On Wednesday, I flew on the trapeze. Yes, just another day here in southern California. Kidding. It was quite extraordinary, not least because when you watch it, it looks so easy and when you do it yourself, it’s as if a giant rhino has clambered inside your body and is clinging to the bar by its little callused hooves. I came down after the first try, my body shaking with adrenalin and fear and, frankly, embarrassment that people had had to watch me.
I kept looking at the grapefruit tree that stood benignly in the background and the orange tree next to it, its branches crowded with fruit and tried to think about recipes, and yet who was I kidding. I was thinking of not getting it right, of somehow not hearing the instructor’s orders, his barks up to the platform. The platform wobbles as you stand on it, by the way, and is 40 feet off the ground. It’s also frighteningly slim. This is what they tell you, the trapeze aficionados – that the experience teaches you to become a “connoisseur” of your fear. And then you jump.
I had three goes at the “knee hang” – see the picture. If you think you’re fit, try doing that one day. You have to use all your upper body strength to hoist your legs over the bar. I now realize I have no upper body strength. I had one more go left before the instructor called time. “Think of something that makes you really angry,” he shouted angrily. And then: “You can do this!” “Knees to nipples!” a woman yelled. She was a midwife.
I can’t remember what happened next except a feeling of relief and then the blood rushing to my head. I let go of the bar too late – everything in you resists it – and was out of whack with the catcher. I was all over the shop, but his grip was monumental. I dangled, a dead weight. But it’s that in-between moment that gets you, the moment of weightlessness. You’re flying! Everybody looks the same when it happens – lost in rapture. You hope that no one notices, but they do.
There are other sensory impressions: the grass turning brown underfoot. Scorching flagstones. The smell of horse from the field next door. Not dung exactly, but the smell almost of the horse’s breath; musky and hot, mixed with summer air. Low slung wire fencing turning a rusted orange. The clink as you’re unclasped from the ropes. The enormous web of net. Toes inching over the platform. The two bushy trees – grapefruit and orange against the back wall, the flashes of colour a pleasing backdrop to the soaring, swooping and plummeting bodies, the last one being mine.
Citrus with Orange Caramel
Adapted from Deborah Madison, Seasonal Fruit Desserts
This is fruit at its most chaste. The caramel is very subtle; warm rather than sweet. I used grapefruit and oranges because they come from the story, and I made it that night, but you can use anything citrussy.
6-8 citrus fruits
⅓ cup (70g) organic sugar
½ cup (120ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cinnamon stick
A few splashes of orange-blossom water
Fresh mint sprigs or lemon balm
Finely grate the zest of an orange, and put to one side. Peel the rest of the fruit. Use a sharp knife for cutting citrus, if you want it to look pretty. Take a narrow slice off the stem and blossom ends. Cut down the sides of the fruit from top to bottom, slicing away the skin and the white pith. Now cut into rounds and put into a bowl.
Melt the sugar over a medium heat, until it turns a rich, chocolatey brown. Don’t stir, but keep tipping the pan this way and that, so the sugar doesn’t burn. When it has become liquid, stand back and pour in the juice. It will splutter and the caramel will seize, but after a few minutes back on the heat, it will dissolve again. Add the reserved orange zest, cinnamon stick, and clove. Splash in a few drops of the orange-blossom water, slide in the slices of fruit and swish them around so they’re coated, then pour the fruit and caramel back into the bowl. Serve very cold, speckled with the fresh herbs. This dish is very accepting of ice cream, and Greek yogurt.