We have reached the time of year where people inevitably start to intone about its being the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
So it might be and so it might not. There either are ‘mists’ or there aren’t, it seems to me, and what happens in Plaistow when the westerly wind gathers up all the filth from the West End and dumps it on us is best described by some other noun. ‘Mellow fruitfulness’ is more problematical. ‘Mellow’, at any rate for those of us who lived through the nineteen-sixties, is a word that denotes a state of mind, usually brought on by inhalation of the more old-fashioned narcotics, that is benignly fuddled to the point of silence: a state that is pleasant for oneself and boring for everyone else. The only problem with ‘fruit’ is that most of that has come and gone by the time autumn arrives. Strawberries for instance are particularly associated with Wimbledon, at the start of the summer. Did the poet (Keats & Shelley, I recall) have conkers in mind? Probably too hearty. Blackberries? Insufficiently mellow. That only really leaves apples.
But mellow apples? It doesn’t really make sense, does it? Maybe Keats & Shelley meant not ‘mellow’ but ‘yellow’ apples, indicating that French Golden Delicious – yellow fruitfulness – were meant rather than red English Coxes. For what it is worth, their fellow versifier Wordsworth was keen on all things French and wrote a poem to that effect (Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, etc…) though whether this extended to their revolting apples I forget.
All that puts me in mind, by way of contrast, of Rob’s quinta in the south of Portugal, where, very far from mist and mellow fruitfulness, the late summer sun shines fiercely on the whitewashed walls and the twice-dried figs are intense and tasty and as unlike French Golden Delicious as it’s possible for a fruit to be. Or so I remember it all, and so I imagine that it still does and they still are: it can’t have changed that much in under a week
Now I think of it, Keats & Shelley probably meant mushrooms, a truly autumnal crop to whose mellow qualities another poetic chum, Coleridge, may well have introduced them, maybe as a device for keeping more of the opium – the good stuff – for himself. A good mushroom does after all foster a feeling of mellowness in every sense, whether it is eaten raw in a field to the accompaniment of repetitive music and thousands of people dancing, or taken on toast, or fried in butter as a component of a full English breakfast. It is not strictly speaking a fruit, but Keats & Shelley were bound by the rules of poetic metre, unlike the idle and half-witted vers libre merchants of today, and ‘mellow mycologicality’ just wouldn’t have scanned.
Bringing Rob’s quinta to mind raises in more urgent form the question that will have been troubling persistent readers: why would I want him to take his whitewashed walls on which the late summer sun shines so satisfactorily and cover them with a reproduction of a member – or members – of the Native American community?
All I can say is that it has been an aspiration of mine for as long as I can remember. Every time in my life that I have acquired a house with garden walls I have proposed to my current life’s companion that one of them should be covered by an artistic representation of a member – or members – of the Native American community. Every time, I could already see the image in my mind’s eyes, brooding over the herbaceous border, gazing hawk-eyed towards Isleworth or wherever it was. Every time, this proposal has been rejected with a snort. When therefore I made it to Rob, expecting the usual response but fired up by a mental image of a noble head, a corona of eagles’ feathers, twice life-sized, flaring above his zinc outdoor dining table, I was surprised and delighted when rather than snorting he asked, ‘Which member – or members – of the Native American community?’
”Possibly Geronimo, possibly Buffy Ste. Marie, possibly both,” I said breathlessly.
He gave this answer a full measure of consideration.
“Buffy Ste. Marie goes without saying,” he said. “She is not only a fine-looking person, fit to be represented in a mural, but an icon for our times and a role model for all who pass through my quinta in the years to come. A scrutiny of the tracks available on Spotify confirms that she is the only member of the coffee-house generation of Greenwich Village in the early nineteen-sixties to have preserved her integrity throughout the period since and still to be making provocative and ravishing music today. And I include Dylan. But – Geronimo the Bedonkohe Apache Chief or Geronimo the friend of El Cid and latterly quisling Bishop of Salamanca?
“Maybe it could be the Apache – but with a crozier.”
Ines, Rob’s wife, and Lucy, who was also staying with us, both of whom have a facility with draughtsmanship that Rob and I lack, were asked to consider design possibilities. As a temporary measure we bought from an Ecuadorian gypsy, whom we encountered at a fair in the local town, a cheap representation of a Chief, done on cloth, and we attached it loosely to two poles and placed them against the whitewashed walls. This served as a warning against undue speed. First, when the wind got up, the cloth tore away from the poles. Secondly, once one had noticed that one of the man’s shoulders was twice the length of the other it spoilt one’s enjoyment of the overall effect.
And then we met the members of the Cherokee-Portuguese community on the beach and the planning went up a level altogether.
Back in London, brooding on Keats & Shelley’s mellow mushrooms, a connection struck me. I texted Rob:
“Oh, and Carlos Castaneda’s friend.”