A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…
….Half an hour elapsed before Merrion heard anything further. Then there was a sound of rapid footsteps, and a shadowy form, of which he could not see the outline, entered the open space in the centre of the grove. Others followed at intervals, until the turf was covered by a strange, silent multitude. They uttered no word, but Merrion could hear their quick breathing, the rustle of their garments as they swayed rhythmically upon their feet, occasionally an hysterical sob, quickly repressed. They stood there waiting, their eyes within the depths of their hoods staring intently towards the altar, hidden under the shadow of the trees.
….Then Merrion became conscious of slow and majestic footsteps advancing through the gloom. They approached the grove, but ceased before they reached the open space. And, as they did so, a queer wailing cry broke from the assembled worshippers. Merrion, staring intently from his hiding-place, could see nothing. But he guessed that the devil, the mysterious president of the ceremonies, had taken up his position in the deep gloom behind the altar.
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….The oleanders on the terrace of Villa Emma came into bloom. So did the ones in the oversized amphorae in the alleys and squares of the Old Town. Their clusters of white, pink and fuchsia flowers burst out of the dark-green foliage. From the contadini’s doorways, cases of juicy nespole released their sweet but slightly acrid fragrance onto the streets. It blended with the grassy scents of fresh fava beans consumed at kitchen tables now that the warm days of May were rolling into one another.
….On those afternoons, Anna and I enjoyed conservations brimming with mutual discoveries. You’d be amazed at how everyday actions bring those memories to mind. For example, Anna observed that olive oil linked us to our ancestors and to our land. ‘Liquid gold trickling down the slope of history’, she called it. Apulians’ modern obsession with olive oil was a remnant of how central it had once been, she said. Hadn’t it accompanied people every day? From baptism to the last rites, via their dining table, their soap, their lamps and much more? That reflection may not strike you as momentous. Yet now and then, while drizzling oil onto my food, I still picture Anna sharing the thought with me as we sat on the steps of an abandoned house, its flaking wall overrun by an early-blooming scarlet bougainvillea, watching two children walk by with slices of pane, olio e sale – bread, oil and salt.
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….Elspeth walked a little further towards the River Swincombe. Brown water seeped up towards the top of her boots. Finally, she struggled up a small incline and perched on a hummock of sphagnum moss. She poked at the peat directly in front of her with her stick, pushing the creeping moss aside. ‘Ahh,’ she said, with satisfaction, ‘I think we have our find. Look, Doctor Pargeter, look!’
….Neil craned over her shoulder. The water was shallow here, and brown with peat. He stared hard at the spot she indicated, seeing nothing except sphagnum moss, water and soft peat. Then, once he’d got his eye in, he yelped. ‘There, I see it!’ Crouching beside a jubilant Elspeth Price, oblivious to the water seeping into his boots, he leaned over as far as he dared and peered into the mossy pit. It looked like a bone. Two bones to be precise. In the shape of what could be a human elbow. He felt faint. ‘Oh my God. Oh my God, Elspeth, I think you’re right. I think we’ve got ourselves a body in the bog!’
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….But this is the life – out of the dim dressing room and towards the brightly lit stage comes the chorus. Joe is at the top of the stairs, checking the line for dirty fingernails, too much greasepaint, visible track marks. Then later he’s at the stage door, crowded with fans and young griffins eager to escort the showgirls to one of the Yu Yuen Road cabaret bars round the corner. It’s hopeless; the girls have better places to go, older, better-heeled patrons to spend time with. The swells offer dinner at Ciro’s with white-uniformed waiters and young boys serving tea, or late-night cocktails at Victor Sassoon’s brand-spanking-new Tower Club at the top of the Cathay Hotel. For the Peaches, the trick is to get dinner, go dancing, snag a little treat or two they can pawn later or some cash, all without giving it up. Late-night motorcar rides round the circular Rubicon Road, a shady back table at the Black Cat cabaret in Frenchtown, tableside at the private roulette wheels illicitly spinning in the suites of the Burlington Hotel courtesy of old-time Brit gangster Bill Hawkins, Sasha Vertinsky’s late-night Russian cabaret with the bad boys at the Gardenia on Great Western Road, champagne and Viennese torch songs courtesy of Lily Flohr at the Elite Bar on Medhurst Road – then always the fumble, the grope, the wandering hands.