Sunday, May 3, 2009

Friday Hyacinths

I was approaching the entrance of my building late Friday afternoon, two Whole Foods shopping bags in hand.

In twenty-four hours I had reached the end of my ground coffee, my carton of half-and-half, a box of Kashi cereal, any fruit for the cereal, and a container of Kefir – each of them a breakfast staple. For a few days I had also been without cheese, nuts, bananas, or granola bars in the house. If I wanted a dinner other than pasta and prepared sauce or an omelette with dried spices, I had to visit the fish and meat cases of a grocery store and find something fresh to cook that evening. Or go out for dinner.

But I had felt like being home this Friday evening. After two evenings eating out – once with a friend after a church function, once with colleagues before an evening work event – I didn’t want to do anything more than settle in at home and maybe watch my Netflix copy of Moontide (1942) with French actor Jean Gabin.

My shopping had been quick and purposeful and practical. All right, I treated myself to hyacinths from the flower aisle. I intended the whole evening, as a matter of fact, to be something of a treat.

As I balanced the two shopping bags, one in each hand, near the entrance of my building, a friend who lived nearby and who was walking across the parking lot stopped to chat. Spotting the flowers sticking out of the top of one of the two bags, my friend gave me a knowing glance: “I see we have company tonight.”

I smiled at the crafty if inaccurate surmise on his part.

“Can’t someone just go to Whole Foods and treat himself to a good dinner and flowers?” I asked.

My friend started laughing: “All right, all right, whatever…”

I knew he suspected me of being cagey, and I was flattered by the credit he gave me for being ready to wine and dine someone I might want to hide from him.

It turned out to be a lovely evening here in my rooms. Flounder fillets dredged in corn meal and pan-fried, a mesclun salad with Manchego and an aged sherry vinaigrette, and a martini – what was there to want beyond that and the black-and-white magic of Forties’ Hollywood?

The next day I told another friend about the evening and about the conversation I had had on the steps outside my residence. I turned to him at a certain point and asked my question again: “Don’t people just go to Whole Foods sometimes and treat themselves to a good Friday dinner with flowers?”

I expected support from this kindred spirit, but he suddenly chortled and laughed: “No! Not likely!”

I was taken aback. I didn’t want to be accused of being humorless, but I felt at that moment left out there with what must be an idiosyncratic idea of a lovely Friday evening.

It took me some time to find the framework in which I could understand my urge. What had appealed to me about my Friday evening was something akin to the tradition of Shabbat – that conscious letting go of the week and the deliberate settling into the familiar walls of home. Nothing would have been wrong about going to an opera or a movie or a good restaurant. I recall, though, several months earlier talking with someone – like me, not born into a Jewish family or raised in the Jewish faith – who admitted that he loved the idea of keeping something like Shabbat in his home in years to come. We discussed what a Friday evening at home might mean for someone if the choice were made deliberately to draw the blinds once a week and nurture life at home.

I like to think that what happened in my home this past Friday evening captured some of that spirit of Shabbat. I can watch the hyacinths again today as I re-read these lines from a favorite author:

“Home. What can people have in mind who do not prefer it to any other place? Home: one’s own life, one’s innermost, ultimate concern, the center from which alone one can radiate effectively and mean anything to anybody. Home.”
Winterwise (1927) by Zephine Humphrey

Photo of hyacinths from Doug Green's Flower-garden-bulbs


Kimberly said...

From me (who sometimes writes by candle light alone in the evening at the dining room table), smiling with you, via May Sarton...

"I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my 'real' life again at last. That is what is strange--that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet, I taste it fully only when I am alone here and 'the house and I resume old conversations.' "

And conversations that waft pleasantly through a hyacinth much the better...

John said...

I love that expression: " take up my 'real life' again at last." Whenever other things or other people compete with our 'real life,' we may only slowly sense a hunger for that something that is unaccountably absent, no matter how good or worthwhile those other things or people are.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, friend.

Ur-spo said...

i can smell the hyachinths!

Anonymous said...

Flowers for no reason, nice touch. Sometimes you have to romance yourself. Hopefully you surprised yourself with a bottle of Chilean red too?

John said...

Thanks for your appreciative comments.

Yes, I will make plans to surprise myself with a Chilean red at my earliest convenience. Maybe I'll finally get to first base...

The Dread Pirate Roberts said...

I discovered in my thirties the quiet joy of staying in and treating myself. Flowers, yes, and music--usually Brahms. Also a good bottle of wine, a favorite meal with choice ingredients, and a good book. I once asked my mother for a particular recipe for one of these evenings, and she was curious as to who I was having over. "This is for me," I said. She was surprised but never said anything more until a couple of years ago when she made a passing reference to my solitary dinner parties. I find these evenings not only to be comforting but also fortifying. I am my best with others when I have paid some attention to myself.

John said...

An enviable history to have, I'd say. Solitary dinner parties have mental health and emotional balance written all over them.

Send one of your mother's recipes when you can.