TAKING LIBERTIES ON BIRTHDAYS for Jeanette Winterson and Janet Frame
We have in common red hair, an appetitefor oranges, a habit of making charactersout of computers, cast-iron baths and cats.
Tonight, I will presume friendship and arrange a birthday dinner.
Janet and I will come to you, Jeanette. A Northern Hemisphere dinner under the eye of a lunar eclipse feels - what word will I choose? Possible? Overdue? Appropriate? Besides, it's time we visited Verde's, your green food shop at Spitalfield's Market. It's difficult to resistyour restoration tales, spitting baths of lime plaster, Jack the Ripper's blood-stained cobbles, a dead fruit-seller trading on your initials, JW.
You're emphatic, "Life's too short to eat badly." So zealous are you, you took pestle and mortar, ground the fragments of an ancient leaning houseto dust. You added metal, brace and spice, created a flash new food shop whose lungs now fill with the scents of French saffron and fugitive Indian cardamom. You believe in soup and slow cookers, take time to transformthe letters of your name into endless varieties of tajine.
Janet and I will bring produce from our own farmers' market. Under cover at Dunedin's railway station, I will choose blue cod, whitebait, globe artichokesand Evansdale cheese. She will insist on tamarillos, feijoas and passionfruit, luscious accompaniments for the coffee banana cake she'll bake; no needfor the recipe she sent to friends in letters in the mid-1970s.
Together, as the earth shutters the moon, we will fire the old coal range in Brushfield Street, create a simple meal of complex parts. We will speak of our affection for lighthouses, how we might seem tame and yet are feral creatures, at home amongst kelp, flying fish and salt.
I think you will find our whitebait fritters impossible to resist, Jeanette, imagine your conversion to blue cod with mashed kumara and fresh crushed ginger will be immediate and long-lasting.
CB - Dunedin 2007
Janet Frame was born in Dunedin on 28 August 1924; Jeanette Winterson in Manchester on 27 August 1959. In 2007, Upfront - a Dunedin-based women's poetry collective - arranged a poetry event to celebrate what would have been Janet's 83rd birthday. Tuesday 28 August 2007 happened also to be the date of a total lunar eclipse, whose every phase was visible to us in New Zealand.
Total eclipses of the moon are not altogether uncommon but they are nevertheless remarkable spectacles - slow-moving, mysterious and accessible to anyone willing to turn their gaze upwards. A lunar eclipse can be appreciated as an event that vividly illustrates our place amongst the other planets in the solar system; the three-dimensional reality of our universe comes alive in a graceful celestial ballet as the moon swings unhurriedly through Earth's shadow.
I wrote Taking Liberties on Birthdays to mark the coming together of what I considered to me a significant conjunction; namely, the birthdays of two favourite women writers, the lunar eclipse and - rather further down the list - my own birthday which falls within the same week as theirs.
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(not) Blue at 22