Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer in Normandy

We are long overdue for a Bonnard, and I love every glimpse I can get of the artist's garden and the thought of the lingering luncheons on tables set out under the green- and orange-leaved trees.  

I should watch again all of those French films with their idyllic French settings—A Sunday in the Country, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, My Mother's Castle and My Father's Glory, Cousin/Cousine, Swimming Pool, and of course the Colin Firth scenes in Love Actually.

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Balcony at Vernonnet

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Joies de Vivre

The tiny, downy, new-hatched baby quails, scattering among the grasses outside the bedroom window.

lovely image by Clayton Esterson, Pbase

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Moroccan Spices

I’ve been sorely tempted to buy a tagine, to cook wonderful Moroccan stews with lemons, olives, dried fruit, spices.  The temptation is often there, just stronger this year.  I started a short-short story with someone thinking the same way:
At dawn Abby is sitting on a bluff above the ocean eating pork and grapes flavored with Moroccan spices.  The wooden skewer is charred slightly from the grill, its tip sharp on her tongue when she slips the last piece of meat off it.  Hemingway, Abby thinks, chewing.  Africa.  Kilimanjaro.  Romance and adventure.  Sweet and savory.
I am persuaded too that buying a tagine would be the next best thing to a vacation in foreign parts.

Some of the possibilities would be
Lamb Tagine with Prunes, Apricots, and Almonds
Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Lemon
Monkfish Tagine with Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, and Olives
Red Mullet with Lemon and Mint
Yams, Carrots, and Prunes
Beef Tagine with Sweet Potatoes, Peas, and Ginger
Chorizo Tagine with Lentils and Fenugreek
Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon, Green Olives, and Thyme
Creamy Shellfish Tagine with Fennel and Spicy Harissa
Tagine of Artichokes, Potatoes, Peas, and Saffron
Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnuts
Fish with Chickpeas and Peppers

And that, only the beginning!

image:   Moroccan Spices, Atlas

Monday, June 27, 2011

Armchair Alps

In the Swiss/Italian Alps was little Bourg-St.-Pierre, where we were given fresh currant juice, kir, cheeses, when we visited before lunch.  There were pieces of our Roman temple there, all over town—in window frames, in the 9th-Century church tower, capping stone gateposts, forming the roof of a low structure behind the church— fragments of columns and inscriptions.  The town was fragrant with wet hay and with the camomile, thyme, and fennel growing wild there.  I crushed herbs with my clunky hiking boots wherever I stepped.  I was overwhelmed by the relative lushness of the rich, wet, deep-green valley; by being below tree-line again; by the beautiful Alpine garden we hiked to, where a temple cornice was found; by the chickens living it up in a grand old stone structure, grand as what was left of the Norman castle, as the high bridge crossed by Charlemagne which spanned a breathtaking precipice.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Bourg-St.-Pierre2

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Feta Accompli

I remember a perfect picnic in Greece, many summers ago, with all of the Aegean stretched out beneath us—a chunk of pungent feta cheese; a loaf of crusty bread freckled with sesame seeds, still warm from the cubbyhole bakery; and a little packet of olives wrapped in paper.  Olives wrinkled as if with great age, dry cured and surely full of wisdom.   A ripe tomato, some tinned tuna, and oregano stolen from a pot in the courtyard of our pension.  Cold dry Santorini white wine perhaps, or bottled water.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Feta Can, Chania (Crete)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Armchair Archaeology

All of the archaeologists I know are off to Crete, to Hadrian’s Wall, to the St. Bernard Pass, to destinations long past, far off, away from here and from the humdrum world.  I tend to get wistful this time of year, as my thoughts turn to things foreign but achingly familiar.

Here, I’m drinking a cool Provence rosé, stuffing an eggplant with herb-saturated “dirty rice” (reminiscent of flavors both Creole/Cajun and Turkish by way of Mallorca and a friend there who was a great cook), and listening to some new Swedish tenors and German baritones I’ve found, singing Italian arias.  I was not meant to be an American!

Midnight in Paris made me homesick for a little hotel I found one year in the St-Germain-des-Prés area, and another, another year, near the disappeared Bastille.  If only travel to favorite eras—and places—were as easy as Woody Allen makes it seem, no questions asked, no passport required.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Places I Would Rather Be

At Helmsley Castle, with amiable sheep grazing above the moat, and a travelling theatrical group getting ready to put on a performance of Oscar Wilde in the castle grounds as evening gathers in the northern English countryside.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Moat and Sheep

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conjuring Fog

It’s the first day of summer, and feels like a hot, airless day in the Mediterranean—without the sea to soothe us or that patina of time and salt and lavender that gives it all an amiable glow.

Hard to believe that just a few days ago we were quite bitterly cold, wrapped in four layers of sweaters!  On the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse the wind was whipping fog around us, and the bent cypresses gathering spray to rain down on us as we walked wonderingly beneath.

During the cloudy days I posted sunny photos; now let me post some of that blessed fog!

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Point Reyes Lighthouse

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

To mark the day, I'm posting my favorite passage from my Father's second novel, Rage in the Wind.
Then he did accept a simple euphoria in himself, a dispassionate sense of well-being that acknowledged these sights in spite of recent agonies. Fall followed summer no matter how abrupt the closure of summer, and he was outdoors in the wide heart of it just as he had been before, inexorably included in eternal space. It contained him as completely as it did the waning white moon in a morning sky, the same moon once full for the McLeods and a wildcat in the night. The same moon, the same space, the same Timer; all essentially unaltered by love or the loss of love.There was no use fighting it.

I also recently posted notes from our days in Kona looking for the yellow fish.

images:  Father and Child 
Lion and Cub 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Deviled and Bedeviled Oysters

On the way back from Point Reyes last weekend we stopped at an oyster farm so I could indulge my love of oysters (not yet sated by the oyster pizza I had had on Sunday night!).

These were much fresher than the oysters I remember from Pantelleria, the Italian island closer to Africa than Italy—the rust-colored oysters gathered by some Italians we’d met who spent summers there, letting them open by themselves when they’d been long enough out of the water, sometimes after many days.  They tasted pungent and rusty, those oysters, like their color.  We’d drink a dry volcanic wine with them, that we had to drive up steep streets to buy from a man in a dim shop somewhere on the island, though the vendor of fish came past the rented house early each morning, in a three-wheeler, selling the swordfish that would be marinated in lemon juice and olive oil and sea salt.

On Wednesday night, rich with California oysters, I modified a recipe from the Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook and wallowed in a lovely “mess” of deviled oysters.  Oysters dipped in Dijon mustard and rolled in fresh bread crumbs spiced with cayenne, paprika, cracked black pepper, and dried mustard, and when lightly fried laid on a bed of shredded spinach, fine-sliced radishes, pancetta, and white wine vinaigrette, to slightly wilt the salad mixture.  Yummy.

I did feel a bit guilty, remembering the poor bedeviled oysters in The Walrus and the Carpenter, whose sad story can be abbreviated like so—

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."
. . .
But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
. . .
"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

image:  Édouard Manet, Oysters, National Gallery of Art

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Alternate Summer Camps

It's summer!  Camps by the dozens are on offer to keep your kids out of your hair during the week—tennis or science, art or church, teen leadership or learning the rubber chicken cheer.

It amuses me to consider some alternatives, useful and un-, for adults and kids alike, and to imagine the scene at each and their likely participants.

mime camp
lion taming camp
grout camp
zither camp
knife-sharpening camp
ophthalmology camp
jump-rope camp
package tracking camp
sociology camp
olive stuffing camp
intensive Albanian camp
filing camp
melon-balling camp
angioplasty camp
mudwrestling camp
lutefisk camp
stamp collecting camp
double-glazing camp
nonagenarians' camp
sarcasm camp
espresso camp
beekeeping camp
bookkeeping camp
kazoo camp
aesthetes' camp
pug owners' camp
deviled egg camp
topiary camp
myopics' camp
pest control camp
Emily Dickinson camp
tricycle camp
ingenues' camp
philistines' camp
proofreading camp

Sign up below—space is limited!

image:  Tents and Tipis, Patrick Mackie

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Now I Become Myself

A perfect birthday poem, from a poet I once met and have quoted often.
Now I Become Myself

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before—"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place 

From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

—May Sarton

images:  John William Waterhouse, Destiny, 1900
Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson, 1924

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I love the indistinctions of Whistler's Nocturnes, as shimmery and touched with light as Chopin's Nocturne #8 and Barcarolle played by Dinu Lipati.

image:  James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne Blue and Silver

Friday, June 10, 2011

Things I Thought About Buying Today

Things I thought about buying today—
a strawberry plant
a rotisserie chicken
the Klemperer orchestral Wagner
half an ollalieberry pie
a case of fine white Burgundy
The Egyptian Coffin
two spiced lamb skewers
a shaggy dog
a ticket to Kenya’s Lake Nakuru, to see the flamingos

image:  Greater and Lesser Flamingos in Lake Nakuru National Park, Duncan Wright

Joies de Vivre

A favorite wabi sabi picture of the room I want to have someday.  The scent of mellow apples.  The feel of soft cloth, soft pillows, the gentle grain of old wood underfoot.  That lovely washed-out blue.  The gorgeous reds, in complementary patterns.  The little tripod stool.  Tranquility.

image:  found long ago and cherished

Thursday, June 9, 2011


June is twins—cloudy and sunny; profound and scatterbrained; the traveler wading up a hillside of wild sage to a far tholos tomb on Crete, and she content to settle in at home and roast a sage-scented chicken; the bookworm snuggled happily under the goosedown on still-chilly nights, while the party-giver begins lighting candles for a picnic of sixteen in the Rodin sculpture garden.

The original twins were Castor and Pollux— brothers who aspired to marry the white horse’s daughters.  Patrons of sailors.  One immortal and the other not, so together representing immortality and death.  Both in the end given immortality in the stars, their dual nature written into memory across the early summer sky.

Billy Collins writes of these star-struck twins, the twins “looking off into space as usual”—one a dark space, the other, one diametrically lighter.


Yes that’s Orion over there,
the three studs of the belt
clearly lined up just off the horizon. 

And if you turn around you can see
Gemini, very visible tonight,
the twins looking off into space as usual. 

That cluster a little higher in the sky
is Casseopeia sitting in her astral chair
if I’m not mistaken. 

And directly overhead,
isn’t that Virginia Woolf
slipping along the River Ouse

in her inflatable canoe? 
See the wide-brimmed hat and there,
the outline of the paddle, raised and dripping stars.”

—Billy Collins

images:  Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Canis Major)
Joseph Cornell diary describing and illustrating constellations Gemini and Orion

see more Joseph Cornell in Stargazing

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thought for the Day

“Buddy Holly was twenty-two.  Think of what he might have gone on to achieve.  I mean, if Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at twenty-two, the history of music would have been very different.  As would the history of aviation, of course.”

Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing

image:  Alma-Tadema, Spring

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The pearl is the oyster's autobiography.
(Federico Fellini)
I am considering pearls because they are the birthstone of the June-born.

I’m remembering a strand of cultured pearls given to me by my grandparents, one pearl a month, then strung—then breaking somewhere between Greek islands on my twentieth birthday, spilling like cold water from my neck to lap onto the ship’s hard deck.  I gathered what I could, but lost the rest.

There seemed to be a story there for me, some moral as I came of age there in the Aegean.  As I slipped heavily as fallen pearls into almost-adulthood that summer, though most lessons were ahead still (and maybe still are). 

Not accidental that traditionally pearls are of wisdom.  Their origins are lowly, and tell a tale themselves.  From irritation, serene luster; from coarseness, perfect grace.

Characteristically, my Gemini nature almost prefers oysters to pearls—or anyway loves them as well, for their gray grit and texture and the life they live and give.  I wrote about this in my poem Belons, how 

Beyond everything, it is the oysters
that my heart is hungry for—
Wrote also about hands shucking oysters in New Orleans; a riff on oysters, rum, and Revelations.

So I agree with Fellini about the pearl being the oyster’s autobiography.  The two are apparent opposites, but inextricable.

It’s agreeable to think of casting pearls before swine, while keeping Circe in mind.

And it’s agreeable as well to look for pearls in art (Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring) and song (The Pearlfishers’ Duet, with Andrea Bocelli and Bryn Terfel).

So for this month, my begging bowl has pearls in it—

images:  White Pearl Necklace, Tanakawho 
              Bowl of Pearls, Ai Weiwei

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Joies de Vivre

Orange roses, brought home for their radiant color, and their stems cut down to fit a painted Italian pitcher (in which there would be chilled Soave or Orvieto on a table set for lunch on Lake Como—grilled lake trout, maybe, and ravioli with butter and sage).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Orange Roses

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thought for the Day

This delightful verbal image of W.H. Auden's sent me in search of an appropriately fetching photo:

      "Unshaven horsemen swill the great wines 
       of the Chateaux."

I can imagine a movie whose plot that is—maybe something like The Horseman on the Roof, The Four Musketeers, and The Princess Bride combined, with soundtrack by Jonas Kaufmann (my favorite unshaven tenor).

image:  Gaucho drinking wine from a bullhorn

Above the Weather

If we were visiting England, we would be charmed by the rainy gray weather.  We’d bundle up in wooly fishermen’s sweaters to climb green hills or poke among the ruins of high windowless abbeys.  We’d hide out in a snug tea shop mid-afternoon, eating buttery tarts filled with Yorkshire curd and inhaling the fragrance of blue bergamot in a bone china cup of Earl Gray tea (remembering the house of the Earl in Northumberland, not far from our archaeological dig).

Or if we had been suffering for months in a dry, burning African summer, without hope of relief, we would be terribly grateful for the blessed days of coolness and of rain.

So let’s be uncomplainingly present here in the moment—however gray or wet!

(Fresh pupusas hand-made by a friend help too.)

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

Under the Weather

Feeling under the weather—
a squally infant
a cloudy adolescent
a rainy ex-lover
an icy old aunt
a thunderous History professor
a wind-swept hiker
a humid trombonist

image:  A squall , by James Gillray (died 1815), published 1810

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Ovid provides two etymologies for June's name, Wikipedia tells us, in his poem concerning the months entitled the Fasti. The first is that the month is named after the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter and equivalent to the Greek goddess Hera, whilst the second is that the name comes from the Latin word iuniores, meaning "younger ones," as opposed to maiores ("elders") for which the preceding month May is named (Fasti VI.1–88).

(I like to think it’s the latter, since June is the month of my birthday!)

Also called the season of the unicorn.

And here is Billy Collins reading the poem “June” by the Chinese poet Shi Tao, not the brighter poem for the month he himself would have written.

image:  Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Juin, Musée Condé