Sunday, July 31, 2016

Footworn Paths

The first time-traveling I did, other than through smoked octopus and espresso, was into the realm—along the footworn paths—of the Anasazis, an hour from Santa Fe (and then eight hundred years or so).

"Yes, deep, narrow trails in white rock, worn by
their moccasin feet coming and going for generations. 
And these old piñon trees have come up in the trail
since the race died off.  You can tell something about
how long ago it was by them."
—Willa Cather, The Professor's House

I loved to walk at Bandelier, the canyon with the Anasazi ruins in its reddish cliffs, the caves with wooden ladders climbing up to them, the remains of a circular pueblo below—Tyuoni—like a labyrinth you walk in prayer or meditation, or the labyrinth under the palace of Knossos on Crete which would lure me later.  The cliff face was marked with the round holes where roof supports had been, and, further up the trail, with petroglyphs.  The foot of it was as often as not awash with yellow sunflowers, a kind of mirage in the summer sun.

That village sat looking down into the canyon with
the calmness of eternity.  The falling snow-flakes,
sprinkling the piñons, gave it a special kind of
solemnity.  I can't describe it.  It was more like
sculpture than anything else.  I knew at once that I
had come upon the city of some extinct civilization,
hidden away in this inaccessible mesa for centuries,
preserved in the dry air and almost perpetual sunlight
like a fly in amber, guarded by the cliffs and the river
and the desert.
—Willa Cather, The Professor's House

In high school or college I first read Willa Cather, and felt the wonder of the discovery of Mesa Verde in the middle section of The Professor's House as keenly as the wonder I had always felt to see our own much lesser cliff dwellings.  In The Song of the Lark her character Thea is restored to herself by staying in an ancient cliff dwelling in a canyon in Arizona, which is the most alluring—and comforting—thought.

From the ancient dwelling there came always a
dignified, unobtrusive sadness; now stronger, now
fainter,—like the aromatic smell which the dwarf
cedars gave out in the sun,—but always present,
a part of the air one breathed. At night, when
Thea dreamed about the canyon,—or in the early
morning when she hurried toward it, anticipating it,
—her conception of it was of yellow rocks baking
in sunlight, the swallows, the cedar smell, and that
peculiar sadness—a voice out of the past, not very
loud, that went on saying a few simple things to
the solitude eternally.
—Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark

Later, when I was back from college back from life beyond and went exploring on my own, I discovered to my further wonder that Bandelier didn't just vanish in the winter, close up and hunker down to hibernate.  We simply never ventured out beyond the city limits after September; travels and places were somehow precisely compartmentalized.  (And when I drove to Taos one day and found out just how wonderful it is, I was indignant to have been without it all my life, and asked my mother, disbelieving, why we had never gone there, to be told "I've never liked Taos much."  Perhaps this all explains my lifelong need to test boundaries and break out of compartments?)  With snow on the ruins—can I possibly say like frosting on a cake?—the magic that was Bandelier was more magical still, more strange.  My being there felt like the the unobtainable almost obtained.

Maybe because of that, my favorite journey on the afternoon of New Year's Eve came to be to Tsankawi, sister to Bandelier, "village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti."  That liminal space between the old and new, what was to be and what was spent.  The place that seemed not to exist, not in the off months, so was especially wonderful to visit then.

images:  Christie B. Cochrell, Bandelier in Snow, Bandelier in Summer (photo of a photo, faded over the years), and Cliff Dwellings in Winter (photo of a photo again)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Farro Perlato

Making my favorite salad with farro perlato (arugula and mint, summer tomatoes, and a tiny bit of smoked cherrywood salt—the unorthodox sidetrip mine), I travel back to Lucca, two years ago in October.  There, they cook farro with beans in soup most famously, the composer Puccini among them.  And I've just recently sent a character off on the ferry boat Manon, named for Puccini's heroine, in search of her wayward and unrepentant mother.

Most of all, oddly, I like to think of the other composers we found there in Lucca— Catalani’s home just across the narrow side street from the terrace of our b&b; Puccini’s just three or four blocks away; and on our Sunday morning prowl behind the albergo to find the church with bits of Roman arch, finding an abandoned cloister and the house of Luporini.  Not Boccherini’s, though I knew that he was born in Lucca too (and have since learned that he is buried there).  All of them writing lovely masses, full of grace and of humanity.  Messa di Gloria; canzone.  We’ve since listened to Luporini’s mass, which we marvel is so verismo; and the verismo mass of another Luccan, Landi.

We found sacks of dried beans (for Luccan soup with farro) in Il Antica Bottega di Prospero (a name I love, too, recalling the magic of Shakespeare's magician).  An hour we wouldn’t have had except for the time change, before catching the train back to Pisa.

I'm in need of that particular time-travel today, feeling desperately sad about the ugly air, brown and unclean, that was the most conspicuous thing about today (aside from a great orchestra of birds first thing this morning).  Like my father, who wrote "He wanted to return to days before fear and start all over again to understand the shape of the world and things men shared in common," I want to travel back to days before global warming and threats to every creature that we love.  To start over again.  To give things back their grace, like the masses.

And like the rest of that journey.  The green shutters I loved; the walled garden in Pisa with ancient cat (blithe spirit) and orange tree where we found them.  The oranges made into delicious marmalade by the innkeeper, using 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.

Thus I travel, backwards and forwards, in recipes and tastes and aromas and the music that calls a lovelier world forth.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell:  Puccini's Organ

Monday, July 25, 2016

Smoked Oysters and Quartz

Of course time travel happens through various means of transportation—weathered Norwegian freighters, river barges, donkeys on Santorini, mules with saddlebags full of mangos in the Pololu Valley, ten-seat planes to Key West, an Alpha Romeo convertible headed down to Big Sur, a trolley to Tijuana, the jaunty red Mont-Blanc Express. 

One virtual transporting element is songs that take one back instantly to a certain January or return to school or heartbreak in tenth grade or college or at thirty.  To a room looking out on a courtyard with stagnant pond, a phone call during a Canasta game, a mattress without bed frame lying on the floor, a bottle of lukewarm Green Hungarian.  Other sounds—the temple bell at Tassajara at first light (between the hot springs in the bathhouse and good coffee), or fading away into nothing at the gathering in the quad the week after 9/11.  The swoosh of sprinklers on long lazy summer lawns those years ago (when cakes were baked and roses cut and sheets hung out to dry on clotheslines with clean wooden clothespins).  The claxon of a taco truck.  Smells of resinous Aleppo pine in Mallorca ten years ago or piñon sap in the foothills above our house in Santa Fe more than fifty.  The sulfurous black smoke of the snakes lit and curling, ashen, in the back patio on the Fourth of July.  Tastes, importantly, like Proust's famous madeleine.

For some reason I've been remembering the smoked octopus I ate as a child.  The memory sends me back now to Sombrio Drive, our lamplit living room with vigas kept dusted and lovingly polished, guests come for martinis in a glass pitcher beaded with condensation, tinkling as the glass stick and ice both played against the sides.  But at the time the taste made me imagine what, and where?  It sent me forwards, outwards, to a world I didn't know (Portugal, Greece), loving with my old soul the myriad associations not yet formed, the far-off places I could not really imagine but for their allowing precious and fantastic things like that, delicious smoky sea creatures that came in little silver tins with keys that wound back their tin lids, unloosing life itself for me to put on a saltine cracker. 

I put stones in my mouth as well, those days, out in the garden, tasting the earth.  Wanting to have it for my own.  To have it part of me.  The tastes of octopus and dusty quartz bound me irrevocably somehow to what they invoked, what they spoke for.  I've given this urge to Marcella, the main character of my novel Reading the Stones.
“Oh, pithos,” she said aloud, longingly, wanting the entirety of the old storage jar just as badly as she’d wanted those childhood rocks—and the husky raw oats of the Sandoval horses—and the very heart of the late summer apricots, fallen and bruised outside the neighbors’ back fence; she had pounded the apricot pits open with a hammer on the brick under the clothesline to get at the secret inner kernels tasting the way almond extract smelled.  The fruit itself wasn’t enough.

Other treats for my senses and awakening imagination were the dragon-like espresso machine (copper, magical, like the beast in the first act of The Magic Flute) at the Three Cities of Spain, on Canyon Road.  The Pink Adobe with its Creole spices that I loved as far back as I can remember.  The journeys both carried me on, far from my everyday existence (meatloaf, creamed tuna on toast, canned peas or canned green beans, those staples of the 60s).

Travels forwards, travels back.  Outwards, inwards, into spellbound foreign and familiar lands.

image:   Christie B. Cochrell, Gondolieri, Venezia

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Life: A Retrospective

I feel like I am traveling today, in time and psychic space, around the world in eight hours, the way I often am.  Writing myself into Mallorca all morning, then having a burrito al pastor in Los Altos, under the trees, and two doors down buying some Darjeeling tea (with strawberries, which puts me as much at the Teahouse Santa Fe as further off in India among the breathtaking peaks of the Himalayas or shaking off my Preraphaelite umbrella in a rainy calico-clothed yellow teashop on a cobbled street in Bath).  Two of my library books are set in Scotland, and the other is Marguerite Youcenar's fictional memoir of the Emperor Hadrian—which reminds me simultaneously of my Latin classes back in seventh grade on upper Canyon Road in Santa Fe, our explorations of Hadrian's Wall a few summers ago, and trips to Rome in various Septembers, visiting Hadrian's villa, the Pantheon he built from precious stone, and then of course his mausoleum on the Tiber with all of its operatic associations, otherwise known to me since childhood as Tosca's angel-with-sword-capped Castel Sant'Angelo.

I've decided I'll post the story of my life in various time-travels here on this blog, more systematically than I've already done.  I'll alternate the present with the past, making connections as they suit, dotting the i's and adding accents to the e's at all those charming café tables where I sit/sat/sit again and rest my feet and write postcards.

I will also travel with Fitzgerald to the Riviera, with Lawrence Durrell to Alexandria, with Marguerite Duras to Gibraltar, to Tarquinia—those other worlds familiar to me as my own.

An ancient city changing under the brush-strokes of thoughts which besieged meaning, clamouring for identity; somewhere there, on the black thorny promontories of Africa the aromatic truth of the place lived on, the bitter unchewable herb of the past, the pith of memory.  I had set out once to store, to codify, to annotate the past before it was utterly lost—that at least was a task I had set myself.  I had failed in it (perhaps it was hopeless?)—for no sooner had I embalmed one aspect of it in words than the intrusion of new knowledge disrupted the frame of reference, everything flew asunder, only to reassemble again in unforeseen, unpredictable patterns. . . .
—Lawrence Durrell, Clea

image:  vintage postcard, Rome