Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Staying on a rise of land above a sandy beach, I’d wake at first light, throw on jeans and an oversized fisherman’s sweater and sneakers, and walk down to the water, sit on a big piece of worn driftwood, listen to the lapping, watch the ins and outs the approaches and retreats of the early-morning waves, the tide out, wherever tides go. I’d run a mile on the hard-packed wet sand, sweeping a cloud of shorebirds up ahead of me, until breathless, and then walk back, calming, catching my breath again, watching the little waves, the lazy, absorbed play of them. I’d pick up water-polished agates from the sand, and tiny fluted shells, and one perfect sand-dollar.
Then I would sit in an Adirondack chair outside my borrowed beach house and drink some of my Harney & Sons Paris tea, with bergamot and vanilla, out of a chipped blue cup set on the wide chair arm; listen to the Emperor Concerto on my iPod; look out at the morning sea; daydream.
Then scrambled eggs with chives and fresh ricotta and a grinding of pepper; a nice ripe pear; and a slice of seedy baguette, toasted, with Irish butter.
And then I’d write all day, in a simple blue room all of old timeworn wood on a small schoolhouse desk in front of a big window with the sea in it.
image: North Sea, Tomasz Sienicki
Friday, April 25, 2014
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”
—John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice
The colors that strike me today (a day which I started to call colorless):
- the saturated green the rain has so intensified
- the tarnished silver of my little shaman pin
- the candyfloss pink of a sad-faced teddy bear
- oranges, both ripening and spent
- the fire brick red of the bocce ball in my photo (made with kermes, the oak that dyed the fated sails of Theseus, or carmine lake?)
- the powder blue of the sweater I’ll keep warm in
- more silver, a chain holding its piece of weathered sea glass
- the oatmeal, its own shade, with raspberry stirred in
And this fine compilation from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road:
“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
image: The Watercolour Log
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.”—Vladimir Nabokov
Today is World Book Day, a worldwide celebration of books and reading—and so, most definitely, words. On this day that saw the birth or death of so many authors (Shakespeare at 450, Cervantes, Nabokov, Ngaio Marsh), I’m oddly wondering if I should really have chosen words over numbers, let myself languish in their seductive realms, like Odysseus on the island of the lotus-eaters (Northern Africa, we’re told).
I have lost myself most happily (for the most part) in beautiful language, in books—reading, writing, and helping to publish. Today, ironically, I’ve been threatened with an end to the publishing, an end to those particular words. But that would mean more time for the words that matter to me: my own. (Where am I, here? How have I become lost in the beautiful language?)
I’m wondering if I should have pursued the numbers, which I was also once good at. The algebra, the symbolic logic, the database design, the more lucrative career. My Gemini nature was torn; my hesitations and fears of failing all too easily won out. And perhaps I failed, ironically, in that?
But I am feeling the miraculous potential of the words now, even now. I, too, am clamoring to become visible. To be not lost but what I am. Someone who—with those others—wants above all to be told. And to celebrate this day of words.
image: She Who Is
Sunday, April 20, 2014
May your eggs be
- Madagascan dark chocolate
- poached, as in childhood
- scrambled, with fresh ricotta and chives
- robin’s blue, nuthatch’s speckled
- hatched by Horton
- daringly all in one basket, if that’s how you want them
- The Perfect Egg (a lovely little book)
(and for those who are neither Norwegian nor French, my eggs-asperatingly obscure title refers to what a French-Norwegian would say upon breaking an egg)
Saturday, April 19, 2014
- lemon-painted Italian mug
- fine-pleated flannel nightgown
- the recipe for two-day-marinated spare ribs from Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking
- the idea of poetry as ancient, unfettered spirtual solace
- a card with a fine Scottish white duck
- spring cherry tea
- Minoan swallows on an ancient wall
- a fragile light-struck spider web
- the possibility of rereading To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway
- lingering in the exquisite prose of that childhood favorite, The Sword in the Stone
- remembered donkeys on the beach in Scarborough
- egg shells colored with onion skins, with beetroot, turmeric, or marigolds, with tea leaves or ground spices, with carrots, sweet woodruff
- the weathered legs of wooden benches on a garden path
- Monet’s woman reading
- a pink tulip
- a Bonnard bowl of fruit
- the Robert Bly line “where the spirit horses drink”
- the face of Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate
- smoked salt on roasted cauliflower
- a bath sponge
images: Christie B. Cochrell and friends
Sunday, April 13, 2014
"And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss."
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
"The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are
how the senses explore the reality of the elephant."
—Rumi, "Elephant in the Dark,"
translation by Coleman Barks
Palm of the Hand
Hand’s inner self. Sole, that does its walking
just with feelings. That holds itself face up
and, as in a mirror,
receives from heaven its own meandering pathways.
That has learned to walk on water
when it splashes.
That walks on wells,
transforming every journey.
That finds itself in other hands
and turns them into landscapes,
wanders and arrives in them,
fills them with arrival.
—Rainer Maria Rilketranslation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
image: Henna Expressions
Saturday, April 12, 2014
A dismal lack of success in getting rid of some cookbooks. I am seduced by the idea of a whole world of temptations all in full color.
Little Greek Cookbook
Lamb and Romaine Lettuce Casserole
Fried Courgettes and Aubergines with Garlic Sauce
Madame Maigret’s Recipes
Fricandeau with Sorrel
Roast Pork with Lentils
Stuffed Roasted Trout
Sauteed Bitter Broccoli with Potatoes
Turkey with Juniper Berries
Salad of Herbs with Potato Croutons
Pasilla Chilies Stuffed with Potatoes and Cheese
Warm Blue Potatoes and White Beans with Sauteed Shrimp
Green Cardamom and Apricot Bread
Lebanese Lentil Soup
Summer Vegetable Salad with Basil and Eggs
Linguine with Pumpkin Seed-Mint Sauce and Feta
Garlic Tartines with Grilled Scallops and Crispy Bacon
Williams Sonoma Weeknight
Chicken Couscous with Dried Apricots
Herbed Pork Chops with Apples
Herbed Spinach Frittata with Feta
Chicken with Herbs and Olives
(chervil, black olives, and lots of butter)
Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom
Braised Rice French Style
image: Greek Salad, Olivabio & Crete Real Estate
Friday, April 11, 2014
I've been trying to design a comfortable living space out in the patio, which has no shade and is a barren expanse of concrete. I yearn for something like this, wicker and roses; or a space tented with sheer fabric and colorful with Turkish kilim pillows. I want an arbor of wisteria, a well of shade as cool as of water. The burble of a little fountain, the mumble of kindly bees, the fanning emerald wings of hummingbirds.
I want a place outdoors to sit and write, a blue cafe table under the olives. The kind of nook I made myself before, between doghouse and fence, covered in expansive potato vine. Something with matchstick blinds, something to keep our Shiva garden statue happy and the St. Francis birdbath. And, of course, the birds.
What will it be? The trick is making shade where there is none. Longing for shade trees, for the cottonwood that shaded my childhood. For the branch that I climbed onto, where I sat, looking at the moon, hearing piano music from the open windows at the neighbors' house. I know so little how to conjure tree. How to create a cool oasis in an expanse of burning sand.
image: Porch Sitting Union of America
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window, into which people look(while
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
and fro moving New and
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and
without breaking anything.
—E.E. Cummings (1925)
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Montreal Window
Monday, April 7, 2014
Typically I wouldn't like the plaid chair—but somehow it's just right in that setting. As would I be!
I can see a week there, rusticating, ruminating, writing pages touched with clarity.
image: La Casetta delle Rose e del Lillà
Sunday, April 6, 2014
“When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions—such as merit, such as past, present, and future— our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment.”—Peter Matthiessen, on meditation
I’ve been saddened this morning to learn that Peter Matthiessen has died. I was lucky enough to be at two writers’ retreats with him years ago, in Key West, and to have him answer a burning question I had (“how do we know at what point we should give up believing that what we’ve written is any good?”) with an appropriately Zen answer (something like “writing is a process, and the writing itself will tell you”). I recently imagined myself on a boat ride with Peter Matthiessen and Derek Walcott—a poetic journey of amazing words—which of course reading the work of either of them is. That journey will go on, and the remembrance of the wisdom and compassion that defined him—though he is now, like the title of what’s probably my favorite book of his (besides The Snow Leopard), at play in the fields of the lord.
image: Temple Bells, Steve Evans
Friday, April 4, 2014
After my lamentations about hoaxes, I was taken in by one—hook, line, and sinker. Yes, I proved an April fish! I like to think that was only because I read it the last day of March, which should have been safe, forgetting it was the treacherous April 1 already elsewhere in the world. But partly it was that I wanted to believe. (Intelligent minds believe only in lost causes, said e.e. cummings.)
The untrue story was that archaeologists have found the remains of Boudicca, the warrior queen of the Britons, “the famous flame-haired queen of the Iceni,” at the site of the Kings Cross rail development. Tradition has long had it that the village known as Battle Bridge, now Kings Cross, was where the Iceni tribe led by Boudicca fought the Romans; and that she was buried between platforms 9 and 10 in King's Cross station.*
No coincidence, I think, that another famous legend situates itself between platforms 9 and 10 in King’s Cross station. It is, of course, at platform 9 ¾ that the scarlet steam engine departs for Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter tales. That is a concealed platform accessible only to wizards and witches. (Or to archaeologists performing their magic with time and vanished beings.)
All that led to an amiable train of thought (the metaphor delibrate) on the liminal spaces that railway stations are; the journeys promised or undertaken there, and not always to the suburbs or to foreign lands that we can point to on the regular old maps. They are spaces of adventure and unease, places of heightened emotions—sorrow, in parting, and joy, in being rejoined; the seismic upheavals of being lost and being found. They are places that have caused enormous imaginative departures.
It was, of course, in the cloakroom at Victoria Station (the Brighton Line!) that the infamous baby in the handbag was left, in a fit of absentmindedness, in Oscar Wilde’s delightful comedy The Importance of Being Earnest.
And it was from Paddington station that the bear from darkest Peru took his name, having being found there sitting on his battered suitcase (with secret compartment) with a note attached to his coat reading “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
Paddington’s author, Michael Bond has said that his memories of newsreels showing trainloads of child evacuees leaving London during the war, with labels around their necks and their possessions in small suitcases, prompted him to do the same for his ursine refugee. And J. K. Rowling chose King's Cross Station as the portal that would take Harry to Hogwarts because this was where her parents met on a train to Scotland.
So there are truths and there are fictions, and it’s apt that it should be there in that charged and chancy space that the two meet, and twine, and head off on a trip together.
*It seems there is no evidence for this and it is probably a post-World War II invention.
image: Claude Monet, Saint-Lazare Station, Arrival of a Train, 1877
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
If there is any fool I suffer gladly, it is not an April fool. Though I did admit to being “sempre un idiota,” and being delighted by the idea of being a country or city bumpkin, I must confess that in fact having others make me believe something that isn’t true, or play a prank that makes me feel foolish, has always unsettled (and upset) me. I like knowing where I am, being on solid ground. Being able to guard my position, with my feet firmly planted and my back to the wall.
And there’s apparently good reason, too, to desire a wall at one’s back. I just read that in France (where All Fools Day is thought to have originated, back in the 16th Century), Italy, Belgium, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada, “the 1 April tradition is often known as ‘April fish’ (poisson d'avril in French or pesce d'aprile in Italian). This includes attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim's back without being noticed.”
In Scotland, it seems, “April Fools' Day was traditionally called Hunt-the-Gowk Day (‘gowk’ is Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person), although this name has fallen into disuse.”
Precursors of April Fools' Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held 25 March, and the Medieval Feast of Fools, held 28 December, “still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries.” The words hilarity and hilarious come from that Roman festival (now said to be known as Roman Laughing Day), and this degree of jocularity involves unease as well—it’s not a kindly kind of laughter, typically. Malicious may be overdoing it, but that is one of the possible interpretations. Similar, perhaps, to “trick or treat”?
The pranks often involve some kind of disappointment, or having the lovely Turkish rug pulled out from under one. On 1 April 1698, the story goes, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to "see the Lions washed." And the lions were not being washed. There were likely no lions to be washed. I would have been sad, I’m sure, to have been among those fooled and foolish people and to learn that the promise of lions being washed was not, after all, going to be kept.
Let us celebrate foolery in a different, more kindly way. Let us see the fool as a kind of sage, an idiot savant as it were, the blessed truth teller (and not one of the makers-up of untrue but societally acceptable tales) of Jane Hirshfield’s quote—
History, mythology, and folktales are filled with stories of people punished for saying the truth. Only the Fool, exempt from society's rules, is allowed to speak with complete freedom. —Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
Let’s let the fools have their own day, to celebrate as they will. With truths, if they prefer (and that association is fascinating), instead of discombobulating stories.
image: April 1, Confessions of a Pen Thief