Monday, March 31, 2014

In the Details

While waiting in the Philadelphia airport for my late flight, I sat with my computer near a window looking out onto the wet tarmac, and somewhere on the Internet found a poem that began “My god...” and went on to describe characteristics.  That set me thinking, and here’s my own account.

My god leaves clues scattershot.
My god is in these details.
  • the fossil fish
  • the flute player sitting crosslegged on a sandstone ledge up at the Ceremonial Cave (playing the interlude from Carmen)
  • the red quintessence on a blackbird’s wing
  • a mound of cloud seen from a plane (the little lights too, on the airplane wing, and footprints)
  • a hefty PG Wodehouse collection
  • Rilke in translation
  • graham crackers and milk
  • a Paris rooftop with a little children’s wading pool
  • the cat’s eye at the end of Tristes Tropiques
  • the Emperor Concerto
  • a spool of turquoise thread
  • a curl of lemon peel
  • the goldfish swimming in their silky circles
  • rain in the late afternoon
  • a rhubarb-red umbrella, furled
  • the frozen breath of lions in the January zoo
  • a minister in cowboy boots
  • Western ghost towns
  • the Rhine in early June, a boat running down it
  • the Taiko drummers through an open door one evening after class
  • sea turtles in slow caramelly motion
  • three red flowerpots
  • the big bowl of a pipe (Maigret or Sherlock Holmes)
  • light catching on a reeling cloud of sandpipers
  • the seeds in a dried chili pod
  • forsythia
  • landing in Sicily after a night and half day’s flight
  • what grows on lava
  • burned pine trees nourishing new growth
  • the movements of a white knight on a chessboard
  • the efficient little legs of a dachshund
  • espadrilles
  • mittens
  • carved santos
  • inner-tubing in the snow at Hyde Park
  • mercury, spilling heavily from a broken thermometer
  • Chinon wine, cool and tasting of the earth
  • the taverna under the ancient aqueduct full of nesting ravens
  • a silver shaman
  • handprints in deep French caves
  • the tutu store, with satin toe shoes
  • an elevator repairman in the Algonquin
  • gingko leaves
  • Etruscan filigree
  • a wind-ruffled apple orchard
  • Zaatar spices
  • the old Chimera bookshop
  • library ladders
  • the old women fishing for shrimp with nets near Hilo Bay
  • oxbow rivers silvered with the last sunlight
  • picnics with Tanqueray martinis
  • pork loin stuffed with herbs
  • the shape of certain Js and Cs
  • Snoopy typing on his doghouse
  • the stripes of melons
  • a Keats tag on a carry-on bag
  • the Irish fishmonger on the high street
  • cutting out lacy paper snowflakes
  • deerskin moccasins
  • shadow boxes
  • sprouting pinto beans in milk cartons
  • growing alum crystals
  • geodes

It is a kind of jigsaw puzzle—god, and the meaning of life.  I work on piecing it together, all those hours waiting for my delayed flight.  Three hours waiting; five.  The pieces do all fit, clearly, but maybe the picture isn’t set.  Maybe it’s more the kind of thing you see in a kaleidoscope—all those bright bits of colored glass, forming multiple varied images, one after another, always changing, always new.

(After too many hours in the airport, one gets fanciful—and out of desperation mixes metaphors!)

image:  Make, Recycled Kaleidoscope

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nouns of Singularity

Not collective nouns, but nouns of singularity—

a conspiracy of red
a shock of chartreuse
a lull of blue
a drenching of silver
a warmth of yellow
a rumination of brown
an oblivion of black
an evasion of white
an abandon of purple
a generosity of green
a pragmatism of khaki
a hush of copper
an impetuosity of scarlet
a clairvoyance of turquoise
a noblesse oblige of gold
a verbosity of orange
a chastity of gray
a fragility of fawn
a smouldering of burnt umber
a quintessence of apricot
a taunt of pink
a normality of navy
a philosophy of plum
a rhapsody of raspberry
a distress of beige
a glee of stripes
a circus of polka dots

image:  Il Papiro marbled paper

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Through a Screen, Lightly

I love the way this photo turned out, of the little orchard behind the house in its spring finery, seen through the window screen.  I’m reminded just how many screens we see life through, much of the time—our view of things affected, if not actually distorted.

There are those famous rose-colored lenses, the rosy glow of La Vie en Rose, making everything much more romantic than it is.

And then, while listening to the song in some dim smoke-filled room, there is that smoke screen which makes everything seem like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel—a little world-weary, a little noir.

There are cataracts, blurring the vision in old age; and I’m remembering my mother’s wonderful remark when she’d had hers removed—“the world looks like it’s been washed.”  Dirt in any of its guises was anathema to her.

I know a little bit the feeling of snow-blindness.  In Montreal one long-ago winter, my eyeglasses steamed up from my breath travelling up my woolen scarf—and then froze.  A screen of breath, a screen of frost, a very introspective view.

Not quite so drastic is the screen of moisture-beaded glass—whether science experiments, cocktails, or rainy haunts—the sparkle of adventure, to me, coming from a place where rain and lovely moisture weren’t common.

Always dire is “now we see through a glass darkly.”  An explanation of this ominous (dark) phrase is given here. “The ‘glass’  the writer describes here is actually a mirror.  The mirrors of the ancients were of polished metal, in many cases they were of brass and they required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. And it was  the apostle Paul who wrote this famous passage from the Bible in a letter to a church in Corinth, which was famous for the manufacture of these kinds of mirrors. The images reflected in these brass mirrors were indistinct in comparison to our modern mirrors. They were seen Darkly Which, literally translated from the original Greek language in which he wrote, means, ‘in a riddle or enigma…that the revelation appears indistinctly, imperfectly.’” 

Seeing back to lighter times is by contrast facilitated by looking through old wavy window glass, in hundreds of small panes, like that on the sun porch of the wonderful old Victorian house I once rented.

And then there’s the joy of unscreening; of flinging back heavy shutters to the day, maybe in an albergo in Rome one August morning.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Through the Window Screen

Friday, March 28, 2014

Minding My (Ps and) Qs

I've realized that many things I love dearly (in life or in imagination) begin with "Q"—


image:  Quince, Zen of Watering

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reading Terminal Market

An all-too-brief visit to one of my favorite haunts, Philadelphia’s historic Reading Terminal Market, which inspires not just hunger for their local and imported products, but laudatory poems.

Today what caught my eye and nose and tastebuds was this bounty—
  • pink tulips
  • healing herbs
  • bags of mint to grow in a windowsill
  • artisan grilled cheese (from Valley Shepherd Creamery)
  • handmade soaps (elaborately carved)
  • snapper soup
  • flower seeds
  • caffe-latte-colored eggs
  • goat cheese croissants
  • chocolate covered bacon
  • the cookbook shop
  • Provence tablecloths

I see I wrote about the market once before, four years ago, besides the poems.  And there’s much more to read and enjoy at the Philly Food Lovers’ Blog, link below.

image:  cicada French linen, Contessa’s, Philly Food Lovers Blog

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Calm

Happy Friday!

Our thought for today: 
“Silence Has A Sound....”
—Muhammad Imran Hasan 
Let us be very, very still, and try to hear what it’s saying to us.

image:  Yehuda Edri

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Get a Life

Some wonderful excerpts from Anna Quindlen’s advice to the life-lorn—
“Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines.  Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Turn off your cell phone.  Turn off your regular phone, for that matter.  Keep still.  Be present.  Get a life in which you are not alone.  Find people you love, and who love you.  And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Get a life in which you are generous.  Look around at the azaleas making fuchsia star bursts in spring look at a full moon hanging silver in a black sky on a cold night.  And realize that life is glorious, and that you have no business taking it for granted.  Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around.  Take the money you would have spent on beers in a bar and give it to charity.  Work in a soup kitchen.  Tutor a seventh-grader. All of us want to do well.  But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.” —Anna Quindlen, A Short Guide to a Happy Life
I would add:

Get a life with some children in it who want to draw a picture with crayons for you.

Get a life in which you go on pilgrimage, to a small whitewashed church, maybe—a small church with the sea in it, a church in a small cove, with goats.

Get a life in which you set the table with your grandmother’s goblets, and serve asparagus risotto in an child’s alphabet bowl.

Get a life with someone in it who offers to bring some dogs to you.

Get a life with sometimes a gift of Christmas cookies with the silver sprinkles, or a slice of lavender pound cake.

Get a life in which you shape some little animals with salted dough.

Get a life in which you climb into the secret heart of a kiva, or up into a sandstone cave the light, blue afternoon before the new year.

Get a life in which clouds figure, and figures in clouds.

Get a life with at least one elderly friend in it who asks you over for clam chowder and a little Scotch.

Get a life in which you wade barefoot in a small stream, midsummer snowmelt, watching the icy mountain water purling, tickling your toes.

Get a life including someone who one Saturday shows you to how to paint brush circles on big sheets torn off a roll of butcher paper.

Get a life in which you go out at first light before the days shorten too radically, and sit sunstruck, and drink good coffee from a thermos.

Get a life with someone in it who will pick you up and give you ice-cold root beer after you’ve been running relays in a track meet.

Get a life in which you study snow crystals on a window, pressing your nose to it.

Get a life with one blue flowerpot at least.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Song Sung Blue

I’m feeling a little sad today, about odd things—
  • thinking of the old song “Song Sung Blue”
  • seeing pink blossoms (crabapple, I’d guess?)
  • spotting the Bandelier trail map in my car door
  • selecting from French cheeses
  • a ten-week old black Lab puppy
  • hearing the opera of Werther, the Goethe novel I read in graduate school
  • seeing pictures of the ribbons of light at Grace Cathedral
  • making enchiladas (sloppy California ones, instead of authentic New Mexico ones)
  • remembering birthdays I’m late for

In a short-short I’m writing, the heroine gets weepy at a bunch of things, “which snuck up on her unawares.  Passing a dance studio (all those graceful, talented, and self-assured young girls).  Seeing an old white-nosed Golden Retriever lay its head trustingly on its owner’s knee.  A mild reproach from an older colleague at work.  An unexpected hole in one heel of her favorite pair of knee socks, given her two Christmases ago by her mother.  A valiant little vapor trail petering out to nothing in the evening sky.  Even a tin of bay leaves at Safeway—exactly like the one she’d bought to make jambalaya with sausages and red peppers and chicken thighs for Joey’s 40th birthday.”

My mother would relish her “Mad” Days, when she thoroughly enjoyed being mad at the world; and I find being sad is often a real treat.  Mindfulness would tell me that sadness is neither right nor wrong, just my teacher for today.

image:  Anne Patterson, Graced by Light

Friday, March 14, 2014

Places I Would Rather Be

And I would eat that simple French omelette that Henry James described so poignantly in The Ambassadors.
… he, for the hour, saw reasons enough in the mere way the bright clean ordered water-side life came in at the open window? — the mere way Madame de Vionnet, opposite him over their intensely white table-linen, their omelette aux tomates, their bottle of straw-coloured Chablis, thanked him for everything almost with the smile of a child, while her grey eyes moved in and out of their talk, back to the quarter of the warm spring air, in which early summer had already begun to throb, and then back again to his face and their human questions.
I would walk out to a little shop, with my cloth bag, then back to sit in the garden.

I would find repose.  (And have just come across the phrase “altar of repose,” which is what my day would be.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Homely Things

I’ve thrown the bedroom windows open just now to the warm spring afternoon; and I was taken earlier by the honest sweetness of a pink bath towel, worn from many washings.  Funny how such homely (comely) things can cheer us.  The wabi sabi of everyday life.  A wheelbarrow and straw hat out in the garden; the frothy fronds of a bulb of fennel brought home among the shopping.  A new bottle of olive oil.  The linen ties on my wicker laundry basket.  Two white horses poking their noses over the weathered wood fence on Deer Creek, just up the road.  Some little curled pink shrimp to dip by their tails in the cocktail sauce.  My favorite old pale yellow sweatshirt.  Going barefoot.  Studying a half a dozen recipes for chicken baked or roasted with olives.  A handful of Greek olives with orange peel and fennel.  A sprinkler playing meditatively.  The fossil fish under the octagonal window.  That towel again.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Pink Towel

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I was thinking this week how different musical instruments (or even different recordings of the same instrument) have, for me, different colors.  Old horns are a chocolatey brown, the flutes appropriately silvery, violas a kind of amber (with late afternoon light or lamplight gleaming on their lemon-burnished grainy wood).  Certain orchestral recordings have a pinkish tinge, or a yellowish, compared with others.

And I remembered Vladimir Nabokov writing (so much better than I can!) about his experiences with color.

" The long a of the English alphabet (and it is this alphabet I have in mind farther on unless otherwise stated) has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard g (vulcanized rubber) and r (a sooty rag bag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of o take care of the whites. I am puzzled by my French on which I see as the brimming tension-surface of alcohol in a small glass. Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl. Adjacent tints do not merge, and diphthongs do not have special colors of their own, unless represented by a single character in some other language (thus the fluffy-gray, three-stemmed Russian letter that stands for sh [Ш], a letter as old as the rushes of the Nile, influences its English representation).

... In the green group, there are alder-leaf f, the unripe apple of p, and pistachio t. Dull green, combined somehow with violet, is the best I can do for w. The yellows comprise various e's and i's, creamy d, bright-golden y, and u, whose alphabetical value I can express only by 'brassy with an olive sheen.' In the brown group, there are the rich rubbery tone of soft g, paler j, and the drab shoelace of h. 

"Finally, among the reds, b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with 'Rose Quartz' in Maerz and Paul's Dictionary of Color. The word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow, is in my private language the hardly pronounceable: kzspygv."
(Speak Memory)

This is synesthesia, when the senses get mixed up—sometimes with such wonderful results.

There’s a longer discussion with Nabokov about the phenomenon here.

image:  Marc Chagall, The Red Horse.  I Require Art  (“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist palette which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.” —Marc Chagall)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tea and Contemplation

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”

—Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

As I drink a cup of Cherry Rose Green tea this afternoon, looking out on storm clouds, this third month of the year, in a week that has revealed two deaths, I am contemplative as in a convent (perhaps the one in Santa Fe across from our old school, where my good friend and I used to go to play tennis on their red clay court with sagging net; the nuns discalsed, going barefoot).

Tea is my resting place, inside the news of death, inside the rain.
“With melted snow I boil fragrant tea.”  (Mencius)

image:  Sole Caffè & Tulipani a Colazione

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pancake Day

Happy Shrove Tuesday—Pancake Day in England, since 1445!  My cousin wonders whether the Lutherans will be having a lefse roll . . .

Read about the tradition below, and get into the act or at least make a little batch of pancakes, tossed or no.  I like the looks of these Irish pancakes with apple and bacon, though my favorites (sorry, Dad, despite your childhood sourdough "Jefferson Airplanes" made in the shape of a simple plane) were the lemon and ricotta pancakes in Sonoma last fall.  Here's one recipe for those.

images:  Pancake Day and Pancake Race, English 4U