Friday, December 31, 2010

Dying Embers

The end of December and of the year.

An unseasonably bright painting to mark its passing, and a poem that ends it—as indeed all should be ended—with a smile.

Winter Syntax
A sentence starts out like a lone traveler
heading into a blizzard at midnight,
tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face,
the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.
There are easier ways of making sense,
the connoisseurship of gesture, for example.
You hold a girl's face in your hands like a vase.
You lift a gun from the glove compartment
and toss it out the window into the desert heat.
These cool moments are blazing with silence.
The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it
it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning
outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon
in a corner of the couch.
Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.
The unclothed body is autobiography.
Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun.
But the traveler persists in his misery,
struggling all night through the deepening snow,
leaving a faint alphabet of bootprints
on the white hills and the white floors of valleys,
a message for field mice and passing crows.
At dawn he will spot the vine of smoke
rising from your chimney, and when he stands
before you shivering, draped in sparkling frost,
a smile will appear in the beard of icicles,
and the man will express a complete thought.
—Billy Collins

image:  Michael Eisemann

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Places I Would Rather Be

In these primeval British woods with their green bark.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Maelmin

Monday, December 27, 2010


My favorite holiday window, caught on film to revisit on whim any time.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Rockefeller Center Window

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

 Always my favorite night of the year—a piñon fire fragrant and meditative; farolitos lining walls and paths and rooftops; candlelight and evergreen; Pavarotti singing "O Holy Night"; clam chowder with potatoes and bacon, and my Mother's julekake, Norwegian Christmas bread; the feeling of anticipation, of being young again and full of love and hope.

This quote capture the spirit well:
I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
—Charles Dickens
And this is profundly true:
Christmas is a time when you get homesick—even when you're home.  
—Carol Nelson
And on that pensive note—to all a good night.

image:   Farolitos in Albuquerque, New Mexico, camerafiend

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anytime Pleasures

Pierre Bonnard's windows, and almost-hidden cats.

image:  Pierre Bonnard, The Open Window, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasonal Pleasures

new growth in the garden

beer bread

the older male trumpeter with the diamond earring during the triumphal moments of Handel’s Messiah

a Christmas wreath with red bow on the radiator of a Subaru

apricot jam

another Bonnard

peppermint hot chocolate

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Tendrils

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sacred Places

On this almost-solstice day, I am reminded of the hush of this northern English site—a woodhenge rather than the more familiar stonehenge, a site long, long predating the Romans, facing the Cheviot Hills, a place of prayer, dancing, and song.

The hush itself seems sacred to me; silence is a clearing, a ruined temple, the lofty moted reaches of a cathedral spire.

Quiet is a gift to the ears.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Maelmin Henge

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Nothing makes me happier than seeing our parade of quails.  A joy to the eye!

As is the drenched purple iris at Gambel Gardens between rains, and the yellow plastic slide and swing made from a fat old black tire left hanging in a hillside yard.

I’m in the mood to buy things, but in the end just look.  Looking’s for free—and listening, too.  My heart's made gladder by the calling of the lookout quail.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Quail2

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I give in, always, to the allure of windows—those liminal spaces that offer often anything, for love or money.  The glass is never barrier, but rather opening, or passageway, or conduit, the realm of Hermes, god of mischief, serendipity, the path.

Holiday windows are especially full of magic and of fun.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Montreal Window

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lights Coming On

There’s something magical about the hour between light and dark.  I love to be out walking when the lights are coming on, the restaurants sending out good smells and the chinking of silverware, all workday thoughts turning to fun, to home, to better things to come.

This time of year especially it is a pleasure to walk among the Christmas lights, the firefly dance of tree-borne fairy lights.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Annecy 2

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Hearing some lovely Beethoven string trios recently made me remember how dearly I love violins and cellos—and how horrified my father would have been to hear me say that.  Though he listened avidly to everything from Puccini to Pendercky, Beethoven to Strauss to the Grateful Dead to David Lee Roth’s “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” for some reason he loathed chamber music, and I would consequently not discover how essential it is to my being until my late twenties, when I came to it (that inner hushed, holy frisson) almost like a religious conversion.  Did I ever dare say so?  If I did, he would have been dismissive, scathing, as my mother was when I mentioned the trios.

But they touch my core, strings, and today I’ll listen and be glad.

Here's the fine adagio from Beethoven's Violin Sonata 5—

image:  Amedeo Modigliani, Cello Player

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


And there's joy in blooming things.  Drenched, alive, essential.

I do love gardens any time of year.  When wet, to ramble around slowly in your wooly boots and savor even more fully the saturation of the colors, textures, smells.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Alpine Flowers, Bourg-St.-Pierre

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


There's joy in buying potted herbs, to nurture now and smell and taste and let warm you during the long winter!

I love to put oregano in everything—fresh among salad greens or in lamb and feta tacos, or on a shrimp pizza with whole-wheat crust; dried in posole, pasta sauces, soups.

Here is a small section from my creative nonfiction piece, "Oregano," published in Tin House in Winter 2004:

Oregano, a good-sized, sprawling, montane territory, is neighbored on the west by the old kingdom of Nutmeg (Ground), mild and neutral as Switzerland, and on the east by the red sands of the two Paprikas:  Sweet Hungarian and Hot Hungarian.  Far to the north  lie the upstart countries of Roast Chicken Spices and Chili, Crushed Red.  To the south are the waters of the kitchen sink, that come and go in an irregular pattern of tides (usually highest at night, a couple of hours after dark, and capped with white foam).

    Oregano is fertile but dry, friable.  Its soil is high in lime.  It has a seacoast, islands:  an entire archipelago, really.  And mountains, above all.  Mountains with high, Icarian monasteries, forgotten aeries, where translations of old texts are still made painstakingly by hand.  Mountains with abandoned ski-lifts and blue hives thrumming with honeybees—on the scree of which the gods are said to have been born.

    Oregano is Greek, mostly, as they say Macedonia is, though the Turks have fought over it and there are scattered pockets of Mexican settlers in the milder regions, who can be seen sitting in their doorways towards evening in the late spring watching a swaybacked white mare in a pasture across the rutted road.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Origanum

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lady with Lapdog

I've always loved the restful concentration of this painting, and take it as today's inspiration—remembering to breathe, wanting to find a dog to hold and place my cheek against, reflecting inwardly over a slow meal.

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Woman with Dog, The Phillips Collection

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Farmers' Market

So much to tantalize the senses at a farmers' market—the fragrance of roasting chickens dripping their juices on browned potatoes, the visual impact of red and orange seasonal fruit, the earthy feel of globular mushrooms, the plaintive melody of the Andean flutes (to which two Airdale terriers listen, rapt), the spices in the Oaxacan tamales, steamily unwrapped.  

The bounty of the earth, to buy or just enjoy while you walk down the row of stalls stealing glimpses.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Farmers' Market, Kaillua, Kona

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Today’s sensual exploration is this, the texture of old tarnished copper, the verdigris that gives an ancient object character and life. 

I’m taken also by the endless possibilities of what might lie through such a keyhole, and by the suggestion of sun warming the outer side.

The lovely bluey-green of Chinese coins . . .

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Keyhole, Lago di Como, 1997

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Little Patch of Sun

Today's pleasure:  a little patch of sun, against a quiet wall.

Image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Carmel Mission

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mulled Wine

Today's treat for the senses—mulled wine.  Spices, citrus, brandy; wonderful smells.  And I do love mulling.

My recipe:
2 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 bouquet garni bag full of World Market mulling spices
1 bottle red French table wine
1/4 cup brandy
1 orange, sliced


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Poetry Reading

Today's great pleasure is listening to Billy Collins read his poem, Forgetfulness.  Sad but true! and funny too.  The text of the poem follows at the end.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins

image: Christie B. Cochrell, Pomegranates (Persephone, too, forgot—that she was not to eat this tempting fruit.  And so we have winter . . .)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Coign of Vantage

I'm especially grateful today to gaze at this lovely painting by Laurence Alma Tadema, which we saw in the flesh—or the oils—just last week at the Legion of Honor.  I love the lazy garlanded beast with his sleek back turned.

I'm more grateful than I can say to be able to see it, to continue seeing as I do, having had a scare this morning about a torn retina.  Sight is precious, and I shall glory in it absolutely all I can.

image:  Sir Laurence Alma Tadema, A Coign of Vantage, Olga's Gallery

Monday, December 6, 2010

Whiskey Sour Balls

Tonight's sensual pleasure will be making a batch of Whiskey Sour Balls, with coconut, vanilla wafers, and bourbon.  

My Mother used to make Rum Balls, along with biscochitos and her Norwegian sandbakkels, and I remember fondly the amiable elf or gnome my friend Lilian created one Christmas in Santa Fe, who she christened Rum Ball.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


I was struck by the saturated colors of these ribbons in a window years ago at Allied Arts—and today went out shopping for Christmas ribbons.  The textures as well as the colors do good things for the spirit, on a rainy afternoon, and I've been brightened by the rolls and rolls of gauzy woven light.  I ended up with just a few, one bronzy and one melon shot with gold, and then a kind of snowflake ribbon, with the sparkle of ice crystals just about to melt on breath-warmed glass.

I was tempted as well by gorgeous taffetas, in bronzes too and little knots of red, thinking what scarves they'd make—but realized in the end that even sewing hems is something beyond me just now, my sewing machine buried under drafts of novels and other unfinished creative projects.

I did buy some squares of Bali batiks to wrap gifts in, complementing the ribbons.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ribbons

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sage Tea

I go looking for more sage tea, since I can’t pick sage fresh in Crete’s high mountains as I did a few summers ago, the smell of the herb pungent as it gets trampled underfoot, the taste of it beyond delicious, made into tea in a copper briki, good for absolutely everything.

There’s puzzlement today, with everyone in Rose Market trying to figure out how to say “sage” in Farsi.  But in the end they find it and I buy a bag of silver or white sage, the kind the Navajos wrap with a length of colored thread, bind into smudges, whose slow smoke will purify a space, or celebrate a rite of passage.

I love that sage means wise; that sage is part of passage, message, presage.

At the market as well I buy a jar of sour cherry jam, and then kebabs of lamb grilled with spices, wrapped in lavash, with a generous handful of fresh mint, onion, and assorted parsleys on the side. The grilling lamb is not this afternoon sending a cloud of fragrant smoke into the winter air, but it still can't be resisted.

A young woman is squeezing a mound of pomegranates into juice near the front door.

So today’s treats—are multiple.

image:  Sage tea in a glass cup, Ottmar Diez


Today's sensual treat:  reggae.

Dancing barefoot on the living room carpet to roots reggae with its irresistible beat and uplifting life-affirming bounce, the steel guitars and insistent drums and whiff of island rum under the whole.  The world assumes colors out of the ordinary spectrum.

Three absolute favorites are these—

The Heptones, Book of Rules

Desmond Dekker, Pickney Gal

UB40, Wear You to the Ball

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Bell, Blue

Friday, December 3, 2010


Today, whether by sunlight or by flourescent office light, I will lose myself in the bright stained-glass chamber of my lovely small kaleidoscope with its refracted pattern of flowers and bees and ladybugs and grasshoppers and butterflies—a winter-garden with a summer’s air.

It’s like the rosy pattern on an English bone-china teacup, or indeed like stained glass, the wonder that is La Sainte Chapelle, the radiance of that Parisian chapel that I have compared (most recently in my novel Nude Against the Light) with the radiance of the roomful of Bonnards at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.

Here is a short passage from Rainer Maria Remarque’s Heaven Has No Favorites about the power of that stained glass, for a dying woman:
Lilian stretched her whole body in the rippling light.  It seemed to her that she could hear it.  One could hear so many things, she thought, if only one could be quiet enough.  She breathed deeply.  She breathed in the gold and blue and wine red. . . .  She was happy.  The happiness of radiance, she thought:  the most immaterial in the world.
And so the stream of the refracted light leads me from my concrete sensual joy in this moment outward to England, France, Bonnard, summer, and deep-down happiness.

image:  multi-colored view of a kaleidoscope, photo taken by H. Pellikka

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Noni Soap

For fragrance and texture, today’s sensual indulgence—unwrapping a new bar of noni soap.  Its essence is that of the island it comes from, Hawai’i, whose blossom-scented air welcomes you like a languid bath, or an embrace.

The soap is made of coconut, palm, olive, kukui, and macadamia nut oils, grapefruit seed extract.  It’s then scented with white ginger, gardenia, plumeria.  It’s good for the complexion, for healing rashes or sunburn, besides transporting you back to the Kona Coast almost in time for morning coffee.

Noni, a Hawaiian evergreen tree also known as Indian Mulberry, has a fruit with a rotten smell and an unassuming bumpy yellow globular look, that yet has in it an array of healthgiving properties.  It’s one of the medicinal plants the ancient Polynesians brought to Hawai’i on one of their canoe voyages (cannily reading the stars, the currents).  Native Hawaiians have used it to treat diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure.  Its roots, leaves, flowers, fruit, and bark are all used as herbal remedies, and the roots used to dye tapa cloth yellow, red, or purple.

In my quest for a suitable photo I am transfixed by the soaps here at The Soap Kitchen—scrumptious!

image:  Morinda citrifolia. El noni, aal, fruta del diablo o mora de la India (Morinda citrifolia) es una planta arbórea o arbustiva de la familia de las rubiáceas; originaria del sudeste asiático, ha sido introducida a la India y la Polinesia. Se emplea extensamente como medicinal.      Wilfredo Rodríguez

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Today’s sensual treat will be a nice enheartening cassoulet.  Not the complicated sort that took Julia Child four days to make, involving lamb shoulder, sawed into stewing chunks; rendered goose fat, and five pounds preserved goose plus cracklings; salt pork (rind optional); and plump pork sausages . . . but a quicker, more sedate version with turkey kielbasa, baby carrots, chicken, fresh thyme, and a bay leaf.  

Canned beans, of course, cannellini, because I always burn mine, however carefully I watch them.  (Or don't—one summer day a while ago gone hiking in my favorite park and standing hours later at the summit of a distant hill remembering I'd left a kettle of beans simmering . . .)  Burned, though, they do acquire an interesting smoky flavor!

image:  FrenchDuck UK

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wintering Through

There are twenty-two days until the winter solstice, the (re)turning of the light.  Those lines of Rilke's from one of the Sonnets to Orpheus come back to me—
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.
We must go on, to get through.  We will be gladder, stronger, better, after.

To count those wintering hours off I'm going to give my heart one present every day, something to brighten one or another of the senses.

Today's is a joy to the ears—Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus sung by the Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel.

And I am always happy to reread the whole poem by the light-gathering Rilke, first given to me by a friend at a time of sorrow—

The Sonnets To Orpheus: Book 2: XIII

Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Candle2

Monday, November 29, 2010


The end of another -ember month, nearly; the darkness closing in.  And everywhere, these moments of flame-like energy, this intense gathering of light into a few, fine mortal objects that carry it on into the darkest month and out again.  There is that certainty, that hope.

I'm reminded of the last image in T.H. White's The Once and Future King, in the last book, The Candle in the Wind—the lowly page sent by the embattled king on the morning of battle to carry remembrance of the glory that has been into the unseen reaches of the future, to keep the dwindled, flickering dream alive.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Tins

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things I Am Grateful For

Quiet grace.

Swallows, Akrotiri Fresco

Cloister, Durham

Santa Fe pot

And blessed remembered light.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Things I Am Grateful For

Colors, again—and again.

Lemons in John's bowl

Purple door in Durham

Harbor, Crete

I can only believe that colors are good for the heart, as water has been said to be.

"I am thirsty, too. Let us look for a well . . ."
I made a gesture of weariness. It is absurd to look for a well, at random, in the immensity of the desert. But nevertheless we started walking.
When we had trudged along for several hours, in silence, the darkness fell, and the stars began to come out. Thirst had made me a little feverish, and I looked at them as if I were in a dream. The little prince's last words came reeling back into my memory:
"Then you are thirsty, too?" I demanded.
But he did not reply to my question. He merely said to me:
"Water may also be good for the heart . . ." 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lemons, Purple Door, Boat

Friday, November 26, 2010

Things I Am Grateful For

Beauty in far places—

Beauty, near—

Beauty of the spirit.

So as the Navajos, ever in beauty may we walk.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lake Como Watering Can, Pear in Christie's bowl, Rancho de Chimayo

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I Am Grateful For

 Thanksgiving Day—oh day of thanks!

Pierre Bonnard, always, and this particular table of lovely desserts

Sencha Quince Green Tea—Beautiful to look at with its "spear-like distinguished grass green leaves combined with exquisite violet, malve and cornflower blossoms."  (Quince, native to the island of Crete, is a fruit that has been loved for centuries for its intoxicating flavor and mythological associations.)  Once available from Tealuxe in Boston, like heaven after tramping the Commons in snow.

The chance to sit in an afternoon patch of late November sun and eat duck dumplings!

Billy Collins, always too.  This is perhaps my favorite of his poems of gratitude—

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,

and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Things I Am Grateful For

apricots and dappled leaves (this tree at Tassajara; another, remembered, and ancient now, in our Santa Fe back yard)

sun-warmed olives, fragrant and tart, set on a sea-blue Greek table

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Apricots; Olives, lost link

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things I Am Grateful For

Some heartfelt gratitude during this Thanksgiving week, for little things and big that make all the difference.

pungent herbs—

stunning colors—

amiable sheep—

—to name but two or three, today.

All images from Crete (links lost).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Some Thoughts on Rain

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, At Hadrian's Wall

Instead of grumbling about this rainy Saturday, I'll think about and smile about the following—

I have never coasted down a hill of frozen rain.
(Duke Kahanamoku)
I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin.
(Leonard Cohen)
I think it's really important to use your hands and get close to materials. To be up close to real things like rain and mud; to have contact with nature.
(Robin Day)
I wanted to be a journalist, I thought it was glamorous and that I'd meet beautiful women in the rain.
(Bill Nighy)
A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in.
(Frederick The Great)
For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain and the noise of battle. It has the power to give grief or universality that lends it a youthful beauty.
(John Cheever)
He was so benevolent, so merciful a man that, in his mistaken passion, he would have held an umbrella over a duck in a shower of rain.
(Douglas William Jerrold)
I am a being of Heaven and Earth, of thunder and lightning, of rain and wind, of the galaxies.
(Eden Ahbez)
It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.
(Dave Barry)
My sorrow, when she's here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane.
(Robert Frost)
Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
(John Updike)
You should not see the desert simply as some faraway place of little rain. There are many forms of thirst.
(William Langewiesche)
And finally—
I like rain, actually.
(Bill Rodgers)
All those from Brainy Quote.

And then there is my own piece, 9 Rules for a Rainy Saturday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Places I Would Rather Be

In Venice, eating fish and readying for a Vivaldi concert —  

Image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Goldola, Blue