Saturday, June 24, 2017

After a Hiatus


. . . I can be found sitting on our deck in Santa Cruz with a wellspring of pink roses beside the pinecone lantern, and a squirrel coming inquiring. 

By the time I've finished that sentence the squirrel is gone, and only I am left to inquire.  How did I come here, during that hiatus?  Will the several small squirrels or the one big squirrel eat the herbs I planted yesterday along the fence where they get in, the earth crumbled away below it in a kind of hiatus too?   One tests the chamomile leaves.  What are they so busy with here in this yard?  A towhee hops across the stones I've brought in from that other yard, that other county and climate and time, piled together next to the herbs.  Where is she going, so intent, in the way of her kind?

Birds and words.  I'm back among those small (and great) enchantments, changed but not.

I look for quotes for "hiatus," and am led to "break."  But mostly in the verb tense, active breaking not the absence of action which I have had.  And Jane Hirshfield writes about what binds us—binding and breaking opposite.  Breaking is a letting go, which I have done, yet again not.  I'm in a new place now, with many of the things I'm bound to still with me.  (Bound to stay on.)

I find myself still in possession of the little dish with the Egyptian ducks, or whatever species they are, from a visit to the Legion of Honor.  This dish has spanned the break with me, bound for the coast.  And now it sits on the generous windowsill in my bathroom, the pure white of the paint having invited the deep blue, the near-monastic calm the unanticipated whimsy.

And other things besides the deck and sill are foreign too.  The Monterey Pine full of wind, where there has not before been pine tree, gnarly branches, cones.  Sometimes it shakes out bush-tits, or the pygmy nuthatch, sometimes upside down.  But this afternoon just wind, as if from inside out, the way the ancient Greeks thought it was winds within the earth that caused earthquakes.

Hiatus, the pause or catch in the breath between vowels (the [hiatus] ear, la [hiatus] interrupciĆ³n).  Japanese aoi:  'blue/green,' Swahili eua:  'to purify,' and Hawaiian aea:  'to rise up.'  Hiatus itself contains a hiatus.

That's all it's been, really, my relocation here where I am now—continuing after a breath with the next syllable, where I left off.


image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Egyptian Dish


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Menu de mes jours


Recipes I'm giving up on, sadly or otherwise:

. Leek & Goat's Cheese Picnic Loaf, which sounds delightful for a shady afternoon among the hedgerows quoting P.G. Wodehouse, with its Dijon, thyme sprigs, and double cream.  I copied this out by hand one afternoon not long ago in London, but find it by far too labor intensive for me, now, already, after all.

. My mother's Dilled Salmon Patties, which go way back to childhood ("and can go back right away, as far as I'm concerned"—as the old quip says).  They always sound like a good idea, as do salmon burgers, but somehow I need my salmon whole and brooking no nonsense instead of flaked or ground or otherwise deconstructed.

. Amish Friendship Bread, the very idea of which even now, almost thirty years later, makes my blood run cold.  My life was given up to Amish Friendship Bread for what felt like eons, ruled and confined by the obligation to deal with its continual and relentless demands, making travel impossible or even the odd stolen weekend out of town.
  Day One:  Stir and cover.
   Day Two:  Stir and cover.
   Day Three:  Stir and cover.
   Day Four:  Stir and add 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1 cup cold
         milk.  Stir until smooth and cover.  Transfer to 2 quart container.
   Day Five:  Stir and cover.
   Day Six:  Stir and cover.
   Day Seven:  Stir and cover.
   Day Eight:  Stir and cover.
   Day Nine:  Stir and add 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1 cup
         cold milk.  Stir until smooth.  Place 1 cup batter in three
         separate containers (total 3 cups).  Cover and give to two
         friends, keeping one for yourself to start the whole process
         over again!  (**&*!xx%?!*)
         To the batter remaining in the bowl (from which the three
         cups have been taken) add 2/3 cup oil, 1 cup sugar,
         1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt,
         1/2 tsp. baking soda, 3 eggs, 2 cups flour.  Stir in 2 cups of
         any of the following, or combination thereof:  blueberries,
         strawberries, raisins, dates, nuts, mashed bananas,
         applesauce, pineapple, dried fruit, granola, etc.  Use your
         imagination!
         Pour into two buttered and sugared loaf pans.  Bake at
         350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until tests done with
         a toothpick.
         ("Starter purchased at an Amish fair in New York and
         brought to California by plane in the summer of 1989.")

. The jaunty (gentille) Herbed Bluefish Flamed with Gin.  In another lifetime, maybe I would make this for a dinner party after work, one snowy February.  In that parallel lifetime where I'm living in Boston as I almost have three times, walking a French bulldog along the Charles River, working as assistant curator at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in the Fens, or at the Map Room in the Public Library.



image:  Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (The Phillips Collection)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Time and the River, Thyme and the Sea


I love this recollection of Colette by her stepson, which I found in the Colette day book of my mother's, given to her by my father, among old family photographs and other saved scraps.

If you would know her, think of a garden in Brittany, by the sea.  It is early morning and she has been awakened by the melancholy two-note whistling of those birds we call courlis; she has come down, carefully bypassing a small stack of sleeping cats, and the bulldog has followed her silently.  She sits in delightful loneliness on the damp and salty grass and her hand enjoys the roughness of the herbs.  The sound of the waves fills her mind, she looks now at them, now at the flowers which are moving faintly upward as the weight of the dew dissolves . . .  What matters to her is the rapidly changing colour of the sky, the increasing roar of the incoming sea, the polish of a pebble which she had now picked up, and venturing further, the prompt dartings of a shrimp which feels that the tide will liberate it from its narrow pool.  It is also the gait of her husband when he comes out:  she will watch whether it is lightened by the enjoyment of the crisp air.
—Bertrand de Jouvenel, Time and Tide, 1954

I would be happy to be remembered that way, and indeed might be.  Those gentle pleasures of the French writer's are mine as well, and soon my garden will be by the sea.  I'm already planning for herbs, and salty grass, and missing only cats and bulldog.

My search for an appropriate image has led me to
. pictures and sketches of Colette in Brittany and elsewhere
. herb gardens in Brittany or by the sea
. herb gardens in bone china teacups, Twinings or Harney & Sons tea tins; decorated with blue & white plates
. French Trappist monks creating Port Salut, a monastery cheese
. French omelette with chives and cherry tomatoes or with soft green herbs
. how to design a potager garden
. and finally,
thinking about making the good kale and quinoa breakfast bowl—which I will go and do.




Sunday, April 23, 2017



A tribute today to some of those whose birthday this is.

For William Shakespeare—two favorite of innumerable favorite quotes.

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
—Sonnet 116

I see a voice.
—A Midsummer Night's Dream

For JMW Turner, painter of landscapes and seascapes and skyscapes and light—this Norham Castle Sunrise, with its radiant cow.

For that prose stylist supreme, Vladimir Nabokov, who I discovered at an early age and loved first for his writings about chess (not yet having learned about his butterflies or way of hearing colors)—a few typical quotes.

. . . and as for history it will limit his life story to the dash between two dates.

“I am sentimental,’ she said. ‘I could dissect a koala but not its baby. I like the words damozel, eglantine, elegant. I love when you kiss my elongated white hand.”
(from Ada, or Ardor:  A Family Chronicle)

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.

For Ruggero Leoncavallo, Italian opera composer—this performance of his "Mattinata" by Beniamino Gigli.

For Ngaio Marsh, my favorite mystery writer from New Zealand, creator of detective Roderick Alleyn and his famous artist wife Agatha Troy—this account of her cottage outside Christchurch and her fascinating life.

For John Hannah, who so movingly read it in Four Weddings and a Funeral—this poem of W.H. Auden's.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And for Roy Orbison, the singer-songwriter, this performance by The Traveling Wilburys of "Handle Me With Care."

Happy birthday, all!



image:  JMW Turner, Norham Castle Sunrise