Herewith, the first attempt of the year to make anything grow in the apartment – a summery fantasy of cherry tomatoes and basil, both bought from Seeds of Change. I also have a mesclun mix to try out, when I get a more appropriate and permanent (and pretty) container. So, Peacevine Cherry Tomatoes and Genovese Sweet Basil, let’s see what you’ve got.
Incidentally (I promise), I have been reading and teaching Boccaccio’s Decameron this week, and also watching Pasolini’s somewhat hilarious 70s film version, and thus the story of Lisabetta and the pot of basil has loomed rather large – in short, lady falls in love with a servant, her brothers disapprove and kill him, then he reappears to her in a dream and tells her where they’ve buried him. She takes her maid, goes to dig him up, cuts off his head as it’s all she can carry, buries it in a pot and plants basil to cover him up. The combination of her abundant tears and his decomposing head (B. is quite scientific about the whole thing) make the basil grow ‘exceedingly thick and fragrant.’ The brothers are concerned about their sister wasting away, and before you can say Death Pesto, dig up the basil and find the head of her lover, identifiable only by his lovely curls. Too late – Lisabetta dies, but the basil lives on. I had forgotten, until reminded by Rebecca Mead’s lovely piece on George Eliot in the New Yorker last week, that poor failed idealist Lydgate in Middlemarch calls his wife Rosamund his ‘basil plant’ – after ‘a plant that had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains.’