Edgy Bulgarians Strike Again

Bowl Time, and not of the Football Variety

I never knew much about Bulgaria until I bought these two Bulgarian made curved adzes. The country has a fascinating history, as they were ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and the Russians, in that order. The architecture in the capitol Sofia is mind blowing–think Unesco World Heritage Site quality. I know this because I am a card carrying member of Nerdlandia–I have two plastic coated UA degrees in my wallet.

The Bulgarians are especially known for smithing work, as far back as the thirteenth century. They haven’t slowed down any, as those two adzes prove. The big adze is a triple threat, as it works as an adze, a hammer, and a nail puller. It must be a common tool, as it was factory made. It is a wood butcher’s delight.

Mini-me on the right is blacksmith made. This needed a special handle, so I made one out of walnut. The smith who made this is a Mensch.

By contrast, there is also a spoon knife made by Hans Karlsson in Sweden. It cost more than the two adzes combined. Worth the money, as probably the finest spoon carving tool in the world. I just wish he had been born in Bulgaria.

Going Fruity While Rusticated

Not Just Another Evergreen Azalea

Being rusticated has its perquisites. In my case, its twenty less hours travel time a week, to do what I will. I have been buying fruit trees, and turning a good part of our garden into a mini-orchard.

New Plants–

Apple “Honey Crisp.” I love these apples, so I bought two. They are about to break dormancy now, as they came from the frozen northland of Michigan.

Cherry “Dwarf Lapin.” We had a great cherry tree when I was a child, and there is nothing better than a fresh cherry–except for good cherry preserves. I bought two, and wish I had bought more. Bring out the biscuits!

Fig “Olympia.” Either a fig from Washington state, or a plant named after one of my favorite opera characters, Olympia, from Les Contes d’Hoffman, or The Tales of Hoffman. Olympia is an automata, or really a life sized wind up doll, but Hoffman falls in love with her anyway, as he is wearing rose colored glasses. The youtube video of the soprano Natalie Dessay singing this role is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I bought one, fig, that is, not a Natalie.

Fig “Violette de Bordeaux.” One of these also. Alleged to be the best tasting fig. It will have to fight it out with the cherries, as to which one makes the best preserves. Bring out more biscuits! Melanie Jane made me stop calling this violette de bordello.

Olive “Arbequina.” Crossing the border into Spain now, this cold hardy olive has become a hot item in this part of the South. A local nursery has a grove of them, and gives classes about their cultivation. These will stay in containers for at least a year. We have three.

The random evergreen azalea in the picture is not a hybrid, but a species plant from Taiwan. All our other azaleas are native species.

We also have three Hass avocado seedlings, and three Meyer lemon cuttings. Those will have to remain in containers for the rest of their natural lives.

Being fruity has its own benefits.

Great Garden Poems, Part Nine–Ah! Sun-Flower, by William Blake

Readers of this series will recall that Blake and his wife would spend time in their garden while totally nude. They must have also grown sunflowers.

Ah! Sun-flower

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 
Arise from their graves and aspire, 
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

To finish with a quote from another favorite, “The One Song,” by Mark Strand.

Flowers bloom

Flowers die

More is less

I long for more

Comment–that sound like Blake’s fashion sense.

Great Garden Poems, Part Eight–A Bird, came down the Walk, by Emily Dickinson

The Belle of Amherst wrote more nature poems than you can swing a cat at, but this is one of the best. Also sometimes given the title of “In the Garden.”

A Bird, came down the Walk – (359)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

A Bird, came down the Walk – 
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw, 

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. – 

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers, 
And rowed him softer Home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim. 

I have always been jealous of Ms. Dickinson, as the she was considered a “no-hoper” in college, because the powers that be thought that her soul, or chance for salvation, was without hope. She left the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary after one year. Her brother was allowed to go to Harvard. Guess which one is remembered now.

Great Garden Poems, Part Seven–Is my Team Ploughing? by A. E. Housman

I loved this poem the first time I read it, though it still gives me the willies. Maybe more farming than gardening, but it involves cultivation, so here it is.

Is My Team Ploughing

BY A. E. HOUSMAN

“Is my team ploughing,
   That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
   When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
   The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
   The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
   Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
   Now I stand up no more?”

Ay the ball is flying,
   The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
   Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
   That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
   As she lies down at eve?”

Ay, she lies down lightly,
   She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
   Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
   Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
   A better bed than mine?”

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
   I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
   Never ask me whose.

Thanks again to the incredible Poetry Foundation. Even more thanks to our favorite classical scholar who wrote this gem.

Good Friday Citrus Duck with Orange Wine Sauce

Unlucky Ducky, Lucky Us

I have been working on this recipe for years, and I finally have it where I want it. It’s go to on Christmas and Good Friday now.

Duck

Simple enough. Dry the duck, salt the cavity, and then stuff it up the butt with a quartered naval orange and a quartered Meyer lemon. Cook for thirty minutes at 425 degrees F, and another ninety minutes at 375 degrees F. Before cooking, cut another orange in half, and squeeze the juice of one half of over the bird. After an hour, do the same thing with the other half. A roasting rack helps. Give it the thigh joint prick test after two hours, but it should be done by then.

Orange Wine Sauce

Thicker is Better

The key to this sauce is to reduce it down to a syrup, or even a jelly. Think lamb with mint jelly, and you have the idea.

Ingredients

Juice of two Naval Oranges

Red Wine to taste

1 tablespoon of Honey

1 teaspoon of Sugar

1 teaspoon of Red Wine Vinegar

1/2 cup Chicken Stock

Naturally, you can make this as sweet and sour as you want, with more sugar and more vinegar. Our menu for today is brick oven pizza, and for Easter Sunday, ham and macs and cheese, naturally. It doesn’t get much more Southern than that.

Young Love, Cafeteria Food, and a Tornado

I originally met my future wife Melanie Jane in an awful school cafeteria, when she was in the third grade. Many years later we had our first date on April first, at our High School prom. She wore the sexiest dress I have ever seen, and we were two April fools in love in no time.

I needed to update and totally completely fictionalize the whole thing. Much much older students, basketball, pizza, crap cafeteria food (the only real part), mortal sins, and a tornado complete this fairly short short story fairy tale. Maybe a little beyond PG-13, so read at your own peril. This is dedicated to the two days of constant tornados we have just had.

The Tornado

Sally “Moon Pie” McGowan was one more beautiful young woman. Even in high school, I was a scholar, a gentleman, and an athlete, but I still couldn’t keep myself from staring at her during lunch. She ate like no one I had ever seen, and still managed to laugh and smile at the same time, even while she ate the pig slop they served at our cafeteria. When she was finished eating, she would turn in her tray, and come by the athlete’s table, say hello to me, and pat me on the back. All the rest of the football team were insanely jealous of me. They never bothered me about it, as I already had the rep of being a badass.

It served them right, as almost all of them were pigs, of every variety. One of them later went to jail, for spouse abuse, after we all graduated, and one idiot even managed to get convicted of statutory rape—of a twelve year old girl. And this was all in western Georgia, where those kinds of things happen often.

The bad news for them was that she was an excellent athlete as well, and could have whipped most of them by herself. On top of the that, her parents were both ass-kickers, and would have de-balled any of them who laid a finger on her, and then kicked their asses all the way to twentieth street in Atlanta. Her mother was my English teacher, and the President of the county’s Teacher’s Union, and her father was a an Irish born college Math instructor at a nearby Community College. He was the union’s Vice President. It was obviously a genetic thing.

Sally had gorgeous long brown hair, which she wore in pigtails whenever she played basketball or volleyball. She had the classic snow-white complexion of an Irish girl. Then there were her eyes, which made me look away every time she looked at me. I literally couldn’t stand it. They were bright green, with yellow highlights in them, and after a moment, I would turn and look back, and she would be staring at me, with some intensity.

This back and forth continued until she noticed that I attended every game she played, when we were both in the Eleventh grade. Then she asked me to sit right behind the bench at every game, and would ask me for advice during time outs. I was her assistant coach now.

One night in December, they were having a tough basketball game against a great team from another county, and she turned around and asked, “What can I do?” I told her their three point defense was weak, and she should heave up some threes. All she did was hit about ten in a row. 

There was a serious celebration after they pulled off the upset of the year, and Sally finished with 38 points. Her coach had heard my advice, and gave me a high five after the game was over. “Freed,” she said, as that was what everyone called me, though my name was Friedrich. “Come to practice when you have the time. I could use an assistant like you. And don’t go anywhere, because Sally wants to talk to you about something. You’re going to like it.” Then she smiled at me, and the whole team ran into the locker room, whooping it up.

Sally came out in ten minutes, just out of the showers, with wet hair and no makeup, and she was still a beauty. She sat next to me, and put her hand on my knee. “Friedrich, let’s start stop staring at each other all the time, and go out. Tomorrow night is good for me. Pick me up at seven, and let’s get some pizza.” Then she kissed me on the cheek, and left, before I could even answer.

I was there to pick her up at 6:45. I was apprehensive, as my parents were Jewish, and her’s were strict Catholics, though neither of us two really cared that much about religion. Her parents greeted me like I was their long lost son. 

Her father was really funny, and told a few Irish stories while Sally was still getting dressed, and at the same time, gave me the third degree about my future plans. Then Sally came down the stairs, and when I saw her, I knew I was crazy in love. 

Cheeky as always, Sally kissed me, right in front of her parents, and said, imitating her father’s Irish accent, “What do you think of my fine lad, here?”  She hooked her arm around mine.

Her father could hang with her with ease. “He’s a good enough specimen, to court me daughter,” he said. “Looks good and Irish, fit, and smart as a whip. Wants to get a Ph D, and teach, for the betterment of mankind. He must be at least half Irish.”

“I’m of German Jewish descent, sir,” I said.

“Never mind, lad,” he said, “We welcome Jews to Ireland. It’s the Protestants we don’t want. They’re like fleas on a dog. Just try and get rid of them.”

Sally and her mother began laughing, as they had heard this tirade before. Sally said we had to go, kept laughing, kept her arm hooked in mine, and we walked out to my Toyota. It was Margherita pizza time.

Sally snarfed down pizza like nothing I had ever seen. I had taken two bites, and her first slice was gone. I shook my head, took two more bites, and her second piece was gone. I had to ask something, about two things. 

“Are we actually courting?” I asked.

“According to my father, “ she said. “He was obviously born in the nineteenth century.” She swallowed another bite of pizza.

“What do you think?”

“I like you better than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m on the borderline of falling in love with you. We just need to get to know each other better.”

“ Why do you eat so fast?”

“‘Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.’ But I eat this fast because of the potato famine.”

“The potato famine? And wasn’t that James Joyce you just quoted?”

“Right, smart guy. Many Irish people starved during the eighteen hundreds, mainly because of the filthy British, My father taught me to eat as fast as I can, in case the British came to steal our food.” Another piece of pizza was gone by then.

I had to process that one. “There are no British around here in Georgia.”

“This was a British colony. The English are everywhere.” By then, three-fourths of the pizza was gone. “We Scots-Irish need to keep our guard up.” Then she finished off her last piece of crust, and smiled at me, while she chewed.

I was far past the love borderline. I took the chance, which was the first time in my life, and said, “Sally, I love you. There is no one else in the world like you.” The entire pizza crowd looked at us.

She swallowed her drink of water—she never drank the flavored sugar water that most people had with pizza. She looked at me with those green eyes, and said, “That was quick. OK, I lied. I’m already in love with you, and have been for a couple of years. My parents gave me the wink of approval, instead of of the usual thumbs down, with you. You could end up as a trophy in-law.” Then she gave me a long pizza flavored kiss. There was applause from the other patrons, which included one of our teachers.

I was down with that, except for the in-law part. Me, married to that beauty? If she wanted it, sure. I thought the likely hood of that was small. I was an idiot, as usual.

She had us park in her driveway, after the pizza, and she literally mauled me. She kissed me into submission. and then decided to rub me all over my body. After about an hour, she said, “Curfew time. Just a preview of coming attractions.” She left, and winked at me. What was up with all the winking with this family?

Winks or not, this whole thing just got hotter and hotter, and after three months, Sally had done everything but rip my clothes off of me. She would stop just short of that, and declare, “I’m a good Catholic, and there are things I just can’t do.”

“I’m a non-observant Jew, and we don’t have rules like that.” Then I grabbed her, and started yanking her clothes off.

“Wait, wait,” she laughed, and said. “Compromise, You can take my top off.” Deal. I did, and she was even more beautiful than I had imagined. I could also imagine what the rest of her looked like. Then came that dark and stormy day.

A brief digression here. How did she get the nickname of Moon Pie? Because she could eat an entire Moon Pie in three bites, which is a particularly disgusting factory made Southern dessert, which comes wrapped in a plastic bag, and which I believe comes from just outside of Chattanooga. That was the usual dessert at our cafeteria, naturally. Our assistant football coach had a stopwatch, and he timed her eating one once. She was a good two seconds faster than the biggest fattening hog on our offensive line.

At any rate, back to that dark and stormy day. It was late March, and her parents were gone to the yearly state union meeting, which for some reason, was always held at a resort hotel on our Atlantic coast. The weather forecast was so ominous that Sally said we should stay at her house that day, which was a Saturday. As we had already driven, unknowingly, under a tornado once, I had no problem with that.

It was even stormier than anticipated. I got there early, as usual, and Sally opened the door, and literally jumped on me, and hugged me. She said, “Thank God you’re here. The new forecast is for a huge tornado outbreak. I would have died, if you had been hurt coming over.” Then she began crying.

There’s nothing I like less than seeing a woman cry, especially one I loved as much as this one. I picked her up, and carried her into the house, kissing her the whole time, naturally. That slowed down her crying fit some. I knew they had a basement built like a 1950’s fallout shelter, and I knew we would be safe there. After she stopped sobbing, I said, “Let’s go down to your basement. We’ll be the safest people in Georgia.” She nodded in agreement.

I practically had to carry her down there, but she weighed so little that that was a big nothing. I sat her down on the couch they had, and suddenly she perked up. She said, “I am going to take a shower, as I refuse to die while I’m dirty. Grab a couple of beers out of our beer fridge here. We might need them.”

“Can do. Don’t forget the clean undies. My mother says you should always have on clean undies, in case you die.”

“I’m not worried about the undies,” she said, and winked at me again. This time, the winking didn’t bother me at all.

I grabbed two beers, opened both, relaxed on the couch, and turned on the weather. It looked really bad, as a huge line of storms was almost where we were. After about ten minutes, Sally came out of the shower, wearing the sexiest silk robe I had ever seen. When I first saw her in it, I thought that there was nothing on, under it. I was right.

She sat down right next to me, and I handed her her beer. All I could say was, “That is one sexy robe. It’s just not as sexy as what’s inside of it. You’re going to have to go to confession, just for wearing that.”

All she said was, “Father, I have sinned. I’m looking forward to confession if I have the nerve do what I’m thinking about. My confession will turn our dirty old priest purple.” Then she kissed me again, and said, “I’m going to whisper in your ear what I have in mind.”

Naturally, as soon as she put her lips to my ear, the line of storms moved in, and announced itself with one tremendous clap of thunder. Then all the lights went out. The power was gone, and we were in complete darkness.

“I know there are some lamps down here,” I said.

“Forget those,” she said. “I like it like this.” The next thing I knew, she was on top of me, and singing in my ear. It was a poem by WB Yeats, set to music.

Down by the salley gardens

   my love and I did meet;

She passed the salley gardens

   with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy,

   as the leaves grow on the tree;

But I, being young and foolish,

   with her would not agree.

In a field by the river

   my love and I did stand,

And on my leaning shoulder

   she laid her snow-white hand.

She bid me take life easy,

   as the grass grows on the weirs;

But I was young and foolish,

   and now am full of tears.

She was Irish, alright, and she had the singing voice of a prima donna. But she was a prima donna, anyway. All I could say, was “That was as beautiful as you are.”

“Oh yea? ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’” She threw her robe off, while quoting some Elizabethan poetry this time. So much for the good Catholic girl. But she could always get absolution, as long as her story didn’t give her priest a fatal heart attack.

She whispered in my ear again. “You know all of those assholes at school who say that I’m a virgin? Actually, I am, and never even thought about it until I met you. Be patient, but that is all about to end. I’m not going to die without having made love to you.” Then she stripped me down, and climbed back on top of me again.

I said, “It was no dream: I lay broad waking.” I could hang with her during a poetry slam.

She just smiled, and kissed me again. “This is my first time, and I read that it is going to hurt, and I had no idea how big that thing you have was going to be,” she said. “So lie still, and let me do this myself.” I had no problem with that. It was my first time also.

She apparently knew what she was doing, as it hurt her for about two seconds, and then she was all on it. After about fifteen seconds, I had to say, “I hope you’re not going to give me a heart attack.”

“You’re about to have an attack, but it’s not going to be of the heart variety,“ she said, and really went to work on it. I lasted about thirty seconds more, and then it was done.

She took all the satisfaction that she could get out of it, and then bent over, kissed me, and said “Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming back in a minute for seconds. It was that good.” Then she kissed me again.

God, she was going to wear me out, but it was the absolute best way of being worn out. Then I had the ultimate terror stroke—was she trying to get pregnant? She was Catholic.

That thought passed in a second. She was far too intelligent for that. I was still going to ask about it, anyway.

She came back, grabbed me, and said, “Hello, cowboy. I feel that the resurrection of the flesh is holding up fine. You have to ride me this time.” 

I had to say, “You aren’t afraid of getting pregnant, are you?”

“Hardly. Abortion is way worse than sex for Catholics, and my parents put me on birth control as soon as I became a teenager. They thought that with my looks, I might get raped by one of the local rednecks, but mainly those we go to school with, and impregnated. Technically, both abortion and sex are mortal sins, but even our pervert Priest thinks that carnal desires and acts are on a completely different level from abortion. I think he’s had plenty of carnal thoughts, especially when he sees me. Now, I didn’t tell my parents about my ball kicking skills, and I don’t mean footballs, either, so I really was not in that much danger. Now shut up and kiss me, and do your duty.”

I did that with pleasure, and I went slow, and lasted more than a minute this time. My reward was that she came back with a blanket, and said we needed a nap. She asked me when I had to go home. I said, “My parents are very liberal. As long as I call, I can stay out all night. Is that fine with you?”

“Under one circumstance—you have to cook with me naked. Supper and breakfast. Naturally, I’ll be naked, too. Just be careful with the knives. I don’t want to see you damage an important part.” I laughed my butt off at that. She was as clever and witty, as she was beautiful.

Before I dozed off, I could swear that I heard her say, “This is just what it will be like when we’re married in a few years. What a life we are going to have together, Professor.” I forgot to say that my nickname was Professor.

While we were snoozing, a tornado hit, and destroyed the house next door. Sally’s family lost five really old hardwood trees. And we slept right through the whole thing, with our bodies curled tight up against each other. Love will do that to you.

Six years later, when we were both in grad school, we went to the courthouse in Fulton county, and got married. Sally said, in her fake Irish accent, that “There was no way in fookin Hell” that she was going through with a Catholic wedding. That was ten years ago. Strangely enough, she never cooks naked anymore. It could have something to do with our kids. We just sleep that way.

Something of a shout out here to our greatest Southern Woman novelist, Kate Chopin, who was half Irish herself. She also wrote the scandalous short story “The Storm,” of which this is something of a riff. Read that one, when you get a chance. It makes this one seem tame.