Monday, July 30, 2012

In Celebration of the Flaw

Which of us is or wants to be perfect?  Our charm, our quintessence, appears exactly where the pattern deviates, where the leveling regularity is left behind.  What makes us who we are is our own peculiar collection of warts—those crooked little fingers we inherited from our grandmother, our gap-toothed smile, our inability to ride a bicycle, to carry a tune, to pronounce "r"s in French, to suffer fools gladly, to disappear into the crowd.  Our flaws distinguish us.

The Flaw

The best thing about a hand-made pattern
is the flaw.
Sooner or later in a hand-loomed rug,
among the squares and flattened triangles,
a little red nub might soar above a blue field,
or a purple cross might sneak in between
the neat ochre teeth of the border.
The flaw we live by, the wrong color floss,
now wreathes among the uniform strands
and, because it does not match,
makes a red bird fly,
turning blue field into sky.
It is almost, after long silence, a word
spoken aloud, a hand saying through the flaw,
I’m alive, discovered by your eye.

—Molly Peacock

image:  slight flaw in Kayseri prayer rug, kaiser kuo

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Joies de Vivre: Bed-time Reading

“Knowing you have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations.” —Vladimir Nabokov

image:  The Bed-time Book, Jessie Wilcox Smith

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Cow from the Back of Beyond

The area around Hadrian’s Wall, the liminal borderland at the edges of the map of ancient England, of the extensive Roman Empire, did not contain the monsters drawn into the farthest reaches of explorers’ maps—only this amiable cow, and other affable creatures.

I would love to be wandering there today, enjoying the greenery and light rain and a prawn sandwich—or egg and cress.

Instead I am lazing here, reading a new mystery in the company of the vicar (or canon, actually) of Grantchester.  The toasted brown hills of California in the summer are far indeed from the thirty shades of green that paint the English landscape, and the calling of the sheep one to another reaches me only faintly, in my “mind’s ear.”

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ancient British Cow

Thursday, July 26, 2012

So Many Things

Some things that make me happy:

cool summer mornings
grilled eggplant
starting a new book
the color of nasturtiums
Maya spiced chocolate
the smell of rain on a dirt path
Mesa Verde
wandering around Aosta
friends being happy
linguini con vongole
blackberry Hint
the sound of water sprinklers
clean white pillowcases
feeling a dog’s cold nose against my cheek
tubes of watercolor paints
the thought of being in this yellow room
having so many things that make me happy

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer's Drenched Palette

Everything is looking bleached-out here, and I remember how, by contrast, colors seem to deepen in the heat of Santa Fe summers, becoming almost impossibly intense, drenched.

That same quality (like moving the "saturation" bar daringly over to the far right in Photoshop) is evident in this lush passage:
“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Santa Fe Colors

Monday, July 23, 2012

Light through Glass

Light through glass—the two elements complementing and completing each other.  An alchemy to something fine and transformative of the spirit as well.  Roman glass seems to have absorbed the light into itself over the aeons. Stained glass—glass colored with metallic salts— has radiated spiritual grace in churches and cathedrals since medieval times.  Light itself is holy, but in glass it is somehow utterly exalted.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Light through Glass

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Oak That Still Eludes Me

After coffee in my hand-painted Italian mug, and nice sweet apricots and peach slices, but while remembrance of the night’s fog was still on the morning, I walked down our little pine- and oleander-lined lane then crossed Arrastradero and walked on shaded horse trails of soft earth and pine needles up past the riding stables, the row of multicolored wooden stalls, early riders out with their palominos or bays, on up the muddy rutted road to the upper paddock, to get some pictures of the oak that always catches my attention on the hill—a quintessential oak (though oddly misshapen from the other side, like being as we were once on the wrong side of the Matterhorn unable to make out its famous profile), the one that reminds me of the excellent tree in the model riding stable I so coveted as a child, the one I put into a poem as possible savior at the end, unable to decide whether that oakly spread of its branches, the lovely characteristic shape, is best described as outstretched, outspread, held out, extended. None quite right; none doing it artistic justice.  

The sun was in the wrong place for taking pictures, and one evening I’ll have to go back at twilight and catch the fine black silhouette of that oak against the last light of the day, the hills fading into indistinction.  But I got my morning walk, some communion with trees (and ground squirrels, hawks, the watching horses), and returned home ready for cold tea and writing.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Oak, Morning, Blue

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spelling Out the Names

The Names

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name—
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner—
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening—weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds—
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Billy Collins

image:  Hidden Names Found, Goole – Howden Courier

Friday, July 20, 2012

Romance Sans Paroles

I can dream, can't I?  

The romance of a far sea with fairy lights and fresh fish and cold Greek wine and not a single word all night about the everyday reality that has no place in whatever land this is, nameless and pine-hushed.  

Not The Tempest, with its hectic enchantments, but the calm after the storm, the refuge at week's end, at land's end.  A play that would hold no one's interest but mine, because it would have no unhappy or upsetting goings-on—only sheer poetry.  Or maybe utter silence.  Or the music of the soughing wind and waves (like the wonderful sound poem recorded in Il Postino).

image:  Ana Georgeta, A Room with a View

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Lost Island of Childhood

Clean sheets hung out on the clothesline—like sails filling with wind, carrying me in zig-zag line across the wide waters of memory back to the island of my childhood, where everything was safe and ruled with love and in the summer dazzling with sun and ever-stretching time.

I’ve fallen in love with other islands over the years, reached on the blithe white wings of sails or by more mundane transport, once that first and best island proved impossible to get back to— vanished as surely as Atlantis (more absolutely, in fact, since I’ve stood looking at the uncovered ruins of what I’m convinced was Atlantis, on the sheer cliffs of Santorini).

A journey back in time, carried swiftly away from my charted morning commute by those gauzy white sheets.

image: White muslin sheets hanging on a washing line, blowing in the wind, in a backyard in Cheltenham, Victoria, Australia. Hanging baskets are also attached to the line.  DahliyaniBriedis

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Merest Trifles

I can envision a whole array of trifles with summer fruit and matching/contrasting liqueurs.  I love that trifles are collages of flavor and color.  Four that strike me as particularly amiable (and two of which I shall make this evening for tomorrow's lunch) are:

blueberries, ladyfingers, ginger snaps, vanilla pudding, blueberry juice, ginger marmalade, pistachios

raspberries, chocolate pound cake, orange pudding, apricot almond jam or orange marmalade, slivered almonds, Amaretto or orange liqueur, amaretti

pears, chocolate pound cake, chocolate pudding, pear liqueur or Amaretto, piñon nuts, orange marmalade, orange zest, amaretti

peaches, ladyfingers, vanilla pudding, apricot almond jam, slivered almonds, brandy or rum, amaretti

image:  Cookstr

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Dreaming

I still believe that every weekend needs at least four days—one to recover, one to do fun things, one to do chores, and one to touch base with yourself, to write and read and do what matters most to your being and well-being.

Instead, everything gets jumbled together. Yesterday I added a few words to my Mallorcan mystery story, ate good salmon at a little sidewalk table at the nearest French café, listened to some favorite arias from Attila, dug out some papers I needed, and invented several types of Trifle for the British luncheon I'm preparing for the office on Tuesday.  Today should be chores, but will probably be loafing and wishing for more time in a garden like this.

Have a dreamy Sunday, a restorative Sunday.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

À la Bastille!

I remember the wonderful adventures of my visit to Paris over Bastille Day in 1989, the year of the Bicentennial of the French Revolution—staying at a little hotel very near the Bastille; seeing Andrea Chenier on a stage built over the Swiss Basin at Versailles; loving the citywide music (much African) and the little sausages grilled on braziers on the street; hating the firecrackers tossed, lit, into the crowds; climbing upended traffic barricades into the thick leaves of plane trees to see the parades along the stately boulevards; trying to fit in all of the everyday Parisian sights and pleasures too.

Some of my favorite French things (des jolies choses) to celebrate today—

some favorite French artists: Bonnard, bien sûr; Puvis de Chavannes, Monet, Gauguin, Pisarro, Renoir

some favorite French authors:  Stendhal, Colette, Marguerite Duras, Proust, Jean Giono, Dumas (père), Simenon

some favorite French films:  Cousin, Cousine; Life and Nothing But, Danton, Amelie, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, Cyrano de Bergerac

some favorite French food:  coq au vin, poulet rôti, salade Niçoise, cherry clafoutis, tartes, vins, fromages

some favorite French music:  Faure’s Chançon sans paroles, Ravel’s Boléro and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, Massenet’s Meditation, Offenbach, Satie, Gounod’s Faust and Roméo e Juliette

some favorite French places:  Paris, Annecy, Arles, Giverny

favorite French saying:  On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur.  "We see well only with the heart," from Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Enjoy something French today, however you choose to celebrate.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Web Collage

14 July 2006 Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, Celeste Hutchins

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Calm: Rivers Know This

Rivers know this:  there is no hurry.  We shall get there some day.
—A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

images:  Therese Nicolas
E.H. Shepard 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Offering Libations

My theory is that all teapots are designed to automatically spill a libation to the gods (or the tiles of the kitchen counter) when filled.  This is a happy and good thing, and ought to be a part of everything we do, though conscious offerings would probably be better still. 

Most cultures have some sort of ritual of pouring out libations.  I remember reading Homer first in seventh or eighth grade, and thinking how fine it was to offer water, wine, oil, milk, “honeyed liquids,” or even blood to the earth, on marker stones, in prayer or supplication.  To quiet and sooth the dead, to purify, entreat, persuade, quench unearthly thirst.  To perform a small sacred act, translating the everyday into something rich and strange.

images:  Apollo pouring libation, 5th Century BCE
The Libation Ritual, AfroStyleMag

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Covenant of Quails

The quails have just paraded through the patio with this summer’s crop of babies, who look as if they’ve had at least a couple of weeks to mature already.  We hadn’t seen any of them for weeks.  It’s funny how they go and come, according to mysterious quail patterns.  More often than not they prefer to flow along the edge of the tennis court in the next yard, though never across the playing space.  Sometimes they scatter all across our driveway, all two or three dozen of them.  Sometimes a lone two sit on the patio fence, contemplating, clucking.  They only seem to call when they are keeping watch for the others.  I love their ebb and flow, the elegant and comical ways they move, their logarythmic rhythms, their grace.  I'm never sure what collective noun to choose for them, or why I chose the one I did today.  (What is it quails have agreed to refrain from?)  A contemplation of quails would be apt, as well.

[Oddly, after I chose "covenant" this morning, the Writer's Almanac poem of the day turned out to be a poem (unexpected) by Tennessee Williams called "Covenant"!]

image:  California Quail, Stanford University

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Music from a Farther Room

The sound of a summer garden party in a neighboring yard makes me remember all of those we had in Santa Fe while I was growing up, with family friends, cottonwood shade, my Mom’s barbeque brisket and rolls, the strawberry cake I used to bake, fireworks on the Fourth of July, moths coming to the porchlight, the abundance that all of that represented—a kind of gladness in the heart.

And I think too of the garden parties in Sabrina, the chauffeur’s daughter looking on from her lonely, dreamy perch in the tree, wanting to join the dancing but not having been invited.

I loved to sit up in our cottonwood tree, too, eye-level with the moon, and imagine fairytales of love and laughter that might come to pass on some balmy midsummer’s night.

The sounds of merriment from up the hill that reach me as I write, tables set out under the oaks with the last of this Sunday’s sun in them, friends gathered for a celebration of something that has nothing to do with me, reminds me of the wistful line from Prufrock, “beneath the music from a farther room.”  Parties that go on without us are tinged with nostalgia for the parties we have dreamed, behind us or ahead of us, luring our hearts to join in.

image: Garden Party, Toast

Saturday, July 7, 2012

With Rock at My Back

A picture of a sheer white monastery in a face of rock—stunning.  I think of living there, of who and what I would be, regarded always by the sea.  I have stayed before at bedrock, in the Pennine Alps, and think that psychologically I am disturbed there not to be able to dig deeper, beneath, within.  To know that no concealment is possible.  No burrowing, burying, even borrowing.

In a white monastery, I would be stripped to my essential elements.  I would live simply; be wise, chastened, strong as copper wire.  I would write ghazals, perhaps.  Learn Portuguese or ancient Greek.  I would drink sage tea, eat eggplant curries, buy an antique telescope, paint my few pieces of furniture deep blue, make friends with a painter of icons in the nearest village.  Be grateful through and through.

image:  Patmos Monastery, Seven Art Friends

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Garden Within

"For me the appropriate metaphor for the inner spiritual centre is a garden, a place of potential peace and tranquility.  This garden is a place where the Spirit of God comes to make self-disclosure, to share wisdom, to give affirmation or rebuke, to provide encouragement, and to give direction and guidance.  When this garden is in proper order, it is a quiet place, and there is an absence of busyness, of defiling noise, of confusion.  The inner garden is a delicate place, and if not properly maintained it will be quickly overrun by intrusive undergrowth.  God does not often walk in disordered gardens.  And that is why inner gardens that are ignored are said to be empty."
—Gordon MacDonald, Cultivating Our Spiritual Garden

image:  Claude Monet,  Monet's garden at Vétheuil, 1880

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Far Gardens, and Near

"Dirty hands, iced tea, garden fragrances thick in the air and a blanket of color before me, who could ask for more?"
—Bev Adams, Mountain Gardening

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

Happy Independence Day.  Promise yourself to do something daring and defiant, wholly your own!  Write your name with a sparkler across the summer dark; send bottle rockets off into the western sea after the fleeing sun, declaring victory against every kind of oppression and belittlement.  Escape the Chîteau d’If with breathtaking swordplay.  Let nothing but the wind catch you—in play, in cameraderie.  Grill some sausages and peppers, and drink draft rootbeer.  Spit watermelon seeds wherever you jolly well want.  Dream of a crop of green stripes.  Or do none of this, if you don’t choose to.    

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
—Thomas Jefferson

“Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man's independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man. Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. What a man is and makes of himself; not what he has or hasn't done for others. There is no substitute for personal dignity. There is no standard of personal dignity except independence.”
—Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

“People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take.”
—Emma Goldman

“No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.”
—Henry Miller

“I will not be ‘famous,’ ‘great.’ I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one's self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.”
—Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

“Where we choose to be, where we choose to be--we have the power to determine that in our lives. We cannot reel time backward or forward, but we can take ourselves to the place that defines our being.”
—Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer

“Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. Something you dream about and sing about. Maybe it's not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit, full of books and films you've been to. I'm not afraid of being homesick and having no language to live in. I don't have to be like anyone else. I'm walking on the wall and nobody can stop me.”
—Hugo Hamilton, The Speckled People:  A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood

“Independence is a complex word in a foreign tongue. To resist occupation, whether you're a nation or merely a woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat, basically, when you have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line and it looks like rain.”
—Barbara Kingsolver

“By today’s standards King George III was a very mild tyrant indeed. He taxed his American colonists at a rate of only pennies per annum. His actual impact on their personal lives was trivial. He had arbitrary power over them in law and in principle but in fact it was seldom exercised. If you compare his rule with that of today’s U.S. Government you have to wonder why we celebrate our independence.”
—Joseph Sobran

image:  James Macneill Whistler, Night in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Music of Wild Grass

"I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer.  My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music.  It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips."
—Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit

image:  The Path to Maywood Farm A small patch of nettles and wild grasses sits by the side of the path.  David Lally

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Two Most Beautiful Words

"Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." 
—Henry James


images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Pink Roses, Thendara; Rosescape, Helmsley; Pierre Bonnard, Summer in Normandy, and Siesta

Sunday, July 1, 2012

An Armchair Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne

On this overcast first-of-July morning, which reminds me of northern England in July minus the greenery and lovely sheep, I’ve been thinking about visiting Lindisfarne, Holy Island, two summers ago.  About walking from the priory to the castle, past the picturesque harbor with lobster pots and boats.  About the perfect Gertrude Jekyll garden enclosed in stone walls below the famous castle hill.

I’d love to go back some day for a long retreat, writing and taking pictures everywhere and staying in the white inn.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell