Friday, February 28, 2014

In Like a Lion?

At the moment, I'd guess that March will be in like a dappled gray pony, maybe a Percheron; or in like a duck-billed platypus, shaking water off its back.

But maybe it will, after all, be in like a lion, if the beast in question is as still and reflective as this—more like a lion's head fountain in some Italian hilltown, where it's almost suppertime and some kind of fine tagliatelli is on the menu.  Or, of course, agnolotti with a whisper of nutmeg, and butter and sage.


image:  Yehuda Edri Collection, with Yehuda Edri and Cecilia Worley.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Revisiting Steinbeck

Happy birthday, John Steinbeck.

I’m sharing some characteristic quotes from Cannery Row, perhaps my favorite of his books, though I have many favorites (The Pastures of Heaven, The Red Pony, East of Eden, To a God Unknown).  Certainly one of my favorite places to walk, in the long-ago days, when the tourist hordes hadn’t gotten too thick and the old defunct sardine canneries hadn’t all been displaced by boutique hotels.  I used to love to amble around Steinbeck’s haunts, and was especially interested in visiting the French Hotel, the graceful two-story adobe with garden where Robert Louis Stevenson lived for a time and which figures in Steinbeck’s story “How Edith McGillcuddy Met R. L. Stevenson.”
“Doc tips his hat to dogs as he drives by and the dogs look up and smile at him.”
“Henri the painter was not French and his name was not Henri. Also he was not really a painter. Henri has so steeped himself in stories of the Left Bank in Paris that he lived there although he had never been there.”
“How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise - the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream - be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book - to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pocket Comforts

“But Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.”—A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Just a few small things that make me feel comfortable and comforted after another bout of dental surgery this morning:
  • decaf Sumatra, smooth and strong
  • creamy oatmeal with St. Dalfour’s peach preserves (an old French recipe, they say)
  • a shapely pine tree wet with rain
  • blue fleece sweat pants
  • three “cozies” set in the British countryside
  • a pile of DVDs, including The Return of the Native, The Princess Bride, Kingdom, Guess Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, and some favorite Poirots
  • the electric blanket turned up to “popcorn,” as my mother would have said
  • another day off work
  • Snoopy (and also, since I am reminded, “Hang on Sloopy”)
  • these purple flowers
  • pink and black striped kneesocks

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Controlled Woolgathering

io son sempre un idiota
io non so che sospirar

I am idiotically delighted to have this new quote, from the delightful love song of the country bumpkin in l’Elisir d’Amore.

I am always an idiot
I know only how to sigh

I intend to use it a lot about myself.  I’d like to be the office bumpkin, amiable and slow, simple and happy to believe what I am told.  Wearing a bit of birds-nest in my hair, or grass-stains on my knees; woolgathering.

''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.''
—Cecil Day Lewis

I shall always happily return to my sheep (revenons à nos moutons), whether poetic or otherwise, knowing how to do nothing but sigh—and maybe hum a bit from time to time.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Pansy's Purple Patience

When the snow-girt earth
Cracks to let through a spurt
Of sudden green, and from the muddy dirt
A snowdrop leaps, how mark its worth
To eyes frost-hardened, and do weary men
Feel patience then?
—Amy Lowell, “Patience”

On our way to work on Friday I felt strangely happy to notice we were following a builder’s truck, with two pieces of planed wood sticking out over the tailgate, a bucketful of trowels for smoothing a new sidewalk (though a pawprint or a name will afterwards be left in its hardening surface for a lifetime) or perhaps for scraping a thousand years of accumulation off the surface of an archaeological dig, and in the back window of the passenger cab a small jaunty white terrier.

Today, for my well-being, I’m asked to reflect on the power of patience.  It is that, I think, those few small details that connect us to the earth.

Patience is laying out the walk, smoothing the fresh cement, observing laid-down building rituals so the entirety will stand.  A new foundation, a new life or home, life going on.

Wendell Berry, in his “In a Hotel Parking Lot Thinking of Dr. Williams” writes similarly about people needing to have, and no longer having, patience—

     the patience for beauty: the weighted

     grainfield, the shady street,
     the well-laid stone and the changing tree
     whose branches spread above.

     For want of songs and stories
     they have dug away the soil,
     paved over what is left,

     set up their perfunctory walls
     in tribute to no god,
     for the love of no man or woman,

     so that the good that was here
     cannot be called back
     except by long waiting, by great

     sorrows remembered and to come
     by invoking the thunderstones
     of the world, and the vivid air.

Patience involves (and enables) a particular relationship with the world, with time.  Care and tenderness and an awareness of what’s past and what’s ahead, while living yet in the moment in the manner of sages, poets, saints.

The most patient I have been was pruning a fenceful of overgrown potato vine one summer, cutting out the dead layers without cutting the new, tracing tendrils.  One bit at a time, seeing the fence and garden and my mind itself and my heart clear.

Patience on a monument.  Patience is a monument.  The time-worn statue visited each day over the years, the heartsease visiting it brings, the sturdy friendship with the stone and elements that write on it the slow and patient stories, some with multiple endings.

E.E. cummings writes about patience a lot—

     i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

     i am a little church (far from the frantic
     with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature


     Being is
     patience is patient is (patiently

     all the eyes of these with listening
     hands only fishermen are prevented by cathedrals

and again

     the lilac's smoke the poppy's pompous fire

     the pansy's purple patience and the grave

     frailty of daises

The pansy’s purple patience says it all.  All peace and well-being are there.

image:  Patience on a Monument Smiling at Grief, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (the artist's life moving from Yorkshire to Florence)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bassoon Concerto in B-flat Major

I have become utterly charmed by Mozart’s little homely bassoon concerto, which comforts me strangely (like sitting in a patch of sun, like seeing the beginning of spring buds greening oak branches on the bare trees on the hill) when I am shaken in my own being, as I have been the last few days for no particular reason. 

The version I love, having happened upon by chance, is by the Orchestre de la Camerata Academica du Mozarteum de Salzbourg.

Looking for an excerpt of it I can share with you, I find that the bassoonist is Rudolph Klepac, and that that is a recording from June 1956—my birth year and month!  Somehow we have found each other after all that time, the glad music and I.

image:  Carroll Bryant Legends:  Mozart

Monday, February 17, 2014

Joies de Vivre

On my windowsill this morning:  a gift of blue.

This is a story about the color blue, and like blue, there’s nothing true about it. Blue is beauty, not truth. ‘True blue’ is a ruse, a rhyme; it’s there, then it’s not. Blue is a deeply sneaky color.”
—Christopher Moore, Sacré Bleu:  A Comedy d’Art  
“Blue was a fanciful, but sensible thing. Like a platypus, or one of those sandwiches that had been cut into circles for a fancy tea party.”
—Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Blue

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Old Records

I’ve finally weeded out my old LPs (keeping a few to play again, or digitize, because they’re not available as MP3s).  It’s startling how even the covers bring back whole eras, touch ages of my life that the music inside always transports me instantly back to.

The Segovia, Five Pieces from ‘Platero and I’ doesn’t strike any particular emotional chords; I’m not sure I’ve even listened to that.  But it came from my father’s record collection (probably something he was given and didn’t listen to either, not being fond of guitar), and does remind me vividly of my Spanish class, and the pleasures of reading Platero y Yo, (“a small silver-gray donkey who accompanied the poet on his travels and was the confidant of his most intimate thoughts”).  I love the cover illustration, and the composer’s descriptions of his songs, which are like partial memories of my own from reading the book so long ago.

  1. Platero introduces the little trotting donkey, “hard as steel, soft as a silvery moonbeam.”
  2. Melancholia . . . is a tender elegy on the death of Platero.  The poet, followed by a group of children, goes to visit the grave of Platero, while a white butterfly flutters in the air—perhaps it is the soul of the dead donkey.
  3. Angelus.  At sunset the poet and Platero return home.  The sky is glowing with color, and the little clouds look like roses.  Platero’s eyes, in which the last rays of the sun are reflected, look like roses too.
  4. Golondrinas.  In the spring, at the usual date, the swallows come back.  They chatter about their travels across the sea and the warm lands.  But it is still cold here.  Are the poor swallows going to freeze?
  5. La Arrulladora.  In the forest the daughter of a poor charcoal-burner sings a lullaby to her little brother.  The wind murmurs among the trees.  The little child falls asleep, and Platero, too.  (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, from the poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez)
And then there’s the first record I was ever given, Simon & Garfunkle, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—the beginning of adolescence, of yearning to be loved for who I was, to be who I was, to become.  And Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, which I listened to over and over and over in a friend’s room where I stayed for a few weeks when I came back to California after college, uncertain of anything, but knowing I’d never be going home to Santa Fe to live again. 

Important transitions.  The soundtrack of my life; the music that foreshadowed loss and change and now sends shadows backwards to those times that live only inside my heart and head and in the well-worn record sleeves.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Platero and I

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Bonus Moon

The “budding moon,” I think; from one of my favorite artists . . .
to say again happy full moon, and happiest Valentine's Day.

Some further moonlit thoughts:
“Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.”
—James Joyce

image:  She Who Is

Over the Moon

I love the names given to moons of different months.  (And yes, I’ve always loved Pogo, which my dad loved before me.)

Today’s full moon, the February moon, is known most commonly as the Wolf Moon, Snow Moon, Ice Moon, or Hunger Moon.

But in addition it’s been called the Snow-blinding Moon by the Micmac people in eastern Canada; the Wind Moon by the San Ildefonso of the Southwest; and the Blackbear Moon by the Kutenai of the Northwest.

Further names, according to Keith’s Moon Page, include:
Budding Moon (Chinese)
Bony Moon (Cherokee)
Little Famine Moon (Choctaw)
Moon of the Raccoon, or Moon When Trees Pop (Dakota Sioux)
Moon of Ice (Celtic)
Storm Moon (English Medieval)

Here, tonight, I don’t know that I’ll call the moon by name, because there’s a heavy cloud cover and I will never see it.  But I’ll be mooning for it, this Valentine’s Day . . .

image:  Walt Kelly, Pogo, To the Moon

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Defense of the Niche

I love niches, those quiet hollows in deep walls (adobe walls in Santa Fe, in California missions, or built into Cretan whitewashed rooms).  Love that they’re simple and somehow sacred by their nature, meant for statues or urns or something being set off, made special by being given space to be itself, in all its glory—whether household saint or candle, vase of purple ranunculus or brass bird.

I wrote this once before, and keep taking pictures.

V.S. Naipaul wrote “Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.”

I have to disagree with that narrow (yes!) and somehow masculine vision.  Niches aren’t limiting, per se; they are instead a space of intense concentration, a continuing moment of truth.  They help focus on what’s important, vital, like a close-up or a telephoto lens (bringing the far near).  They allow those of us who are quiet by nature to keep what’s essential at heart.  Keep us from scattering our energy and attention on the big bad confusing world.  They’re inward-looking, certainly—but what visions don’t start there?  All possibility is in a niche, speaking to us.

I think that Robert Louis Stevenson has summed it up better:

“The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.” 

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Mission Dolores niche, and Adobe on Green niche

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Gardens

This lovely painting, from a whole brilliant collection of Women and Gardens, has brightened a rainy gray day (along with a deep blue and white pottery dish of carnitas and guacamole and black beans, and a blood orange margarita:  my lunchtime treat, with paperback mystery set in Scotland in hand).

I've spent the afternoon listening to Mozart masses, as well—a kind of sound-garden, as sunny as can be.  One of my favorite of his spiritual pieces is this, the Laudate Dominum from his Vesperae Solennes.  Like flowers, cut from a summer painting, I keep it indoors with me as the rain refreshes things outdoors.

image:  Edmund Tarbell, Mercie Cutting Flowers

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Hundred Miles of Shoes

I realized on the ride to work on Friday morning that both time and journeys can be measured by a lot of different means—the way children collect license plates on long car trips.  Not just abstract minutes, miles, but rhythms and associations inner and outer that mark off any time or space.

How long is your commute?  Three early Mozart symphonies, the Sparrow Mass, and a chorus of Huns.

Or:  six schools and two churches.  Or:  three black Labs, a couple of curious llaso apsos, and a squirrel.

The measuring can take place through a series of imagined groves, as you pass streets which have displaced the woods that name them.  One by one, noting
Fair Oaks
Redwood . . .
and whatever comes next.

I’ve written that the way to Flagstaff, my grandparents’ house, was through the heart of Indian country.  Between Zuni and Hopi, Navajo and Apache, counting off the reservations, pueblos, tribes—like a string of old turquoise beads, the running river-water strands of heishi, the prayer beads of a rosary.  Santo Domingo, Cochiti, Jemez, San Felipe; Zia, Laguna, Santa Ana, Canoncito; Acoma, Zuni, Isleta.  Jicarilla Apache, Ramah Navajo.  The Navajo Nation, extending into three states.

In Virginia hunt country one autumn I took up the local reckoning, and made my way through the new land tracing the past (an 18th century gristmill on a slow old green river), following a map of physical geography:  Aldie Mill, Champe Ford, James River—a history of the people and their occupations woven in, and the continual relationship with water.  Signs were handwritten and slow (“Chesapeake rainbow trout”), and in that quiet purl of time on that St. Francis of Assissi Day (another way of measuring, through saints and their doings) I found the blessing of the animals in the small rural church across from the tavern where I ate trout.

Other distances are quite incalculable.  On one stretch of road through Atherton each morning, with the light just right, I’m carried all the way to Italy, another fall, the length of long sun-dappled country roads around the villa outside Busseto where we spent one golden afternoon prowling the grounds of the composer’s home, the stately dwellingplace of Giuseppe Verdi and his music and loving second wife.

And then the corner that brings back my first trip into foreign parts, the train ride down to Mexico and Teotihuacan, the vast enchanted mercado that offered sides of beef ridden with flies, and graceful butterflies of silver filagree; embroidered cotton dresses, onyx chessmen, shrimp soup.  This new one (Main and Middlefield) transports me like a single rub of a djinn’s lamp back to the thrill of my discovery.  The length of just two sleepless nights could bring me to a world I’d never known.  Its meat market contains again that beef; the joyeria facing it, my husband’s sure, sells joy; a big store one door down is full to the ceiling with shoes. 

I see a whole journey in that one shop—a hundred miles of shoes if laid out end to end, a desert pilgrimage through sage and bones bleached paper white.  Another way of measuring the travels of the soul or of the heart; charting a life.

image:  She Who Is

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Year of the Horse

Happy Year of the Horse!

I adore this photo of Rudolph Valentino, on horse, which in fact I sent to my parents twenty-three years ago as a valentine (saying "buon giorno di Valentino!").

I wish I had a hat like that—and a lovely woods like that; never mind the masked man.

Image:  Rudoph Valentino, photograph by Nealson Smith