French dirt inspires me. I get here, and I have to plant something, sink my fingers into the layers of spent or rich soil, finding a way to give life to another color another leaf-shape another perfume another future memory. Proustian gardening by a woman who never made her way cover-to-cover through Remembrance of Things Past.
I am not an accomplished gardener; in fact, all my fingers and thumbs are decidedly flesh-colored. But I never stop trying, never stop getting drunk on the beauty of watching things grow. What loveliness there is in our modest garden is there because Nature finds her way artfully around my not-knowing. She’s a relentless teacher, is she not? If there’s chlorophyl lying dormant in my opposable appendages, she will find it and bring it radiantly to the surface. One of these days, it just might happen.
I’ve written about the lavender we have in France, which has flourished over the years, growing old and gnarled and ever-more fragrant. This year, we’ve added herbs under the kitchen window. Today, in fact. They went in with their French labels fresh from the store and were promptly re-assigned their Italian names by my artful child. I rub their leaves to release their scent and have only one song spring to mind, and it’s decidedly in English: “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…” (though I seem to remember that the version I learned as a young girl said “Savory sage, rosemary and thyme”).
The language doesn’t matter. All the words—all the names—are beautiful and perfect and irrelevant. What matters is that the burgeoning bits of green taking root in our strip of soil will embellish soups and salads and…the air as we walk by. Even as I type, the scent of thyme escapes from my fingernails and the keyboard.
Basilic = basilico = basil
Thym = timo = thyme
Persil = prezzemolo = parsley
Sauge = salvia = sage
Romarin = rosmarino = rosemary
Ciboulette = erba cipollina = chive