Sunday, September 29, 2013


Sunday mornings were sourdough pancakes—for a long while shaped like “Jefferson airplanes,” according to my father, topped with transluscent red syrup from the crabapples that grew in the front yard—hellish to rake.  And while my mother drove out to the Lutheran church on Barcelona Road (crossing Madrid and Seville), and I went with her or didn’t, depending on the era, my father wrote his Sunday letters, one page typed, four or five paragraphs of wit and keen descriptive pleasure.

Saturdays were lawn mowing and the Met Opera broadcast and, of course, raking those crabapples before all else.

I have no ritual here, not even the farmers’ market.  I used to take coffee in a thermos to the riverfront park, one year, that’s about it.  I need a river, spiritual pursuits, letters, crabapples, something to mark the passing—or beginning—of another week.

image: Crabapple, a weaving by Bhakti Ziek

Friday, September 27, 2013


Things I would gather today:
  • a string of bright blue beads against the evil eye
  • some spicy Mayan hot chocolate in a chipped cup
  • a pack of mismatched dogs, to walk in Central Park
  • some favorite book, funny and wise
  • my twisted silver bracelet, like a length of silver rope
  • all my dear friends, to coddle, thank, and feed on pappardelle, porcini, berries in orange liqueur
  • my softest sweater, most worn blue jeans
  • my grandparents’ jar of glass marbles, to set in the windowsill
  • a whole embroidery of trails up gentle hills (green and white threads, like the unicorn tapestries)
  • kindness, hope

image:  An Affair with Italy, photographer Julie Adams

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

When the Words Fail Me

What do I do when the words fail me?

When my father died, I took up photography, bought myself a good Pentax with zoom and close-up lenses, learned to just be quiet and look.

When my spirit was being abused at work, I volunteered to be the dresser for a play, and learned the language of the heart from several wonderful women of color.  Without saying a thing, I immersed myself (an adult being baptised) in their words, their world.

Other times I’ve turned to collage (which has been calling me again); have walked and walked in springtime hills; have lost my way so completely in the heart of an opera that I nearly didn’t come out.  I’ve learned to paint Zen brush circles; have wordlessly spent a summer pruning potato vine, and another finding Morris dancers in my neighborhood park; have reshaped letters—only their outward form.  I’ve sought the past in Swiss mud, British mud, and traced the inscriptions on Roman milestones.

Today, I’m cooking wild rice, chanelling the autumn:  no serious cure, for a momentary loss.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Letter Sculptures in Treviso, Italy

Friday, September 20, 2013

Being Mindful of Mindfulness

One of the best explorations of mindfulness—and the lack thereof—is in Graham Greene’s delightful short story “The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen.”  A woman writer, boastful of her powers of observation which she’s sure will guarantee her success, never notices the distinctive party of eight Japanese gentlemen (seven wearing glasses) eating fish at the table next to where she’s holding court completely self-absorbed.

My experience yesterday wasn’t as colorful or witty, but in the morning, having forgotten to take breakfast with me to the wilderness that is our office, I walked across to the medical center café, intent on my woes.  But thankfully I looked up and out, just in time, by chance, and saw the beauty of the sun-struck dew glittering on the sea of decorative grasses that wash over two Bronze Age hill forts (or so they seem!) in front of the café, surrounded by white roses.  I was chastened, and gladdened, and taught an important lesson.

Fully aware, then, I was further gladdened by a vegetable breakfast sandwich with bacon (another of my sins), the kindness of the help, and the walk back along our fountains—nothing like the Villa d’Este, of course, but nonetheless something worth noticing and even seeking out each morning when the light is right.

And by that I have been reminded of one of my favorite Rilke poems, one of the Sonnets to Orpheus translated by Stephen Mitchell, which speaks to my current despair as it has to other losses, sorrows, disappointments over the years.

Appendix VI

When everything we create is far in spirit from the festive,
in the midst of our turbulent days let us think of what festivals were.
Look, they still play for us also, all of the Villa d’Este’s
glittering fountains, though some are no longer towering there.

Still, we are heirs to those gardens that poets once praise in their songs;
let us grasp our most urgent duty:  to make them fully our own.
We perhaps are the last to be given such god-favored, fortunate Things,
their final chance to find an enduring home.

Let not one god pass away.  We all need each of them now,
let each be valid for us, each image formed in the depths.
Don’t speak with the slightest disdain of whatever the heart can know.

Though we are no longer the ones for whom great festivals thrived,
this accomplishing fountain-jet that surges to us as strength
has traveled through aqueducts—in order, for our sake, to arrive.
—Rainer Maria Rilke

image:  Dunadd Hill Fort, Wikipedia

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Between All the Givens

This morning I am grateful for
  • the warmth of my corduroy bathrobe
  • a triangular sail of morning sunlight on the white cotton curtain
  • the autumn light on the little orchard out back
  • catching sight of Hildegard’s Healing Plants
  • a tube of fresh fig body lotion
  • yesterday’s nourishing and delicious vegetable sandwich
  • yesterday’s talk in a homey patio of matters literary
  • my seaglass necklace
  • this quote from Sue Bender:  “In that tiny space between all the givens is freedom.”
  • coming across

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Being Horizon

“The best thing one can be is a horizon.”

This quote I came upon follows right on the heels of that other, “a writer is a foreign country.”  In mulling over the latter I was thinking that the country I am would have in its language many subjunctive tenses—that is, horizons where things aren’t yet set.  A horizon offers possibility and hope.  At the horizon, anything is possible.  (In art, is the horizon the same as the vanishing point?  Not necessarily, I think.  But I’ve been drawn to those moments defined by the viewer’s perspective, too.)

I like this further quote of exploration in that liminal realm, threshold of everything, both time and space:
“We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know—that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.”
—Berly Markham, West with the Night
And this, a fine example of the best subjunctive mood:
“…all human wisdom is contained in these two words, - ‘Wait and hope.’ – Your friend, Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo. The eyes of both were fixed on the spot indicated by the sailor, and on the blue-line separating the sky from the Mediterranean Sea, they perceived a large white sail.”—Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo 
Leaving you there, with them, to contemplate—to be—the horizon.

image:  Yehuda Edri III

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Foreign Country

“a writer is a foreign country”—Marguerite Duras
I am having fun imagining the countries that I am, the half-forgotten languages spoken—or scratched onto stone—there, the lofty unexplored mountains in the interior, the seaports bustling with traded goods from all around the world, the grand old trains that run between the picturesque stations, the untroubled inhabitants (old as Methuselah, wise as Merlin, perky as Pippi Longstocking flipping pancakes while her pigtails bob).

There are swans there, erasing slowly their own trace on water as they go.  Filagree butterflies, onyx burros.  And in some whitewashed doorway on one of the islands I can’t quite make out the name of, a bent-tailed cat named Saturday.

Bookstores with windowseats, schoolbuses, Roman roads.  Affable seamonsters in the margins, seen in the harbors in months without “r”s at low tide, rambunctious until lulled by sea shanties or roots reggae or sometimes local monks perching themselves on the seawall and offering a sequence of Gregorian chant.  Peppers strung down terra cotta walls, and inner patios luscious with shade where artists paint away their afternoons, after a lunch of grill-striped vegetable slices with cold harissa.

Pull out your passport; come explore.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Assortment of Assets

Treats to myself this week:
  • a little bag of ZombieRunner coffee—decaf Ethiopian Sidamo, shade-grown and artisan-roasted—for my French press at the office
  • a P.G. Wodehouse Blandings omnibus to wallow in with bliss
  • a visit yesterday to the civilized world.  Lunch with a friend, fish tacos, cubes of marinated cheese with herbs, copying recipes from the Hungarian hills, reading about sour cherries and an ancient chapel outside the writer’s kitchen window, learning words in Magyar
  • a stunning Verdi Requiem

image:  Cafe Arabia, diegojaf22

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Five Essential Ingredients

This lovely conversation with Jane Hirshfield on the five essential ingredients for the home cook, as well as the poet, makes me wonder what I would choose.  An especially poignant question during this era when I have no time to be a home cook or a poet (though I did, on Sunday, shop and cook for the whole week—making my favorite organic chicken with lemon and tiny Niçoise olives and the lavender-fraught fragrance of herbes de Provence; and then a mixture of black beans, cucumber, tomato, ground turkey, fresh oregano, and salsa, to eat on salad greens; and buying a delightful wedge of white cheddar with Hatch green chili married in).

Just off the cuff, I’d say
loving kindness

Many of the qualities I’ve learned to practice in the mindfulness-based stress reduction class, not unexpectedly.  For cooking is one of the best activities to encourage or embody mindfulness.

Memory:  bringing the flavors and textures of all the well-loved far-off places into what one cooks and eats.  The pimientos de Padron of Mallorca, the little jar of spaghetta boscaiola with dried mushrooms brought back from a cobbled street in Verona, the apricot jam from my mother’s cupboard—apricots from the childhood tree.

Time:  to chop with patience and a staccato or legato rhythm; to let the sauces simmer for hours while windows steam (in cooler weather) and flavors deepen; to let meats become braised and succulently tender; to let the memory in the ingredients of field and orchard, stream or salten sea, become part of the cook’s being as well.

Attention:  so as not to endanger one’s fingers with sharp knives, or let the kettle of beans burn dry.  So as to absorb fragrances and earthy essences—potato skin, fig purple, and cinnamon musk; pine nuts that hold in them the sticky pitch the pungent needles the red sand cliffs that were their origins.  The awareness too of a little late sun coming obliquely through the kitchen window on those funny purple flowers (like chive only darker) brought home wrapped in paper to cheer you.

Loving kindness:  to these things that sustain you, that give their lives for yours.  Everything tastes better cooked with love.  Nothing should be half-hearted—nothing that matters.  (One of the many telling quotes I remember from Gaudy Night, that best-ever mystery by Dorothy Sayers, “I'm quite sure that one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of lack of genuine interest. In my opinion, that is.”)

Openness:  Let the possibilities arise.  Let them surprise you, happily.  Don’t resist change, or cardamom; don’t tell yourself a daring moment of Aleppo pepper doesn’t belong in a quiet risotto.  Let come what comes.  Embrace sherry vinegar.

Speisekarte des Hotel Marquardt, Art Deco, Chromolithographie, G. Sturm

Friday, September 6, 2013

en recherche du temps perdu

I drink the excellent Peruvian coffee made from hand-roasted beans and carried back for me, see beside the bed a little jumble of socks, stripes and bead-like flowers and favorite colors, garnet and lichen, plum and powder blue, and feel blessed—despite the vital things that have been severed from my days.  Time; a place to sit, be still, be me, be with my words, be more than they want me to be; time; the shade of reverent old trees; time; the possibility of a café; time; a place to walk; birdsong; time, oh time.

I must learn to rearrange my weeks, and find some way to cook again, allow for leftovers and quickly-thrown-together salads, for these shorter, now restricted days.  To overcome my spirit’s exhaustion at the injury done it, and rebound (or some better verb, indicating the regrowth of trees after duress—or the poor ivy plants I left sitting in the hot car all day, which are bravely putting out new shoots).

image:  church tower clock, Nieuw 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Want

"I want to think again of dangerous things
I want to be improbable and beautiful
afraid of nothing
as though I had wings."

—Mary Oliver

image:  Pompeii, House of the Vettii, photo by Carlo Brogi

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Capacity for Happiness

"although you lose happiness, you do not lose the capacity for happiness" 
—Boyd Cochrell, Rage in the Wind

I think my father truly believed this; and I will do well to remember it today, his birthday, all these years after losing him, at this time when I'm feeling in danger of losing myself, wasting my precious life.

image:  pine forest, Aajim

Opening on Broadway

Our new space is more spacious than expected.  The accoustics are better than in the old building, it seems, so noise doesn’t bounce off the walls and low ceilings at us.  I have a window and a view of olive trees (though those of course border a parking lot, instead of a Mallorcan hillside).  There’s an inner courtyard with café tables which might be pleasant at certain times of day and year—if only I can remember how to get there!  We are continually lost.  There is a maze of individual conference rooms, named inexplicably for flowers.

Our IT specialist, accordingly, mentioned that he’s thinking of naming our various printers for ships.  I said “oh, like the Titanic?  The Argo?  The Beagle?”  Being an IT specialist, he instead was thinking of Aft, Starboard, etc.

I need more plants, and either photos or collages.  But my little laughing stone Buddha is happily in place off to the right of my computer, and the new iced tea pitcher in one of six fridges, with yume tea (strawberries and rose buds) to refresh me late afternoon.

And our director has rescued the old wooden cabinet of type and printing ornaments from the original press building, and gave it a good polish (if not with beeswax); and unearthed some prehistoric vases from the Aegean to set on it, willed to the Press some years ago by a long-time employee who had traveled much in Turkey and the Middle East with her husband, doing things archaeological.  That’s a nice touch, serving to root us.

The commute is longer by three times, but I’ve found a way to wend our way through mostly shady neighborhoods, along the Stanford golf course, through quiet Atherton, up just one pleasant block of El Camino, and thence up a half residential street to Broadway—avoiding all freeways.

So on we go.

image:  Deia olive trees, WiDi

Sunday, September 1, 2013

September Activities (Whimsies and Otherwise)

  • a flannel plaid shirt
  • a fiery red henley (always loving the tiny buttons at the neck)
  • a berry pink heather long-sleeved tee
  • the saints for early September, including the patrons of the lame and of musicians
  • tomorrow’s farmers market tomatoes

  • Skinny Girl vodka with a je ne sais quoi of Limoncello, and lots of ice 

  • a salad with soba noodles, chicken, lots of ginger and garlic, and crispy cucumbers, green onions, and purple radicchio

  • a day of shopping for pants 

  • the reported failure of air-conditioning and plugs in the new building