paradise is from ancient persian and means a walled garden

Oh, God, where did I leave you? Shoreditch? Damn. We struggled back to Cambridge that night and got the girls to sleep by about a million o’clock. Monday they played, we worked. Tuesday I schlepped down to London again for work. I’d booked a hotel for Tuesday night, then changed my mind and tried to cancel, then realized it was already too late to cancel without paying in full, so I lured Jeremy down to the Big Smoke to keep me company. Thanks to confused arrangements I sat in Gower Street for twenty minutes growing increasingly cross, then walked around the corner to Paradiso to find Jeremy and Grant already seated at an outdoor table.

“We were about to call the hotel and ask if there was a woman sitting outside looking VERY ANGRY,” said Grant.

I ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was an incomparably mild and lovely London night. Miss Ghostwood 2010, the beautiful Tallulah Mockingbird, was gracious enough to join us. We talked about every possible thing: Books (we all worship Hilary Mantel with an unholy passion and have progressed beyond Wolf Hall into her memoir and her earlier novel, A Place of Greater Safety. Edward St Aubyn is clever and bitchy and shallow but fun reading for a middle-aged European trip), People We Know (we love you all and are thrilled you’re doing so well. Except for that one guy, we hate that guy), Marriage And Relationships And Kids And So Forth, and Stuff We Are Planning To Wow The World With (no spoilers, sweetie!)

The hotel was, well, cheap. And close to work. And breakfast was included, and the full English was pretty much a full English, you can’t go far wrong. But the liquid purporting to be coffee was, how shall I say? Regrettable. J and I snuck off to the British Museum for a quick culture-gorge. They’ve planted a Representative South African Garden out the front, with jade plants and agapanthus and rare precious Elephant Foot Plants. J said: “The bees have been visiting all differently-coloured flowers and have stratified pollen sediments on their legs. You can see the different layers.”

Reader, I married him.

We started at the Royal Graves of Ur – irresistible carnelian and lapis lazuli and gold – and walked through rooms and rooms of Sumerian and Assyrian and Lydian and Phrygian art. Walls and walls of cuneiform, part of Assyria’s royal library: sketchy, inaccurate astronomical observations and thousands of words on the meaning of entrails, deformed babies, other omens:

“So many sophisticated civilizations,” said Jeremy, “almost no science.” They were doing pretty well by the standards of their day – fire, agriculture, writing, cities, leisure, art. But how frightening it must have been, the unknowable world; eclipses, fire flood and famine, the world beyond the walls. On to the Oxus Treasure, four horses driven abreast, a chariot worked in gold. Wicked Lord Lytton looted another like it when he was Viceroy of a famished India.

And suddenly we are in Ancient Europe, with the birth of farming in Iran – the garden of Eden, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Room after room, culture overload. At last, Sutton Hoo. We spent a long time looking at the cloisonne work on the shoulder clasps. You can’t see it, but the blue squares are themselves checkered dark and light blue: it is millefiori glass. The workmanship. Jeremy said he couldn’t figure out how the thing was made. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Too Much British Museum Girl! Work, back to Cambridge, last day in Cambridge, work, lunch with the XenSourcers and their babies. Packing, too much stuff, bags too heavy. Jeremy threw up all night the night before we left. Taxi to the station, train to Stansted, easy well-designed interchange to the terminal, standardly horrible Ryanair flight to Carcassonne. Julia whined all the way: “I want my Janny NOW!” That’ll teach me to call it a short flight. Ninety minutes is long when you are four.

Janny! And Julia’s comical Joy Face. Hiccups with the car rental nobly surmounted, culminating in us pushing away an abandoned rental that was parking us in. A Peugeot 305! Brand new and great fun to drive. The children were each allowed to choose one name for it; they both chose Twinkle; so it is Twinkle Twinkle, Little Car. Les Oliviers and its large cool rooms and breakfasts and dinners on the terrace. It is too hot at lunch time. All the trees came down and now there is a view across a fallow field to a stand of trees with the hills beyond. Oh my God, the food: pistachios and olives and creamy Brie. Apricots and nectarines that you can’t eat without juice running down your chin. Crisp cucumbers, unctuous avocados, sausages, ham, hard boiled eggs, hummus, lashings of rose wine: it is Elizabeth David and Enid Blyton all rolled into one.

Saturday night, a party in the village square. Tomato salad with mozzarella and black olives, roasted leg of duck with green olives. Dancing and dancing and dancing, a smoke machine, lasers, the macarena, conga lines. Three generations of Fitzes getting their funk on. Carrying Julia home, where she fell asleep instantly in my arms. Sunday afternoon, a visit to one of Jan’s friends. Swimming in her pool in a walled garden on a hill surrounded by vineyards. The garden itself, cherry and apple and almond trees, rose rooms, a gate with frog ornaments, a green porcelain lion. The wind farms turning in the distance. This morning, climbing the hill to the ruined castle. The village full of walled gardens. The girls sitting in the window of the curtain wall.

The first time I came to Les Oliviers, a girlfriend, not even a daughter-in-law, I looked at the yellow-walled room with the twin beds in it; and the thought that I might one day fill them with Jan’s grandchildren was too presumptuous even to be allowed to form.

I forgot to say that they were selling little bronze horse votives in the shop at the British Museum; and that Jeremy bought me one.

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