This past week I’ve been flashing on Penelope Fitzgerald’s scintillating descriptions of preparing a house. Her novel “Blue Flower,” set in the 18th century, is full of the bright crush of domestic detail, the half-laborious, half-ecstatic ritual of organizing a home. As I was dashing around, making way for my grown kids and friends to migrate, I heard Fitzgerald’s echo — “great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard … into giant baskets.” I’m not firing up the old Maytag with anything but a switch; still, I note my excitement to make a nest, a safe haven through methodical hands-on work. I bent my head as I came down from the attic, carrying unrolling stored mattresses, shaking goose down through the corners of comforters, slapping pillows to life so they seem just born, cutting flowers for vases.
We don’t have Christmas decoration like what Fitzgerald describes — “”myriad shining points of light threw vast shadows of the fir branches onto the high walls and even across the ceiling.” There are still, always rituals of the kitchen! I took the knives to be sharpened on a whetstone by a local knife sharpener. I have piles of fruit and dried dates and figs, preserved lemons in their jars preserving, prunes in Armagnac. We beat eggs with whisks and crush almonds as Fitzgerald’s staff does – “almond paste baked brown”! – (I’m not missing those soups of rose-hips and onions,bread and cabbage-water, cows’ udders flavored with nutmeg.”) I lugged piles of logs/coffee logs/electric heaters inside, but the item of the moment is the one I can’t find — home covid tests! Safe haven, feast and famine, nice work if you can get it!