There are many powerful couples in the history of mankind. There’s Caesar and Cleopatra, Bonnie and Clyde, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Napoleon and Josephine, Miss Marple and Mr Stringer, Norman Bates and his mother, and many more. And then there’s peppermint and lemon (not to be confused with the Peanuts’ Peppermint Patty and that car by Volkswagen), in summer they make the perfect drink, the perfect refreshment, the perfect remedy against heat. Admittedly, they need a little help from their friends mineral water and sugar, but who doesn’t need a little support in life? Together, they quench thirst most wonderfully, and, I must say, quite healthily, too. Cheers! (Writing this, I miss summer even more…)
Sometimes, when it’s really hot, strenuously hot, like right now with these 36 degrees Celsius (or 98 degrees Fahrenheit), I really don’t care for company. I like to suffer by myself, indulge in cold lemonade, refresh it with ice cubes every thirty seconds, these things melt in no time, like zero point nothing seconds, and try to read more than one sentence at a time, as War and Peace might refresh you with all these scenes in snowy Russia, but it wears you down with its obsessive joy for details, Tolstoy could never just let the little things go, the heavy lifting of these 1,200 pages, the one thousand and two hundred pages the details took to be described on, really kill you. Preoccupied with all these activities, I really don’t care for entertaining anybody else but me, I mean it, and please do take this hint: don’t ever come over for a drink! However, there are exceptions to this my summer rule: birds, dragonflies and bumble bees. They are the only houseguests I appreciate this time of year. They help themselves with drinks and food, nectar, pollen or whatever they are having, they don’t ask for the latest gossip or a reflection on the latest political events, they just tweet, fly about and hum, softly, pleasantly, and ever so soothingly.
I have never spent as much time in the garden as this year, a year, where temperatures started rising above 30 degrees Celsius in early spring, a year, where we had breakfast under the walnut tree before it had any leaves on it. Over my morning coffee, I witnessed every single step of a walnut’s circle of life, right now, I’d say the tree is seven months pregnant, the walnuts in their green peel are getting bigger every day. This year, I had rhododendrons in full bloom to my left when dipping a croissant in my morning coffee, and not the kitchen cupboard. I’ve been admiring the blossoms every single day from dusk till dawn, now I’m trying to ignore their decay when watering them, there are just to many to pick them off, it’s kind of a Sisyphean task, I constantly feel compelled to nonetheless as I’ve never been forced to water the rhododendrons on a daily basis before either, which is even more Sisyphean a task, I must admit. But a gardener’s work is never done, so we’re all kind of Sisyphean people, aren’t we? Yesterday, I restarted my eternal fight against snails by dispersing crushed eggshells, organic as hell a remedy, as they are the remains of our breakfast eggs, the shells are supposed to keep those little bastards from devouring our hostas. Over these last weeks, I’ve grown so accustomed to care for my plants every need, they now have breakfast before me, I started to carry my coffee mug with me when hosing them off with the spray gun in the morning, faking some morning dew. Or I tell them it’s raining. You see, plants believe anything you tell them, Sally Brown is my authority on this one, and many other things too, by the way—you do know Sally Brown, don’t you? She’s Charlie Brown’s sister, but if you don’t know him, I really cannot help you. But do try crushed eggshells.
It’s never been that hot. Never. For the first time ever, we did not find a single place in our garden that would offer some shade for our tea time. We were stranded. Heatstroked. Sunstroked. Roasted. Burnt. All dried out. All in all, we were desperate—until my father discovered a tiny spot under the ivy covered apple tree. Shade! We went nuts and decided to skip tea and prepone happy hour. A bar was improvised. Ice cubes were fetched. Lemonade was made. Shy beginnings, you know. Then gin was poured. Laughter got louder. People started singing. My mother got kissed by my father. It was heaven! And so I come up with one new maxim: summer can be heaven, if shade and drinks can be delivered. Mark my words!
In any city, summer is strenuous, public transportation resembles sauna with a dress code, the air gets saturated with pollution and the wrong kind of perfume, you feel like signing any petition that wants to ban these repugnant heavy oriental colognes for men, unless you’re on a diet, then any repulsion is convenient, anything that keeps you from eating, you might want to sign anyway, think of the others that want to enjoy their ice cream cones, all kind of tourists ask for directions, nice and off-putting ones, and while they’re heading for a drink, enviously you sent the nice ones to a nice place, you have to face another meeting in a tie. Escape, I say! To Zurich! That’s the only town where heat is enjoyable, it’s got everything you need, lots of shady places, a lake to jump into, and a fresh breeze from the Alps. Besides—I have no scientific explanation though—nowhere will you find a bluer sky. That photo you see above, it’s not photoshopped, really, it isn’t! I cross my heart! It’s just that blue. Absurdly blue, actually. So blue, it makes me just blue to write about it.
The minute temperatures start rising, our dining table falls into some kind of hibernation – is there actually a term for hibernation in summer? It can’t be summernation, that sounds like a Tommy Hilfiger fragrance. Anyway, we declare the sombre mahogany totally useless, and adjust ourselves to teak. From then on, we not only have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the garden, we also prepare the meals outside, at least any part of the dish whose prepping doesn’t require gas or running water and allows us to enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine alongside cutting, peeling, trimming, snapping, or whatever you do with it. Asparagus, green and white, but the white ones especially, is the best example, peeling those bastards is such a pesky business, it makes you want to employ a cook, for my sake even with a staff of her own, but since nobody can no longer afford servants, we have to blame socialism, no doubt about that, we have do to such things ourselves, however tedious. But when sitting in an apple tree’s shade and sipping some red wine, the whole undertaking suddenly makes you feel blessed. And while I’m peeling away another spear’s tough outer layer, I hope autumn will come late this year, a week before Christmas will do.
I’ve had enough of it. One more morning to greet me with a grey sky, and I’ll shoot someone, but the joke would be on me, there aren’t any people in the streets, they’re all at home, overcuddling their dogs, as a compensation mechanism, some kind of seasonal displacement activity, overdosing on cookies won’t help any longer, you started that in October, anyway, I can’t stand it any longer, it’s so depressing. I’ve tried to walk the splendid gardens of Charlottenburg Palace to put me in a better mood, one of the royal Prussian residences in my direct neighbourhood, but it didn’t help much, turns out, all that splendour, all that rococo, all that abundance, all that gold and turquoise, all these shades of green, all that chinoiserie, all of it does need some light to shine, too, turns out, it’s just “Bonjour, tristesse” in winter. But I shall be patient, I’ll wait, I’ll endure this rotten season of greyish dullness, I’ll just need some more egg noggs to nogg me out till summer’s back.
Something has changed. You don’t get a sunburn when you sip your lemonade in the garden at noon without any sunscreen, you don’t even get a tan any longer, the ice cubes in your lemonade aren’t killed by the sun either, and later in the day, at dinner, when you can rarely see what’s on your plate, it’s not your eyesight that has gone, it’s the sunlight, vanished, at half past eight, of course nobody thought of candles, who thinks of candles in summer (apart from Diptyque’s scented Figuier candles to make up for the missing fig trees in your garden that smell so much like summer in the Mediterranean), so you manage without, facing the fact that summer is gone, autumn is ante portas, you can’t ignore it any longer, you have had proof, the garden’s been full of spider webs, for days (or weeks?), the roses are moribund, their petals have turned from shocking pink to some sort of beige, from Schiaparelli to Chanel so to speak, the hydrangeas have changed from a bright white to a mossy green, leaves have started to come down, so did the ripe walnuts, they’re falling on your head or in your tea, sometimes you hear some squirrels laugh about that, mocking you and your inappropriate need to have breakfast outside, however cold and grey the morning is, your coughing might turn into pneumonia, if you don’t start to wear a pullover, no white after Labour Day, they say, what utter nonsense, your t-shirt’s blue, a dark, intense blue, quite to the black side, not navy, more a Chanel blue, a bleu Chanel, definitely not white, do you hear me, it’s not white at all, why can’t I wear a blue t-shirt after Labour Day?
I’ve spent summers in all of the Mediterranean, and however beautiful it is, none of them compared to a summer in my parents’ garden, not even the sea, although, who am I kidding here, the sea, I do miss, but having breakfast in a hotel, lying on a beach or at a pool, next to people draping their labeled belongings around themselves like an Egyptian pharaoh in his tomb, clinging to their bank accounts, their status is on display 24/7, all year, over-symbolized, logomania in extremis, but no heaven lies ahead here, deadly sinners, all of them, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for logomaniacs to enter the kingdom of God, yes, I’m a Catholic, no thanks, that’s not for me, at least not this year. My Hermès beach towels are off duty, I couldn’t relax anyway, I have to trim something in that garden left to my mother’s devices, planned as an urban jungle, too many trees, too much ivy, too much of everything, lush, overly lush, beautifully lush, hydrangeas emerging from unindentifiable green masses, roses emerge everywhere from ivy, so richly blooming they look like a bouquet, but before I trim something, I’ll look out for some shade, under an apple tree, or the walnut tree, or whatever tree appears inviting…