Saturday, March 31, 2012

Existential Gratitude

In this time of blossoms, especially, I am inclined to be grateful for being here, being alive, being among the company of poets and the poetically-minded who share the appreciation and the wonder.

“There’s a very deep strain of existential gratitude that runs through a lot of poetry. It’s certainly in haiku. Almost every haiku says the same thing: it’s amazing to be alive here. There’s a little haiku: ‘A cherry tree in blossom / In the distance / I hear a dog barking.’ Those two things have nothing to do with each other, except the fact that the poet was there to see and hear them. So the haiku is saying, I was here. 'Kilroy was here.' To appreciate the wonder of that, you have to imagine the absence of that, of not being there, of nonexistence, right? I consider poets to be a part of a larger group of people who don’t have to survive major surgery or go through a windshield in order to feel grateful for being alive. It shouldn’t require such traumatic experiences to feel grateful. So I think a love of language and a sense of gratitude would be two ingredients in the recipe for making a poet.” 
—Billy Collins, interviewed by George Plimpton in The Paris Review, Fall 2001

image:  Vincent Van Gogh, Blossoming Almond Tree

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Calm: Reading

Have some nice croissants with butter and jam, and coffee (if you want to risk it!), and enjoy Umberto Eco’s words on the subject.
Swill-coffee is something apart.  It is usually made from rotten barley, dead men’s bones, plus a few genuine coffee beans fished out of the garbage bins of a Celtic dispensary.  It is easily recognized by its unmistakable odor of feet marinated in dishwater.  It is served in prisons, reform schools, sleeping cars, and luxury hotels.  Of course, if you stay at the Plaza Majestic, at the Maria Jolanda & Brabante, at the Des Alpes et Des Bains, you can actually order an espresso, but when it arrives in your room it is almost covered by a sheet of ice.  To avoid this mishap you ask instead for the Continental Breakfast, and you lie back, prepared to savor the pleasure of having the day’s first meal in bed.
         The Continental Breakfast consists of two rolls, one croissant, orange juice (in homeopathic measure), a curl of butter, a little pot of blueberry preserve, another of honey, and one of apricot jam, a jug of milk, now cold, a bill totaling a hundred thousand lire, and a devilish pot full of swill.  The pots used by normal people—or the good old coffee-makers from which you point the fragrant beverage directly into the cup—allow the coffee to descend through a narrow nozzle or beak, whereas the upper part includes some safety device that keeps the lid closed.  This Grand Hôtel and wagon-lit swill arrives in a pot with a very wide beak—like a deformed pelican’s—and with an extremely mobile lid, so devised that—drawn by an irrepressible horror vacui—it slides automatically downwards when the pot is tilted.  These two devices allow the hellish pot to pour half the coffee immediately onto the rolls and jam and then, thanks to the sliding lid, to scatter the rest over the sheets.  In sleeping cars the pots can be of cheaper manufacture, because the movement of the train itself assists in the scattering of the coffee; in hotels, on the other hand, the pot must be of china to make the sliding of the lid easier, but still devastating.
—Umberto Eco, “How to Use the Coffeepot from Hell,” from How to Travel with a Salmon

image:  Italy, Facebook

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Trees

I continue my rambles through spring meadows and woods, wherever they may be.  

I love Klimt's landscapes passionately, though they are so different from his flamboyant portraits, shot with gold, which I love too.  I see it is almost his 150th birthday, and I will celebrate by posting many of his paintings this year—though I suspect traveling to Vienna will be out.

image:  Gustav Klimt, Farmhouse with Birch Trees, Klimt Museum

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I have always wanted above all (or above much else) to have poise and grace, a certain way of being in the world.  

But I'm not sure that is something that can be learned—other than by observing poise in others, and being still.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Waterbird

Monday, March 26, 2012

As Good as Spring Itself

We’ve been having spring all winter, and now that it is spring, there’s snow on the nearby mountains and saturated storm clouds mixing with the flurries of blossom (pear, almond, apricot) everywhere around.  Things are just a bit mixed up.  Today’s supposed to be sunny, but I haven’t seen the sun—until I write that, and it comes out momentarily, making me wonder if I might go out and walk.  I have a day off, hard earned because of working Saturday, and want to make the most of it.
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.  The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits.  People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I want a day with no limits.  A stream-of-consciousness day given to writing, reading, walking, blossom viewing, croissants with sour cherry jam, slowly preparing chicken and eggplant tagine, romping with dogs, wandering at Allied Arts or Pillar Point harbor, riding the ferry all around the bay with layers of sweaters and a thermos of spiced hot chocolate, a visit to an old church where someone is playing Albinoni on the organ like that day up on the St. Bernard Pass, the smell of white bean soup simmering for later in the week and steaming the windows, planting some purple morning glory seeds, and being happy every minute on my own or with some of those lovely people good as spring itself.

image:  The Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise, 1877, Camille Pisarro

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

Venice, anytime.
Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.
—Truman Capote

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Gondola

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Seeing great swaths of poppies in bloom on campus has made my heart glad.

As, always, does Bjorling’s rendition of the sublime and affirmative “Hostias” from Verdi’s Messa da Requiem.  (Jonas Kaufmann is even better, but not available on YouTube.)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Poppies

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Calm: Reading

Let us contemplate the quiet joys of reading!  Here’s a passage from one of my favorite Italo Calvino stories (besides those in Marcovaldo, which I’ve been wanting to reread but can’t find anywhere on my bookshelves), “The Adventure of a Reader,” from Difficult Loves.  Settle with it under a newly-leafing tree, and enjoy the spring sunshine.
For some time Amedeo had tended to reduce his participation in active life to the minimum.  Not that he didn’t like action:  on the contrary, love of action nourished his whole character, all his tastes; and yet, from one year to the next, the yearning to be someone who did things declined, declined, until he wondered if he had ever really harbored that yearning.  His interest in action survived, however, in his pleasure in reading; his passion was always the narration of events, the stories, the tangle of human situations—nineteenth-century novels especially, but also memoirs and biographies, and so on down to thrillers and science fiction, which he didn’t disdain but which gave him less satisfaction because they were short.  Amedeo loved thick tomes, and in tackling them he felt the physical pleasure of undertaking a great task.  Weighing them in his hand, thick, closely printed, squat, he would consider with some apprehension the number of pages, the length of the chapters, then venture into them, a bit reluctant at the beginning, without any desire to perform the initial chore of remembering the names, catching the drift of the story; then he would entrust himself to it, running along the lines, crossing the grid of the uniform page, and beyond the leaden print the flame and fire of battle appeared, the cannonball that, whistling through the sky, fell at the feet of Prince Andrei, and the shop filled with engravings and statues where Frederic Moreau, his heart in his mouth, was to meet the Arnoux family.  Beyond the surface of the page you entered a world where life was more alive than here on this side:  like the surface of the water that separates us from that blue-and-green world, rifts as far as the eye can see, expanses of fine, ribbed sand, creatures half animal and half vegetable.

image: A quiet nook, Victoria Park, Truro, NS, probably 1915 Wm. Notman & Son Probably 1915, 20th century Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mediterranean Dreaming

Today I’m preparing a Mediterranean feast for our monthly gathering at the Press, which will remind me of many of my favorite places.  Marinated golden & red peppers, tapenade with orange & mint, goat cheese, feta, fig butter, Spanish cheeses, spanakopita, hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, grilled eggplant, Italian Leccino olives, mint tea, baklava, Egyptian fig cakes, Persian almond cakes with cardamom.  That will make up for the gray weather, and (mostly) for having to be indoors.

(And to continue my posting of Roman frescoes, this week, for no particular reason but spring whimsy, here’s one of figs.)

image:  Fresco of a basket of figs at Villa Poppaea, Oplontis, Italy, Lise Hannestad

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Places I Would Rather Be

Eating breakfast in Bonnard's dining room in the French countryside.  (Though not with my back to the door!)

And not going back to work.

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Le Petit Dejeuner Radiateur

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Oh happy Spring!

image:  This fresco depicts Flora, the Roman fertility goddess of flowers and the season of spring. It was one of many 2,000-year-old Roman frescoes on exhibit in "In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite" at the San Diego Museum of Art in 2006. Courtesy of the National Archeological Museum of Naples.  San Diego Source 

Monday, March 19, 2012


Listen everyone:
Birth and death is given once.
This moment NOW is gone.
Awake each one awake!
Don't waste this life!

—ancient Zen saying

image:  Close- up of new leaves just budding out on as fern, with the sun shining through the leaves and stem so some of the cellular structure is visable. Photo taken at Nitinat Triangle, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Near Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. From the Environmental Protection Agencys Project DOCUMERICA collection, "In Praise of Forests."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Canadian Art

I love the work of this Canadian artist who I discovered at the Art Gallery of Ontario, James Wilson Morrice.  I like that he's got that distinctive Canadian je-ne-sais-quoi, while painting European scenes (as well as his native Montreal).

images:  James Wilson Morrice

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thought for the Day

What would the Greeks think?

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Pillars of Justice, Toronto

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dusk in Toronto

(And meanwhile, at the same hour, a bevy of bankers in black suits were out celebrating the warm weather, and the absence of the predicted thunderstorms, in a sidewalk pub with Acadian musicians.)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, St. James Cathedral, Toronto

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I will be in Toronto for work the rest of the week, posting if I have a chance but otherwise unsure what I will find, never having been there before.  I hope to ramble happily with my camera and notebook, and maybe find the Bonnard said to be in the Art Gallery of Ontario (though likely in basement storage, like so many others across the world).  If the weather's nice, a ferry to the islands, since islands seem to be such an important part of my psyche.

image:  The Pulsefront light show seen from Toronto Island., John Vetterli

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Against Daylight Savings


A delicate fuzz of fog
like mold, or moss,
all across the river
in this early light.
Another day, I might
have still been sleeping.

What a pity. How the stars
and seas and rivers
in their fragile lace of fog
go on without us
morning after morning,
year after year.
And we disappear.

—Pat Schneider
Mornings are for noticing rivers.  For admiring the early light, the fuzz of fog, maybe the last stars, the moon not yet extinguished in the dawn sky as you sit luxuriating all alone in a Japanese bathhouse, in sacred hot springs deep in the Carmel valley.

Observing how colors begin to come back.

Making a pot of fragrant tea in apple-green ceramic, smooth to the hand, the lip.

Writing your dreams down.  (Maybe allowing yourself one or two more.)

Watching a towhee delight in the water in the shallow basin at the stone feet of St. Francis out by the back fence.

Sitting in the patio reading a Shakespeare sonnet.

Writing a note to a favorite friend, uninterrupted.

Sitting in the first wash of sunlight admiring the eucalyptus leaves, backlit.

Making lovely golden-striped toast in a Mallorcan grill pan.

Writing about a tall detective with dreadlocks who writes ghazals.

Meditating.  Praying.  Hoping.  Celebrating the moment.  Looking ahead.

Not, oh not, for jumping up and rushing in to work so people with impatient demands can get to you an hour earlier, can break the necessary quiet with phone inquiries and follow-ups to e-mails they sent only yesterday but you haven’t (for good reason) answered yet; for the clamor of construction shattering the morning calm and driving birds and thought itself away; for barked instructions from others in the office who respect no peace, no need to awake and stir ever so slowly, without impositions from without.
(Without so much!)

My alternate to Daylight Savings Time, which I’ve been trying to have adopted for years, is that we change our clocks forward each day at 10 o’clock, so those of us who find it so vital can enjoy our alloted quota of therapeutic peace in the morning, instead of having it yanked away from us; and then at 5 or 6 in the evening move the clocks backward again, so we have the extra hour of daylight in the evening without having to pay for it so dearly.  This has the added benefit of cutting the work day short by an hour—not always a bad thing.  I’m convinced this is the only humane solution, and may just quietly adopt it myself this year—instead of remarking uselessly, with Hamlet, that the time is out of joint.

image:  Fog. View from Oberfallenberg, Friedrich Böhringer

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thought for the Day

I was amused this weekend to see a sign posted at Stanford about Bipolar Bears.

And I see that the species has an entry in the Uncyclopedia—which I didn’t know about either.  Always so much to learn!

image:  Bipolar Bear 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Wishes

Today, an abbey of a different sort . . .
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.  May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.  May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you—beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.
Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

image:  The Antelope Canyon in Arizona, Lucas Löffler 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

La petite fenêtre

Pierre Bonnard’s little windows are as alluring as his great big windows.  The views of Normandy or the south of France are always incomparable.

I am reminded of my own penchant for photographing windows and what is reflected in the glass—that fascinating liminal space between inside and out, which allows passage, and mingling of sorts, and daydreaming, and a record of passing time (in cracks or collected cobwebs, for example) and weather (tracks of rain, late autumn sunlight).  It’s also fascinating when the glass is gone, as in ruined abbeys, and inside and out- are no longer distinguished; nature no longer recognizes the separation.

This little poem of Rilke’s might be talking about that, along with so much more.

Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner—what is it?
if not the intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
—Rainer Maria Rilke,
   translated by Stephen Mitchell

images:  La petite fenêtre, Pierre Bonnard
Christie B. Cochrell, St. Mary’s Abbey arch, York

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Calm

blessing the boats
(at st. mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

—Lucille Clifton

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, The Thames at Abingdon

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Remarkable hands, storied hands.
Hands, hands can build.
Hands can mold, shape, and speak.
Hands can grasp for the heavens, touch it and believe in the make believers.

(From Hands, by Bruce Alan Humphrey)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, The Hand of Time

Monday, March 5, 2012


Still thinking about Prospero and what he gave up (willingly? or just with resigned self-knowledge and foresight?), and having felt the pain of an elderly friend who is mourning great losses in his abilities to move around in the world, enjoy things he used to, write masterful sentences, and be himself, I’ve been exploring this subject in the poems I’m currently writing—the magic of various sorts that is everywhere, in the simplest things (a cup of tea, a bird feather) or most elaborate (a ceremonial bush buffalo costume from an African artist), animating the world for us; and the power of words, which can—like archaeology—reclaim magic, stories, wonder, from the past, as well as performing spells of their own.

I’ve been especially conscious of the ability of words to conjure a place, a mood; to return us to people we want more than anything to be with; to show us again the color of an old light-dappled wall behind the table where we sat and talked for hours one forgotten afternoon, the road we walked one summer or earliest spring trying to find traces of the elusive Etruscans, the school which gave us our first friends and taught us other magic (reading, drama, shaping heads from clay), the white cat that vanished up the ancient stairs of a far distant town we have never seen again— until now, summoned and put down on the page.

Shared words are still more powerful, and the magic of our new technologies allows instant linking with other times, places, images, words, other attempts to bring back what is gone (this link to my ramblings in Florence and Fiesole, for instance), other ways of reclaiming what we’ve been and what we want to be.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Fiesole, Early February

Joies de Vivre

Honey shampoo.

I must confess to sometimes doing irrational things in the name of aesthetic pleasure.  I fell in love with the scent and effect of an unassuming honey shampoo at a B&B in Santa Barbara or Morro Bay last October, but when I went looking, discovered it’s not available in regular bottles for love nor money.  So I bought what I could—one hundred of the little guest-sized bottles, which should last me a good, happy year.  (And are easy to pack along on trips, I might add in my defense!)

image:  honey, Self Growth Your Way

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Collective Nouns for Our Time

. a pod of iPods
. a gaggle of Googlers
. a conflagration of Kindles
. a cobbler of Blackberries
. a latte of laptops
. a falsetto of Tweets
. a bliss of blogs
. a blessing of bloggers
. a pollution of politicians
. a complacency/chutzpah/superfluity of CEOs [pick one]
. a murmur of middle managers
. a galaxy of Starbucks
. a je-ne-sais-quois of Frenchmen

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, A Drift of Swans

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ways of Being in the World

Some beautiful, thoughtful prose to start the weekend—though everyone should be out enjoying the gift of time, some good music and company, dogwalking, early fruit trees, an excursion by water, a good writers' café, a museum, a street fair or indoor market, something fun.  Time enough to read blogs later!
I look up.  The sky is shimmering.  If we could hear it, we’d know the sky is howling and its cry is spreading wide across the darkness.  I have never seen the northern lights before.  The sky is filled with them.  They are dancing, the color of roses, the green of springtime.  The lights shimmer and move around the black dome of sky.  The Anishnabe call them dancing ghosts.

Surrounding us are the trees, the shadowy world of wolves.  Magic is above us.  Underneath us, beneath these lakes and islands, is some of the oldest rock in the world, more than three billion years old.  In places, the iron is so concentrated in the underlying stone that the needle of the compass points away from magnetic north.

You could say this strange place has its own north, a pull of its own.  I feel it tugging down the bones and muscles.  There’s a fire beneath the land, farther down in the molten core, a heat at dead center, and even the dust from solar storms moves toward it.

We walk up the road.  None of us speak.  Then there is the howl.  It is soft and long.  Even the loose skin of the trees holds still.  Everything listens.  There is another slow, rising howl.  It is a man.  It’s a man speaking.  In a language he only pretends to know, he calls out to the wolves.

We wait.  We are waiting for the wolves to answer.  We want a healing, I think, a cure for anguish, a remedy that will heal the wound between us and the world that contains our broken histories.  If we could only hear them, the stars themselves are howling, but there is just the man’s voice, crying out, lonely.  Not even those of us standing behind him answer.  It is a silence we rarely feel, a vast and inner silence that goes deep, descends to the empty spaces between our cells.  The dancing ghosts still linger above us.  I know this woeful song.  I have heard it before.  I have heard women wail this way in grief, heard the wild, lonely song rage up a rising scale of sorrow.

We have followed the wolves and are trying to speak across the boundaries of ourselves.  We are here, and if no wolf ever answers, or even if no wolves remained, we’d believe they are out there.  And they are.

—Linda Hogan, Dwellings:  A Spiritual History of the Living World

image:  Fish-eye lens view of the northern lights taken mid July 2004. (The Big Dipper in the constellation Ursa Major is on the left and on the right is Queen Cassiopeia in the constellation Cassiopeia. Between them in the middle, is the Little Dipper in the constellation Ursa Minor. The end of the Little Dipper’s handle is Polaris, known as the North Star.)  Observatoire Mont Cosmos, Quebec, Canada

Friday, March 2, 2012

Color of the Day


I'm afraid I worship mauve!
—Tom Stoppard, Indian Ink

image:  Mauve Hyacinth Blooms, Lamppost Pictures photoblog 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi

Happy March; happy St. David’s Day!  (The feast day of the patron saint of Wales, a Celtic monk from the sixth century.)

I don’t see anybody here wearing a leek or daffodil, or even listening to Bryn Terfel.  I did braise leeks on Tuesday night, by chance, and am tempted to try this recipe for Cawl or maybe Monmouth Pudding.

Since it’s the day of daffodils, I offer this snatch of yellow from one of the poems in the recently published notebook from T.S. Eliot’s twenties, the appropriately named Inventions of the March Hare.

Long yellow sunlight fills
The cool secluded room
Swept and set in order—
Smelling of earth and rain.

And from the March Hare himself, a quote I like exceedingly:

Good answer.  Wrong.  But good.

image: Field of Daffodils with an old barn in the background, Forest Wander from Cross Lanes, USA