A few of us were chatting companionably around Roz’s elegantly appointed table, sipping tea and nibbling on her freshly made scones, lemon shortbread and Petits Pain au Chocolat. We weren’t just nibbling, we were inhaling them faster than the air we breathe and Joyce and I put forth an edict that is permissible to lick one’s fingers at an “elevenish”, which is exactly what we were doing. As we were talking, the conversation roamed to our travels and how we get where we are going with mapquest, GPS, handwritten instructions and the fine art of how we manage to often get lost in spite of such help.
Roz and I have known each other for some time, but our friendship hit an unexpected high when we realized that we were both admirers of Victoria Magazine, both in its present state and in its more revered past life. I remember the moment of enlightment when the realization came and we squealed with delight like two acquaintances that suddenly discover they are cousins twice removed.
Victoria Magazine folded several years ago, much to the dismay of its loyal readers, and reappeared with a similar format, though not quite as rich, in my view, in content. It is rather like becoming reacquainted with someone who has been away for awhile and returns somehow changed. Someone who remains your friend and whom you love, but where there is just something different.
Victoria Magazine published many books over the years and a few managed to make their way onto my shelves. The Quiet Center; Women Reflecting on Life’s Passages from the Pages of Victoria Magazine is one of these books.
The Quiet Center actually has taken on the added role of artwork. It sits on an easel for all to see because I love the artwork on the cover and because it reminds me of a cousin, who sits posed in a picture with my sister and me that was taken at a wedding once upon a time. The photograph and the dust cover make perfect companions on the shelf, close to my reading chair, in a quiet center of my own.
For some reason, the book called out to me today. I was sipping on tea, reflecting on Roz’s gathering, enjoying the quiet of the library and there it was, a treasured friend, faithfully near, inviting me in, taking me off the mapped out path I was on and I was soon quite lost in its pages.
The Quiet Center is a compilation of essays of noted women writers. The essays graced the pages of Victoria Magazine over a decade and the book has graced my shelves for more years than that. It quietly speaks through the voices of such writers as Madeleine L’Engle, Carol Shields, Catherine Clavert, Jane Smiley, and Judith Thurman.
Ms. Thurman was just added to my list of authors and books that I want to read. I was not acquainted with her until this week when I came upon her name in research I was doing on Isak Dinesen, a pen name of Karen Blixen. Judith Thurman authored Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, which was the biography that brought forth the movie Out of Africa and which brought Thurman into Isak Dinesen’s home in Denmark. The estate, Rungstedlund, is now a museum honoring her life and her writing. Noting Thurman’s name on several of the essays, I started reading one, “Pansies for Remembrance”, which was sitting conveniently in the middle of the book.
Thurman’s well crafted story weaves the theme of pansies and rituals and remembrances of her mother’s appreciation of pansies, her friend Beatrice’s scholarly mother’s advice on writing and, of Dinesen, who was known for her floral arrangements as much as for her writings. Thurman writes of Dinesen’s gardens and her bedroom, where she slept during her stay, and of Dinesen’s birthday, which is April 17 – the perfect time of year for a bouquet of black pansies.
I was lost in The Quiet Center, reading an essay and then wandering back to the table of contents, where someone else’s name would catch my eye and off I meandered to another story, my inner GPS unplugged, my map fallen somewhere under the keyboard, and my thoughts circling through pages and pages of well written themes. I was lost in words as I found my way back to the quiet center of myself where it is so very lovely to have memories of friends gathered and of writings well put.
Where is your quiet center?