04 March 2009

A congregation of sixty-somethings

I may eventually change the title of this if a clever collective noun occurs to me or, more likely, to Michael. Something along the lines of Maurice Bowra's invention for a gathering of the heads of Oxford colleges, Dean/Warden/Master/Provost, as "a lack of Principals."

[Michael has now proposed "seniority." Any other suggestions?]

Last night saw five sextuagenarians and one stripling of 58 feasting on naan and tandoori in Chelsea. The Harts had come to London from Kuwait, Janet was in town from Colorado with her sister-in-law from San Diego--who immediately seemed like another old friend--and Michael and I valiantly made our way through the lashing rain from distant and exotic Southwark.

I had linked up with Princess that morning to introduce her to some of the delights London has to offer. After double-decker macarons/macaroons and coffee at Ladurée, we popped into the Royal Academy to see the Byzantium exhibition, with a nod, of course, to the Geological Society as we passed by, out of respect for our husbands. Penny (whoops--I'm always reverting to her childhood nickname, rejected at 45 since it derived from Sky King's young blonde niece) then became my guide. She's not only an artist (see http://w3art.com/PrincessHart.html and prepare to be very impressed) but has immersed herself in the history and significance of symbols. The cross as an intersection of time and eternity, lilies and morning glories used as hallucinogens in the quest for enlightenment, ladders as steps on the same path, winding floral motifs in what, once this was pointed out, were clearly fallopian representations--my eyes were, literally, opened.

Back to the mundane with a quick nip across the street into Fortnum and Mason before heading for Harley Street and a cardiologist appointment to check that my blood pressure is still okay and not an issue for the ongoing retinal vein occlusion. After a stroll along Marylebone High Street with the obligatory stop at Daunt Books, Princess again braved underground public transport to return to the company's flat on Edgeware Road.

Here's Princess's favorite poem, by Cavafy, so fitting for both what we were gazing on at the Royal Academy and this point in our lives:

Ithaka (translated from the Greek by Keeley and Sherrard)

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


  1. Yesterday Erica and I went to the theatre for a reading of the Odissey. It was the 8th and final reading. At the end of the show, the actors (two men and a woman) gave us a wonderful extra, a reading of Ithaka (in Italian). This is only the second time that I come across this beautiful poem -- the first one was on your blog -- and how fascinating that it should happen at a few days' distance.

  2. Synchronicity! I'll pass on your comment to Princess, whose stories of exactly this sort of odd coincidence (and far stranger ones) had me mesmerized during our long conversations.