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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Weighing and Awaying

Preparing to move, I have been living in the future and the past for several weeks—weighing the space available in our new home-to-be and what it will desire or require of worthy owners, and in preparation sorting through old memories (clothes that no longer fit, books that go back to college—The Magus, The Sun Also Rises, high school—Red Sky at Morning, Le Grand Meaulnes, still earlier favorites—Pogo, Eloise, Misty of Chincoteague), getting rid of the fondue pot my parents gave me in my 20s, the doleful red teddy bear my mother's cleaner brought for her from Mexico, my wedding shoes, two hundred plastic lids from every-other-Friday take-out from Janta Indian restaurant, Cat Stevens and Musical Heritage Society LPs that gave way to cassettes and then CDs and then got transferred to iPods.  Clothes that have defined me, skins that I have shed.  With all this weighing going on, I've also been weighing the way forward and the way back, in the two pans of the balance scale; the weight of me, my worth, the grand sum of my life after all of the additions and subtractions, at this moment of reckoning, this juncture between what I've been and what I might yet be when I am somewhere else.  Lady without fondue pot.

Last night I cooked the jerk chicken which I'd been meaning to for months, and in the process of chopping green onions, cutting a lime (a gift, whose fragrance brought back all the limes I used to take to Kona to squeeze on my morning papaya), reeling a little from the habaƱero peppers whose trace now remains on my skin, I remembered that just before I left my beloved "treehouse" on Forest Avenue, two moves ago, I gave myself a ten-years-overdue housewarming party, with friends from all ends of the Bay Area and all eras of my sojourn here gathered on my leafy deck and wobbly outside stairs and slanting sun porch with its hundred wavy little windowpanes on the second story of the Victorian house I was about to leave, and made jerk chicken along with many other Caribbean dishes.  That batch was hotter than even I could bear—weaned though I was on Santa Fe's hottest chiles.  I'd bought all new spices for the occasion, and so the cayenne and others were at their most potent, not lulled to sleep as I was used to their being after years of sitting shouldered up to other, duller, spices and herbs on kitchen shelves.  Maybe I'm subconsciously replicating that previous leavetaking.  Maybe it's some kind of necessary ritual for me, making jerk chicken before I move out and on, like a Jamaican version of a sage smudge to smoke out the spirits of the dead, the apprehensive ghosts afraid of being left behind.

image:  spices on scale (Can stock photo)