For I have known them all already, known them all:T.S. Eliot ~ The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
We’ve been in our current house for 38 litres of olive oil, or a smidge over 10 gallons. We’ve been here 67 kilos of flour. Roughly (some may have gotten past me) 268 heads of garlic, 20 watermelons, 12 kilos of salt, 5 bottles of very nice single malt, 96 scouring sponges. I have an idea, but dread calculation, of how much wine we’ve drunk; it would be ciphered in barrels, not bottles.
There are different ways to measure a life. In years, in deeds (indeed), in coffee spoons. In pencil marks on a door frame. In weddings, in funerals, in births, in back-to-school buying sprees, first haircuts, and donated well-worn clothes. In re-discovered boxes, still taped shut, rifled, remembered, taped again for someday. And in heads of garlic.
I don’t know when I started keeping track. The olive oil figure above is exact, a running total I keep in my head whenever it’s time to replenish. Most of the counts are pretty spot on – not in an obsessive/compulsive manner, just a way of ticking off the days. The salt seems a bit high, but I use copious amounts to cure duck breast from time to time.
We all have landmarks, signposts, Rubicons to cross, corners to turn. I never feel we’ve truly ‘moved in’ to a new place until I’ve baked bread – the wafting odor anointing the lintels like a bishop’s censer. I cannot truly claim a town until I’ve more or less circumnavigated it on foot – this can take a while (Arles was quite easy; Paris a lengthier proposition; New York I never owned). Everyone has their particular metrics. It is a digital world now, with clocks on the wall, the microwave, in the dry-cleaner’s window, on wrists and phones, the upper right corner of your computer screen. We have day-planners, and calendars, paper and electronic, reminders that “ping!”, alarms and dental appointment post-cards. But the days, the days, the months, the years, and how we perceive ourselves bobbing through them…that’s something personal and unique.
Once upon a time it was first frost, and impatient crocus, snow on the peaks, the shadow of a standing stone. First memories, the comfort of a mother’s breast, being able to reach the light switch, remove the training wheels. For a while it’s clocks again, and bank accounts, the days ’til Sunday, someday. Then it shifts, all too soon (in lean and slippered pantaloon) to raspy stubble, greying hair, clouded vision, a pause on the stairs where once you bounded. It’s a shift, a shift, but something this side of concern.
In the meantime, I count bottles of olive oil, and watch the tickmarks on the doorframe grow higher every year. I measure out my coffee 5 spoonfuls per pot (98 kilos overall).
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.