Monday, January 31, 2011

A focus on blue


If you focus on one thing among the many, a deeper connection ensues. It’s like a research paper. You lug an underarm tower of books from the library to scour the one thing. You become consumed by blue whales, for instance (not literally, one hopes) and along the way you learn about plankton.

And the blue in the ocean.

I visited the cathedral at Chartres, like a ship in a field. Its thousand-year-old windows sang wet and saturated songs of blue. An ancient melody of a clear conscience. Guilt-free. How did they get the blue up there high in the holy arches so close to Heaven? And how did the man-dominated church manage to commission this freedom, clarity and hope from the makers of that glass? What contract with the sun to illumine the labyrinth -- so cold, so hard and mysterious, crawled by hopeful, prayerful knees?

Blue became a thesis. French blue.

And so the research project that was really just a recognition, an attention-paying, a consciousness, tucked itself into the soft heart’s cortex.

Two years later and it’s the Van Gogh gallery at the Orsay. You know how it goes. You are being attentive to the Degas ballet bronze. The train station converted to a creamy dreamy galley-dome. The special exhibit of smoke rising like alive ribbons. The wall-size clock window framing the distant Sacré-Cœur on the Montmartre butte (embraced by a blue sky), a white counter-point to the Orsay’s arc. You are beyond emotion already, in a state of above, of afloat. You walk into the room of Van Goghs, which is just a white cube with two doorways like so many museum rooms. White sand. Or wheat. And there is the water of blue that has lapped itself in your psyche like an unstoppable tide that comes back over and over to your shore.

Paintings on the white walls: the mid-afternoon silky blue sky above siesta sleepers against a haystack; an indigo dome asterisked with stars that declares: I exist; calm sky-blue walls of a bedroom neatly stocked with a blonde wood bed, dresser and chair. Everything else recedes -- all colors, all paints, all frames, even stars -- and only blue steps forward, like waves. Where do you turn when you reunite with blue?

Only around and around.


Guilt, or bitterness, runs out to another room where a color like Delacroix red turns it into desire.

How does color tell our hearts what to feel?

If you pay attention to one thing on your way through the many, your heart will connect. (This can be beautifully pleasant, and also painfully difficult, depending on the point of focus.)

Hand-stitched wool crewel blue peacocks on my Indian bag.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Quiet, dear soul


dear soul,


through a palace
of angels --
their thundering,
bidding heartbeats,
their lightning glances
and their blinding,
feathery flames.

Come out
to the empty field
in the cool morning
and listen
to nothing,
no voice,
no song,
no sound

and almost no

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Poem: What survives

Photo 'lead type' from jm3 at flickr
via Creative Commons license

Our children, and subsequent children, will know little about the printing press, movable type, and typesetting, except from history books and very cool art departments where book printing continues as an art form. My Uncle Jimmie had his own printing press and these tiny letters and symbols of different fonts. He had a nice little private printing business and printed our wedding invitations thirty-three years ago. I got to thinking about the loss of this painstaking "black art" sometime late afternoon yesterday, when I looked out the deck window and noticed that all the birds were gone. There had been hundreds of them on top of the bird seed on the ground all day. It got me thinking about . . .

What survives

Not a one is left
on the basin of ground
under the spruce tree
where sunflower seeds cover

like black letters
on a white page

And evening draws down
its fade --

sky, rooftops and ground
the same shade of white-gray

The bamboo leaves
are still

and graceful,
like vintage wallpaper

A hundred birds
all the day,

picking up and
rearranging black seeds

like typesetters preparing
the evening paper

for hours,
in a rush,

furiously, against
a cold night

as if their livelihood depended on it
as if a deadline approached

And where are they now
gone from this silent basin

Perched on the bars
of pine trees

inside a thick atmosphere
of huddling?

Their black claw feet
tapping each other,

knocking snow
from the boughs

their gullets
transforming seeds

into words
inside them

y e s t e r d a y

t o m o r r o w

n o w

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Mind walks


The Norwegian Jøtul wood stove in the family room (where we spend most of our home awake time -- where I write, read, work on photographs, blog, paint and watch movies) radiates heat into much of the house, and the forced air propane furnace rarely kicks on. We feed the wood stove dead, seasoned wood from the fallen trees that stripe the back acre of the farm. Ash borers have defeated many tall, straight ash trees, and thanks to that tiny, mighty pest, we have some of the densest, longest burning firewood there is, for a long time to come.

On Saturdays, just after sunrise, while snow falls and floats like ash outside the glass deck door, and chickadees, juncos, mourning doves, cardinals and blue jays rise and fall from the ground to the spruce and back again for scattered bird seed on the ground, I put our biggest pot on the radiant Jøtul. Into olive oil I drop chopped onions and celery that quickly begin to sizzle. Then what’s left of vegetables in the fridge, rough chopped, and scraps I’ve saved in the freezer, get added and filled almost to the brim with water. (My gourmand ex-brother-in-law Larry scolded me once for not saving every dear peel, rind, stem and shaving from vegetables in a freezer bag for a Saturday broth-fest; within the scraps are contained the same elements of vegetable goodness. I changed my ways.) For a few hours I cook this potful that’s almost as big as the cast iron heat-box itself, creating tasty veggie stock that I’ll use in cooking for the next week. Cabbage becomes fragrant (!), and the low winter sun shines on the spruce where at least a dozen red cardinals are tucked in the branches, looking like soft, exotic fruits.

Like birds picking up seeds, I have been flitting from pillar to post gathering ideas and thoughts. I feel as if I'm back in college classes, pushing myself to do close readings of the writers I read. They join in the pot of my head like scraps from the fridge. But what soup is being cooked up there? I read passages from Rilke and Rumi at the daily blogs. Synchronously they link arms and walk like twins separated only by centuries. See the parallel lines from the readings posted a couple of days ago:
Rumi: I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.  (~ from "The Price of Kissing")

Rilke: I would perish in the power of his being.
For beauty is but the beginning of terror. (~ from "If I Cried Out")

Each day friends come into the comment boxes and reflect on the passages posted in those blog salons, filtering them through their own separate experiences and patterns of thought. Paths emerge, merge, and sometimes lead into dense thickets where I have to focus hard, keep up and try not to get lost. I love mind walks, even when I'm in danger of losing my way. (Have you seen the wonderful 1990 film "Mind Walk" with Liv Ullman, Sam Waterston and John Heard? Nothing but stimulating conversation, while walking around Mont-St Michel . . . ahhhh.) I collect thoughts and words that smell good, and throw them into my pot-head . Does this make me wishy-washy? Maybe. Like water, shaped by the vessel it's in. And what's inside the pot? Fragments of this and that . . . these, and all.
                                                                               . .
                                                                              . . .
                                                                            . . . .
                                                                          . . .
                                                                         . . .
                                                                         . . .
                                                                             . . .
                                                                                . . . .
                                                                                  . . . . .
                                                                                    . . . . .
                                                                                     . . . . .
                                                                                  . . . . .
Steam rises from the pot, walking a ribboning path . . . . .


Friday, January 21, 2011

Reading a Russian novel on cold winter nights

Farewell, by Ivan Aivazovskiy, 1869

Reading a Russian Novel

The biggest book I’ve read
lies anchored on my lap
page twenty-two is open
I’m reading from the top
It’s only been ten minutes,
the Count repeats ma chère
to every corseted figure
who enters the sitting room there
My legs are tucked beneath them
parading in and out
and tickled by their tiny feet
I am wondering about
Natashas, Anyas, Sonyas --
the stream of names I wade in
and whether I’ll remember them
without a notepad aiding.
The samovar is steaming
the woodstove is too warm
my eyelids are so heavy
that fairydust starts to swarm
And into sleep I tumble
with sugarplum Tinkerbells
in lace and sleeves and satin
and all their charming spells
They carry me to Russia
like I am Gulliver’s wife
and like him I am foreign
unaccustomed to this life
It turns out all is huge though --
the land, the names, the wars
and I'm the one who's shrinking
under masted monuments to czars
I stretch and wake to sail through
these thousand pages here,
all afghaned in my deck chair
until this time next year.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

-The Black Sea, by  Ivan Aivazovskiy

 Moonlit Night, by Ivan Aivazovskiy

 Ships at Anchor, Ivan Aivazovskiy

Ivan Aivazovskiy (1817-1900 -- I've corrected this, which I had previously as 1870-1900. Thanks, Arti!) has left more than 6,000 paintings, most of them of the sea. (What is it with overachieving Russians?) He was practically canonized by the Russian Navy. The painting "The Black Sea," three paintings up, is considered his masterpiece. But frankly, one is as transporting as the next. And apparently -- get this -- he painted the sea from memory.
-Chaos, The Creation, 1848, by Ivan Aivazovskiy

About this painting "Newspapers wrote: 
'Pope Gregory XVI has purchased Aivazovsky’s picture Chaos 
and had it hung in the Vatican, where only the pictures 
of the world's greatest artists are considered worthy of a place. 
His Chaos is generally held to be quite unlike anything seen before; 
it is said to be a miracle of artistry'”.
~ From the site embedded in "Ivan Aivazovskiy"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My 5th blog anniversary, a winner, and salons

Thank you for celebrating five years with me this week. It has been beautiful to contemplate the rewards of blogging, and of knowing you, my friends.

My gift of gratitude
With the help of List Randomizer, I tossed all your pretty avatars from the previous post comments into the bag and came up with a very pretty blogger avatar indeed! Margaret Bednar, I will be painting you a bluebird on a piece of wood (see previous post).This may be a little like sending coals to Newcastle, since you are an artist! Margaret lives in North Carolina, has six gorgeous children, and still has time to create art, write poetry and maintain two art blogs: Art Happens (Painting & Sketching) and Art Happens 365 (photography & poetry)! Margaret, thank you for making this little salon sparkle with your presence.

Speaking of salon. I’d like to ‘splain, since I use the term salon in my comment box. The word sounds either hoi polloi, or hoity toity in the U.S, where the only rooms we call salons are for hair stylists and nails, but we vaguely know about the European salons. To call my blog a salon either sounds like I’m about to give you a virtual shampoo-massage, or that I delude myself by thinking I am a European sophisticate like Mme. Geoffrin on rue St. Honoré. (See Lemonnier's painting of her salon at the right/above, and read a wonderful essay about the history of the European salon at the Oxford University Press site here.)

But the word salon is quite special to me, actually. Until we moved to Istanbul, I hadn’t heard the word used much, except in books located in Europe when friends gathered in them, or as in the art and literary salons in France and other places where artists like Rodin submitted their work (and were sometimes rejected, yes even Rodin). So when we moved to Istanbul in 1985, we learned that the “living room” was called the salon. We bought salon furniture and satin drapes with tulle sheers, in the rather elaborate fashion of Turks, for whom hospitality, and the attitude of welcome at the very least, is one of the most important values. The salon was the room where guests were entertained, and believe me, in Turkey guests are still entertained, or at least they were twenty-five years ago. Whether accompanied by çay and börek in the afternoon with the ladies of the apartment building crocheting and gossiping, or çay, dolma and pastries in the evening with couples or families, it was the center of conversation. We kept track of each other's lives. If we had been better at the language, it might have been something like the salons you read about in Henry James or Edith Wharton novels (well maybe not so fancy) where friends came in from the cold to engage in stimulating discourse. If someone had a particularly skillful touch with delicacies from the kitchen, combined with an ease of hospitality and a gift for encouraging people to talk, and if the çay kept pouring into those little glasses with saucers, then their salon was rarely empty any given week. Friends would travel through the heaviest downpours or ignore wedding invitations to sit and visit in such a salon. (See Michael Naples' beautiful painting, above, of the Turkish çay glass and saucer -- ours were just like that; the tea doesn't have a chance to get cold in those small glasses; when I found his image on Google, I thought it was a photograph; do explore his Daily Paintings.)

I have nothing in my life like a drawing room, parlor, living room, or front porch where guests come regularly to sit and visit together . . . except this salon where my blog friends come. We can cozy up by the wood stove here on the farm and chat, never stiff or formal like Mme. Geoffrin's, I hope (though like her, I receive an education by listening to my guests!), and some days I kinda want it to be more like a saloon! (Yes, same word, anglicized . . . or americanized.)

Western Saloon, by Lee Dubin

Or I'd like to invite you to a warm, festive supper, like this:

Julaftonen (Christmas Eve), by Carl Larsson
However we drink our beverages here, coffee, tea, Christmas punch, or draft beer from the bar, I love having you come! Or in Turkish: Hoş geldiniz! ("We welcome you with pleasure!" Hoş is pronounced "hosh" -- long "o") Now you say: Hoş bulduk! ("We're happy to be here!")

Now, drink your tea. It'll get cold.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

"The blog thing" at 5 years

My first blog post

Five years ago this week was my first blog post. You can see it above, though the template was different. My sister Ginnie ("Bootsie" to me) was my first and only commenter for some time and the first person I knew who had a blog (the wonderful In Soul). Three months later, my "brother" rauf introduced himself from India, and much more of the world opened to me via his posts at Daylight Again. And so the wonder began. Let me wander as I wonder at the full hand of these years.

I picked the name synchronizing after seeing my hand held device "synchronizing" with my computer when I linked them at the end of a work day. I liked the idea of bringing things together in some kind of unity. I changed it to synch-ro-ni-zing, adding the hyphens, to sort of help people understand that "synchronizing" is different from "synchronicity."  This blog isn't necessarily about meaningful coincidence (synchronicity), but more about the intentional pairing of things.
My blog is just as eclectic today as it was five years ago. You might find Paris paired with Bishop the barncat, memories of my mom with a walk in the meadow, or raptures over a sublime salad during a long, beautiful winter. I just tell you what's going on inside. This past year I've done that more in poems, because I've been writing more poems, a direct result of being freshly and deeply inspired by blog friends. You know who you are.
Speaking of blog friends, I have met some of the most wonderful people of my life, here, in these five years at synch. There is more talent, imagination, insight, knowledge, wisdom, humor, experience, story-telling skill, beauty, strength and love here than anyone who doesn't blog might understand.
As a result of these friends and conversations, I have changed. I have grown more confident, better at writing, better at photography, better at life, better at me! It has been like a non-stop class in the arts and humanities, critical thinking, communication, and the soul's journey. The world has shrunk, and so have I. I am less, and I am more.
Blogger has gotten better and easier to use. I pay $3.95 a year for this space, since I overflowed my space limit sometime in the last year or two. I'd say it's a pretty darn good bargain. Compare it to, say, a Burger King Whopper ($3.29).
Two years ago today I received the honor of Blogger's Blog of Note, eleven days after my friend Barry of An Explorer's View of Life received the same honor. I was fortunate to find him through that award, instantly enthralled by his story-telling sweetness. Of course we didn't know we would lose him the next year to cancer. I rejoice, and gasp, whenever I see his comments in old posts around the blogosphere. He is still with us, but I miss him.
Vastly more important than Blog of Note, immeasurably more, is the reward of being together with you, in this heartland. Hear what Walt Whitman meant in his poem "Song of Myself," for yes, this blog is a song of myself! always about myself, because it is from my heart. Yet for me and for you and your blog, our songs are like his song. The song of "myself" is not just about me, but contains much more . . .
“ . . . in all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less
and the good or bad I say of myself I say of them . . .”

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
And this from his Song can be our guiding light, because while we read each other's words (and lots and lots of books), as Rumi says in a similar vein, "Let the beauty we love be what we do. / There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
"Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of
all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self."

A little gift of gratefulness

In the list of traditional gifts for [wedding] anniversaries, five years is celebrated with gifts of wood. It feels appropriate seeing the spruce bough in my first post, in light of this. And also in this light, I would like to celebrate my full hand of joy and gratitude by sending one of you a [humble] hand painted wooden ornament of a special bird here on the farm: a bluebird. It will look something like the one I painted for Peter's girlfriend for Christmas, below. (I just started tole painting, cultivating my dormant Swedish roots from Grandma Olive.) After wandering through the bag of friends who leave a comment at this post, I'll announce the person I randomly choose (with List Randomizer, so cool) on the anniversary of my blog on Friday, January 21. Then I will paint a bluebird, with you in mind specifically, whoever you are, and with the bluebird in mind in his round russet breast and shy, quiet presence. And I will paint meditating on the rest of you too, and the connections we hold so dearly in our hearts. This gift is a way to be reminded that we are physical beings, who touch and feel material things. The blog thing is real.

But even though our blogs are tangible -- seeming somehow indelible on the Internet -- and our blog friends are true friends, we and our blogs will fade one day like leaves of grass, like wood dust. But oh, my friends, we are also stardust.

 Though I incorporated the crack in this slice of ash wood
into Andrea's painting, the disk I paint for one of you will have no crack,
I pray! Don found beautiful seasoned oak
and has already cut the piece.

This could be your piece of wood :)
-- about 6" diameter, with a bluebird from the farm.
I'll gladly mail it anywhere in the world. 

(I have also created several other blogs. Oh dear. Yes I would create one a month just to design it if I had time to maintain them all. Currently: daily posts at RUMI DAYS and A Year with Rilke (the latter with Lorenzo of The Alchemist's Pillow) -- see sidebar for regular updates. These daily readings are nourishment for my soul.) 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Poetry, by Pablo Neruda


Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) has been one of my top five or so poets for inspiration since I discovered poetry and began writing in college classes in the early 1990s. He had an illustrious career, and is considered by some to be the greatest poet in the Spanish language. He is famous for being a very active Communist politician with a turbulent history in his country, Chile. Near the end of his life he won the Nobel prize for literature, in 1971. (He deserves much more than I am summarizing here, and you can read more at the Poetry Foundation.) I know him best for his odes to ordinary things (which inspired me to write an ode to quinoa here and garlic here) and his sensual love poems. There is a sweet film called "Il Postino" in which an exiled Neruda and his love poems help a humble Postman woo the lovely Beatrice. One of my favorites of his love poems is Body of a Woman.

In the poem I post here, Neruda describes not his love for a woman, but for Poetry, when she arrived. For me it felt just like this when I began that first poetry class, and started to write. The universe opened, and the poet began the first faint line, / faint, without substance, pure / nonsense, / pure wisdom / of someone who knows nothing . . .

by Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
(translated by Alistair Reid)

La poesía
de Pablo Neruda

Y FUE a esa edad... Llegó la poesía
a buscarme. No sé, no sé de dónde
salió, de invierno o río.
No sé cómo ni cuándo,
no, no eran voces, no eran
palabras, ni silencio,
pero desde una calle me llamaba,
desde las ramas de la noche,
de pronto entre los otros,
entre fuegos violentos
o regresando solo,
allí estaba sin rostro
y me tocaba.

Yo no sabía qué decir, mi boca
no sabía
mis ojos eran ciegos,
y algo golpeaba en mi alma,
fiebre o alas perdidas,
y me fui haciendo solo,
aquella quemadura,
y escribí la primera línea vaga,
vaga, sin cuerpo, pura
pura sabiduría
del que no sabe nada,
y vi de pronto
el cielo
y abierto,
plantaciones palpitantes,
la sombra perforada,
por flechas, fuego y flores,
la noche arrolladora, el universo.

Y yo, mínimo ser,
ebrio del gran vacío
a semejanza, a imagen
del misterio,
me sentí parte pura
del abismo,
rodé con las estrellas,
mi corazón se desató en el viento.


Neruda was much loved in Peru, and to keep you warm after snuggling with Pablo, I give you Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca singing De Los Amores (About Love); lyrics here, and no, the lyrics were not written by Neruda, but by Javier Lazo (who wrote the music too, I think).


Monday, January 10, 2011

Fit for the Kingdom


Fit for the Kingdom

when I am awestruck by diamonds
    on the upstanding collars of Queen Anne’s court
       each with her crown of snow


while my tinkering mind
   shuffles and sorts through word files
      for just the right writing currency

the dog

charges past on the meadow path
   rocking me like a semi on the Interstate
      and I stand, shaken, the writing spoor erased from my head

and again

farther on into the pines where she sniffs
   the pellets and wrinkled white beds of deer
      we scare up a wild turkey hidden in the boughs


and down upon us snow crystals
   spray like sparks from the explosion
      of her dusting thundering wings, and suddenly


and empty of words, I walk on behind m'lady
    in our morning processional through the Queen’s chamber
      freshly and properly christened with a mantle of silence

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.

 This is Ara, the dog companion of my son's girlfriend, my new sometimes walking buddy.

Friday, January 07, 2011

So what?

-Luxembourg Garden's Medici Fountain in May 2006
with face sculpture by Swedish artist Lotta Hannerz;
read my Paris Deconstructed blog post 
about being a woman alone in Paris that day here

Isn't this woman utterly amazing? All she does is breathe. I truly love and admire her. What a meditation she is. "So what?" she seems to whisper-breathe. "I am in Paris, in the Luxembourg Gardens Medici Fountain, commissioned by Catherine de Medici . . . but . . . So what?"

The question So what? was a weed of rudeness in the field of my life growing up, a thistle you didn't want to touch, best to leave it alone to grow by itself, prickly and ugly. Mouths got slapped for saying such things. I didn't even think it, because it stood up and declared persistent insolence, superiority, rebellion, put-down. These were not in my floral repertoire.

Fast forward to the year of the door into freedom -- Paris 1997 when I'm 40 (nine years before these photos).

Two things.

One. I found thistle weeds in the luxurious flower beds of the Luxembourg Gardens. Was there some mistake? Thistles -- weeds -- in one of the grands jardins of the most elegant city in the world. But there was no mistake, they had been planned and planted. Tall, regal purple Scottish thistles were designed among snapdragons and I don't remember what else. I stood there dumbfounded, trying to comprehend many things at once: How did a garden designer understand how beautiful they are, and worthy of formal beds? How had I scorned them? Why do things in Paris look so frickin' beautiful? They're weeds! for heaven's sake . . . and then from the splashing water of the Medici fountain under the plane trees I seemed to hear someone whisper: Et alors? So what?

Two. I went to a jazz club called Petit Journal with my sister, across Boulevard Saint-Michel from the Luxembourg Gardens. It was my first time sitting for a prolonged mutual welcome of jazz. Our mother was freshly gone two months before, she who left behind New York jazz for a life of church music in the Midwest. Now with my sister in Paris: a door, a spiral stair down to a tiny, wall-lit, cave-like cellar. A female vocalist just on the other side of that table, no stage, who looks like Dianne Wiest with a voice like Etta James'. A quartet packed tight, playing loose -- bass, piano, drums, horn. Hours of So what interpretations of standards, and a little improvisation.

Today, almost fourteen years later, I'm still a baby in jazz, listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane play So What. But all these years since the freedom door, I've been practicing (as in, practicing to get better at it) So what. What does that statement (more than a question) mean to me, now? It means letting go, like thistles that let wind carry away their down. It means being unbounded by clocks, ought-tos, appearances, fears, expectations, shame, regret, jealousy, tidiness, judgment, offense, binary choices (and lists!). It means seeing beauty in the of-course lovely, and also in the untamed, thorny, worn, shabby, discarded, muddy, unknown and mixed-up ordinary-sometimes-even-ugly beautiful. I probably still wouldn't say So What? to anyone out loud, because spoken it just sounds bratty. But I say it to myself, and to Inge, when we get too serious and need to lighten up!

Et alors? So what?

How about by way of reply, a 1959 live recording in New York of a jazz musician who loved Paris and felt more welcome there as a black performer than in his own backyard -- Miles Davis, with John Coltrane in a gorgeous, untamed but highly cultivated field of So What? (Great article about Miles and his long love affair with Paris here.) Listen, view the video (also with members of the Gil Evans orchestra and Jimmy Cobb on drums) at full resolution, and feel the heart in Miles' eyes. Then, at about minute 4:29, when Miles and Trane (don't I sound hip, baby?) start blowing So what behind Wynton Kelly's piano playing, see if your fetters haven't come untied.

The video is followed by more photographs of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, from my solo trip in 2006, not the year of the thistles, for sadly, I have no photos of those. But really, So what?

Newsflash: I need orange has offered her beautiful thistle photo, from the Luxembourg Gardens!

-Does the chap in glasses not look like he is saying, "Et Alors . . ." ?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Undiscovered Country

View of Ischia from the Sea, Charles Rémond, 1842
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

WHAT nostalgia to recall the delights of travel before jets were invented! You did not then swoop down out of the stratosphere; you came to the Old World majestically on a fifty-thousand-ton steamship a quarter of a mile long. The coast of Europe presented itself gently to the senses – visually, as a band of green low on the horizon; then orally as you came close enough to hear dockside voices singing out over the water; and finally, as you walked down the gang-plank, you smelled the stacked cargos – cheeses and wines, fruits and legumes, with the scent of the land itself behind the odors of its exports. It was apple-blossom time in Normandy when we debarked in Le Havre. . . .

Thus begins Chapter Three of Kathryn Hulme’s book Undiscovered Country (the inner life, not a geographical place, though the passage quoted here is geographical), about her time spent with mystic G.I. Gurdjieff in the 1920s and 30s.

I long for what she describes of her slow travels almost as much as I long for the undiscovered country of the soul. To trade an airtight airplane cabin for an open sea. To wake up morning after morning with light through a porthole, tugging me out for a sustained, solitary stroll on the deck’s weather-worn teak, rather than arrive at my foreign destination within seven hours of departing, mercilessly without a wink of sleep. To feel the distance -- in the passage of time, change of weather, sunsets, stars rotating in the dark night; gentle sea, rough sea. Gulls. To write, with elbow room. Empty time. To read with the sound of wind and the feel of it urging open the next page. To approach the port destination with honest respect, quietly, without the siren-boom of jet engines. To walk out onto the quay where to walk is to mingle with workers of the city, rather than in interminable terminal tunnels of metal, glass and overused and filtered air, then emerging for fifteen feet in the fumes of a taxi stand and into a taxi. Like this! to meet a new place! And lest I over-romanticize the welcoming port: to smell the diesel with the crated fruits, the fermented garbage with the salty sea, the body odor from a wool sweater worn as long as my passage by a man who tosses a welcome while he pitches another crate onto the truck.

I have a sea inside that is populated with slow travel. It is undiscovered in factual, physical experience. But I can explore it in my mind through reading, writing, imagining.

I have read and imagined with my friend Vagabonde, who has journeyed on slow ships since a child, and she still does. I hope she doesn't mind if I invite you to embark with her on her love affair with the sea. If you are like me, January is a good time to be off on a good adventure, at the very least someone else's! Read here to begin a three part series of sea travel and beauty. As a child she sailed from her native France to Istanbul, where I lived in the late 1980s and smelled fish in baskets, felt the mighty wind and heard men yelling Simit! on the quays, when we embarked and debarked from ferries crossing the Bosphorus.

Fishing on the Bosphorus Painting by Charalampos Laskaris

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Garden of Grief

"Night on the El Train," by Edward Hopper

Garden of Grief

Listening to you
describe your garden

is like listening
to the thrumming wings of a hummingbird

    arcing backward
or forward
       whirring side-

whisper-droning a puff of air against my cheek
as you rocket past
to the bee balm

where you suddenly stop and hover in place, steadily
so you can eat the fire
flower by flower

Next, you linger
intent before the faded
damask rose

where no nectar
rewards your lapping tongue

and summoning your last day’s effort
you vault up to the power line
tiny on the perch

to sleep in jeweled torpor

into dreams
of a different


-Listen to a podcast of this poem here.