Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Two Unalike Things

I've been laid up for two days with food poisoning, and there's a lot to be said for an enforced period of rest. I had friends visiting on the Friday night, and at about midnight I started to feel very odd: racing mind, hearing voices, excessive salivation, a queasy feeling in the stomach like a eddy whirling scummy plastic around in an oily sea. My two friends had my bed and I slept on the floor of my living room, but at about 5am the sluices opened at both ends. It was epic, like an early 19th century no-expense-spared production of Shakespeare: at one point, puking my guts up, I half-expected to see Ellen Terry ride past on a dolphin in the gaslight, singing 'Full fathom five'. I was, you'll gather, hallucinating by this point. Sparing you further personal details, I will quote the marvellous Terry Castle's account of food poisoning in Sicily, from The Professor and Other Writings:

'So was it the gothic dust of the nineteenth century? Or the (slightly "off") shrimp and calamari? By the time we took the ferry to Lipari, twenty-four hours later, it was impossible to ignore: a certain grinding, flopping feeling in my stomach, like a lonely goony bird struggling to take off. Strange ressentiment at the thought of food...Piled onto the scruffy tour boat filed with voluble Sicilians and assorted squalling offspring, then churned off across the waves. Intestines profoundly restless. A couple of crampy-shivery snorkelling stops in the blue Tyrrhenian sea, then debarked at Panarea for the afternoon. Still in denial, despite rough, gasping, even passionate bout of diarrhea, surrounded by mops and buckets in a little gelateria WC. Trying to persuade myself that I and the stomach bug were only having a brief affair.

A major turn for the worse, however, when we docked at Stromboli. The sun was starting to go down, the fabled volcano smoking in sinister, belching fashion. I stopped to paw over T-shirts at one of the many souvenir stalls in a pathetic stab at normalcy...Inward writhing like Laocoon...Walked gingerly toward the main pumice beach in desultory search of a swim. But then nothing to do but break for it: bowels suddenly on fire. B. watching in horror. Mad, self-flinging plunge into the waves, followed by Byronic exaltation (this is something I've never done before; I am breaking every law of God and Man); then sordid, liquefying release. Catharsis accomplished, I hurried back onto the beach groaning like Mr Pooter after the umpteenth insult from Lupin, his annoying ne'er -do-well son.'

So, dear reader, was it with me, although without the more glamorous setting. After an afternoon of this, my friends cut their visit short.

* * *

On another note entirely, I am captivated by this sumptuously sinister, almost mythological garment: a cape woven from spider-silk, that rich gold-saffron colour being the natural hue. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I shall be taking a trip to the V&A to gape in person. Apparently it is so light that you cannot physically feel it: cloth as precious as liquid gold, as insubstantial as air.

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