Friday, October 31, 2014

All Cockeyed with Gratitude

I've just been inspired to list what I'm grateful for today, this last day of the month.  And I choose these things, above all, though I could go on listing all morning.

What I am grateful for today—

Rain, blackberries, Louise Penny, lavender, soft fabric, curry, friends in all parts of the world, my grandmother's rugs, Santa Fe, Puccini, tagliatelle, Labradors, oak trees, majolica mugs, wood grain, wild rice, green shutters, espadrilles, persimmon orange, bookshelves, bay leaves, Rilke, Billy Collins.

Above all, maybe, those green shutters.  The walled garden in Pisa (with ancient cat and orange tree) where I found them.  The oranges made into delicious marmalade by the innkeeper, following his mother's and grandmother's recipe. His generosity to strangers.  The loving welcome of the cat too in the dark of the October garden near the Arno, between convent and blue palazzo with its quiet tribe of long distinct Modigliani faces visited the next morning.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Green Shutters, Pisa

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Perhaps by the time this magically posts itself, in my absence (and likely lack of WiFi, in my charming little Luccan albergo on the cobbled alleyway), I will have stood by this river and photographed this quite fantastic bridge.

Reports to follow!

image:  Ponte della Maddalena, Borgo a Mozzano (Lucca); Il ponte della Maddalena sul Serchio, Niccolò Rigacci

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Of Towers and Distant Blue Hills

I'm so looking forward to seeing (and maybe even climbing) this amazing tower!  I loved it when I first saw the picture, and had no idea I would find it in Lucca.  Soon, oh soon, I shall be atop it, or gazing up in wonder!

image:  Tower of Palazzo Guinigi with trees on the roof, Harald Bischoff

Monday, October 13, 2014

Another Italian Adventure

So tomorrow we are off to London (quiet family visiting, with a Mozart opera at Glyndebourne on Sunday), and then to Lucca.  

As I keep saying, Italy is always a good idea!  Especially in the fall, with summer's warmth collected in the old stone walls, the light intensifying as it goes.

I so look forward to Puccini's Tuscan home, where I have never been.  Music, truffle salami, rambling the city walls . . .  And nearby, historic spas ("land of princes and poets"), Etruscans, and Pinocchio!

image:  Lucca, Everett Potter’s Travel Report

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Colors Balance Our Fears

Toward the Space Age

We must begin to catch hold of everything
around us, for nobody knows what we
may need. We have to carry along
the air, even; and the weight we once
thought a burden turns out to form
the pulse of our life and the compass for our brain.
Colors balance our fears, and existence
begins to clog unless our thoughts
can occur unwatched and let a fountain of essential silliness
out through our dreams.

And oh I hope we can still arrange
for the wind to blow, and occasionally
some kind of shock to occur, like rain,
and stray adventures no one cares about—
harmless love, immoderate guffaws on corners,
families crawling around the front room growling,
being bears in the piano cave. 

(Mary Oliver)

So true, I think, that colors balance fears, or offer something else to look at, something different to see.  Instead of days shortening, another year nearly over—the yellow radiance of these Gauguin trees.  Instead of feet that ache or stairs that lead someplace I don't much want to go, my blue suede shoes.  Instead of illness, debt, the loss of heart, those lovely growling cinnamon-brown bears conjured by Mary Oliver.  A shock of pink tutu instead of dreading the ballet recital.  The defiant purple pillows and cottonwood drum my mother bought herself after my father died.

And as a fine end to this reverie, I repeat (as I've surely done before) my favorite brightly colored quote from Jack Kerouac, which will scare off any remaining hobgoblins for at least one more night—

“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.”
(Jack Kerouac, On the Road)


image:  Paul Gauguin, (French, Post-Impressionism, 1848-1903): By the Stream, Autumn, 1885, I Require Art

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Capacity for Silence

Back from a day’s silent retreat at the Green Gulch Zen temple and farm, I’m full of quiet wisdom.  I’ve come back not with the silence itself, which is hard come-by in our obstreperous world, but the capacity for silence (as my father wrote about never losing the capacity for happiness, however unhappy we might be).  This is the richer gift, I see.  The key to that place inside myself I can return to, over and over, at need; where I can hear birdsong, or twigs falling onto the canvas of the yurt, where I can hear my heart expressing gratitude over a simple handful of October flowers, the hard wood (Eucalyptus) and the soft wood (pine) ready for our first-morning fire should we need one, the taste of peppermint tea made with two teabags. 

The capacity for brilliant yellow, too—the walls of the old wooden laundry room, open at both ends.  Inside humming with clean clothes tumbling in a row of dryers, outside colored the most intense and radiant yellow, from (I’m guessing) lichens or pollens collecting on the wood over the years.  Accumulating yellow:  a good way to live.  (And like my favorite painter, Pierre Bonnard, who used to go back and add yellow to his finished paintings, sometimes years later.)

In the silence I learned I need to listen to my heart, foremost.  I walked out to the ocean with the others, because my bad knee didn’t let me walk that far the last time I was there, so my mind told me I needed to make up for that.  It told me I like the walk, and the ocean.  All of that true, but what I really wanted, above all, was to sit the whole while in the garden, which I don’t just like, but love.  The beach was terribly crowded, with people happily engaged in their noisy business, and though that taught me an important lesson once before—that I don’t need to be a part of that, that I can maintain my silence and just observe (something I do naturally anyway)—it wasn’t what my heart needed.  Not then.  So I walked quickly back to the garden, and spent a precious ten minutes just being there, with end-of-summer roses, lichen-ey old wooden trellises, my favorite apple tree in all the world, a couple and dog on the grass, the play of sunlight and late-afternoon early-October shadow just perfect by then, the silence absolute—except for my heart’s exclaiming its utter delight.

Another of the members of our group had said at introduction time that he had recently decided to quit work, to work on opening his heart.  Meaning that going on working was led by mind, and trying something else important for heart.  I know I need to do that too—live that yellow!—and maybe some day soon will find the courage to do so.  To know that following my heart is the right thing to do.  Not willful or unwise (as I’ve been gravely taught over the years), but essential.  The wise course born of silence.

image:  Stairs at Le Cannet, Pierre Bonnard