Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Year of the Rooster

The year of the rooster has begun.  I would typically be pleased to think of it as the year of the cockerel, as well, but just as Billy Collins wrote in his poem about living in the moment—just not this particular moment—I would if I could choose a different year, a past year or somewhere vaguely off in the future, four years from now or so, to have as mine. 

I love the brilliant roosters Picasso inspired, and would like to see them as my augury, if that's not tempting fate.  Le coq again by choice not d'or, not the golden cockerel, but giddily colored, a little lopsided, possessed of reggae rhythm or ragtime syncopation, instigator of barnyard cock-ups and inspired kookiness.  Roosters as jaunty and individualistic as my friend Fleur's chocolate brown chickens who are fed scraps of chard & manchego pizza and strut around the patio and under the immense old Banyan tree showing off swaths of handsome turquoise feathers from a recent tangle—or tango—with wet house paint.

Years ago in that house in Hawi I wrote about waking to the sound of a rooster, for the first time since Greece, and then a mockingbird in the same cadence. I'd have my breakfast at the green table out in the yard, looking at the pastures just beyond the loose barbed wire fence behind, where a buckskin with black mane and tail, tethered, grazed—pastures upswept by wind, thick, luscious green, climbing gently to old abandoned macadamia nut orchards, and eventually to the rain forests which once irrigated North Kohala's sugar cane.

Another year, we celebrated Chinese New Year in Kona, finding ourselves there at the same time as a long-lost friend from high school and her family.  We had a lovely dinner at a long table under the palms, with sea turtles in the shallows just off the sandy beach.  We drank rum and fruit juices and watched the sun set into the ocean and with the coming of the dark the Chinese dragons insinuate their way among the tables, fed red envelopes for luck.  They swooped and shot up tall again, as the drum pulse moved them.  We were eleven, a congenial number:  four children, two elders, the perfect gathering.  (Another of those festivals that were.)

So may my cockerel be a lucky bird, the fire rooster on its best behavior.  And if it isn't, we might turn it fast into this dish whose description has amused me, which would feed a happy crowd:
In a terra-cotta marmite, greased with finely chopped pork fat, simmer an old rooster with some carrots and onions.  Perfume the bird with garlic, parsley, thyme and bay, and baste with olive oil from Aix, and later with a glass or two of brandy.  With this first cockerel of the New Year serve a dozen partridges to represent the 12 months of the year, 30 fried eggs for the days of the month, and 30 pitch black truffles for the nights.  (Rene Jouvean, from La Cuisine Provencal de Tradition Populaire)

images:  Picasso, Le Coq

Friday, January 27, 2017

Laudate Dominum

When everything we create is far in spirit from the festive,
in the midst of our turbulent days let us think of what festivals were.
(from Rainer Maria Rilke, The Sonnets to Orpheus)

I'm sitting in a beach chair in the mid-afternoon sun on the patio, celebrating Mozart's birthday—listening over and over to his Laudate Dominum on our "Megaboom" speaker behind me in the doorway (though it plays even underwater, they tell us, and I could easily carry it with me on a hike), and drinking special oolong tea from a little cup-and-pot set.  I can't ever decide if the sacred music is more perfectly sung by Anja Harteros or by Cecilia Bartoli; each version is sublime and divine.  The tea is perhaps Wood Dragon Roasted Twig, or Buddha's Hand.  Even if something more prosaic, my little impromptu birthday party, attended by a few birds and by our worn-down goddess of compassion on her weathered ledge, is somehow just what Rilke had in mind.

image:  Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Spring

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thought for Today

May peace prevail on earth.

image:  Que La Paz, in the garden of the Quaker Meetinghouse, Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Friday, January 20, 2017

If Only We Knew How to Blossom

[The Almond Trees in Blossom]

The almond trees in blossom:  all we can
achieve here is the traceless recognition of
ourselves in earthly appearance.

Endlessly I gaze at you in wonder, blessed ones, at your composure,
at how in eternal delight you bear your vanishing beauty.
Ah, if only we knew how to blossom:  our heart would pass beyond every
small danger, and would find peace in the greatest danger of all.

—Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell

image:  Pierre Bonnard, The Almond Tree in Blossom

(the last painting he ever made)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


I brew and drink the genmaicha I bought in Santa Cruz inside the rain in the tea and rug shop that made me think of Santa Fe, a low-roofed shop with wooden floors and rough woven kilims in earthen colors and the saturated reds of plant or mineral dyes.  Green tea with roasted brown rice, a few of the grains popped like popcorn.  A tea that offers great comfort, that holds sagacity and love in it.

The flavor takes me back to where we first drank it, the rustic old Manago Hotel on the road through the village of Captain Cook on the Big Island of Hawai'i.  The one-room restaurant with its big screened windows open to the ocean breezes where we went often over twenty-some years, which my father knew first during the war.  It was always a favorite spot for pork chops and for local fish, served family-style with bowls of sticky rice, potato or macaroni salad, tofu, marinated seaweed.  And a sacramental pot of genmaicha.

The old family hotel would make me think in turn of pensioni on the shores of one of the Italian lakes I fell in love with in my late twenties after a failed marriage, maybe because it smelled of cooking meat and fish and had that dazzling view of sun-struck water, or because it was wound together all along with that nostalgic yearning memory of leisurely meals shared at a simple tables midday with a group of family and friends. 

Between Keauhou Bay and Honaunau Bay, along the highway south through coffee country, past the coffee mills and sausage trees, between the place we stayed and the place where we left my father, in the end,
it was exactly the right place to find ourselves again after we'd scattered his ashes.  Homey and comforting.  All of us starved, feeling the call to life, we ate large helpings of pork chops and rice.  Besides "Mama," "Daughter," and "Auntie," Mom's Hawaiian singer friend who painted houses when his music didn't pay enough, and told me about swimming with an 80-pound pet eel; the English gardener whose father was a seacaptain and who brought little pecan tarts and bags of papayas to my mother; and the wise and funny Honolulu-born elder, kupuna, who made jewelry from coral, seed pearls, seed pods, and sharks' teeth.

Honaunau Bay is just outside the City of Refuge, sacred ground to the ancient Hawaiians, and an important place to us—closed just then, ironically, because of a political standoff in Washington (something my father would have had some pithy words to cover).  So near to sacred ground (appropriate for a much vaunted agnostic) we gathered between the historical site and a tiny native fishing village with tin roofs at the boat harbor, where locals park in big old beat-up vans to talk-story and drink beer.

The captain of the outrigger canoe which took out the ashes was a fisherwoman too and a breeder of terriers, and had a house on the mountain besides one on the bay there in that fishing village, with five lava steps leading right down into the water.  Water the color of sapphires, my father's September birthstone.  She'd made an altar, with a square of bright cloth, a pareo, laid out over a stone wall at the boat harbor, and flowers in a ceremonial pattern on it—leis, white and butter yellow plumeria, dusty lavender crown flowers.  She had us put the container of ashes ("Temporary Container") in the center, within the circle of the middlemost lei, and any snapshots we had of "Papa."  The picture by the cottonwood in Santa Fe, when I was in eighth grade; and one up to his shins, pantlegs tidily rolled, in the river in Yellowstone, where my parents had met.  Circled around it, we listened to "Amazing Grace" in Hawaiian, and "Aloha Oe"; to a passage from Colette my mother had found; to a tribute I'd written.

And later we would eat pork chops and rice with chopsticks at a big square table in an airy room with wooden walls and floors and big screened windows and the sea below.  We would drink genmaicha, spilling a spontaneous offering from the lip of the ceramic teapot to the local gods, who'd come and joined us as we sat and talked.

Reading the tea leaves tells of the long skein of life past as well as the future.  Fortune goes both ways.  Backwards and on, ahead, glimpsed only in a cup or glass, darkly.  The earthy fragrance and flavor of toasted rice, cupped in both hands, coaxes the necessary stories out.