Friday, 23 December 2011

The 'Post' Post

Disparate worlds collide in my mailbox.

I say 'mailbox' (or post box as it's called in England) but it's really just a recycled metal bread bin sat outside our back door. (Its replacement - the bin without the rust holes - is full of bread flour in my kitchen.) The bin is big enough to hold lots of post and keep it dry, useful in an unpredictably wet climate. The postman drops everything in the old bread bin, except when Dakota is laid in the back porch with the door open blocking his path. Then he knows my sitting room window is usually open, and he puts it through the window, straight onto my my kitchen table conveniently located beneath.

Post box with hungry chickens

Kind of twee, isn't it? Often the post is too. There are letters from seed merchants bragging about great new developments in crops for pheasants, crops with names like 'Hold-em' and 'Easy Keep'. There are invites to clay pigeon competitions for charity, and small packages of vaccine and ear tags from the vets. All in a day's post for the country-dwelling small farmer.

That's why I look forward to my weekly delivery of The New Yorker. It looks mis-placed and aloof, sitting on top of Mike's subscription to Modern Gamekeeping (an oxymoron). What is that kind of magazine doing in the bread bin post box of a non-New Yorker? Mike calls the magazine my "secret shame" and no visitor to our house has ever leafed through it out of interest. The Shooting Times is well-thumbed by our guests though.

This week's New Yorker came with our local fox hunting supporters' club magazine. We're not technically supporters, but when we bought Teasel Farm it came with a legal stipulation that the local hunt be allowed to ride across the land during the hunt season. I think we got off lightly; friends of mine bought a house that came with an historic right allowing anyone in the village to pick asparagus from their garden, if they chose to grow it. By law. Again, kind of twee, in an inconvenient sort of way for the homeowners.

So, because we legally graciously host some of a day's fox hunting, we get the magazine. It's not a magazine like the New Yorker is a magazine. There's no on-line version. It's not available to download on your iPad. There are no staff writers, only local farmers and fox hunters who probably got tipsy at the local pub and when their defenses were down foolishly agreed to write a small piece. That's how most things get negotiated around here, at the pub after a few pints. The trick is picking your moment: drunk enough to be amenable, not so drunk they forget what they've agreed to. It's a fine line.

I read both magazines back to back. Now I'm up to date with what's on at Tanglewood and the dates of the next horse trials. I know what to have if I ever find myself at The Dutch restaurant in SoHo (order the smoked chicken, skip the eggplant dip) and how to make fruitcake that will stand up to the rigours of being in your pocket and bounced about by a horse all day. (It involves boiling dried fruit and spices with sugar, and binding the gruesome-sounding result with 5 eggs.) Even the "mayo-heavy" eggplant dip at the Dutch sounded pretty good in comparison.

There was an excellent article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, whose reputation I know well, contrasted with an equally excellent article in the hunt magazine by Dan, who used to be my next door neighbour. I know Dan and his lovely family well, though not as well as I know their old pony Gem. Gem was getting a bit strong and mischievous for their young daughter, and I offered my help. Not because I am a gifted rider, but in the hopes that my 140lbs would slow down his smallish 12hh frame, or at least tire him out. It worked for the most part, that exception being the time he bucked me off, face first, into a pile of logs. I only have to look at the prominent red scar on the left side of my face where he broke my cheekbone to remember that pony. I rode him anyway, even with blood trickling down onto my jodhpurs.

So far Adam Gopnik hasn't contacted me about re-training any of his animals.

As opposite as the world of a major metropolitan city seems from that of a local rural county, I'm surprised at the occasional crossover that happens between the two. A local filmmaker had her short film shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. A couple months ago I read a story on the 'Talk of the Town' section of the New Yorker about the opening of a sandwich shop, and the discussion was between Lord S - our boss - and his youngest son.

I don't know much anything about jazz music, but I have been to some performances. Most of it sounded discordant, arrhythmic. At first. After getting accustomed to the music, a song or three into the show I could hear the harmony, or at least discern patterns. It wasn't as random as it initially sounded. There are the odd joins, the connections between notes.

I often suffer from 'A Foot In Each Camp' syndrome. I'm not English, though I've lived here 16 years. I'm American, though I've missed out on our shared culture for the past decade-and-a-half. (This was very evident to me with the recent 9/11 anniversary. I was living in France at the time of the attack and my connection to the attack was filtered through the French media, and week-old papers from the UK. I never shared the visceral experience of being terrorised.)

I suffer from the syndrome on those days when I can't hear the harmony, or ally things that seem so opposite. When I can't have a conversation with someone about Simon Johnson's proposal to regulate banks, or the new David Sedaris book, or make joking references to well-known SNL skits because it's not part of the cultural dialogue in my neighbourhood.

Other days I can find the connection and recognise a pattern, almost always through humour. Contradictory moments and activities put in relationship to each other make me smile: sitting on the tailgate of the truck reading a book on my Kindle while swatting away a chicken which keeps trying to drink the tea out of my cup. Turning up to our favourite French restaurant in a fancy frock and a filthy Land Rover. Writing this blog post while keeping one eye out the window at the pheasants stealing wheat from our chicken feeders.

I either embrace the contradictions and find the common thread that weaves it all together, or I struggle with internal contradictions and fight the differences, and hear only dissonance.

Or maybe I just need to stop over-thinking it all and let Mike get the mail from now on.


Panhandle Jane said...

What a lovely and entertaining post!

Merry Christmas!

Seester said...

I love this post, though I think your life is far more interesting than jazz music. A blanket statement, perhaps, though when I am frustrated at work I often think "I'm going to go clean shitty sheeps' arses* in England" but I never ever think "I'm going to become a jazz musician."
The book, by the way, is a gift not a lend so it will never expire from your Kindle. I hope it serves you well. Or at least gives you a few good laughs and some nerdy cultural references for you to feel in sync with.

*Here's hoping you're the #1 Google hit for this phrase.

Jennifer Montero said...

Panhandle Jane - Merry Christmas to you too!

Seester - I am deeply unnerved at the possibility that people are googling 'shitty sheep's arse' at all. I believe that we're already the no 1 hit for the phrase 'spectacles on a chicken' (in google images). How much more fame could we handle?

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Just a quick note to say: how much i enjoy reading your blog, I know james from modern gamekeeping and I think he too subscribes too he Newyorker, and happy crimbo

Jennifer Montero said...

SBW - thanks for the kind words, and for letting me know that there's at least two of us with disparate passions and odd mail. Happy holidays to you and congratulations on your 500th blog post!

Kate said...

Secret shame?!? Fie, on Mike, I say! There's nothing wrong with the New Yorker. Except, well, that they come out so often that it's hard to keep up with all that reading. If I visited your cottage, I might well leaf through it out of interest, except that, well, I'd feel compelled to leaf through many other things first, since I have access to the NYer any old time, but your cottage would be a rare opportunity for me.

We had a NYer subscription for quite a while. We found that we had to call in after every half dozen or so issues and put the subscription on hold so we could catch up with the reading. It meant we missed some issues, but it also meant that a year's subscription stretched out for a good long while. The people who answered the subscription line never seemed to mind us calling in so often.

Love the post. I was an expat in Europe for only four years, and the cultural displacement was very significant. I can't imagine what 16 years' worth would be like. You seem to manage it with enormous grace.

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

Looking at moving to Scotland. WOuld rather look at the back end of a shitty sheep's arse any day than LIVE in NY much longer! Expect the cultural differences WILL be significant, but at the same time, I feel like I'm on my way "home." Will talk soon. Have an awesome, awesome, Christmas, both you and Mike.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

For me, there's a risk in trying to find too much connection between the New Yorker and the chicken poop. Woe betide the writer who waxes lyrical about that shitty sheep's arse. It's a trap I try to avoid, and you manage to avoid it completely, much to your credit.

Please continue to subscribe to The New Yorker, if only because it becomes fodder for posts like this. I, too, subscribe, and the only downside I find is the one that Kate pointed out -- the damn thing comes ever day.

Maria said...

Wicked post Jen, I love it. I'm a half Spanish half English mix, and have lived in both countries - latterly in the UK for 10 years. I like your metaphor on cultural displacement. I decided a couple of years ago to try to cherish the advantages of two cultures rather than bemoan the never-quite-belonging feeling. Mostly it works..

Paula said...

The way to keep up with the New Yorker is this: just read the cartoons.

Karen Douglass said...

I have a new picture of fish on my sidebar where I access your blog. But clicking on the fish brings me to this post. What's with the mysterious fish?

Jennifer Montero said...

Karen - Sorry, technical glitch with the new post. I promise fish picture in context coming in the next 24 hours. Til then, I've done a guest post for Harvest Kitchen Sisters site which should be up shortly. Double reading!

fallowfields said...

the contradictions of life. love your blog on many front.