Even in the raw of winter, the succulent house will be hot and dry. The air in the palm house will be thick. These alternating glass houses of desert, forest, floral exotica—carnivorous pitcher plants and living stones—will be a refuge when New England is in February; one way to survive the cold.
The greenhouses making up the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College are a study in organization and chaos. The sheer quantity, cluttered within such limited space, suggests the joy of a free-form gatherer (if not hoarder), mixed with the scientific precision called for in a true botanical garden. The product of the exploratory impulse and a ‘you can take it with you’ attitude, overlaid with classification and order. Every thing labeled. Conquered artifacts from near and far, brought from there to here, alive.
The best garden in Brooklyn is like Fred Astaire
Charming but inaccessible.
A private creation for public viewing.
I look down into it from my living room,
Its spilling vines and spruce hedge-tops lend cachet to my garden.
Yet a high fence keeps us
As does the rusty chain link gate on the street side,
which is only opened for
Tree-trimming and the like.
We agonize over breakfast choices in the towering Ferry Building food market, then walk the piers eating flaky empanadas. But it’s cold and too windy, February, so we turn inland toward North Beach. Our cousin, a local, will meet us there for lunch. He’s suggested a tour of the neighborhood’s old Beat Generation haunts.
My twin sister and I are visiting San Francisco, ostensibly to see a concert but also just to see each other, since a year ago she moved away to the suburbs of Philadelphia. For the few short days we’re here, the West Coast experiences torrential rain. LA is flooding and the Bay Area is even drizzlier than usual. Becky and I are strategic—Saturday is going to be the driest day, and we want to see everything.
I think we can agree that Donald Trump has been bad for literary fiction. Many people, myself included, have turned to non-fiction (not to mention gorging on news) to understand how the U.S. elected an authoritarian who orders bombings while eating chocolate cake, calls the army “my military,” lies compulsively, and spends half his time golfing. I, for one, am reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. And it doesn’t make me feel a bit better.
Julia PikeReading Gabriel García Márquez in the Age of Trump: The Autumn of the Patriarch
The courtroom is on the fifth floor of a large stone building that was once the Baltimore post office—a stuffy room with thick blue carpeting and walls of wood paneling, several Xeroxed signs reminding us not to chew gum, and long pew-like benches where we crowd together and grumble about how inconvenient it would be to serve on a jury. After we are sworn in, the judge instructs us to stand if certain statements apply to us, and I’m surprised by what people will admit. Would you believe something simply because it was said by a police officer?
I was riding the F train home the other day reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The local went express at Jay Street in Brooklyn, and I exchanged an exasperated smile with a woman on the platform. “Is that good?” she asked, pointing to the book. “I’ve been meaning to read it.” I called Whitehead’s disturbing way of mixing history and invention in his novel about slavery, “steampunk abolitionist” and she liked that. Manners obliging, I asked what she was reading. “Something with Ove in the title.” It was funny in surprising ways, but she couldn’t remember the name. We agreed nothing induces amnesia like being asked what you’re reading. The name and author came to her on the local. A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman. I promised to look it up. I got off at the next stop feeling rich for our impromptu book club, and grateful for a moment of literary communion that’s all but disappeared.
I first went to London as an undergrad, on a yearlong study abroad program in University College London’s intimidating English department. When I returned very reluctantly to the US, I often dreamed about London, but in those dreams I would find familiar places moved, distorted, and the people I missed not where I looked for them. After graduation, I moved again to the UK for a master’s program, but mainly to get back to London. I had discovered, after a few panicky weeks of foreign disorientation, that the city suited me—and also that my quiet home in Massachusetts no longer did. At 22, one seemed to preclude the other; London felt strange and exotic in a way that had become a daily necessity.
In seventh grade, your friend Megan invites you to go raiding, which means sneaking around in dark clothes and throwing feed corn on other people’s houses. This is rural Pennsylvania, a small town of rolling fields and old steel mills. It’s fall, cold. The point is trespassing, minor vandalism, the fact that you are twelve and living in a place where nothing ever happens.
You start at Megan’s house in a damp wooded valley not far from the river and walk toward the highway. It’s dark out, though probably not any later than seven or eight o’clock. Back here, in her neighborhood, there are steep hills, one after another, and the houses are set too far back from the road for an easy escape, and so for a while, the three of you—Megan, you, her neighbor-friend Derek—just walk.
In Abidjan, the principal city of Côte d’Ivoire, Africa’s fastest-growing economy, the air is black and nauseating on the Boulevard des Martyrs in the upscale Deux-Plateaux neighborhood at morning rush hour. My mouth tastes of diesel already. The light changes. Orange taxis, yellow taxis, trucks, busses, vans belch exhaust in unison. Traffic surges; two lanes fracture into four as drivers maneuver anarchically to break through, and the jam gets worse. When the cab I’m in reaches the chokepoint, I see a man lying on his back on the pavement, head to one side, the wheels of a stopped car inches away. His overturned motorcycle blocks a lane. When I pass a half an hour later, he’s still there, and traffic is backed up to the Boulevard François Mitterrand.
Olivia ZhengIvoirians Dream of America, Undeterred by Trump
Do you remember when we’d go walking in the rain, and your coat was too big for you so that I couldn’t see your face under the hood? And we’d lean against one of the giant cedars growing among the graves in the Pioneer Cemetery, tree and stone planted over a hundred years before by ancestors unknown to us? And when we went to kiss, we bumped teeth because all sense of space had been lost? It was then I started falling in love with you.