Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In a Strange Mood

Coming home with the sun heavy in the plum trees in the yard, I am driven to look for the passage on living among plum trees in my Cretan novel, Reading the Stones, and find these paragraphs to quote:
She’d drifted off again, and when she woke for real the moon was gone, the sky blue as a square of blue silk—some of the silks they travelled at great risk to China for, the silks of the bazaars, the fragrant small shops where they would give you sedimented coffee and sweetmeats as you bargained down the price.  Haggled.  I’d like to haggle just once, she thought; haggle for my life.  It was worth so much more than they wanted to give her for it, so much more than she had ever understood.  And, having haggled, she wanted to live a long time noting the miraculous phases of that moon that had looked over her, the comings and goings of it, the dark nights of its absence when everything was perfectly, innocently dark.  She liked this life in which moons came and went so easily, like neighbors’ cats, over a garden wall.  She liked waking in a studio in an old plum orchard, among mute but eloquent partially-finished stone heads, Leah’s shamans and warriors, harbingers of change.  
I need to get up, she thought.  To plan my life.  But she pulled the sheet up and listened instead to the singing of a bird.  She smelled the turpentine and waxes and stone dust.  Somehow her senses were coming to life again, after years and years and years of absence.  When Leah brought a mug of coffee in through the ill-fitting door that groused at being jarred, she tasted it, tears streaming down her face, tasting it hot and strong, earthy and smoke-tinged as if it were indeed sedimented and in a shop of colored silks in an oriental bazaar.
Then I copy out a recipe for zucchini and rice terrine (tian) with gruyère and thyme, for tomorrow night, and start a letter to go in the handmade card with the photo of a tin basin on a weather-worn Mallorcan table with the Mediterranean, blurred, behind it.

I’m in a strange, yearning kind of mood, happy to have a life that includes these things, yet sensing already the coming of the fall, the changes that will bring, the passage of time, the favorite places in Europe and Santa Fe and elsewhere that I miss and likely won’t visit this year—or maybe won’t visit again.

I miss people, and dream of them, and collect pictures of beautiful rooms across the world, rooms I would live in, in another life.  We watch strange French films, from decades ago, and I feel unsettled.

image:  She Who Is
(this picture looks eerily like my mother as a young woman in Wisconsin and Yellowstone)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Words Escape Me

I am currently enraptured by Tumblr, and have put together a new blog there made up of images (like this) that have sent me into speechless realms of yearning and delight.

My world in images!  My castle in the air, which is of course a mostly Mediterranean structure, with gardens and kitchen and books.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Places I Would Rather Be (Or, Storytelling)

The stories I could dream up, here!

“There's always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”
—J.K. Rowling
“Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas—abstract, invisible, gone once they've been spoken—and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created.”  
—Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things:  Short Fictions and Wonders

image:   Matter of Taste (Misha)

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Counting my blessings after a restless night.  Marinating fish with bay leaves, finishing a quinoa salad with Mediterranean flavors for our lunch outdoors in Orinda before  an afternoon of Shakespeare.  Loving the picture of exotic coffee (mine just in my Quebec mug with its chipped lip) and the way Mary Oliver expresses gratitude.


Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.

Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.

The cat stretching her black body from the pillow.

The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.

Then laps the bowl clean.

Then wants to go out into the world

where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,

then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.

I watch her a little while, thinking:

what more could I do with wild words?

I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her.

I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

—Mary Oliver

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Tribute

A tribute to my friend, Lois Esther Thoreson Kowski, the elegant and smiling lady on the right, who lived to 98, and had more energy and kindness 'til the end than I have ever had.  A true inspiration.

We will miss you, Lois.  I am grateful to have known you.  (And for many, many lunches at The Shed!)

image:  findagrave

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lamp, Lifeboat, Or Ladder?

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat or a ladder.
Help someone’s soul heal.—Rumi
Which of those would I most like to be?  I guess I’ve already come out and said I take the side of light—so lamp it is, and lamp I choose. 

Often enough at work I feel like ladder, though, hunched over dutifully and durably so others can climb up to their success . . . (I’d say kicking me on the way, if I were feeling bitter.)

Lifeboat, too, would be a good thing.  Reminds me of the Zodiak I wrote into a poem about my father in his last days, riding out to shore from the little Sea Bird on which we were cruising the San Juan Islands and a Canadian fjord with oysters on its lip.

I don’t mean to disparage ladders.  I loved climbing several of them made of polished cottonwood up to the cave high on the cliff at Bandelier, in the canyon where thunderclouds gathered.  And in Paris during the bicentennial celebrations people had upended the traffic barricades and propped them against trees to climb up and see the parade.  But climbing is different than being climbed, and I’m too sore just now to like the image especially.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In the Bag, Or, Baa Baa Black Sheep

In my bag this morning, plums picked from the backyard tree, some leftover Mediterranean hummus (which inspired me late yesterday to coin a new phrase:  “ho hummus!”), and one of the new whole wheat sandwich thins, which I like a lot—very soft and good.

The plums, I thought, were Mirabelle, but must be Japanese or Santa Rosa, a deep purple.

In my writing bag, the short story I’m working on called “Milk” set in the Cathedral close in Durham, and query packets to get out to literary agents.

In my bag of tricks for getting through the day, a Provence Style (my favorite of some pumpkin-colored walls), my sun-art paper kit (waiting for falling leaf season), book ends to fold meditatively, and these lines from Cecil Day Lewis (one of our authors, and Daniel’s father):
“To lift, to fetch, to drive, to shed, to pen,
Are acts I recognize, with all they mean
Of shepherding the unruly, for a kind of
Controlled woolgathering is my work too.” 
Which reminds me of another poet, Kay Ryan, who likes to talk about woolgathering, and said, for instance,
“I've always taught part time, to a great extent, so that I could have most of my life for wool-gathering. You have to do it about 100 pounds of wool-gathering for an ounce of really good language. So it's very inefficient, and it takes an awful lot of time . . . ” 
But those of us who love to woolgather, which is pretty much what I’m doing here, end up eventually with (if nothing else), the proverbial “three bags full.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sink or Swim

Yes, I'm sinking under the weight of the books and paper around here.  My foray into collage in the winter didn't help; now I have lovely paper scraps by the bagful as well as all my writing (finished and un-) and enough reading to get me through a couple dozen years of convalescence.  I did try clearing some today, with these very partial results.

Books that I part with reluctantly:
Sherry Turkle, The Second Self
The Night Before Christmas with pop-up santas, shutters that open and shades that raise, and sugarplums literally dancing (and eyes twinkling), by means of a sliding piece

Books I can’t let go of:
my symbolic logic
The Ascent of Man
Misty of Chincoteague
Winnie Ille Pu
The Scholar Adventurers
Hildegard’s Healing Plants
The Perfect Egg, and Other Stories (Aldo Buzzi)
Rilke’s Book of Hours
Summer in Salandar (H.E. Bates)

Books I want to read again at once:
The Principles of Uncertainty
Selma (the philosophical sheep)
The High Road (Edna O’Brien)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Calm

Happy Sunday.

I madly love this detail from John William Waterhouse's Saint Cecilia (the whole of which I love, and which we got to see not long ago).

Wishing you a peaceful day.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dining Out, With Cows

“There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that, my friend, is dining.”—Yuan Mei

I was obsessively reading cookbooks yesterday, worried by the niggling thought that I couldn't eat whatever I wanted, but I know that half the pleasure I take in summer feasting is the setting, the ritual of setting a table, setting it in a garden and in the larger landscape, setting out the dishes and the foods, setting myself down for a long, pleasant meditation on what is in front of me and around me—whether a barge canal in Georgetown, a darkening stretch of Lake Como, caryatids in the Rodin Sculpture Garden on campus, a candelabra on a millstone table in Mallorca getting on for midnight, a rooftop with oregano in feta cans in Crete, a harbor with a sunken ancient city at Epidaurus, dappled cottonwood shade in Santa Fe, or a few bursts of lavender in my own weedy garden.

I once dined out in Sicily's Valley of the Temples, and was amazed to see a lobster climb off the display of antipasti and go roaming among the tables; but I have not yet dined with cows.  I imagine it would be quite amiable.

Friday, July 19, 2013

In the Soup

I am drinking lavender white tea, listening to what sounds like a young parrot learning to form words out in the orange tree, though that surely isn’t possible, and contemplating soups.

I have pulled out both the Greens cookbook and Twelve Months of Monastery Soups.  I am drawn by fresh pea soup with mint cream, spinach soup with Indian spices, corn and green chili chowder, roasted eggplant soup with saffron mayonnaise, and yellow split pea soup with spiced yoghurt; Soupe Pelou with radish greens, a soup of orzo, marjoram, and green peas; spicy carrot and orange soup, and simple chervil soup.

Remembering the monastery and its soups, I laugh again at how at the St. Bernard hospice during our stay there for archaeology, all leftovers made their way into the next day’s soup pot, and how delighted I was at what seemed to be cream of spaghetti.

I remember eating a very English pear and celeriac soup in the old coach house on Hampstead Heath, one unusually warm January; and much more recently, an oyster stew in Pt. Reyes on a rainy June Sunday, with tarragon, leeks, mushrooms, red potatoes, and Swiss chard.  And then the transcendent beet soup at Green Gulch (much purpler than this), too beautiful a color to dilute with crème fraiche, despite the flavor.

I remember taking to heart the childhood story of stone soup, that inspiring folk tale of cooperation, sharing.

And now . . . off for a soupçon of lunch—maybe clam chowder or Tuscan white bean.

image:  Redbedesuppe, Cyclonebill

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Day in Need of This Matisse

This day needs this Matisse!  Which is interestingly Bonnard-like in its colors and patches of texture.

(Off for more dental surgery; then on with the mashed potatoes.)

Image:  Henri Matisse (1869-1954): Still life with apples and oranges, 1898-1899. Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. — with Luiz Jefferson, I Require Art

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Moment of Breathing Space, Late Afternoon

Just for a smile!

“For a moment at least, be a smile on someone else’s face.”
—Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun

Monday, July 15, 2013

Calmly Eating Muffins

A little brightness for day's end.  

I was so pleased today to find myself remaining unnaturally calm in the face of major agitation (including the Santa Fe utility companies); the mindfulness meditation is doing some good!  It would be lovely to think that calm will be my nature from here on.
“A (wo)man of calm is like a shady tree.
People who need shelter come to it.” 

—Toba Beta, Betelgeuse Incident
I would undoubtedly, though, be as insufferable in my new attitude as Algernon Moncrieff—

“How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless."

"Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

"I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.”

—Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Ernest

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Country Lunch

Happy Bastille Day!  

Would that we were all gathered at just such a farmhouse in the French countryside, to have lunch for a few enchanted hours.

Instead, I'll make a blackberry cobbler that has the look of clafoutis; have an oyster sandwich at Café Brioche after the farmers' market (with sauteed pancetta, red onions, spinach, and Dijon cream); and watch Philippe Noiret in Life and Nothing But or Uranus, to celebrate the day. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Calm: In the Hammock

This was the most relaxed I can ever remember being—though at the same time I was working diligently on my novel in my head.  And soaking up the local color, fragrance of Aleppo pine, and sound of goat bells drifting up from the valley.

Mallorca was a special place and time!

image:  Me, writing hard, at The Writing Mill, Mallorca, 2003

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Act of Profound Remembrance

“The knowledge of impermanence that haunts our days is their very fragrance.”
Rilke is always my bible, the source of wisdom I live by.  I open his collected poems to find words of comfort or celebration for the big important life events.  To find clues to my feelings, auguries for going forward.

And so today, when I can’t find my own words to describe this letting go of the house that I grew up in, the permanent loss of which has not yet hit me, though the grief is lurking, trailing me just out of sight, I look for guidance in the writings that have so often steadied me.  No single passage said “this,” but it’s a complicated time, and there are many ways of looking at loss, change, growth.  So I toss out a handful, like various colored pebbles into a shallow stream, listening to the sound of their passage into the moving water.

“So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if a restlessness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over everything you do.  You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.”

“Losing too is still ours; and even forgetting
still has a shape in the kingdom of transformation.
When something's let go of, it circles; and though we are
rarely the center
of the circle, it draws around us its unbroken, marvelous

“Perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.”

“Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divinings, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”

“I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world.”

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.  Then in these swelling and ebbing currents, these deepening tides moving out, returning, I will sing you as no one ever has, streaming through widening channels into the open sea.”

Thank you, Rainer Maria Rilke, always, for your words to reckon by.

image:  She Who Is

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Joyous and Paradoxical Thing

I learned about lovely shimmery bottles (demijohns) like this one in Mallorca, and have in fact written a couple into one of my Mallorcan mysteries.

This quote from Peter Carey's wonderful novel Oscar and Lucinda celebrates the properties of glass:
[She] knew already the lovely contradictory nature of glass and she did not have to be told, on the day she saw the works at Darling Harbour, that glass is a thing in disguise, an actor, is not solid at all, but a liquid, that an old sheet of glass will not only take on a royal and purplish tinge but will reveal its true liquid nature by having grown fatter at the bottom and thinner at the top, and that even while it is as frail as the ice on a Parramatta puddle, it is stronger under compression than Sydney sandstone, that it is invisible, solid, in short, a joyous and paradoxical thing, as good a material as any to build a life from.”
—Peter Carey

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Loose Ends

Feeling at loose ends, today, unable to settle on one writing project or another, so picking at threads and doing nothing after all.  (Just enjoying that shade of blue!)

image:  Marnie,speak!

Friday, July 5, 2013


I’ve just gotten word that a dear friend passed away in Santa Fe in June, in her late nineties, full always of energy and love.  All I can offer her and those who miss her is this handful of elegiac and hopeful phrases by W.S. Merwin, to hold like river-polished pebbles on the lifelines of the palm.

“Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.”

“What you remember saves you.”

“The story of each stone leads back to a mountain.”

“we travel far and fast
and as we pass through we forget
where we have been”

“Tell me what you see vanishing and I will tell you who you are”

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree”

image:  Sunset, Woodyardville, Arkansas, Luisa Palma, Collage Art

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Belonging to Oneself

Happy Independence Day! 
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
—Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

Off to make some chimichurri, for swordfish.  I’m celebrating my independence, and being unAmerican in menu choices and colors.  May also head for the French café midday, unless the lake at Shoreline beckons, in which case we’ll take straw hats and folding chairs and The Ingredients of Love, which I must add to this year’s list of summer reading.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Living Without Envy

"With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy."  
—Lope de Vega  
Here are some lovely pictures of women contentedly reading.  Picture me among them!

image:  Henri Matisse, Interior with a Young Girl Reading

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer Reading

I posted a list of favorite summer reading last July (see here), and mused on it as well in 2011 (here, and here, and here).

But there are so many great books I’d recommend, and love to take with me right now to some pine-shaded cove in view of the Aegean or other bodies of water closer by—my attention torn between the page and view.

Tucker Malarkey, An Obvious Enchantment (Kenya)
Henry James, The Ambassadors (Paris)
Henry James, Roderick Hudson (Italy)
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Bath)
Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (South America)
E.M. Forster, A Room with a View (Florence)
Colette (France)
Richard Bradford, Red Sky at Morning (Santa Fe)
Oliver La Farge, Laughing Boy (Southwest)
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (or, in a funny typo I saw, Housemaid of Dawn) (Southwest)
Willa Cather, The Professor’s House (Southwest)
Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (Southwest)
David Payne, Confessions of A Taoist on Wall Street
Mark Salzman, The Laughing Sutra (China and San Francisco)
Marguerite Duras, The Lover (Indochina)
Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
Italo Calvino, Marcovaldo (northern Italy)
Italo Calvino, Difficult Loves (esp. “The Adventure of a Reader”)
John Cheever short stories (esp. “The Golden Age”)
Graham Greene short stories (esp. “The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen” and “Cheap in August”)
M.L. Longworth mysteries set in Aix au Provence
Shelby Hearon, 500 Scorpions (Mexico)
Mary Wesley, Harnessing Peacocks (England)
Robert Hellenga, The Sixteen Pleasures (Florence)
Keri Hulme, The Bone People (New Zealand)
Jodi Picoult, Picture Perfect (Africa, California)
Jennifer Vanderbes, Easter Island
James Houston, The Last Paradise (Hawai’i)
Robert Goddard, Into the Blue (Greece and England)
William Boyd, Brazzaville Beach (Africa)
Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (Greece, Mt. St. Helens)

Bon appetit!

image:  Henri Matisse, Interior with a Young Girl Reading