Thursday, October 19, 2006

What I've Been Reading...

One of the joys of going away is free time to read, read, read. So far on this trip, I have finished two books: Revolutionary Road and The Banyan Tree. The Banyan Tree is written by Christopher Nolan. He is often compared to James Joyce and I can see why; however, I am at a loss to communicate in my own words the talent of this man. I told Michelle that I wanted other people I know to read this book so I could talk to them about it, but it isn't a book that many people would read, I think. Also, part of what I really want is to hear the book read aloud. It is that kind of writing.

One of the joys of reading is sharing what you've read with others, so I am quoting here a portion of book. I hope you can see in it what attracts me to this author and maybe, just maybe, one of you will be tempted to read it. This excerpt is from the first chapter and as I was typing the text into this post, I realized that this first chapter is really the whole book encapsulized in a few pages. If you like this, you will like the book.

That churn came out once a week, usually on a Friday. Big brown crocks of thickening cream stood there waiting for the fray. A great black kettle watched for its turn as it filibustered on the hot stove in the kitchen, while out in the drab dairy Minnie O'Brien fussed as she made ready to bring about a miracle.

The churn echoed in emptiness when she set it centre stage on the cold cement floor. A round-bellied barrel it was, its staves held together by four iron hoops. Eight days had passed since it was last used; its insides now waited their hot and cold baptism.

When Minnie felt that the churn was scrubbed enough, she set to next to sweeten its porous wood. At hand lay a bunch of freshly plucked hazel leaves, and those she thrust down inside it. Fetching then that big black kettle, she poured its boiling water in on top of the leaves. Scalded so, the leaves released their nutty sweet scent and the hot wood of the churn absorbed it into its druidic, dark drum.

Her hazel wand waved, Minnie disposed of the limp leaves before shocking the churn with, this time, icy cold water from the old spring well. Three white pails full it took to cool down the steaming hot wood, three whole pails full she used to freeze the churn in readiness for its sacramental rotations.

Nursing still their helium harvest the cataracted crocks waited, still playing their stoic games, but the moment they were lifted they yielded up their booty, listening in awe as their clotted cream dropped ploppingly down into the cold, damp coffin of dankness. There it lay fooling itself that it might yet escape, but then down slapped the lid snap went the clamps, and up the churn was hoisted onto its stand. There in total darkness the cream lay while the churn hung where it swung, while Minnie geared herself up for the imponderables ahead.

Eventually, her state of play ready, her sleeves pushed up to her elbows, her feet planted firmly, her children somewhere within earshot, she gripped hold of that handle and sent the engine of the churn Sundaying into life.

Plumbing its cargo the churn end-over-ended, the billygoat of its sum slopping and slapping against either end. Twisting the handle to the rhythm of an old O'Brien chant the churn and the churner gradually built up speed until the ginseng was singing:

'Going to Connecticut,
Going to Connecticut,
Going to Connecticut.'

There was, she knew, no great need for any member of the O'Brien family to emigrate, but with her hand still holding a loose grip of the handle, Ireland's long-ago potato famine but a memory, she activated the humbug until she had the rhythm reduced to:


A sense of lonesomeness equal to the evidence of an unkindness of ravens usually, and for no obvious reason, crept over her every time she churned, and it was then that she'd be glad to rope in her children, their complaining antidote to her sense of foreboding. 'Here Brendan, you take a turn', she'd say as she slid her hand away, and when properly humoured off he'd set on his drum-drum route to Connecticut. Sheila, when her turn came, always spat in her hand before she gripped the handle and, being a girl, and to prove her worth, she'd never ever give in till her mother shouted 'Whoa'.

By then the helium would be knocking for release, and it was the littlest of the three children who'd be chosen for the special thumb-task. Lifting him up, his mother would stand him on an old wooden box from where he could stretch in to place his thumb on the silver escape-valve. His strength was never sufficient to depress the button, so his mother would place her thumb securely on top of Frankie's and strengths combined, the little boy'd cheer as gas whistled from the churn. Minnie loved her littlest so, and making much of his miracle she'd hug him before lifting him down to the floor.

No time to let up. It'd be her turn again to grip the handle and set the churn in motion. Her right hand would grow weary and then her left as her journey upturned and turned up. Relief, though, would dawn when on stopping to examine the lid's little porthole window she'd discover that the cream had cracked and, yes, there they'd be, the little crumbs of butter sticking precariously to the round glass.

That would set her to change her tempo, for now she had to become as midwife to the crock of gold within the churn. Her hand rocking the cradle, she'd heel the churn over and back, see-sawing it until the butter gathered together into an island plashing around on a lake of blue-white milk.

Sesame-like she'd remove the lid, her eye taking in her harvest. Then, her hands washed, she'd lift up nuggets of the butter and hit them slap against the upturned and slanted lid. Milk hidden inside the butter would steal lava-like away and spill down to swell the milk in the churn. She'd never stop until her hoard of butter was ready to be dropped into a crock of fresh water. There it'd bob up and down as she kneaded and pummelled it, her children all the while keeping her supplied with ever more spring water. It was only when the water remained clear as nectar that her job was done, and even then she'd have to salt the butter to each one's taste.

The day's churning would be drawing near its climax, but Minnie would have yet to factotum the job. Cutting off a portion from that butter mound she, like a juggler, would toss her prize from one butter spade to another, slapping and slipping it, plopping and gripping it, until the golden butter was shaped to her mind's fancy and ready to be nudged onto a dark-green platter. There in its innocence it'd wait until, holding a spade pen-fashion, she'd inscribe her name upon it in a patter of dots and dashes.

Fridays of yore worried, but seldom now. The dairy was the location of those far-flung human endeavours. It was still there, but now its whitewashed walls grew seas of black mildew. The big brown crocks which had once held cream no longer held butter's promise; now they were laden down with the years' rusted junk. Voices, the young voices which once complained of tired turning of the handle, were silent now, flown to the four winds. Panicking behind the dairy door the churn, the focal point of those distant Fridays, crouched yonder in its place. The hoops which held in varnished staves were still there, holding it intact. The plughole piece of wood, the spigot, starved of moisture and now dry as cork, slept senile-stressed sleep underneath the dairy table. The two handles which used to loiter waiting their part in the lifting of the churn hung down in idleness, no need now their hanging strength. Yes, the barrel stood, but only just. Weary from the years' tomboy-thinking, it yet managed to hold its body together so that the round lid would have something to sit upon. Only the lid played God: there it sat upon its frame, a cobweb hiding its porthole window. Still waiting for the pressure of his thumb, its silver escape-valve damned well watched the door to see if the child might return to train his finger once again upon its button and allow it to whistle.

Excerpt from Anchor Books


I'm reading just a few blogs per day and commenting less than that. My trip is half-way over. Tomorrow is Michelle's youngest's "day off" of preschool so we will perhaps do something a four-year old will enjoy. On Saturday we drive up to Ohio to see a special exhibit of Rembrandt paintings/drawings that are only stopping at three places in the U.S. It is off to Lexington on Sunday where Michelle insists we will stop to take a picture of me with a horse. You know if it happens, I'll post it for you to see. Monday, I'm off to home. I spoke to Marley tonight who cried and said she missed me. Actually, Colin acted as facilitator because she wouldn't hold the phone. My heart tightened to hear her sad. I know she is fine and though I am still quite content to laze about the house here, I will be quite happy to see the kids and their dad on Monday!


Angel Feathers Tickle Me said...

Love to all...

L-Girl said...

So glad you got time to enjoy 2 books!! Doesn't it feel great to do that?? Enjoy the rest of your time!

sunshine scribe said...

How wonderful to have the time to savour two great books!