Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cognitive Maps

I remember discussion of cognitive maps, the maps we hold in us as surely as our breath and sinew.  Maps of childhood, of the places we’ve inhabited, the places that have been our own, that we could walk with eyes closed, years and continents away.  Maps that bear no real resemblance, perhaps, to any printed road map or those contour maps I used to love to draw, plotting numbers, elevation.  They mark the territory that is ours alone, perhaps with lively monsters in the margins which were there for old-time mariners—their fears given fantastic and picturesque forms.

I’m thinking of the map that is my Santa Fe.  It’s outer limits are the canyon where our low-roofed schoolrooms were (the art room with geraniums in coffee cans), the hill above which I would climb at noon with apples for a sway-backed horse; the operahouse off the road to Tesuque; the rodeo grounds where my mother also took me to horse shows (one year our hearts both given to a gorgeous bay jumper named Tapatia); the mountains where the thunderstorms lived, at times bruised the color of cloudy-skinned purple/blue plums.

Earlier, closer-in limits were the back wall (cinder blocks in those days) just behind the clothesline; the front sidewalk; the spruce tree to the north (or rarely, in winter, the top of Sombrio Drive, where we would drag our sleds—my little Flexible Flyer with red runners); and to the south, the neighbors’ porch where I was often given iced tea (always delicious Lipton, which I’ve never been able to replicate), and one door down, the garage with its treasure of glass marbles in another coffee can.

It’s all covered with trees—cottonwoods with their spring fuzz drifting through the air; the elms with their winged seeds; the water birch with tiny cones—and with lilacs.

The signs are in three languages—English, Spanish, Native American.  Abeyta, Water, Pojoaque, Manhattan, Don Diego, Acequia Madre.

Mine is a nostalgic map, a map drawn in old inks, turquoise, adobe-brown, chamisa yellow.  It is as romantic in its way as that Michael Ondaatje draws here, in The English Patient 
"We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.
     I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.”

image: land case map D-972, Calisphere

Friday, May 30, 2014

The End of All Our Exploring

I am back in Santa Fe, my home town, at the beginning of my birthday month, about to reunite with friends from way back in high school.  There are things that are simply a part of me—the substantial and glorious clouds of New Mexico, the earth-tone walls, the rounded bellies of pueblo pots, the red chili ristras hanging in portals, the honeysuckle and climbing roses and desert plants, the blue corn made into tortillas, the multicultural spirit, always vibrant.

And yet both Santa Fe and I have changed, since I last lived here.  I see young people in their finery, about to graduate, having lunch out with their parents and closest friends, and remember my own self here ending school, leaving the known, venturing out. 

I’ve come far, to return to my roots with a lot of brave new (foreign) branches.  My life has been what, elsewhere?  How can I sum it up?  Learning, travel, writing, archaeology, love and marriage, losses absorbed, great friends in distant and near places of the world.  I’ve worked with court reporters, sailors, city builders, academics, pastry chefs, booksellers (both antiquarian and not); have come to know wonderful islands—Hawai’I, Crete, Mallorca, Sicily; have climbed Alps, baked bread, walked a black Lab on the beach.  And even learned to blog!  I’ve written more about my life adventures here.

Santa Fe’s changes include chipotle catsup, the Bataan Memorial, pillow covers from Peru and Uzbekistan—things yet somehow integral to its fabric.  And mine, as well, have only made me more what I was always going to be.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring will be
To arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
—T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Pueblo Bonito, Santa Fe

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Our Ideas of Castles

It’s funny—I ordered a simply irresistible Italian bowl and mug from an online shop, and just got back the message “this item is out of stock and being made for you in [some small village in the hills of] Italy; it will be shipped when ready.  I feel honored—though the “print on demand” processes in place at the press where I work are really just the same, just much less romantic somehow.  The potter and the painter of cherry red and their lunch of penne con ceci e gamberi just aren’t there, as they are now in my mind’s eye.

That reminds me of my favorite quote from a favorite John Cheever story set in the Romantic realms of Italy.
“Our ideas of castles, formed in childhood, are inflexible, and why try to reform them?  Why point out that in a real castle thistles grow in the courtyard, and the threshold of the ruined throne room is guarded by a nest of green adders?  Here are the keep, the drawbridge, the battlements and towers that we took with our lead soldiers when we were down with the chicken pox.  The first castle was English, and this one was built by the King of Spain during an occupation of Tuscany, but the sense of imaginative supremacy—the heightened mystery of nobility—is the same.  Nothing is inconsequential here.  It is thrilling to drink Martinis on the battlements, it is thrilling to bathe in the fountain, it is even thrilling to climb down the stairs into the village after supper and buy a box of matches.  The drawbridge is down, the double doors are open, and early one morning we see a family crossing the moat, carrying the paraphernalia of a picnic.”—John Cheever, “The Golden Age”

image:  Tuscany

Friday, May 23, 2014

Morning 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

My comforts this morning:
  • good coffee
  • the electric blanket turned to 17
  • new burnt-orange loveseat cushion
  • Mozart’s piano concerto 21
  • looking forward to tagliatelli Bolognese for lunch
  • thinking about olive oil cake with rosemary, dark chocolate, and hazelnuts
  • making lists (a kind of step by step measuring off)
  • lovingkindness meditation
  • apple green shoes with crossed straps
  • the luxury of a three day weekend followed by two weeks’ vacation

image:  Real Comfort, Jacopo Werther

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Morning Observations

On the stone table, a dying wasp.  And a small drift of olive leaves, and then some cold peony tea in the painted Italian mug from when I worked at the antiquarian bookshop for a year or two, upstairs in San Francisco, walking sometimes through the tunnel to North Beach for lunch (strong frothy cappucino con vov), buying coffee beans from Mexico just up the street, commuting by train and the 30 Stockton bus; cracks in its very fabric now, its inside lip and base.

The Zen stone with yesterday’s cup of water all but evaporated, that small daily ritual “making things look as if they’re cared for.”

Our funny onion sprouted in the winter bowl now doubled, tall, against the fence.

The blue-glazed water bowl waiting for lily or papyrus (silver minnows would be nice).

A chill still on the air as I, wrapped in the comforts of purple sweatshirt, robe, sit on the almost Southwestern kilim pillows and write down what comes to mind and eye, collecting/ recollecting what is here.

Needing a sturdy broom.

The goats in dappled sunlight grazing grass.  In other wildlife notes, a cloud of bushtits passing overhead, not lighting in the olive as they sometimes do.

The long cracks in the cement.  I will cover some with rugs, or else just follow with my eye like errant thoughts, dry riverbeds spotted from planes, meandering traces of old journeys, forgotten destinations.

A marked-up page of the story that I’m coming to the end of, and the old novel I want to try again:  Santa Fe in summer (where I’ll be soon).

How I love to sit outside, in shade and birdsong, finding my pulse, feeling my way.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

“How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterward.”
What’s caught my attention this morning—
  • boat shoes
  • a Spanish proverb
  • the idea of smoked sage margaritas
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • succulents
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • myna birds
  • baked oatmeal
  • invisible ink
  • spinach, green onion, and smoked Gouda quiche
  • “Abracadabra is actually a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘I create what I speak.’”

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Pitcher

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Impression of Lizard

An impression of lizard, like and unlike that I noted one September on a garden wall in Italy, the garden of strangers, where I was far from home and traveling incognito, though come for the first time in a long time into my own.  Quick—like the passage of lizard down a garden wall, along a crack a flicker long and fast across the paving stones; and quick like “to the quick,” the quick and not the dead.  Living.

Image:  Christie B. Cochrell, An Impression of Lizard

Monday, May 12, 2014

Chançon Sans Paroles

One of the regrets I have is that I didn’t play the little Fauré song, the Chançon (Romance, really) Sans Paroles, on the piano at our Baccalaureate in high school on that sun- and lilac-struck May evening forty years ago, with doors wide open to the summer, future, life itself.  I was embarrassed, cowardly, whatever.  I chose not to play the song.  And I have heard it playing in my heart since then, year after year, that lost chance, lost chord, last evening of the last month on which I might have proved my worth.

It was little enough, that omission, but looms large in the story of my life the way the lost things do.  Things not said, right moments passed, something forever lost and past and gone.

And now, this distant May, I’m getting rid of the sheet music, the Fauré, along with my piano.  It will not play again, can’t be repaired.  It is foreverafter a chançon not only without words, but without notes as well.  Without the very song.

And I regret the piano, too.  That I’ll no longer be a person with a fossil fish on her piano, as I loved to be; that I will never after all learn all the Beethoven sonatas as I once promised myself I would, along with learning to bake bread.  One of two things I learned.  The other—maybe in a different lifetime.  Maybe the one in which I tell myself I’ll play viola/oboe/French horn at the Met, I’ll be a double bass player in long black skirt with gypsy bangles on my wrist, I’ll be fearless and grand and won’t look back.

For now, though, I don’t have the words to say what might have been.  Or what might be, in the space cleared by the silent piano.

image:   Piano Keyboard

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Along with being homey, close to the bone, this week has brought a lot of distant threads into the weave (which is surely as mixed metaphor as I have ever heard).

My kilim pillow covers have been arriving from Turkey (in a cloth bag fastened with a safety pin guarded by a bead against the evil eye); I’ve ordered two new jars of the yummy Moroccan braising sauce for chicken; I’ve found some nearly-Espadrilles from Italy; and I am having margaritas (Skinny Girl—if only!) with a soupçon of orange bitters to give them that foreign je ne sais quoi.  And tonight:  the second installment of The Bletchley Circle, deliciously English; while this morning I was greeted with god morgen kjærlighet—“good morning, love” in Norwegian.

How I love all the threads.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Kilims (I)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Wabi Sabi Kind of Day

I realized yesterday how very Wabi Sabi our patio is—from the funky wooden sliding doors that hide the washer and dryer to the weathered shingles of the house to the little stone table with a surface blessed with lichens and the tiny flowers dropping from the olive tree and leaf shadow and then my favorite now-chipped coffee mug.  And then the favorite pink dish towel that is in rags but I used lovingly to rub a little oil into the tired green surface of my old bistro table (in better shape than its chairs, though those are complemented by the old flowered pillows I made one year two residences back).

It was a day of studying the sun and where it fell—and didn’t; a day of birdsong and squirrelfeet and goatcropping of grass beyond the fence.  A day of slow moving, deep centering, light gathering.

My very favorite sort.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Wabi Sabi I and II

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On a Cool Morning

On a cool morning, wrapped in my mom’s old pink bathrobe and still under the covers, I’m contemplating fried egg sandwiches with arugula, ricotta, and thyme, on country bread; and chicken salad made with Greek yogurt, cucumber, and dill.  I’m wondering if I need a batik dress and crocheted cardigan for my Santa Fe trip.  I’m being tempted by a sketching class and a Saturday workshop on plotting (which I’m still, always, no good at—instead just letting things happen as they will, in life as well as in writing). 

I’m approving the sentiment “Resting and restoring are just as important as working”—though I’d say more, much more important.  I’m remembering the tart sweetness of the small lemon scone I had for breakfast.  I’ve sorted some piles, made sense of the kitchen, disordered yesterday.  Something I want to do or write is niggling at my sleepy mind, not surfacing.  (A small fish ruffling the otherwise untroubled surface of still lake or pond.)

I’m happily procrastinating, putting off finishing my mystery set on the St. Bernard Pass, the final dialogue with the Italian cook making her soup with white beans, chard, and fine-chopped root vegetables while the archaeology students are out tracing the Roman road.  (Except the one who’s made off with the priceless Stendhal journal.)

Sundays are for sundry things.

image:  Gustav Klimt, Pond at Schloss Kamer on the Attersee, 1909, I Require Art

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Month of Yes-You-May

I have a new favorite recipe, this Italian—cold poached chicken breasts with green herb sauce.  Not spicy chimichurri but an intriguing spring-like mixture of leeks, celery, Romaine lettuce, basil, parsley, garlic, lemon, and cornichons, just crying out for my new Sicilian Lemon white balsalmic instead of regular old balsalmic (I wasn’t awake enough this morning to be adventurous). 

Just back from a brunch with good writer friends and a lovely vista of finches and sweet peas.

May is the month of yes-you-may!

image:  Sweet Pea, Aftabbanoori

Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Calm: Listing

It’s that time of week when I’m gathering odds and ends about me—
  • This lovely centerpiece with plates and teapot (gravy boat?) and roses.
  • A recipe for Anasazi beans with juniper berries.
  • Reminiscences of Crete.
  • Pictures of Shabby Chic bedding and bags.
  • Belated pictures of Easter eggs with confetti.
  • Adverbs, by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snickett).
  • Sicilian Lemon white balsamic vinegar.
  • Promises of postcards from Paris.
  • Bottles of dry rosé.
  • Mozart church sonatas.
  • The possibility of butterfly bushes, Russian sage, olive trees in pots.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Of Horns and Hounds

I have been charmed to learn of the presence in Mozart’s music of the Basset Horn—which turns out to be not dissimilar to its name-relative, the Basset Hound. 

A check of the etymology gives me “early 17th century:  from French, diminutive of bas ‘low,’ from medieval Latin bassus ‘short.’”

And indeed the horns, like the dogs, are low and squat in tone, amiable and homely, ears (if they had them) long and flopping as they amble in a little bit lopsided way along.  Seeming mournful, but sweet-tempered and affectionate.  Devoted.  Tenacious on the scent of a rabbit—or a line of melody.

In short, a current favorite.

Image:  Basset Hound, Bonnie van den Born