Crambe repetita (14)
‘Nevertheless,’ continues he, ‘I too acknowledge the all-but omnipotence of early culture and nurture: hereby we have either a doddered dwarf bush, or a high-towering, wide-shadowing tree; either a sick yellow cabbage, or an edible luxuriant green one. Of a truth, it is the duty of all men, especially of all philosophers, to note-down with accuracy the characteristic circumstances of their Education, what furthered, what hindered, what in any way modified it…’
(Sartor Resartus, II.2, pp. 80f.)
There was once a rich king who had three daughters. The eldest was the most beautiful of the three, while the youngest was the most clever. The middle child was neither beautiful nor clever and had nothing in particular to recommend her except that she could make the best bread in all the world. She spent the whole day, every day, in the kitchen baking as many different kinds of bread as she could think of, each one better than the last. Because of this talent, all of the princes from all of the nearby countries wanted to marry the middle princess, as princedom is a hungry business, and it’s as well, they figured, to have a wife who knew how to keep herself occupied.
Her sisters were frustrated by the lack of attention and decided to steal the bread-dough from the kitchen, so they could make better bread than their sister and find a husband that way. So one day the youngest sister went to the kitchen and told her sister that she had seen a thief carrying away countless sacks of flour from the royal pantry, as well as the royal sourdough starter. The bread-baking princess was terrified of such a loss, and the two hurried away to try and catch the thief, leaving the latest batch of bread-dough rising in a bowl next to several pounds of butter intended for a cake.
Once the kitchen was empty, the eldest princess snuck in. As you will recall she was the most beautiful of the sisters, but she was not particularly clever. She had never made bread before, so she did not know what bread-dough looked like. She saw the lump of butter on the table and, thinking that it had been most recently worked with, carried it away, not knowing her mistake until that evening, when the royal feast had to do without dessert, though not without her sister’s bread.
The room is warm and smells of expatriates, a peculiar blend of locally unavailable spices and foreign laundry detergent. There is a pile of completed books by the door, dwarfed by the stacks still unread beneath the window in the opposite wall. I am finishing up a few things I’ve been meaning to do for many months, small projects, minute tidyings, a scribble here and there. I thought I’d lost a handkerchief, but I hadn’t. There is coffee in a thermos and milk – carried 68 km, aseptic packed, from the nearest market that stocks such things – in the fridge, which has been turned on in deference to the unseasonably warm weather.
On Sunday it was warm enough to air the bedding, the sky blue and clear, ice thawing on the roadway. We stacked everything outside in the sun, wool-filled blankets and mattresses fluffed and drooping, feather-filled pillows plumply perched on the balcony railing. We groom the bedding, turning it, rotating it to absorb air and sunshine, the smell of smoke and winter. Toward evening, we bring the bedding back inside, the mattresses softer than ever, the blankets rested and ready for sleep, and everything soaked with soporific freshness.
A short story I like:
They have a small bedroom. The bed is small, but they are not fat and they love each other. She sleeps with her knees neatly inside his knees and when they get up they do not get in each other’s way. She says, ‘Put on the shirt with the blue patterns like little spotted plates,’ and he says, ‘Put on the white skirt that you wear the purple jacket with.’ They have no prejudices against colours but like what they have.
Their other room is not larger, but it is cleverly arranged, with a table for this and a table for that. He makes the sandwiches at one table while at another she writes a letter to a friend who needs money. She writes promptly to say they have no money and sends their love. It is not true that they have no money; but they are both out of work and must be careful with the little money they have. They are thinking of renting an office and selling advice on all subjects, for they are very intelligent people . The idea seems like a joke, and they talk about it jokingly; but they mean it.
They go to a large park. It costs little to get there and they know the very tree they want to sit under. It is more like a business trip than a holiday. They eat their lunch in a methodical way and afterwards look through the grass around them as a mother looks through her child’s hair to see if it is clean. Then they think about their affairs and change their minds many times.
– Laura Riding Jackson