San Francisco, 23 September 2012
We left this morning for San Francisco, to visit our son. We were up early, and since it was a beautiful morning – the sky was a cloudless clear blue – we decided to walk to the station to catch the train to the airport. The walk took us past our local supermarket, the modest housing estates that cluster around it, past the smart office buildings along the Third Ring Road, and finally along a rough semi-constructed path that follows the highway out to the airport until the stairs to the station are reached. The last stretch of our walk reminded us that Beijing is still constructing itself. It is one of those pieces of land that get left behind in urban renewal projects, stuck between new constructions – in this case, the highway on one side, modern office buildings on the other – and are fast going feral. Weeds were growing in abundance along the side of the path and covering the construction rubble underfoot, rogue trees were beginning to push up through the cracks, the fencing along the path was rusting and bent. We picked our way along, weaving to avoid the commuters streaming in to work, with the suitcase stumbling behind us over the rough paving.
Suddenly, there, in the shade of the early morning sun, was a cluster of morning glories flowering on the fence. The plant itself is nothing much to write home about; it has the weak tendril-like stalk of a climbing plant and the leaves are a drear matte green. But the flowers were magnificent – a cool, dark violet colour, almost phosphorescent in its intensity. I’m guessing they were Ipomoea purpurea, the purple or common morning glory. We stopped for a minute to admire them, but we were in a hurry now and had to move on.
As I write this, my mind’s eye suddenly whirls off half a world away and I find myself walking down the main coast road south of Genova, just as it enters the village where we used to spend our summers when the children were young. I am next to the cemetery; the village dead have the best view, out over the coast to the distant promontory. It’s a beautiful summer morning. Down in the cleft where a creek runs off the hills behind me, the morning glories have run amok, covering and smothering everything. But the flowers are open, beautiful in the morning light, cool, dark, violet.
And my mind’s eye whirls off again, this time alighting in the town in Africa where I was born. More than fifty years have passed and the memory is fading. But I see a wall – is it in a park, in a garden? – covered in morning glories, glowing in the morning light, cool – dark – violet.