Thursday, July 5, 2018

Back in Business

I keep reading about the summer starting, how to spend summer, summer reads, what to do with all those berries you’re swimming in, and I’m just not quite there yet. Maybe it’s that I was submerged in teaching and visitors and then more teaching, returning to the world of all-nighters and fueled by coffee and not enough sleep, absorbed in the cubists and the fauvists and romantics and post-impressionists to the point that I’ve not noticed what season we’re in. But weeks after its official end, and it still feels to me like spring only just began. 

André Derain: Henri Matisse, 1905. Tate Gallery. What I’d call a perfect painting, were a perfect painting to exist . . 

It's the weather's fault too, I swear. During the two or so three months since my last post, whilst the blog has sat gathering dust, lonely and unattended, we vacillated, in Toulouse, between hats and down jackets and tunics and sandals — sometimes on the same day. With all the rain, the Garonne flooded its banks and was higher than I’ve ever seen it. 

Wasn’t it just yesterday Claritin D and I resumed our friendship where we left off last year? I resisted till my eyes were on fire, and the inside of my nose was gently but cruelly being caressed with feathers, and my skin erupted in bumps at the mere mention of a field of unmown grass. I only just got used to returning from drawing in the evening intoxicated by the rich smell of jasmine. 

I’m so glad that May included a revival of the compost collective. I thought I was alone, but it turns out there are other Toulousains who share my passion for putting their carrot peels and coffee grinds and onion skins in a bucket and carting them to the park to create a communal pile of nourishing soil. 

One of the best things about this town are the three connected public parks which lie close to le petit garçon’s school. The Jardin des Plantes is the largest, with the Jardin Royale across the street, and then the Grand Rond, with its large central fountain. The first year we were in Toulouse, there were a set of compost bins in each, and although I wasn’t an official subscriber I used and treasured (and wrote about) them. My composting ritual was one thing that helped me be here, get my hands in some dirt every once in a while, tolerate the fumes and commotion of a new city. 

Segment of wall in the Jardin des Plantes. Photograph by Mike Peel (

But then one day I arrived to the park and all the bins had disappeared. My heart sank. Left behind was just a note, saying like, Sorry, the experimental phase of this project is over, we’re reassessing how best to continue, but we’re gathering in a few weeks and you can come to help us discuss what’s next. 

I barely understood a thing at the meeting, confounded as I was by the vocabulary — strategy! ecology! city planning! — and the speed at which everyone spoke. However, when they asked for my name and which park I was associated with I somewhat randomly chose the Grand Rond, which proved to be the most organized and motivated of the three. 

Over the next few months my group worked with astonishing speed and efficiency to return composting to the Grand Rond, and although I missed a lot of the details I understood that we’d finally set a date to assemble and install the new bins. We gathered one May evening; four-fifths of us looked on while the other fifth did the actual physical labor. We received instructions on what to compost and how, what makes for an ideal pile. This being France, people brought food and drink to make this a moment of convivialité. We toasted, we clapped. I received my official green compost bucket which I now wield proudly as my badge of membership. 

We started a listserv, where fellow members write to express their appreciation, or small concerns or admonishments. My favorite was from someone who was distressed to find almost an entire baguette in the bin, plus egg shells that had not been crushed and an uncut grapefruit. People! 

Another observed that the bins were getting full and that we were completely out of brown material!!, followed by a smart-assy “quel succés!”. 

After just a few weeks the container was chock-full, and we were going to have a first-bin-emptying ceremony of sorts. But the aforementioned shitty weather kept intervening, and it was called off multiple times due to rain or wind. Notes flew back and forth, alerting the group to the latest plan, including unsolicited responses detailing people’s attendance or lack thereof. (Favorite example: I have a dentist’s appointment, in which I expect to have my mouth numbed, and I’ll be twenty minutes late.) While we waited, to curb overflow, the organizers put a lock on the bins and shared the code only with members. This caused one person to resign in protest, not wishing to be part of an effort that in any way is elitist and opining that the city should be able to organize ecological efforts accessible to everyone. Fair play. 

To cut this long story short, we’re back in business. Today as I undid the locks I could feel the heat emanating from inside. I opened the lid and the gloriously pungent odor of decomposing vegetable matter enveloped me. Mmm — glorious. 

Perhaps in spring everyone’s just so ready to say eff you to winter. At long last; and in Toulouse it took so damned long. This year, it no doubt had to do with the state of the world. Enough already. For me, it was some combination of this plus lack of sleep and early menopause, I swear to you, that caused my attitude to be much more along the lines of screw you than joy to the world. Not pretty; but in a way affirming at the same time. Screw it, says the flower, I’m coming up. I’m coming through this earth and yes I need sun but if all you’re giving me is rain I’ll take it and I’ll work with it. There won’t be many of us but we’ll be the darkest, plumpest cherries you ever saw.  

I was given an unexpected gift of new strawberries and cherries and le petit garçon and I made our first clafoutis. Everyone said Too-eggy this and I-don’t-like-the-texture that, and to all of them of course you know I’m saying Screw you, make your own, or don’t eat it, here, gimme that, I’ll take yours. 

See you again, real soon.  

Thank the gods we don't see this wacky practice anymore!

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