I am reading George Sand’s Lettres D’Un Voyageur, a birthday gift. These twelve letters detail not just her physical travels but also her emotional and spiritual journeys. In one letter she instructs a friend on how to dispose of her estate should she encounter death. She leaves all of her worldly goods, which include her books, butterflies and debts as well as a herbarium, to her friends.
What is a herbarium? On looking it up I discover that it is a collection of preserved plant specimens. Perhaps it is something I should consider, not having a backyard, field or patio. Perhaps I can keep a garden between blotting paper or in glass jars.
It’s as if the 19th century is a world even further than we imagine, when I read such eclectic memoirs.
In another letter she writes of the sublime peaks of the Tyrol. She has decided to ‘avoid the squalor of wayside inns…to travel at night when it [is] cold and sleep out of doors in daylight.’ (1)
If only I had had the courage to travel like this when recently visiting South Australia to produce a play at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Instead I succumbed to the convenience of a cheap motel room. And night after night of that festival week I lay awake in the March heat unable to sleep. One night, as I lay there, something bit me. I scrambled to put on my bedside lamp. A bug crawled across the sheets. It had drawn blood; mini craters on my arms itched and swelled. On instinct I squashed it between thumbnail and fore finger and my blood splashed red across the sheets. I spent the rest of the night huddled in the circle of lamplight armed with a thick book, ready to dispatch any other beasts intent on gorging themselves on human blood. The establishment shall remain unnamed. And Adelaide was otherwise wonderfully welcoming. The fact that I had to dispose of all of my luggage in order to not take the infestation home with me I am determined to see through a glass half full. The whole experience is actually an opportunity – to shop.
So perhaps it is not a herbarium that I will set up but an insect collection complete with glass display case, metal pins and mounting board. And of course labels; bearing the names and address of the inns in which the insects have been discovered. Lettres D’ Infestazion….
(1) Letter 1, p46