppy seed pound cake, a buttermilk cake, both from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible, and a dense chocolate fudge cake.
I had hoped to make my party in the garden, but the weather thought otherwise and sent a monsoon. So we crowded into the living room. Conversation flowed, cake was had an eaten too, ice cream fulfilled its destiny and I felt truly joyous. So rarely and so lucky am I to be surrounded by so many caring, smart and kind women. When I first read the Wallace Stevens poem I remember tasking myself with remembering what concupiscent meant (lustful). Now I get the rest of it. It is a happy thing, if only to be had once a summer, to be an Empress of Ice Cream.
Overlooked (?) gems
When I find a writer I enjoy I make my way through their whole oeuvre. This can lead to disappointment – though it’s nice to know even great writers have some training wheels books. Sometimes a la Grey’s Elegy you discover that flower born to blush unseen.
Julian Barnes is most famous for Flaubert’s Parrot, but my favorite of his is England, England, a hilarious send up of the museum-ification of his home and native land. I would also recommend a slim volume, The Pedant in the Kitchen, about his adventures as a home chef.
Hilary Mantel is still topping the charts with her Booker winning Wolf Hall, but the book of hers that I would pack if exiled to a desert island is Beyond Black. Anyone can do tragedy. A lot of people can do comedy. A really skilful writer takes the reader the full 360 of experience. Hilary Mantel is a supremely skilled writer.
Anthony Burgess wrote many booky wooks, some would say too many, the most celebrated being Clockwork Orange. I spent two weeks at a northern Ontario fishing camp oblivious to black flies and impervious to boredom thanks to his Earthly Powers.