Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who Painted the Roses?

I love cloisters, and the colors of this particular one, but am not coming up with the words to fit it, late on a late September day.  I have found this poem, though, that talks of another Italian cloister and its roses.

Chiostro Verde

HERE in the old Green Cloister
At Santa Maria Novella
The grey well in the centre
Is dry to the granite curb;
No splashing will ever disturb
The cool depth of the shaft.
In the stone-bordered quadrangle
Daisies, in galaxy, spangle
The vivid cloud of grass.
Four young cypresses fold
Themselves in their mantles of shadow
Away from the sun's hot gold;
And roses revel in the light,
Hundreds of roses; if one could gather
The flush that fades over the Arno
Under Venus at sundown
And dye a snow-rose with the colour,
The ghost of the flame on the snow
Might give to a painter the glow
Of these roses.
Above the roof of the cloister
Rises the rough church wall
Worn with the tides of Time.
The burnished pigeons climb
And slide in the shadowed air,
Wing-whispering everywhere,
Coo and murmur and call
From their nooks in the crannied wall.
Then on the rustling space,
Falling with delicate grace,
Boys' voices from the far off choir,
The full close of a phrase,
A cadence of Palestrina
Or something of even older days,
No words—only the tune.
It dies now—too soon.
Will music forever die,
The soul bereft of its cry,
And no young throats
Vibrate to clear new notes?
While the cadence was hovering in air
The pigeons were flying
In front of the seasoned stone,
Visiting here and there,
Cooing from the cool shade
Of their nooks in the wall;
Who taught the pigeons their call
Their murmurous music?

Under the roof of the cloister
A few frescoes are clinging
Made by Paolo Uccello,
Once they were clear and mellow
Now they have fallen away
To a dull green-gray,
What has not fallen will fall;
Of all colour bereft
Will nothing at last be left
But a waste wall?
Will painting forever perish,
Will no one be left to cherish
The beauty of life and the world,
Will the soul go blind of the vision?
Who painted those silver lights in the daisies
That sheen in the grass-cloud
That hides their stars or discloses,
Who stained the bronze-green shroud
Wrapping the cypress
Who painted the roses?

Duncan Campbell Scott
© Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1935

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Cloister with Pink Roses, Verona

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I've just started taking a collage class, which greatly satisfies my innate love of complementary textures, colors, images; one setting off another in interesting or gorgeous ways—like the various stones and carvings in this photo.

I also love combinations of spices, of herbs (olive leaves in burlap, which is again a texture thing but also a matter of smells), of evergreen and petaled flowers, of beads with silk or rough-woven cloth, of wooden frames with oil paintings, of spicy curries with cool raita, and so on.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Textures, Duomo, Verona

Saturday, September 22, 2012


The landlord of our quiet backwater lodging in Venice explained how to get to St. Mark’s:  turning right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left.  We laughed, remembering the maze of aqueous dead-ends and long blind alleyways that makes each quest there such a challenge.  But sure enough, it worked.  We didn’t get lost once, following that simple logarithm (or algorithm).

And while changing trains to get across the countryside, I realized that travelling is an equation.   Milan plus Bergamo plus Brescia plus Desenzano del Garda equals Verona.  Busseto plus Parma plus Bologna plus Padova equals Treviso.   When the train doesn’t come you add zero and stay where you are.

It’s fun to see math lessons playing out in real life; to understand the relevance of what you learned those many years ago in school.  (Like when I spent time at the St. Bernard Pass and found myself years and years after Latin classes puzzling out the inscriptions on Roman milestones or votive offerings.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Ruminant Ramblings of a Romantic

I’m missing the easy music in everyday Italian life, and regretting the rush and intolerance and selfish jostling evident here these past few days wherever I turn. 

The following music (currently my favorite) soothes me, lifts me, returns me to myself, in a sharp-edged world.

Paisiello - Nina - "Il mio ben" - Cecilia Bartoli

Mozart - “Ah, lo previdi!”  (starting at 7:28)

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Verdi poster and manuscript

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Some Favorite Italian Moments

. arrival in Verona, to be stunned by the view above
. meeting a pair of Chinese dragons from the previous night’s Turandot outside the Arena
. bits of old walls showing through new plaster
. slices of local cheeses, one with herbs
. the trumpets & torches deployed grandly in Aida
. the Nabucconezer Pizzeria
. farmhouses spotted from trains
. Verdi’s salumeria (salsamenteria) and pizzeria with mozzerella di bufala
. the peace of Sant’Agata
. the stern old woman who took my hand
. two copies of Anna Karenina in Italian in the B&B
. the idea of the Treviso fish market
. violins playing in la chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
. coming upon the canal with letters afloat
. the Sunday bells, as always
. our quiet backwater in Venice with an occasional motorboat, Franciscan friar, terrier
. the 10th century crypt floored in water
. the island of glass
. glass chandeliers in the Murano church
. suddenly in the night the Arsenale with its pride of lions
. the closed museum which we’d all walked far to see
. La Fenice in the rain
. crossing the canal by traghetto

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, View from B&B delle Erbe

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back to That Other, Less Orange, Reality

I'm home, but my spirit is still wandering in Italy. I shall find the words for it all very soon!  (To-do piles permitting.)

In the meantime, let's share one of those jaunty orange cocktails that everyone was drinking everywhere at all hours—kids too.  Spritz Aperol, I learned when I inquired.  Seeing the world not through rose colored glasses, but through glasses of luminous orange.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Hat and Cocktail

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

...I Become

I read; I travel; I become
—Derek Walcott

image:  Reading in Italy, A Pretty Book

Saturday, September 15, 2012

There Are No Foreign Lands

There are no foreign lands.  It is the traveler only who is foreign.
—Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Bengal Merchant

Friday, September 14, 2012

Instead of 1600 Plants

Instead of bringing back 1600 plants, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small unfĂȘted but life-enhancing thoughts.
—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel


image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Lindisfarne Harbor

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Becoming Common Ground

Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.
—Wendell Berry, A Place on Earth

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ca' d'Oro

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Series of Interesting Guesses

But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.
—Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There:  Travels in Europe

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Reflections

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Am Not the Same

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
—Mary Anne Radmacher

image:  Piazetta San Marco im Mondschein, Friedrich Nerly

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Early or Late Impression

To spend one's mornings in still, productive analysis of the clustered shadows of the Basilica, one's afternoons anywhere in church or campo, on canal or lagoon, and one's evenings in starlight gossip at Florian's, feeling the sea-breeze throb languidly between the two great pillars of the Piazzetta and over the low black domes of the church—this, I consider, is to be as happy as is consistent with the preservation of reason.
—Henry James, “Venice:  An Early Impression”

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Brown Palazzo

Sunday, September 9, 2012

City of Mirrors

It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.
—Erica Jong

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Canal with Gondolas

Saturday, September 8, 2012

White Swan of Cities

White swan of cities slumbering in thy nest . . . White phantom city, whose untrodden streets Are rivers, and whose pavements are the shifting Shadows of the palaces and strips of sky.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Venice"

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Venice

Friday, September 7, 2012

Every Dreamer Knows

Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.
—Judith Thurman

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Gondola, Lago di Como

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Sun-Drenched Elsewhere

Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.
—Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad:  The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt

image: Palazzo di Treviso su un corso d'acqua, Morningfrost

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Having New Eyes

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
—Marcel Proust

image: Treviso, Veneto, Italy, Pikkus

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Such Cartography

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography, to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.
—Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

(Happy birthday to my father, Boyd Cochrell, an important part of my communal history and book.  I miss him.)

image:  Borghetto sul Mincio, Valecin

Monday, September 3, 2012

And You and I Are Here

It is a glorious privilege to live, to know, to act, to listen, to behold, to love.  To look up at the blue summer sky; to see the sun sink slowly beyond the line of the horizon; to watch the worlds come twinkling into view, first one by one, and the myriads that no man can count, and lo! the universe is white with them; and you and I are here.
—Marco Morrow 

image:  Busseto – Santa Maria degli Angeli, Tiesse

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Homing Sentiment

This is the most beautiful place on earth.
There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio, or Rome—there's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.
 —Edward Abbey

image:  Verona, Piazza Erbe,

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Ineffable Happiness

Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a street lamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal's black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.
—Vladimir Nabokov, Selected Letters, 1940-1977

image:  Verona bridge