The arc of his­tory

Hot dogs, water­melon and hope

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Carla Carlisle

Carla Carlisle cel­e­brates the Fourth of July

ONE hot sum­mer’s day in early July, we opened the doors to our vine­yard restau­rant. The vine­yard was three years old—the time it takes for vines to pro­duce the grapes that make the wine— and the restau­rant was 400 years old. That is to say, it was in a barn that was born in oak some four cen­turies ear­lier. We added a hard­wood floor and a new roof, put in thought­ful win­dows, in­stalled a nearly new stain­lesssteel kitchen and opened for busi­ness.

Talk in this neck of Suf­folk was that the Amer­i­can woman was nuts. Bets were taken on how long it would last. The bank man­ager spoke for many when he said: ‘But you are noth­ing, noth­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere.’ Neigh­bour­ing farm­ers gazed into the dis­tance and said they felt sorry for my hus­band.

That was 25 years ago; we now have 50 peo­ple on the pay­roll and, most days, that hus­band eats lunch in the cafe, a recipe for mar­i­tal longevity if ever there was.

From the be­gin­ning, the menu had a sub­tle Amer­i­can ac­cent. On the fourth Thurs­day in Novem­ber, we cel­e­brate Thanksgiving South­ern style, with corn­bread dressing, sweet-potato casse­role and Nor­folk black tur­keys pan-smoked over grapevine prun­ings. Big let­ters on the menu ad­vise the thank­ful to ‘Save room for pie’: pump­kin pie, pecan pie and ap­ple pie with cin­na­mon ice cream.

Then there’s the Fourth of July. I hang my old Amer­i­can-flag quilt over the bal­cony that once housed the seed dresser, but, oth­er­wise, I’m sen­si­tive to the fact that this day cel­e­brates Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule. We serve Glouces­ter Old Spot hot dogs, Scot­tish lob­ster rolls, potato salad, ice-cold water­melon and straw­berry short­cake. The menu sings ‘free­dom’ more than ‘in­de­pen­dence’, start­ing with Char­lotte’s Web: ‘An hour of free­dom is worth a bar­rel of slops’ (said the goose to Wil­bur the pig).

Then, in 2003, I left the flag quilt in the at­tic. No hot dogs, no ro­man can­dles like bombs burst­ing in air. No quotes from E. B. White or Thomas Paine, born 10 miles from this farm, whose rev­o­lu­tion­ary pam­phlet Com­mon Sense sparked the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

My en­thu­si­asm for pa­tri­otic hoo-haw hit a lull be­cause I be­lieved the in­va­sion of Iraq was a mis­take, that Bri­tain (Tony Blair) had pro­vided grav­i­tas and le­git­i­macy to Pres­i­dent Bush and that the so-called coali­tion was a tragedy in the mak­ing. Soon after the fire­works of Shock and Awe, it was ob­vi­ous that we could no more win the war in Iraq (ditto Afghanistan) than we could win an earth­quake, but even then few could fore­see the earth­quake that would fol­low that war: Isis, Syria, Libya, Ye­men…

This year, the flags are out again, al­though the news from Amer­ica is cra­zier, more heart­break­ing and more infuriating than I can ever re­mem­ber. For the re­turn of the flags, I can thank James Comey, the FBI di­rec­tor who Don­ald Trump sacked after not get­ting the re­sponse he ex­pected when he asked for his loy­alty.

I went to hear the for­mer di­rec­tor ‘in con­ver­sa­tion’ with Emily Maitlis at the Bar­bican last week. Mr Comey, all 6ft 8in of him, di­vides opin­ion. The Hil­lary peo­ple blame him for their can­di­date los­ing; the Trump peo­ple blame him for turn­ing the Pres­i­dent down, get­ting him­self fired and sin­gle­hand­edly trig­ger­ing the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion. How a man can have so many peo­ple mad at him and re­main good-na­tured, ar­tic­u­late, grace­ful and be­liev­able is be­yond me.

Mr Comey sees the his­tory of Amer­ica as an arc that moves ever up­ward, with plenty of troughs and ravines along the way. He has the clar­ity of a lawyer, but the con­fi­dence of a his­to­rian who has watched Amer­ica go through dark times be­fore. He re­minded his au­di­ence of the Mccarthy pe­riod, when the coun­try was di­vided be­tween those who ac­cepted the de­vice of loy­alty oaths, witch hunts and the right to call any­body you didn’t like a Com­mu­nist and those who trem­bled at the thought. He asked us to re­mem­ber the bomb in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, that killed four young girls at­tend­ing Sun­day School.

Just when it looks as if hu­man­ity and civil­i­sa­tion are gone for good, he main­tains that some­thing hap­pens: the ground shifts, the peo­ple stand up and the graph of his­tory moves.

Did that hap­pen last month when Amer­i­cans learned that more than 2,000 chil­dren were taken from their moth­ers at the Mex­i­can bor­der? When the Pres­i­dent can­celled ‘due process’ to asy­lum seek­ers? There is no guar­an­tee. As long as peo­ple from south of the bor­der seek to flee poverty and the vi­o­lence of sec­tar­ian/drug/gang wars, there will be haunt­ing scenes of des­per­ate peo­ple. The strug­gle for sur­vival is as old as hu­man­ity and it’s never been an easy jour­ney.

On the Fourth of July, we serve Scot­tish lob­ster rolls and straw­berry short­cake

The flags are out again, al­though the news from Amer­ica is cra­zier and more heart­break­ing than I can ever re­mem­ber

I never thought I would hear an FBI di­rec­tor (al­beit for­mer) quote Martin Luther King, but it’s Mr Comey’s theme: ‘The arc of his­tory is long but it bends to­ward jus­tice.’ It doesn’t bend on its own, of course. It takes hu­man ac­tion and re­ac­tion, ex­actly as it did nearly 250 years ago in a fall­out over tea in Bos­ton har­bour.

It may seem as corny as Kansas in Au­gust, but, today, I’m hang­ing two an­cient flags, one with only 48 stars, the other an old woollen Union Flag patched through the years by un­known hands. I’m cel­e­brat­ing the com­mon lan­guage and val­ues that unite these two coun­tries, boosted by Mr Comey’s be­lief that noth­ing ter­ri­ble lasts for­ever.

The prize is a cloud­less day, blue­berry pie, ba­bies nap­ping on quilts in the shade. To para­phrase that goose: an hour of hope is worth heaps more than a bar­rel of slops.

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