Great weather. Day by day we are steaming out the impurities of the blood and night after night we are building up a heat reservoir to get us through next winter.
Now you know some people who complain about our glorious July here in Washington. They have much to mutter about blast furnaces, hell and air-conditioning repairmen. This only shows, once again, how ungrateful the human animal is in the face of blessings.
Recently I returned from a tour of Wales and England, where summer is utterly unknown. In London the press alerted us to a heat wave and sure enough the next day it was 71 Fahrenheit. The English got all exercised and more or less dropped on the street the day it went to 79.
Most of the time it dipped into the 40s at night, and much of the time skies were gray, enlivened by drizzles and a daytime temperature in the 50s. There were "sunny intervals," which means that the sky turned paler gray, sometimes with a patch of milky blue to excite the Americans. If you looked intently at a tree trunk or lamp post you could debate whether it was casting a shadow. Some say yes and some say no. Occasionally there was a definite shadow, however faint, and then you could say for sure the sun was out.
This means there are no edible tomatoes, corn, squash or honeydews within the realm, but I do not propose to take up the immemorial dirge about English food, especially as I have solved the problem. You get a house or a flat or someplace with a stove in it. You go to the grocery or the vegetable markets (which are fine, now that stuff is imported from the Continent) and do your own cooking.
Anchovy paste and curry powder are cheaper and better than ours. Lamb is vastly better and cheaper, even with an unfavorable dollar exchange. So the main thing is no tomatoes or corn or honeydews or cantaloupes. Their cream is infinitely better, which is a bad thing because you return fatter than when you went, and it is awkward to remark on poor food when you have gained seven pounds on it.
But as I say this is just the cream. Their single cream (as they call it) glugs after the first day and can be spooned after the second. Their double cream, which they get from new improved atomic cows I imagine, has to be spooned to begin with. You take two small meringues and glue them together with cream and let them sit in the icebox awhile. This is why the English have bad teeth and why Americans come home fat.
They grow tomatoes in plastic bags in greenhouses and get rosy ping-pong balls which they eat to achieve their daily minimum requirement of acid. They also have corn but I had sense enough not to buy any. They do not, for all American purposes, have corn. They do have nubile potatoes of celestial origin and often serve you two kinds at the same supper. The best ones are roasted.
Wales may be even colder. You never set forth without a sweater and raincoat, except I do not believe much in raincoats and just got wet. We stopped once on a mountainside to view the lovely Vale of Clwd, or maybe it was the next one over, maybe Cwdnxrll. The Welsh are friendly, wholesome folk -- very like Richard Burton on the whole -- and nowadays all speak Welsh. The signs are in English also, but sometimes you can tell they just want to be mean, and then they put up a road sign at a critical intersection: Brwllnwlld, followed by a big arrow. No English subtitle and you do not realize that means Welshpool or Swansea or Ruthin or some other place you have heard of.
Ruthin is pronounced Rithin. We stayed at Ruthin Castle. The castle was rebuilt in Victorian times and has vintage elevators and gorgeous views out the window. The former owner was a woman said (in a historical folder you can get) to have had 200 lovers, not counting any stray stable boys. They have a special supper at which you sit on benches and people throw food, which is historically accurate. I once saw a well-researched movie in which Henry III threw hunks of bread at his father.
At this Ruthin supper they pass basins of lambs' necks in a kind of stew you eat with your fingers. There are bowls of water on the table and a bib round your neck. It does not do to wash in the water first. You wipe the goo on the bib first, then wash. Otherwise your bib gets sopping wet and quite uncomfortable. A lady plays the harp. Thus one experiences the 12th century, which like other centuries had the merit that it only came around once.
The sheep of Wales like Americans. If you stop to admire the view on a road, the sheep come barreling down by the dozen, bleating as if their little hearts would break. You feed them bread. The lambs eat bread then run to their dams to nurse. They welcome pats on the head and they all are fat.
In the Cotswolds the sheep do not expect Americans to feed them. They are more reserved. I was told that when a Cotswold shepherd died, his buddies went out to collect tufts of wool from bushes in the pastures, and this was stuffed in the coffin. When the shepherd arrived at heaven, surrounded by bits of fleece, the guardians saw at a glance he was a shepherd and let him right in. Feed my sheep.
I sat down once when I was cold and damp at some picturesque Cotswold inn and wept when I remembered sunshine. Of course the whole point of travel is to shake you up and make you quite unhappy for tomatoes, and in Wales and England you see marvelous things and broaden considerably; indeed, the whole island is somewhat of a paradise to see.
Still, I kept thinking of the great river I knew as a boy with the cypresses steaming in their excellent swamp and the sun white and the egrets deigning to shift a plume once every half-hour, waiting for the sun to go down. The mounds of cornbread and bowls of butter beans and big tin coolers with a block of ice in each that sat in the pantry. The house dark, the blinds closed, the furniture all covered with a kind of white burlap and the dogs asleep on the bathroom tiles. The fans droning, the dirt-daubers still working on their nests in the garage, adding mud from beneath the faucet out the back-porch door, though somewhat impeded by the thick growth of the ginger lilies that also like soppy clay.
And now at home again and no more cream, no more sheep, no more sleek cattle or anchovy paste or Norman naves, the wonders of Britain. But to land safe by the Potomac in the evening, the temperature still above 90, and to get home to the mutts asleep on the bathroom tiles, and in the icebox real tomatoes and real melons. And at last the fans droning and the sky held high by the heat and the blue waterlilies nudged by the red fish and the bugs all singing in the oaks.
If I had any sense at all I'd drop everything and organize a tour of this capital in July for the Welsh and the English. Let 'em live a little.