|MINUTES AFTER UPLOADING MY last entry, with its description of the giant wasp's nest outside my window, the nest was gone. Our landlord, Denis, arrived with a ladder and his bee-keeping gear, and while I was sitting at my laptop, I saw the ladder rise past the window and bump against the eaves.
I went downstairs to say hello. He told me to make sure
all the windows were closed for the next few hours. I told him I thought
it was rather sad, that I thought the nest was quite beautiful, and had
just been writing about it.
"I know," he said. "It is. I just don't want to be sued
by anyone who gets stung."
He suited up in his white coveralls, gloves and net-veiled
hat, and made his way carefully up the three storeys to my window. While
I watched, still online, he pulled out a paint scraper with a long handle
and reached out for the buzzing nest. Two or three quick swipes and the
whole nest, held onto the wooden overhang with the most delicate of bonds,
fell into the front garden. Denis scraped at the few papery remnants of
the nest while an angry cloud buzzed around him. It stayed in the air outside
the window after he'd carefully made his way back down, bumping against
the windowpane, a frantic barrage of light but insistent tapping that lasted
for an hour; if there weren't a window between me and the angry swarm,
I'd have been stung near to death.
I went downstairs. The ladder was still up, and Denis'
smoker and tools still sat on the lawn, but he was nowhere in sight. In
a clear plastic garbage bag the remains of the nest sat, in two pieces,
a few dozen wasps trapped inside with it, some crowding into the knotted
plastic that held the contents safe.
I knelt down and took a close look at the nest. The handiwork
of the colony was even more impressive up close. Layers of hexagonal cells,
similar to those of a beehive but made of dusty gray paper, lay exposed.
The outside wall was even more beautiful than it looked through my window;
strata of gray wood fibre drawn like scales, scraped by the wasps from
weathered board, were interspersed with curved lines in white or the bright
colour of new wood. Separated from the comb and flattened into sheets,
it would be a particularly lovely high-end paper, beautifully textured,
tissue-thin but strong.
The trapped wasps, up close, were quite large, maybe an
inch long, covered in dully gleaming black carapace. A few bold lines of
white marked the lower curve of their abdomen, some ringing the sharp oval,
some lines leaving a black gap down the spine. They buzzed against the
clear plastic with a furious energy, two or three struggling against the
folds of the bag, searching for an exit. They'd be dead in few hours. They
were the lucky ones.
Back up by my desk, a small cloud of stragglers still
flew tight circles around the now-vacant area where the nest had been.
Most of the colony had dispersed, but the next day a few remnants would
remain, darting in the air like they were searching for an entrance to
the nest that now sat, broken and empty on the lawn below, waiting for
Tuesday's trash pick-up. Two days later, the only evidence of the nest
is a ragged bullseye of concentric circles on the thick white paint of
the eaves, the colony that once lived there now homeless and dying.
K. MADE A GREAT SCORE this weekend, returning from lunch
with her sister with an armful of old Holiday magazines, a long-defunct
travel mag published during the boom years after the war. K. had heard
of it before, at a symposium lecture on the Golden Age of Magazine Publishing.
A glance at the table of contents and I knew why.
Paul Bowles on Madeira. V.S. Pritchett on Eastern Europe.
Kenneth Tynan on Manhattan. Illustrations by Ronald Searle. Photos by Henri
Cartier-Bresson, Arnold Newman and Elliot Erwitt. Nadine Gordimer on American
writers. Han Suyin on Shanghai. A Madeline story by Bemelmans. Sean O'Foalain
on Chicago and Italy. Budd Shulberg on Mexico. William Golding on Holland.
Features on non-travel subjects like the U.S. Army and profiles of Jimmy
Durante and Cantinflas. I imagine it was magazines like this that kept
all these notable writers up on their bar bills, osteopaths and private
school tuition for the kids.
In the December 1960 issue, devoted to Chicago, James
Thurber writes a piece for the intro section of the book on malapropisms.
("We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the word while the very Oedipus
of reason crumbles beneath us.") Kenneth Tynan's New York piece features
the first mention I've ever read of a speech tic that's now annoyingly
common: "Let's, like, meet for a drink at the Trianon." This four years
before I was born -- and I thought it was something my generation would
have to answer solely for.
The ads are fascinating, as ads -- sadly -- always are.
Ads for cruise lines -- the Matson, Incres, United States, North German
Lloyd, United States President, Greek, Moore-McCormack, Alcoa, Trans-Atlantic
Steamship, Holland-America, Peninsular & Oriental, British India, Union-Castle
and American Export lines, most of whom disappeared long ago, well before
the renaissance in cruise travel.
Ads for dopp kits and barometers and travel outfits and
hi-fis and cameras and perfume. Ads for airlines and hotels and resorts
and private schools. Ads for cars -- huge American cars, broad as soccer
pitches, low and wide and striped with chrome. The ads are lavish, lurid,
even, and full of pinched bombast ("...The 1961 Cadillac represents a new
standard by which the world's motor cars will be judged.") An understated,
ironic ad for the VW Beetle, a classic campaign for connoisseurs of Madison
Avenue, is a faint hint of the world yet to come.
Ads for booze: Gilbey's scotch, Bourbon Supreme, Duff
Gordon sherry, Almadén rosé, Glenmore scotch and Old Kentucky
Tavern bourbon, Booth's House of Lords gin, Dubonnet and Cinzano vermouths,
Cherry Heering liqueur, Vat 69 scotch, Taylor's New York State Champagne,
Martell cognac, Martin's 12-year-old scotch, Aalborg aquavit, Galliano
liqueur, Teacher's scotch, Jim Beam bourbon (in three attractive gift packages
for the holidays), Cointreau liqueur, Fairfax County and Virginia Gentleman
bourbon -- the latter with a charming picture on the label of two colonial
toffs being served highballs by a darky slave; hard to believe now.
J & B scotch. Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry. Meier's
Pale Dry Cocktail Ohio State sherry. Polignac cognac. B & B liqueur.
Great Western New York State champagne. Paul Masson wines. Hiram Walker
cordials. Bell's scotch. Grant's. Drambuie. Budweiser. Remy Martin. Marie
Brizzard creme de menthe. Hennesy cognac. Seagram's gin. Cutty Sark blended
whiskey and Noilly Prat vermouth. Bisquit cognac.
Smuggler -- "The Fashionable Scotch". Garnier frappemint.
Cook's Imperial American champagne. Coronet brandy. Old Crow. Seagram's
VO. Chianti Ruffino. Beefeater. Wild Turkey. Boissiere vermouth. Bushmills.
Old Fitzgerald bourbon. Gordon's gin. Piat beaujolais. DeKuyper creme de
menthe. (You only every own one bottle of creme de menthe in your life
-- the one you buy to make "retro" cocktails at a party, and can't bear
to throw out twenty years later. It never evaporates. NASA should look
Miller High Life. Tuborg. Chartreuse liqueur. Jameson's.
La Ina sherry. (I have a half-drunk bottle in the fridge right now -- I'd
be more than half-drunk if I tried to finish it off tonight.) Folonari
Italian wines. Dry Sack sherry. White Horse scotch. Ron Carioca rum. I.W.
The Golden Age of Guiltless Social Drinking.
Live lobsters, ham, steaks, pecans, maple syrup and potatoes
by air mail. Vests, rechargeable batteries, slippers, cigars -- the Good
Life. The Barbizon-Plaza in Manhattan -- a suite for $22 a night. We spent
the evening drooling over every page.