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Friday, 19 July 2013

Dry County

The thunder had arrived late in the afternoon after a sapping accumulation of cloud and heat. From the moment they lifted their heads from the pillows that morning, the entire population of the City of Wells became aware that only a deluge would shatter the lethargy that had descended upon the town, wash it away with the dust. Moods swung, tempers rose and fell; those inclined to emotional instability sensibly closed the curtains and locked themselves in.
DCI Lefebvre couldn’t work through a storm, even the mere hint of one sent her into paroxysms of delicious anticipation. She was certain that there were fewer storms nowadays than when she was a child, just like snow. But the summers were undoubtedly drier, hotter, so her love of extremes was satisfied. It was a difficult balance to maintain. She would pull up in her car, switch off the engine and gaze lovingly over the bleached, parched fields around Priddy. The rain would change all that, restore fecundity and growth but even she knew it would take a monsoon to make good the soil/moisture deficit. She needed the storm, she could live with the risk, what would be infinitely worse would be the disappointment if it didn’t live up to her expectations. 
María Inés de la Cruz: Ruega por Nosotras Pecadoras (Pray for us Sinners), Libertad 2009 (my translation)
I'd set my class of teenaged English language students an essay entitled 'Party every night, party every day: You only live once so why bother with the tedious and the mundane? Discuss'.
I'd expected - hoped - they'd go along with my irresponsible hedonism but it soon turned out I was in a minority of one. A disturbingly mature sixteen year-old pointed out that if one does, party every night and party every day then the act of partying itself becomes tedious and mundane. Out of the mouths of babes and Italian teenagers; Nicola had a point and deep down inside I know he's right but I can't possibly bring myself to agree with him.
I've been applying Nicola's philiosophy to the current 'heatwave', well aware that at some point, probably sooner rather than later, it's going to come to an end - that is has to come to an end - but that doesn't stop me looking out over the increasingly-waterless Levels with in intensity of emotion that, at times, comes close to sexual ecstacy. And like an insatiable lover I want the heat and the sun to come at me harder, faster until every blade of grass is baked into to a frazzle, a la 1976.
Last weekend, as the mercury rose to heights not witnessed since 2006, I set out on a private pilgrimage to Castle Nerôche, then crossed the Levels from Ilminster to Somerton. More of that journey anon, suffice to say that the heady combination of heat and dust played havoc with my emotions and brought me, on a couple of occasions, quite close to tears. As is my custom, I approached Nerôche via a series of sinuous paths - it's not a hike to be rushed or the spell won't work - and the landscape, wild pasture, ancient woodland and farm buildings crumbling into disuse slowly revealed itself, layer after layer. 
With one black shadow at its feet,
         The house thro' all the level shines,
Close-latticed to the brooding heat,
         And silent in its dusty vines:
A faint-blue ridge upon the right,
     An empty river-bed before,
      And shallows on a distant shore,
In glaring sand and inlets bright.
       But "Aye Mary," made she moan,
            And "Aye Mary," night and morn,
           And "Ah," she sang, "to be all alone, 
          To live forgotten, and love forlorn.
Every time I make this pilgrimage - and it can only be done in high summer - I worry it won't work, that this phantasmal Somerset will fail to materialise and I'll be left walking through the tedious and the mundane; just as worry that one day I worry I'll be waiting outside Las Amazonas and María Inés de la Cruz won't turn up. Each and every time I worry and each and every time my fears are unfounded. So maybe I was right and Nicola was wrong; another victory for sentiment over common sense.

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