Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sugar Magnolia

Oppressively hot & humid at the moment, my mind's in a jumble. The radio on isn't helping, but I hate to miss a song I love. So I endure some that get on my nerves. It's that kind of day. Finished Christopher Benfey's Summer of Hummingbirds yesterday - which says a lot for it right there - it is very rare these days for me to actually read a book start to finish (though I did read the Joseph Cornell epilogue first). I enjoyed and admired the deft connections he tracked and pinned (what's "lepidopterist" for hummingbirder?) I gasped when I read the description (and glimpsed the photo) of happily newlywed (in late life) Mr. and Mrs. Martin Heade - Mrs. H. feeding a hummingbird from her hand. Just perfect! I wish the book had had many more accompanying illustrations - Benfey's tour and descriptions were painterly, and often referred to paintings - for example, to a particularly voluptuous description of a series of Martin Johnson Heade studies of magnolias - and no image! From pages 238-239:
.... What strikes one most forcefully in the photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Heade that have survived is the unmistakable note of privacy in their Florida arrangements, of a shared intimate life kept to themselves. Nowhere is the private note more poignantly sounded than in Heade's late, great series of paintings of magnolias. Magnolias too had been enlisted in the public image of Florida and its hotel-world... But Heade was after something entirely different in his paintings of magnolia blossoms arrayed on blue and red velvet cloth. The paintings are unmistakably erotic, as John Baur noted in his pioneering article of 1954: "the fleshy whiteness of magnolia blossoms startlingly arrayed on sumptuous red velvet like odalisques on a couch." Robert Smith took the idea further, finding "an aura of post-coital dishabille" in the reclining blossoms. These paintings hint of a private realm, velvet-enshrouded, and one that is temporary and transient, evanescent like the magnolia itself.
Absent an image of the Heade my mind supplies its own association:


***


Sealed with a kiss, darling. Hope all is well with you. Hitting send.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hello darling. I'm feeling a bit vampiric myself at the moment, up in the aerie with the shades drawn against the hot sun. Very hot again today but comfortable in the house. I've had a very pleasant day, really nice sense of physical well-being. I wonder if it's because I went swimming. I had the car all day (what a sense of freedom just knowing I had it, even though I didn't go anywhere in the afternoon). I thought about going to Lake Taghkanic for a swim, then remembered about the swimming hole just a couple of miles up the road from me. So I went there. It's a lovely site, and I swam at the foot of (though at a distance) a waterfall that for all its power and might empties into a still, perfectly pacific pond, a topographical rest-stop, this caesura a circumscribed circle but with a crevice that lets out to a resumption of creek, flat rocks and gathering rapids, and what I know to be, on the other side of a bridge, highly dramatic falls over steep boulders and rocks.

(I think of Beethoven perhaps, or Chopin, inspired perhaps by a landscape such as this, composing a movement that comprises violent paroxysms, followed by an idyllic lull before gathering energy to gallop off again - a piece of music that I would not be able to play on piano, too difficult - that's what that little bit of landscape where I was is like - a line as dramatic and varied yet flowing and connected as that.)

I was there by myself. The water was cold and I took my time going in. The air smelled beautifully (though unaccountably) salty, of the sea, and (traveling in my mind like E.D.) for a moment I could persuade myself that the waterfall was visually reminiscent of a rocky Maine coast or of a wild Hawaiian beach and as I waded in the water up to my knees, then hips, waist, then more northerly highly sensitive regions I braced myself and took the plunge and after a few moments grew used to the temperature. And then I just sort of swam, moved my body, more or less in place - because in a lap tentatively attempted I suddenly found myself grounded - in the middle of the pond - the underwater terrain is very uneven - deep in places so I can't stand then, suddenly - shoals at the surface.

I thought of Thoreau - "the pond is earth's eye" - the pond was encircled with trees, I its elated pupil, and I felt altogether (decently trim and toned body in a one-piece suit, hair pinned up in a clip, long arms skimming about, legs vanished beneath opaque gray) the mythic nymph, swimming about on a hot lazy summer day. (Mad Men Don Draper's romantic type, I thought, this lunchtime Monday afternoon.)

A shiny big-ass pickup truck with tinted windows pulled into the park, then turned around and left in a cloud of dust when they saw another car there (mine). A few minutes later the pickup returned and parked in a shaded glade off to the side. The passenger side opened and a young man got out and went to the other side of the cab, disappeared from view. Eventually I started to feel cold so I emerged from the water (losing my equilibrium on slippery rocks - this mermaid felt she was about to slip and fall in no more than a foot of water), made my way back to the car, and drove up the gravel parking lot, past the pickup whose front cab was now empty and yet I believe the rear cab was ever so pleasantly occupied. Sigh. I know, a bit sordid - unless you're there. Such a perfect day for lovemaking out of doors, I could not blame anyone one bit. What if the world were organized for pleasures such as that, I thought. The pickup was designed in a certain way - I know nothing of pickups - but it did seem to have this handy rear cab - were Detroit designers thinking what I'm thinking?

It's supposed to be a "family beach" and I'm all for that and it's not entirely seemly for a woman to swim by herself the way I did, not ever, not now or in Greek myth days. I took a plunge. In between the two times that the lovelorn pickup ventured for love to the parking lot, a contractor on break in his elaborately signaged flat-sided truck also came by. I was a little nervous, but I had started this - I was the nymph in the waves. He got out of the truck, we waved hello, he clambered up the rocks and admired the beautiful waterfall, the beautiful day, maybe even the idea that in the middle of a pond - he, on shore, unless he's willing to get really, really cold - a mythic woman whose name he doesn't know and never will, who doesn't call his name, has no interest in him, exists nonetheless, and might one day, in some form, for him.

***

Must attend to roasting chicken and beautiful butternut squash now, darling. I love you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hello darling. Your Venus has transited up to the aerie and is ensconced at her desk, clad in no more than écru lace and panties, sipping from a rosé-and-ice-filled glass (this bird's preferred pink sugar water), listening to Women of Note, and finishing Chapter 9, "A Route of Evanescence," of A Summer of Hummingbirds. It is a very hot summer afternoon.

I am embarked on a little lexiconical self-help project, trying to make peace with the word panties. The English language is stuck with it and skirt is simply no substitute. I am determined to love panties. However I sigh. I believe I would love "panties" better if I had a brand spanking new assortment of them, a confectionary box of pretty, lacy, lovely briefs. By the way - in the 35 years that have transited since we first met? I'm done with white cotton.

***
J to Belle, 7 July 2008
... For practical reasons, you didn't take your skirt off...
Belle to J, 8 July 2008
You remember my various items of clothing so well! I'm amazed. I too remember making love while still wearing a skirt and nothing else. That was very erotic. I thought of that as I wrote to you yesterday, but just couldn't bring myself to write panties. So "skirt" it was.
***
Wow. I must have heat-stroke. It's "skirt" that has the erotic connotations. Okay, I could use a new wool skirt for fall then, and a formfitting sweater, and a pendant, and a spritz of Miss Dior. Never mind about panties.

As ever, love and countless kisses, darling -

early this morning










#1472
To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie --
True Poems flee --
Emily Dickinson

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vampire Hunters

Re-reading Thomas Wentworth Higginson's account of meeting Emily Dickinson for the first time at her home in Amherst on August 16, 1870. That evening he began a letter describing his impressions to his wife, completing it (best as I can tell from my volume of "selected" E.D. correspondence - how I wish I had access to the complete) the following day. The final words of his letter stay with me today for some reason (a day in which I've had to beat off, or face, like weeds growing into windows, pangs of sickening, amorphous anxiety). Of E.D.'s effect on him Higginson tells his wife ("defensively," I think it's Benfey who writes - or that in my perusals and skimmings all over the place, I recently read - oh, now I know, an online Joyce Carol Oates review of his and Wineapple's books.)
I never was with any one who drained my nerve power so much. Without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her. She often thought me tired & seemed very thoughtful of others.

I agree with Oates. That statement is a bit strong and jarring, considering the fact that Higginson and E.D. had warmly corresponded for eight years, since April of 1862.

What strikes me in his language is that it suggests to me the conventions of describing a vampire. Higginson seems to be confiding to his wife that he felt E.D. to have a vampiric quality, and vampiric effect on him. I try to imagine their meeting (I keep trying to imagine the dramatis personae as I learn more about them - so hard, with all the simultaneous & contradictory facets - e.g., earnestly feminist and priggish Higginson - all in one!)

There seem to be fewer than six degrees of separation (or, alternatively, easily drawn lines between dots) between Higginson, the Atlantic Magazine editor, who published Poe, who wrote vampire stories... Also, reading the whole of Higginson's letter to his wife - it reads to me like the narrated account of the innocent, impartial observer who dutifully writes to his "dearest," describing in mild detail his itinerary and the scenery... reminiscent of the classic conventions of a ghost story, horror story, vampire story - a story of psychological suspense. Not - "it was a dark and stormy night" - but rather, everything so plain as day - and yet off. That's very Henry-Jamesian, too, isn't it - as in Turn of the Screw.

(I've got a wonderful book, The Living Dead, by one Professor of English, James Twitchell (too tired for proper links right now, will come back to add) that has in the past (and today) help me explore the vampire theme in literature...)

Bottom line of what I think? My unscholarly take, but I wonder if Higginson, himself a conflicted man in the midst of conflicted, changing times, was very unaccustomed to meeting someone quite so fully Her Self as E.D. She wasn't playing some role with him (as either, perhaps, a wife might, or a suffragette - or any other species of female playing up, for a man's regard, a certain aspect of herself). What he was encountering, startlingly, in the physically utterly unprepossessing E.D. was the power of her full, keenly alert, sentient self - the not mere reed - but thinking reed - that she was. That's what unnerved him, attracted and threw him off him by turns. A man of letters, he perhaps did a disservice to E.D. in describing her as he did - was disloyal to her, I think (but it was a private letter - but surely he must have known that whatever he might write about E.D. might have a legacy). But he did, in intimate fashion, reassure his wife. I never was with any one who drained my nerve power so much... I am glad not to live near her.

He wrote it in this fashion in order to give an account, colored in a sophisticated gothic style, to his wife.

But you know - Higginson went further, in 1891 writing (as I consult my "selected letters"):
The impression undoubtedly made on me was that of an excess of tension, and of an abnormal life. Perhaps in time I could have got beyond that somewhat overstrained relation which not my will, but her needs, had forced upon us. Certainly I should have been most glad to bring it down to the level of simple truth and every-day comradeship, but it was not altogether easy. She was much too enigmatical a being for me to solve in an hour's interview, and an instinct told me that the slightest attempt at direct cross-examination would make her withdraw into her shell; I could only sit still and watch, as one does in the woods; I must name my bird without a gun, as recommended by Emerson.
Oh nice try for a save, Mr. Higginson, turning her into a species of bird after your penultimate semi-colon - because what all you said before - all morbid, vampiric imagery.

Where's my loaded gun?

***

Oh dearest (plus anyone else behind the bird-blind), apologies for this loopy post & I do reserve the right to come back tomorrow and tweak it. I strive for dailiness - so there are lapses in perfection - but - Hey, it's Saturday night!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beautiful late afternoon, up in the aerie, KZE's on low, I can hear ambient crickets over it. I thought Penelope had gone missing but she turned up seemingly grateful that someone had missed her and bothered to look. Perhaps she was testing me. She usually stays close to home. It did take me til the end of the day though to realize that I hadn't seen her all day.

Chicken is roasting in the oven, there are fresh zinnias in a ceramic mustard jar on the table. The next door neighbor who for some reason doesn't speak to me, only to D, has a subscription to the "biodynamic" produce of a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm in these parts. The weekly pickups are Friday afternoons, she was going out of town today so she invited D (and by extension me) to pick up her share. D was across the river today, but I had the car and so went to the farm myself and had a really nice time, instantly falling into a dreamy state filling my bags with specified allotments of especially bright and robust produce, then taking a very sharp pair of their scissors and venturing to the planting border along their drive, cutting zinnias and fresh basil and, in their herb border, sage and wonderfully fragrant wintergreen that I'll try to root in a glass. I went a few times last year when my neighbor couldn't make it, picked some spearmint, rooted it, and it's growing in a small pot in the window over the kitchen sink to this day.


I'm a little at low ebb today, my emotions having been on a roller coaster this week. I've been thinking about the E.D. "Master" letters (three extant, not written all at once, each spaced apart by an interval of a few years). According to The Secret Life of E.D. facebook page, Jerome Charyn judges that "these three letters are among the greatest of Emily Dickinson's poetic flight," but doesn't believe there was a "Master," that is, an actual romantic object of her extremely fervent, encrypted epistolary fragments. He writes, "There probably was no 'Master.' The real 'Master' was her own craft."

I tend to disagree, but sense that I may feel this way because I'm projecting myself, as, accordingly, I believe that Charyn may be as well - by which I mean no disrespect. I suppose that because in the end it's unknowable - we simply don't know (though when I read Judith Farr argument that "Master" was Samuel Bowles - I found her very persuasive) - it may say more about the observer, the reader, than about E.D. herself.

(I myself requested the return of the August project, believing at the time you didn't care. You mailed it back. Could E.D.'s fragmentary letters - rather than having never been mailed to "Master" - had indeed been mailed - and (under whatever circumstances) returned? And kept forever after by E.D., in her safekeeping?)

Someone sings - "It's different for girls." (Joe Jackson? Elvis C.? God, you'd think I'd have that down by now.) But I think it's true. Or if not necessarily along biological lines, then along certain temperamental lines. Look, all I know is that whatever messy poetic streak I have didn't really get activated until I had an object - you - "Master" - and as a result I wonder (and here I'm projecting) if E.D. needed a similar impetus or object to get fired up. Also, I'm simply not a purist. I don't see how devotion to art, the art of the love letter, the love of a love poem, the art of love - how romantic love for another and the desire to express, to create, can't all be intertwined, as opposed to strictly separated out.

But then again, I'm not a great poet, I'm messy in body and emotion and drive and longing - perhaps my pure "art" suffers?

Nah.

Signed, your Blues Queen

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hello darling. Up in the aerie. Beautiful day today, sunny, clear, not too hot. I have pans of halved plum tomatoes with garlic and olive oil roasting in the oven, fragrance rising up the stairs. Spent a little while on the porch today, reading Christopher Benfey's A Summer of Hummingbirds, which has prompted my recent thoughts of hummingbirds past and present. I'm enjoying the book very much - a perfect, delicious nonfiction read, perhaps especially refreshing on what - in their actuality - Henry James deemed the most beautiful words in the English language - summer afternoon. Benfey traces the unusual intersections and crossed paths of a host of more- and lesser-known luminaries and literati, including Emily Dickinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Ward Beecher, Mark Twain, among others. (Tom Stoppard might like this book and find inspiration for one of his conjectural plays.) I like the charmingly meandering paths Benfey takes - and I'm happy to follow. I laughed when he came right out and tartly observes -- as in an intimate debriefing, guests gone, after a dinner party at one's home, one might adduce -- "Twain was shrewd enough not to waste good liquor on a prig like Higginson." Soon the subject turns to Harriet Beecher Stowe, followed by the then-Emperor of Brazil's visit the United States. And when I looked up smiling from the book and gazed at the buddleia, no hummingbirds at that moment - but it was festooned with butterflies, and against the blue sky a monarch flitted and danced through the air - rather like Benfey's writing. So: a nice melding of sight & sense.

I just finished a section where, curiously, it turns out that Emily Dickinson had very close friendships with three men (Higginson, Rev. Charles Wadsworth, and Samuel Bowles) who, independently and in turn, were disdainful if not downright sabotaging of Mark Twain. As much of a fan of E.D. as I am - it does make me question her taste in men! Ah well, perhaps they had other attributes - cactus-splitting beards, of sorts.

***
I tend my flowers for thee--
Bright Absentee!
My Fuschzia's Coral Seams
Rip--while the Sower--dreams--

Geraniums--tint--and spot--
Low Daisies--dot--
My Cactus--splits her Beard
To show her throat--
***
All sorts of wildlife around, not just hummingbirds. The crazy spider still hangs in wait, in the very same spot for weeks now. The neighbor's russet chickens come over and root around the porch. They're a bit of an invading army, wending their way through the garden, scouring for bugs, clucking under their breath, coming up the porch steps - I'll have to watch that they don't march through the cat door into the house one day! They're as big as cats and our four cats, lounging on the porch or basking on the driveway, leave them be.


***
Kisses darling. Unsigned yet signed, with love.
Good morning darling. Sorry I was so scarce yesterday, I meant to write but in the end was overtired. I suppose I needed to recharge a bit anyway. It's early morning here, not even 7. The sun is just coming up, lighting the foliage gold and green. Oh good - first sun in days.

I spent the better part of the morning yesterday, and some of the afternoon, keeping as still as possible on the porch by the enormous buddleia, lying (or rather standing) in wait for hummingbirds, hoping to capture an image of one with my camera. The day before, I happened to pause in the solarium and a fleeting movement outside the window caught my eye - even from a distance I recognized the tiny, unmistakable profile - hovering body, wings and beak. It is the time of year for them here - or at least that was my experience in Brooklyn.

***
What I started writing a few days ago...
I keep wanting to write about hummingbirds but my little experience with them seems thinly feathered. Just that when D & I lived in Carroll Gardens, we had a beautiful black iron terrace, easily accessed through a French door, that served as a much-cherished summer outdoor room on which we had a table and chairs, and lots of planters and hanging baskets and pots. For many (some 15) summers that we lived there, I grew all sorts of wonderful flowering plants, including a particular form of delicate salvia named "Lady in Red" (first obtained by mail-order via the exquisite and pricey White Flower Farm, scored other years at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden annual May plant sale).

For several years in early September, I would be sitting quietly at the table and it would be as if the atmosphere changed with the visitation of a tiny, emerald-colored (as I recall) ruby-throated hummingbird, attracted to the clear scarlet tubed salvia blossoms, as well as to a buddleia. I was thrilled.

One year I made a decision to pursue a masters at the NYU graduate school of public service, and had been accepted and granted a scholarship. Even as I was about to start classes I was undecided about which track to pursue, policy or planning. (How I envy your seemingly always knowing Where You Were Going - no, not envy - I'm happy for you, it just wasn't what I experienced or could figure out for myself.) I wanted to pursue a masters because I was feeling stuck in my legal assistant job at a city agency, and also because I felt like a failure without one - most of my girlfriends certainly had figured out masters degrees and even Ph.D's. So I didn't have the best motivation to pursue a masters and was unfocused as ever...
***
Hummingbirds are very quick and alert, and I didn't manage to get a picture yesterday - they flitted away in the split-second delay. But I caught many glimpses. First there was just one bird, then another, a pair, female perhaps, grey with the palest flush of shimmering green at the throat. Each paused in midair for a moment to check me out then, in communication with each other, zoomed away. They seemed annoyed by my presence and I felt that they wanted me to leave. But I stayed and observed. I saw one fly to the far side of the garden and perch on the dead branch of a small peach tree. Across the way I looked at it and it looked at me. Eventually it returned to the enticing buddleia, hovering briefly among the fragrant purple blooms along with the bees (I had stood still so long that I had become aware of the background sound of buzzing - as well as attuned to the particular hummingbird chirp), several different butterflies, and a tiny, furry, bird-like moth, the insect world's imitation of a hummingbird, a fascinating correspondence.


***
One day in the golden light of a late afternoon I was lounging on the terrace, mulling over the course offerings. I had already enrolled for the classes (e.g., microeconomics, statistics) that were required no matter which degree program I decided to pursue. As I sat among the lushly filled planters a hummingbird visited and lingered. I marveled (not for the first time) that it was possible to create a tiny bucolic haven even within the city, inviting - miraculously - even to a hummingbird, and that through concerted gestures such as planting flowers, trees, greening the hardscape, the city could be made much more liveable both for people and for nature. At that moment I definitively decided on urban planning. I looked at the schedule and realized that the first session of a required planning course was to start in about an hour. I could stay home and start dinner or --

I got moving and went out the door.
***

So I feel that I have a hummingbird to thank that a couple of years later I completed my M.U.P. My visionary ideas were a little out of the mainstream at the school. In my early days there I regaled the head of the program with my story of how a hummingbird in my garden had became a source of inspiration for me. She was a very, very dry, technical academician and as she fixed me with her uncomprehending, unsmiling eye I realized that she thought I was a fruitcake. I left her office feeling a little shaken by her stony reaction but thinking I was okay. I crossed Washington Square Park and for some reason that I've now forgotten I stopped by the office of another professor. I didn't know him at all, but knew that he was very popular and well-liked. As I stood in his doorway asking him whatever it was, I was just so immediately struck by his natural warmth and kindness that I burst into tears - it was just such a sharp, unexpected contrast from the other professor. I am not at all in the habit of doing that in my life - I was very embarrassed - and the professor was startled by my sudden emotion - but again, he was very kind as I collected myself.

Oh anyway. Hummingbirds.

***

Love you, darling. À bientôt.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I am having a really hard time today, feeling all Cinderella-ish. How did this happen? I am happy for you, truly. As I imagine it, it is like heaven, a cruise liner with many, many rooms - heaven on earth. So what am I doing in Chicago? I had my day, on business trips, once, for example, in a beautiful, secluded pool late at night in Hamilton, Bermuda. I could completely go for that again, even though Giovanni didn't speak English. (Okay, now I'm laughing through my tears - but my nose is super-stuffed right now.) Or, less lewdly, simply don lipstick and a slinky dress and heels and go out dancing. Is it over for me at 51? It feels that way to me.
E.D. got more than page hits from her Masters, whoever they were. They at least wrote her back now & then. She didn't spend Christmases alone. I should be happy that I'm alive, not imprisoned in a fashion then deceased like Mr. Judt (whose last Charlie Rose interview I listened to with rapt attention this afternoon). Not trapped for 18 days and counting like a Chilean coal miner - I cannot even imagine the horror of that, walls closing in around as in the Poe story and you're not even alone. But I am not a Prisoner of Chillon who loves her prison. I hate it. I'm the bird who's singing - no one's singing to me. I've been singing and singing and singing. Feed the bird.

Fantasy time: I would love to go to the ball. I've been working out regularly now for two years (thanks to the prompt - of you) and while my body is far from perfect I have quite a nice shape and if I didn't like rosé and sublime (or indifferent) cheese so much then I'm sure I'd have a perfectly flat middle too. My hair has grown long - I have put a stop to submitting to upstate hairdressers except for the occasional, closely supervised trim. (My first hack job up here - unwittingly, I got such a crew cut I was virtually desexed - I don't think it was an accident on the part of the hairdresser - she meant it.) It turns out that I have quite nice hair with a bit of natural wave, and it falls softly around my face. I have a pretty neckline and I do believe quite nice - well, you know. At the moment I do have a few little burn marks on my torso from a completely stupid cooking accident a few weeks ago (do not fry eggplant in the nude) but they're mostly healed. They'll take forever to fade (in my experience) but eventually will.

Anyway, so I'm 51 and attractive and have a nice figure though when I look in the mirror I see - yes, my face, but not a resemblance to Julie Christie, but rather to (to my mind) my maternal grandfather, who had very great imagination, intelligence, and wit, but not, so much, physical beauty. In the pre-blogging days after the War, he wrote a column in a London-based Polish newspaper under the pseudonym "Bonzo," worked in the BBC, and later, moving to Munich, was one of the founding members of R. Free Europe. I never met him, he died the year before I was born. But I've seen photos. He's thoughtful, a bit distant, bug-eyed, bemused - that's who I see when I look in the mirror.

Oh so anyway. I don't have epilepsy or mental illness (other than situational depression) or the pox. Well, maybe I do have the pox - that is, the bit of weeding I did the other day resulted in a mysterious outcropping of tiny welts on my left arm. Truly we are not in control of our own derma. I liked the scene in Eat Pray Love when the Julia Roberts character gets a wound on her leg from when Javier Bardem runs her over while she's bicycling. She goes to a Bali herbalist medicine woman who - to Julia Roberts' character's amazement - heals her wound. She goes out dancing that night, and partying, and meets up with an Aussie, a hung Giovanni, whom she rejects on a nighttime Bali beach in favor of (as it turns out) the Javier who knocked her down --

Okay - wow - how do I end this? Well - just consider this the freeform fashion of some --

Oh, are you asking me to dance? Well, sure. I love this song!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another cool rainy day. Thought of you this afternoon as I placed a slice of brie (from France) between the halved and toasted end of a French baguette. I cupped the tiny sandwich in my palms and pressed. The steamy inner crumb melted the refrigerated cheese, releasing its elixir, and the hot crust warmed my hands - chilly enough inside the house that the sensation was very pleasurable. The simplest snack, yet so complex and satisfying: the gift of a good baguette - this one from Great Barrington, I believe, a cheese shop there, that I had pulled out of the freezer; the cheese from so, so far away, from cows that once stood (probably still do) in a pasture in the French countryside. D bought the cheese for me the other day. I had stopped by the supermarket and in pointless hope picked up a piece of brie that turned out - as usual, no surprise - to be as insipid and gummy as every other supermarket wedge I've ever gotten. Plus I had bought a variety that was larded with ill-advised herbs that made the cheese taste of, if anything, freezer burn. Later I expressed my frustration to D - "I have half a mind to return it to ShopRite" except that I'd already had about a quarter of it, bad as it was. (I was hungry - in terms of fortification on the fly, is bad brie to me what a stale donut is to you, my darling?) These days my Holy Grail of cheeses is a certain absolutely perfect runny camembert that I've gone out of my way for to score at the Grand Central Terminal market. Everything else falls short of it, including lately the Old Chatham sheep's milk camembert that is delicious - and yet I've lost my taste for it. It simply isn't Le Châtelain. Anyway, D went into town to work that afternoon and on his return presented me with a little crumpled brown bag - a piece of brie, from France, from a gourmet shop on Warren Street. Very sweet of him. It was far better than the ShopRite, but fell short of Le Châtelain. I think pasteurization - or lack thereof - must be the key. I love beautiful, strongly flavored unpasteurized cheeses. I don't mean to take away from D's thoughtful gesture. It just wasn't the Holy Grail - he understood that.

You know, I've been trying to write about hummingbirds, back myself sideways into them, and I just can't seem to. I would love to see one here one of these days - best yet, snap a photo with my wonderful new camera - but I haven't seen one this summer. I am, on some level, bursting with hummingbirds - and yet it's not happening.

Instead I wish to go back to cheese! Or as Quentin Tarantino (is that who I mean?) - no, John Travolta - would say, drawing out the word lewdly and lasciviously, fromage. Back when D & I lived in Carroll Gardens there was a wonderful little French-inspired deli, owned & operated by a charming and exuberant Frenchman, at the corner of Cobble Hill Park.

(The hundreds of times I've personally walked up and down Clinton Street - what do I think of now? That I've glimpsed the cheerful red-painted deli and pocket park on Law & Order or some other movie scenes that were filmed there. As with the matinée I saw yesterday, Eat Pray Love - what piqued my attention? I didn't stay for the credits but I am quite sure that one of the scenes was filmed at BookCourt, an independent book shop in Cobble Hill, a place I'd frequented countless times.  In years past I might have seen the movie at the Cobble Hill Cinema, but instead here I was some 100 or 120 miles north, in an indifferent strip mall triplex, viewing it - and yet could say under my breath - "Oh, BookCourt!" and feel smug as any Brooklyn insider, as if I'd been sitting in the Cobble Hill...)

Right - so back to fromage. The French deli owner had a marvelous selection of perfectly ripe cheeses, very unusual (to me) types - one, Morbier, with a grey vein of ash running through it that, as he explained to me, divided the morning milk from the afternoon, several varieties of medallion-sized encrusted goat cheeses - oh my - the selection exquisite - not encyclopedic - beautifully edited, well chosen.  And there was one that I just fell in love with - Pérac - runny, fragrant, flavorful, and unpasteurized (the cheese equivalent of bootleg at the time, a bit on the down-low given some wacky, trumped-up attack on unpasteurized cheeses going on at the time).

I adored this cheese and now and again over the course of several years treated myself to it, a little, hardly palm-sized round hovering around $8-10. Then 9/11 happened, except that on 9/10 I'd switched jobs and as of that date commuted from Brooklyn to Fordham Plaza in the Bronx (nightmare). The following summer I was still commuting to the Bronx, and the office acquired a summer intern from France, the charming, game and slightly clueless Anne-Lise. My office-friend Xio'a took her under her maternal wing, and the three of us became good friends. One day Anne-Lise and I got to talking about cheese, I mentioned Pérac and she about blanched and swooned and declared it her favorite. So the following day or the day after, I walked up leafy brownstoned Clinton Street to this beautiful little French deli and was delighted to order the cheese from the French proprietor. And - now I don't know why I did this, I bought crackers instead of a baguette - but you know, sometimes a Really Good Baguette is Hard to Find - so instead I bought a box of good crackers, probably those ubiquitous table-water ones.

I made a bit of a spread in the conference room on the 5th floor of the wretched Fordham Plaza office - not many people in the office, and f'em anyway, really the show was for the French intern Anne-Lise and co-conspirator Xio'a -- well, and whoever else was friendly to us. Anne-Lise loved the Pérac but sniffed - in France we would never have cheese with crackers - with bread only.

Ah, well. I tried. And so, my dearest darling, I warmed my hands with a really beautiful baguette today, and thought of you, and melted brie, and devoured it,

and the rain is pouring down, and at quarter-to-six it's so dark I need my desk lamp, and Penelope is asleep on a ruby-colored cushion by my feet

(and I'm thinking it wasn't a Peter Gabriel concert I had seen all those many years ago at Carnegie Hall - now I'm thinking it was Phil Collins)

darling, so much love and very many kisses

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bon soir, mon chérie. Probably already I have made a spelling, gender agreement, or accent mark error. (Mon + cherie - should that be cheri, since you're male? But that doesn't look right. Or is a dear always a female dear, no matter the Jean Doe). I was abysmal at French, despite all the middle-, high-school and even college years that I struggled with it. Generally things come very easily to me - or they don't. Geometry and French - not. And yet I love both. I especially love French culture, and consider myself perhaps French in spirit, more so than Anglophile anyway. That could well be the Polish in me.

I went to the movies this afternoon (Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts) and laughed when the ever-charming Javier Bardem character explains how he gave up on proper names and varied endearments to refer to all his loved ones - lovers, children - simply as "darling."

Rainy all day and now it's pouring out, audible in the aerie, rain streaming down, wind blowing. I'm enjoying the inclement weather - what is oppressive months on end in the long winter makes for a delightful change in summer. But still there are shades of autumn, though I would not go so far as to say, with regard to the last sliver of a peach cake I made a few days ago, which I ate along with my morning cup of delicious Strongtrees coffee, that "each bite [was] a tiny farewell." Okay, Ms. Reichl, now I know you're baiting your Bourdain-crossed alter ego, I should get around to see what he did with that. Ping pong.

Ping pong. Played it a lot as a kid, table set up in the garage. There was a brief scene in the movie today where kids are batting a tiny ball across a green tabled field - India I think, not Italy or Bali. And the12534's into ping pong (or was that me, wishing one Saturday morning for a game to get started? No matter - both of us are for sure.) And - remarkably - the remarkable Mr. Charyn wrote a whole nonfiction book on the subject of Ping Pong. I really must check that out. Very much a confluence, more so for me, these days, than of hummingbirds...

[Went off on a riff about hummingbirds, which I've cut and pasted onto Word, and that I'll work on separately as a separate post.]

Darling - oh, I don't know what to say. It took a bit of piecing clues together to figure out where in Europe you "had" to be, and that was hours after the earlier part of the afternoon when I sat in the movie theatre vicariously (Julia Roberts' character's shadow self) exploring picturesque Roman streets and devouring exquisite pasta dishes, wishing all the while that I was there with you. There was a character in the movie, in the India part, who sort of looks like you, what you might look like now (or perhaps 10 years from now) - well, more like you than James Taylor - now that resemblance, which the doe-like Julia Roberts character exasperatedly says he looks like, I didn't see.

Sleep well, my dearest. I hope you're having a wonderful time - truly - OMG, you're in Paris! Revel in it, especially after what you've been through. But for now - midnight for you - hush, quiet, kisses, darkness, soft sheets, stillness, silence - sweet dreams, darling.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I have a new perspective on the house I live in which seems to me after this afternoon to be in better shape than I was giving it credit for, despite two cartoned bathtubs having sat in the so-called "dining room" for the last five years. Things could be worse, much worse. D scoped out a job this afternoon across the river, in an unfinished new house in the mountains (I went along for the ride). What a mess. From what I gather the house has been in construction for three years, and it's unliveable. Plus it's stuck in a very remote spot - I don't really understand how anyone would have thought it would be a good idea to build a house in this remote spot. I mean, people do, but it just doesn't seem to be happening with this one. By comparison, I felt as if D & I were geniuses buying this fixer-upper on the "right" side of the river. Sorry, the other side looks really scruffy to me, and what a very, very odd demographic mix - Orthodox Jews, toothless hillbillies, and weekending yuppies. I probably sound unkind, I don't mean to. I don't know the people at all, D's client. I just don't understand it.

Anyway, when I saw the poured concrete floor and no baseboards and no stairs (only a ladder) to the second floor on which will be sited the kitchen (who wants to lug groceries upstairs?) and no yard for young children to kick a ball around and bears in the woods and situated on a dead end road that's closed after November 30 and reopens - who knows? missed that part - Memorial Day? - and they like to ski? How are they going to access the house, by airlift? Plus it was cheap new construction - looked like it was made of Lego's. I wasn't that into the Lego's aesthetic even as a toddler.

Our house still has issues, for sure, but now I'm appreciating the hard, meticulous work D did, even if it's not completed. Like this house today - some contractor who cut and ran installed a tile floor but with less than (as we could judge) 1/16th of an inch spacing in which to grout. The tile wasn't laid properly at all. D's going to have to recommend to the homeowner, whom he senses to be perfectionist, that the floor be ripped up, started over, done right. There's no way to grout, I don't think - and even if D tries - no perfectionist will be happy.

I glanced around the downstairs, wasn't about to climb a ladder to look at the unfinished upstairs, took a stroll down the driveway, sat in the car, read a few more pages of Benfey, and went back into the house to read the exact quote that I read yesterday and amused me very much. Benfey starts his chapter on Henry Ward Beecher by tantalizingly alluding to the "biggest sex scandal in the history of American religion." Wow - that's saying a lot. Me - I know nothing. I try to follow the crumbs on the trail (don't make me Wiki H.W.B. - already had to google him to get an image - oh so that's what he looked like?) - the scandal occurred "a decade later" than 1862, the contents of Beecher's pockets - as ever for him - "the occasion of great trouble". So Benfey drops this bombshell - and then proceeds to talk about everything BUT the scandale - all fascinating stuff, but come on, you introduced that gun in Act 1 - I'm impatient for it now! So a few fascinating but beside-the-point pages ensue, about Beecher's sensibility and oratorical skills
In a typical sermon, Beecher would suddenly turn to the congregation and pose an unsettling question: "Have you ever, as a part of your obedience to Christ, taken time to sit down and think what birds and flowers mean?" To the surprised relief of many of his auditors and the chagrin of his rivals, he raised doubts about the existence of hell. An electric presence in the pulpit and the leading figure in the liberalization of the Congregational Church, Beecher conferred on his eager parishioners his own florid and luxurious tastes. Instead of the stark, dark pews of the western churches, Beecher filled his church with sunlight and music, palm fronds and cascading flowers.
and abolitionist feelings and use of gemstones to self-soothe and something about Abraham Lincoln and an impending civil war -- and then I arrive at the line that if the lovely Laura Linney were playing me - her eyes would pop to expressive effect.

I got out of the car, went into the hull of the house and yelled up the ladder to D so that I could read aloud to him the line that I had mentioned on the slalom course drive up the mountain pass.
His organ was said to be the largest in any American church.
Torture, torture, torture - everywhere.

Kisses, darling.

***
Over the river and through the woods...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dearest, beautiful autumnal day, cool and sunny. I tossed laundry onto the clothes umbrella to dry. The buddleia's grown through it and I felt too lazy to haul the big blue Ikea bag of wet jeans down the porch steps to hang it properly. Besides it was fun to toss it to the winds! I am not looking to collect a prize for neatly hung laundry.

If this post already is loopy it's because I feel sleepy yet too wakeful to shut my eyes for a few minutes and reboot. And maybe I'm written out for the day, since this morning I ended up editing yesterday's post quite a bit.

Am still puzzling over the mysterious "United States" hits that started when they did, and ended when they did. I believe you - or are you constrained? Mad, mad mission.

Have been reading a few pages a day of the Benfey book, Secret Life of Hummingbirds - no, that's not the title, but the book's in the other room and I'm not getting up to fetch it. It's quite an unusual book, tracing trajectories and connections and coincidences and correspondences among a set of disparate (but not random) characters, linked in part by their fascination with hummingbirds (and all that that implies of a cosmic view). It's nonfiction and scholarly, but Benfey has a wonderfully imaginative, poetic take, drawing these connections. He elucidates them in fascinating little narratives as he moves - hummingbird-style - from one subject to the next. It's not yet another dull linear biography (I do find most biographies dull, I'm afraid, and tend to read them Borges-style, consulting the index and reading pages at random as my fancy takes me. I may, over the years, have actually read most of the 700-plus-page The Power Broker this way). Not only that, but it continually occurs to me as I read that if Benfey didn't follow the hummingbird leads and other correspondences as he traces them - this book, those connections - the lines between the dots - simply wouldn't exist. Who would know? Not even the actors in the book themselves. The connections had to be, on some level, discovered, invented, collected, coalesced. They had to be written. I don't mean to imply at all that the book is less than scholarly - I have complete faith that the book is meticulously researched - it's that I appreciate the innovative, expansive, and imaginative approach. More "truthful" than those dull biographies I try dutifully to slog through - as Charyn said (paraphrasing from notes I jotted down listening to a radio interview) - "biographies are voiceless, like strange mirrors - you can't glimpse that far - I wanted to go right down the rabbit hole."

Also as I read the Benfey little connections "ping" for me - I have a bit of a personal history involving hummingbirds, and just now I read about how Henry Ward Beecher used to be quite lulled and pacified by simply staring at the beautiful light and colors refracted from gemstones he kept in his pocket for their tonic effects. I instantly recalled how as a young girl I had a tiny emerald ring that had been given to me at birth, that on rare occasions I was allowed to wear. Some of those occasions were Sunday mornings, when my parents would kick us out of the house and send us to church up the hill. I don't remember clearly, but it wouldn't surprise me if I negotiated that in exchange for going to church I be allowed to wear the ring. So I'd sit in the church pews (while Father Frog-in-the-Throat rattled on) gazing at the gemstone, putting it up to my eye, enjoying the tiny gleaming green facets, seeing how they reflected the brilliant stained glass windows that lined either side of the small church, and the sparkling chandeliers (I believe) above. Between that, and the fascinating human interest of the point in the mass when parishioners would form a line to take Holy Communion - I loved that part, the people-watching, women in fusty coats with whole dead animals - foxes, weasels, I don't know what else, but dead animals with faces draped along a woman's shawl collar - it was fascinating and horrifying both.

The rare occasions my parents made an appearance at church they never took communion and I never understood why. Nor did I understand why people would take it. I was pretty happy to make my First Communion, mostly for the pretty white dress and probably a sweet cake, but a few years later I didn't make it through to Confirmation, having at that point (6th grade? 7th?) declared myself an agnostic, or Unitarian, or existentialist, or all of the above, and left the dark boring Church one beautiful afternoon such as today when the would-be confirmees were being tutored, shrugged it off to go out and greet a glorious, glorious day.

Signing off for now, darling. I hope all is well with you. Many, many hugs and very much love.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Still, gray day, up in the aerie, radio downstairs on low. Tackled brimming carton of local plum tomatoes today. Halved about half, placed in various pans and a cookie sheet, drizzled with E.V. olive oil, scattered with unpeeled cloves of local garlic (so fresh & pungent), and roasted at 225 for three hours. I have a beautiful supply of caramelized, concentrated tomato essence now. I ran out of pans and oven space, so I dipped the rest of the tomatoes in batches in boiling water, in order to loosen the skins. I'll purée the heaping bowls of tomatoes tomorrow. It is a pleasure to put by local produce like this, and what a gift in bleak midwinter.

One of the two grapevines that we've been training to clamber up either side of an eyesore of an outbuilding has produced a small cluster of fruit, ripening to purple, and I popped one while watering - tart lubricious mouthfeel with unpleasantly gelatinized seed. Well, we were growing the vine for its screening qualities.

Yesterday afternoon I thought of the young Danish chef who reminds me of Emily Dickinson as I tried to figure out about dinner. Every time I roast a whole chicken I save the raw liver in a container in the freezer. I now had, defrosted, enough to sauté for a main course, along with a farmstand cabbage and an onion. But what else to round out the meal, complement the ingredients? I was out of potatoes, besides we'd had enough starch (bread with breakfast, pasta at lunch) for the day. Lettuce, tomatoes, and zucchini didn't seem to go, or I wasn't in the mood. Even if I'd had the car I didn't want to go to a market or farmstand just to get - to get - well, what, anyway? And then I thought - apples! Earlier in the day I had looked out the door to the juliet balcony of what used to be our bedroom and noticed that the fruit on the picturesque ancient tree was beginning to ripen, ornamental red globes brilliantly coloring against the foliage and ink dark wood. I threw on a tee shirt and jeans (as a rule I keep clothes handy), marched up the driveway, hung a left at the front lawn, crossed the garden (curious cats in meandering tow), arrived at the tree, stood on tiptoes to reach up, grabbed the edge of a small branch on which clustered a promising reddening bunch, successfully captured it, pulled, and picked off small, gnarled fruit, gathering 8 or 10 apples in all (enough for dinner, I should think), which I held with my palms against my chest as I turned on my heel and began my triumphant stroll home, treasure and delicious future side dish in tow. It was at that point that I thought of René Redzepi, the creative chef. I know, it's almost laughable that I'm psyched that I simply went into the front yard and picked apples, while he is a master herbarianist and mushroomer, venturing into Danish meadows and wooded wilds to forage all sorts of unexpected native herbaceous and fungal edibles. I'm glad he's reclaiming that lost art.

I have an uncle, for years now incapacitated (I wish I knew Latin - I may mean this literally) with Alzheimers. But before WWII erupted (zanim Wojna wybuchła, exploded), he spent his boyhood in the Polish countryside - and learned his mushrooms. Now (well - not now, but forty years ago, say when I was ten, around 1970 - and what was for him many many years after his boyhood and indeed the war) I was visiting my young cousins and my Babcia and my aunt and uncle at their lovely, unexpectedly Prairie-style house in a leafy commuter suburb of New Jersey, and Wujek had just returned on foot from a weekend stroll in the town park, bringing back with him a prized clutch of wild mushrooms that he had gathered. I was amazed, and a little wary - but I trusted my uncle, a total rock. My awareness of mushrooms was limited but precise. Mushrooms came either in plastic-wrapped containers at the A&P or they grew in the wild - but the bloodless enticing eruptions found at the roots of a tree, for example, might be Deadly Poisonous and only an Expert could tell for sure. As was perhaps quite typical in the pre-war day, my uncle was indeed such an Expert, having spent a boyhood gainfully playing outdoors, exploring field and forest, and surefootedly picking up the knowledge along the way. I was prepared to believe that he knew his Polish wild mushrooms, but did this qualify him to judge New Jersey's? He laughed and assured me he knew what he was doing (probably he overcommented - he was a bit tedious and longwinded as a raconteur - a family joke being that he wouldn't just tell you about marigolds - but about the history of the word marigold.) Someone in the kitchen, my Babcia or perhaps my aunt, sliced and sautéed the morsels to perfection in a bit of butter, and seated squeezed in on a bench among my cousins, tanned as nuts, my siblings, my beloved Babcia (I may well have been pressed against her wonderfully cushy self), my uncle at the "head" of the round, crowded picnic table in the latticed and shaded alcove, who having been presented with his ritual glass of hot tea embarked on one of his Midday Rambles, at some point in the midst of that delightful meal, which featured numerous little courses and side dishes, bowls passed all around, and shouts into the kitchen, I managed to score my first mouthful, the most delicious bite of wild mushroomy wildness - explosive mindblowing sumptuous depth charges.

I was age 10 at the time. Soon after - a few years - the August I reached age 16 I met you.

My uncle, the rock, when it came to wild mushrooms (and just being a rock) - he rocked.

Will post now, without editing. But reserve the right to come back early in the morning and fix apostrophes and accent marks - little tweaks - nothing major. This is the main meal - if you return - it won't be that suddenly halibut replaced cod. It'll be more that that --- oh, I don't know -

kisses for you, for now, wherever you are



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good morning darling. Gray, cool morning. I'm a little out of sorts. I woke up too early, before 6, got up, and now it's after nine and I feel tired again. Also a bit anxious. Also just a bit unhinged, a feeling of having been turned inside out. Things are not as they appear. Yesterday I weeded the little woodland garden. It's situated in the west- and north-facing ell of the house. Penelope (the cat) kept me company and the radio was playing inside the house. I could hear it through the open windows - from the living room, one of whose windows faces west, music spilling into the garden where I worked, and also from the solarium, in which D installed a second set of speakers, whose open window faces north - also spilling forth the music. I am unable to see in stereo, but realized as I crouched and weeded that within the ell I could hear in stereo, and that here, suddenly, the living room and the solarium were very proximate whereas, if I'm in the house, it's a bit of a walk to go from the living room to the solarium - I must go through the dining room, pass through a doorway, walk through the kitchen to the doorway of the solarium, and cross through the long room - its northfacing window is at the far end. So as I weeded I felt a sense of space having telescoped, inverted, compressed - windows, portals - and wondered, not for the first time, if that's how the universe is structured, that other worlds are extremely proximate, a matter of perception.

I'm glad you're back - but since you've returned "United States" with the iPhone has disappeared. True, it's only been a day - but I got accustomed to his visits. Very strange. Back in June I decided it was you - based in part, I kid you not, on a couple of songs KZE played one night (when "United States" first appeared), entitled Alaska and Satellite Sky. I decided (tongue-in-cheek - I'm not entirely crazy) to take them to be signals or clues that it was you. I didn't literally believe it - but absent other input - why not? As far as I know, KZE has never played either of those songs before or since (now, it's possible that they have - but not that I've happened to notice anyway, and I often look at their playlists).

(On this morning's playlist - Planes and Satellites.)

So now I am feeling the weirdest sense of divided loyalties - love as always for ever-removed you, and a sudden retroactive fondness for Mr. iPhone - who is now, as revealed, a separate entity. I feel certain it's a Mister, and I have an inkling of who it might be, though my track record for correctly guessing is abysmal - best leave it to pleasant ambiguity.

D's at work now but will be back soon and I'll go for my walk. I'm sure it will do me good, clear my head. Clear my head of cobwebs I wanted to write - and indeed I noticed at the conservation area yesterday morning (I was there early, around 8), that the spiderwebs are back, galleries of them. A teflon-coated fly could I suppose go the long way, step along the circumference of a web. Or take a shortcut to the opposite side - traverse the windows.

I'm glad I gave you Borges' Labyrinths. Did you ever read it? I read this apposite bit from the introduction, on someone's blog yesterday:
We are transported into a realm where fact and fiction, the real and the unreal, the whole and the part, the highest and the lowest, are complementary aspects of the same continuous being: a realm where ‘any man is all men’, where ‘all men who repeat a line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare’. The world is a book and the book is a world, and both are labyrinthine and enclose enigmas designed to be understood and participated in by man. We should note that this all-comprising intellectual unity is achieved precisely by the sharpest and most scandalous confrontation of opposites.
All who repeat a line of Dickinson are Emily Dickinson.
I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--

Kisses, dearest. Have a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hello dearest. Up in the aerie, sipping rosé, considering your cover design, musing, catching little fragments from today's mental travels that relate. Just now a David Gray song came on, A Moment Changes Everything. He's a brilliant lyricist, the phrase "visions looming in our heads" popped, and I jotted it down. I glance at my notes from listening a while back to a radio interview with the Secret Life of E.D. author, Jerome Charyn, who said of E.D. "she traveled inside her head." This morning on the NYRB blog I read an essay by Tony Judt, the scholarly interpreter of modern European history, who died, last week, of Lou Gehrig's disease. In the essay (here's the link) he views what he dubs "articulacy," the ability to express one's self clearly - rhetorical flexibility - as "not merely evidence of intelligence but intelligence itself." He is careful to note, however, that verbal pyrotechnics can be dazzling but vacuous - evidence of polish rather than of smarts. But he views widespread "inarticulacy" as more unequivocally suggestive of "a shortcoming of thought," confusion of words bespeaking a confusion of ideas, or (more so in our culture, in his view) insecurity: "we speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously. Rather than suffering from the onset of 'newspeak,' we risk the rise of 'nospeak'.”

(He's too kind - so many people are led by the nose these days - they don't know what they think - tweets all over the "landscape" don't help - they're too often less haiku than regurgitations into the mouths of hungry starling beaks - but who needs more starlings? Hummingbirds!)

Judt continues, heartbreakingly,
I am more conscious of these considerations now than at any time in the past. In the grip of a neurological disorder, I am fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them. They still form with impeccable discipline and unreduced range in the silence of my thoughts—the view from inside is as rich as ever—but I can no longer convey them with ease. Vowel sounds and sibilant consonants slide out of my mouth, shapeless and inchoate even to my close collaborator. The vocal muscle, for sixty years my reliable alter ego, is failing. Communication, performance, assertion: these are now my weakest assets. Translating being into thought, thought into words, and words into communication will soon be beyond me and I shall be confined to the rhetorical landscape of my interior reflections.
Rhetorical landscape of my interior reflections - nice phrase, I turn it over (in the metaphorical landscape of my mind). So I consider the elements of the cover design, and they don't mesh (for me) with "landscape." The images convey artifact and externalized thought, especially of technology, but not rhetorical or metaphorical landscape. Perhaps the blue background with the faintly traced geometric lines (please don't tell me that that grid is representative of human thought processes, I don't believe the mind is as ordered as that - though it's capable of focusing to produce such a grid). I wonder, then, if the background could be employed to imaginatively contribute to the concept of "landscape." I don't know what the image would be - perhaps an image of art - a prehistoric depiction of landscape (if there is such a thing - Lascaux horse paintings?), Darwin's handwriting, your handwriting, a cartographic representation - map & legend - imaginary, legendary - a mental map. An opportunity, possibly, too, to include "art" (not just technology) in the conceptualization. So maybe, in sum, I see the cover as a little too mechanistic, brutalistic even. I know - that's a very strong word (I don't mean to be blunt myself), but - perhaps from my perspective as a woman, or at any rate as a person with a range of artistic/emotional/intuitive responses - the effect of the cover, to me, is quite blunt and, well, artless, in the stark images, isolated from one another and punctuated with all block-cap text. (Is or isn't the archaeological record either gender-neutral, or gender-specific - but not exclusively "male"?) So that is my two cents - from your unsolicited focus group of one. Either that - or change the title.

***
Other than that - love and kisses, truly, dearest. I've been at a bit of low ebb today as the tide in my mental seascape turned (no joke - it was rough learning that U.S. wasn't you though today I could totally laugh about it). I'm glad Qwest at 184.96 is back. Now a song on KZE - ... there's a lot of jam bands in Colorado.

Peach?

***
P.S. Now it's an unsolicited focus group of two - I had D take a look at the cover and read the post. He thinks, lose the main title already, go with the "arch. of thought" wording - elevate it. That's the original, starkly arresting, incredibly exciting phrase - it should be in the main title! (Plus, I wasn't crazy about the depiction or placement of the hewn stone - too redolent ...) Signed, Anna (Mrs.) DeWintour

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dear friend

***
Belle to J, 24 June 2010
Dear J - Am wondering - are you able to access my blog? Have rec'd page hits that at first I thought were from you (given that they started the day after Nome) but yesterday, to the plummeting detriment of my mood, thought weren't from you after all. Now I'm less sure, in this age, perhaps the satellite signal gets directed to NYC...

Anyway, could you let me know (if you get this message, that is) if you're able to check in on my blog? It is like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - my knowing that you're reading it has an effect! A crucial positive one that is - if you're not reading it, then I'm inclined to perhaps discontinue it because the impetus goes straight out of it for me.

I hope all is well with you. If you have a chance to drop me a line (an extra one, that is) - then, how is it going for you up there, so far? I hope it is all beyond tolerable - enjoyable even. All my love, Belle
***
J to Belle, 16 August 2010
Dear Belle, I have at last returned from Alaska--I flew in early this morning and was still on the beach at Cape E~ less than 24 hours ago. As it turned out, the promised internet connection through a satellite phone wasn't workable, and I had no internet access after June 17. I did check your blog from Nome that morning, but have been unable to access it again until now.

The field work was successful, but was exhausting, especially because I was in charge of a large and complex operation and had various personnel problems to deal with (I had to send one person home in late July). When a large number of people is stuck in a remote place together for weeks and months, problems are bound to develop, because there is no escape from the group (it's dangerous to wander off on your own).

I hope you've been well, had a good summer. Being in a remote place for a long period of time--as beautiful as it was--makes one appreciate small and simple things like a hot bath and a glass of wine... Love, J.
***
Belle to J, 16 August 2010
Dear J, Welcome back, glad you're back safe & sound. I'm feeling like an idiot at the moment. All summer long I thought you were able to access my blog. I received your Nome hit, and a day or two later I started to get hits once or twice a day from what registered as "United States" from someone's iPhone. At first I didn't think it was you because the IP address seemed to be from NYC. But then I thought, well maybe that's the mystery of satellite service - you look at my blog on Cape E~ and it pings to a satellite in more or less my region.

So I wrote to you (that is, posted daily) faithfully every day this summer - I didn't miss more than a day or two. I had liked to think that I was providing you with a tiny bit of enjoyment. Guess not. Guess I have a fan with an iPhone in the "United States." (Also I seem to have a faithful reader in Denmark.)

Well, I missed you, I don't know if you missed me. Oh well.

Sorry to hear about the personnel problems - hardly a surprise under the circumstances. One of my posts this summer related to how I imagined your situation to be a cross between Sartre's No Exit and the Survivor show where someone gets voted - or kicked - off the island - which, as you say, happened...

Enjoy that hot bath & glass of wine. I'd love to hear more details of your trip if/when you get a chance. Saw a post... written by your camp manager - I really enjoyed it. I certainly hope that he worked out for you - such a crucial role.

Really, that wasn't you all summer? What a bummer, my mind is going through major revisioning now. I'm sorry about that - I like to think you would have enjoyed them. Love, Belle
***
Thank you, "United States"

***
89 years before the day Belle was born...
E.D. to T. W. Higginson, 16 August 1870

Dear friend
I will be at Home and glad.
I think you said the 15th. The incredible never surprises us because it is the incredible.
***
image: Bland House, after Edward Hopper, by Elise (5th grade), 2010 [via]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hello darling, I wonder where you are and hope all is well with you (kisses). Up in the aerie, wearing jeans and a top - it's quite cool and gray today, shades of fall, and now light rain. Took the eggplant I roasted the other day and made a big bowl of baba ghanoush, a purée seasoned with tahini, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh lemon juice, to which I added quartered cherry tomatoes from a stand down the road, parsley from a raised bed here, and minced red onion. Put in a disc of True Blood to watch while slicing peaches, but have completely lost interest in the series so inserted a DVD of You Can Count on Me, with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. It's filmed in the Catskills, so the views are so familiar to me, and it's just a wonderful movie - over the years I've easily seen it a dozen times and it's fresh every time. Wonderful Matthew Broderick too, playing a complete asshole of a boss. Enjoyed the movie while slicing a big box of peaches - maybe 50 or more pieces of fruit - that was $5 at the farmstand yesterday. I froze most of it in big baggies - this winter there will be peach pie and peach crostata and stewed peaches to have with morning oatmeal. I am like a squirrel socking away produce, but it's so worthwhile - fresh, local, and very economical. Produce is inexpensive now - but supermarket peppers in January? Often $4/lb. or more. Now I'm buying entire cartons for a few dollars.

I am feeling like quite the hausfrau today, what with food prep and the neighbor's chickens spending so much time in our garden. They crack me up. They flock together and cluck nonstop as if commenting on their surroundings or a tasty bug. They're quite beautiful. I snapped a picture today - not a very good one. I hope to have very beautiful photos in the near future - D gave me a Nikon digital camera for my birthday. It's teeny. I don't know how to use it yet, and it needs batteries and programming and - well, I'm very grateful that D will figure it out and explain the basics to me - which is all I ever wish to know with sophisticated technology. Point and click. 

Wonderful chance encounters with wildlife over the last several days. At the conservation area, in a wooded path, a young stag (the beginnings of antlers) stood on the side and regarded me and I spoke to it and it stood and listened - and it was strange - I almost had the feeling it was checking me out! Too many Greek myths. Or maybe it's that time of year for them. Another day, on a different wooded path, I virtually skidded to a halt when I saw a long, thin, black and yellow snake motionless on the path. I gasped audibly and the snake slithered away - quite a remarkable sight, all moving S-curves, sort of sexy, reminded me of Gwynnie's sashaying. The snake sashayed into the shrubbery. I laughed - who was more startled, I of it, or it of me? Then, here at the house, there are the funny brown chickens, and also a Zulu warrior of an amazing large spider that's strung up an invisible (but present) web in the perennial border that fronts the porch. I see it when I water the garden. I posted an image of the very same type of spider several years ago in my old blog - let me see if I can dig out that image and post it.


Darling, now the rain is coming down in earnest and if Ruth Reichl in her tweet this morning reported that the air was still with not a leaf moving - I look out the window now and see not the pines but that the ash and maple are dancing.

I hope all is well with you and that your journey is as smooth as it could possibly be, with every connection going just right. (Many years ago, when I traveled quite a lot for work, once or twice I endured horrible weather-related delays, a whole overnight once spent in an airport, due to a blizzard somewhere that messed up the whole system.)

Anyway, it's August so that shouldn't be an issue. But I can imagine that at this point you'd like to be beamed back, but no, one must go through the process, unless one is, say, in Air Force One, one of the perks for sure of being President. Oh well, anyway, I am thinking of you and loving you, and if you have to camp out for 23 minutes while they board whoever first - well, let me put an arm around you, give you a kiss you on the cheek, and see if you'd like anything else, say a sip of rosé. Oh I know, you're probably pretty grizzly, in need of a hot shower, haircut and a shave, maybe not so much in the mood for smiles. I don't mind, darling, I love you anyway. Well I myself have gotten too warm and have pinned my hair up and popped my top. Now there's a beautiful ambient sound of steady rain and the gray gloaming. So very many kisses, my darling love. Godspeed, adieu.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Good morning darling, beautiful early morning, delicious to slowly wake, pull up soft covers, savor the coolness, shut my eyes, listen to radio on low, drift from song to song, fall into evanescent dreams, surface with thoughts of you, reach for a pillow, put my arms around, yeah you, you're the color of the sun

Hours earlier, around three-thirty, I awoke and felt sufficiently energetic to go outside in the hope of glimpsing the Perseids. (The peak was the night before, but it was overcast, just as well I slept through.) I didn't see any meteors but am glad I stepped out all the same. It was pitch dark, I didn't have a flashlight (not on this lark, I'm not prepared for emergencies either), I didn't want to trip over the garden hose, or a cat, or - lately - one of the neighbor's four peripatetic egglaying chickens that keep Papillon-style finding a gap in the fence and wandering over to the frog pond marsh where our cats, incredulous, regard them with seemingly benign curiosity, grateful, possibly, that the chickens eat tics so that the cats don't have to be Frontline'd. Also, we ran out of cat food yesterday, the four cats had a tribunal and I kept them from laying siege on me by treating them to bits of roast chicken - so our cats, confronted with chickens - live, thinking poultry on our side of the fence - may have collectively decided that they prefer them roasted.

I adjusted my eyes to the dark. Gwynnie and Claire, the bonobo girls, were dark shapes on the driveway. They were so incredulous and overjoyed that I was outside at that hour (or any hour) that they started rolling around, wrestling and making out. It was a mild clear night. I stood in my light robe and looked up at the vast heavens and the grainy Milky Way and necklaces of starlight all around, constellations I can recognize even in a groggy state - Big Dipper certainly - and I thought of you way over there under the same firmament that hasn't - what with lack of astronomical twilights - had a starfilled sky all summer, but perhaps wondrous compensations such as Northern lights and the sound of the lapping sea. I thought of you as under the same canopied heavens and sent you all my love.

I love standing outside in the pitch dark and looking up at the gable-roofed house outlined against the sky. It's an old house, built 1885, and there is something so timeless it. My sense of scale shifts. I'm aware of myself regarding it, the house whose gray aluminum sided exterior is indifferent at best. By day I don't like to look at it. In fact I don't like to be out on the exposed driveway during the day. It's too bright and sunny, very harsh. Last night I thought of E.D. and how she used to garden at night. It's viewed as one of her eccentricities but it makes perfect sense to me; the night, with mild temperatures, starlight, and maybe moonlight, is so gentle and enveloping, easy on the skin, on the senses, on one's nerves, optic and other.

On a dark night the specter of the house magically transforms. It is beautiful, reduced to elemental shapes, like a child's drawing, or a folk art painting, or a neatly constructed origami structure, ingenious, ingenuous sharp angles and simple folds, upstairs windows faintly aglow.

I spent some time on my slow computer, and also at the library, trying to come up with a painterly image to include to illustrate what I see in my mind's eye. Google: Hopper house night sky; Magritte house night sky; then DiChirico; then, haplessly, Balthus. In the end I couldn't find the right visual - perhaps if I get a decent digital camera nighttime shots will be possible, though I don't expect miracles - a scene such as that might have to be painted. Here then so I've tried, my darling, in so many incorporeal words.

I imagine that you must be on your way back, the beach vacated for aeons again once more, and I wish you a wonderful journey back. All my love, as always, dearest. And darling, if you liked the Bringdown (I imagine that was you), here's another Bob Schneider song, 40 Dogs (Romeo & Juliet), that KZE played a little while ago that I just adore. If it had played that afternoon on Warren Street - well, I would have blogged about that. The sound quality is way better in this particular video.

You're the color of the moon, you're the color of the night... I can tell you where we're gonna be when the whole world falls into the sea we'll be living together happily...

Friday, August 13, 2010

From Christopher Benfey, A Summer of Hummingbirds, pp. 249-50
... the considerable job of sorting through Dickinson's manuscripts, in preparation for the landmark edition of her poems published in 1955, went to Jay Leyda. It was Leyda, a scholar and artist of remarkable range, who painstakingly unpacked the contents of Dickinson's desk, discovering along the way her own hoarding practices and constructed manuscripts. Leyda found a poem written on the back of a faded yellow Chocolat Meunier candy wrapper. He found a manuscript about a bird formed of two parts of an envelope pinned together to resemble a bird. He found a poem about a house written beneath the rooflike arc of another envelope. And, of course, he found the Mauprat collage... Leyda, by temperament, training, and travel, was attuned to the visual and tactile allure of these manuscripts... he knew who among American artists would be most interested in Dickinson's own radical experiments... Leyda recognized an affinity between Emily Dickinson and Joseph Cornell - the "small, rickety infinitudes" of her poems and his boxes. It was an affinity that Cornell himself had already begun to sense when he and Leyda began their exchange regarding Dickinson's radical manuscripts.
***
I shouldn't have been surprised - but was - to read that E.D. created time & genre-busting art objects: hybrid letter-poem-collages. Beyond "merely" writing incorporeal poems, beyond penning intimate letters, beyond arranging dried flowers on album herbarium pages, beyond tucking a poem or posy within the fold of a letter - in one iteration she precisely affixed snippets of text clipped from a Harper's beneath an uncanceled postage stamp on the center of a page, and wrote a poem (with variants) around the miniscule collage. I had no idea. I wish I could find an image of the "Mauprat collage" on line to show you - it's very cool. Here's an image of the 1869 three-cent stamp she used.


I have oriented the stamp here as Dickinson did on her manuscript page. Benfey writes,
Dickinson placed the stamp so that the train is traveling upward like a rocket, the smoke cascading down. One has to remember how unfamiliar trains were in the 1870s, and how fast, marking time with their "horrid-hooting stanza," as Dickinson wrote. The blue stamp in the middle of the page resembles a window, and through her own bedroom window Dickinson could actually see the locomotive - named for her father - arriving in Amherst...
***
[Ed.: Actually, that confuses me a bit. "The" locomotive depicted on the stamp was named after her father? Or was "a" locomotive (in service to Amherst) named for him?]

***
The typescript clipped from Harper's - the upper scrap, slanting upward to the left, reads George Sand, the one below it, slanting down (but at less radical an angle - though perhaps time has taken a toll on precise degrees) is of the title of her novel that had recently been published in Boston (though it's unlikely that E.D. had yet read it) - Mauprat. As Benfey writes, "The words 'of bandits a' are legible beneath Mauprat, part of a sentence [in Harper's] describing the plot of the novel: "Mauprat is brought up among a company of bandits and robbers, relics of the feudal past."

And I'm saying nothing of the poem E.D. penned around it, including a list of alternate words, possibilities, co-existent variants. One of the lines reads, We were all inmates of one place... I consult my Complete Poems of E.D. It's #1167. I'll copy it below, along with the variants (in italics) from her handwritten manuscript...

***
Benfey writes,
George Sand was herself a famous writer of letters, one voice in perhaps the best-known exchange of love letters in nineteenth-century Europe. Her correspondence with the poet Alfred de Musset entranced readers, and demonstrated for a whole generation how a love affair could become a work of art. It was a fantasy that Emily Dickinson herself had indulged in throughout her mature life. Her "[M]aster letters" seem, in retrospect, experiments in enacting a grand passion on the page, and so do her late letters to Judge Otis Lord, with her careful insistence that the real life of the affair was verbal, not "corporeal."

That last line - with Miss Dickinson ensconced, on this point, in her century, and I in mine, it's here where she & I ("New Woman" 2.0 and then some) part company - I most assuredly like my cake and eat it too, in my corporeal quest to resolve not the hopelessly structurally divided brain (& who'd want to - source of all kinds of creative tension!) but the unrelated, false, unnatural and unnecessary mind/body split...

***
1167

Alone and in a Circumstance
Reluctant to be told
A spider on my reticence
Assiduously crawled
deliberately
determinately
impertinently

And so much more at Home than I
Immediately grew
I felt myself a visitor
And hurriedly withdrew

Revisiting my late abode
With articles of claim
I found it quietly assumed
As a Gymnasium
Where Tax asleep and Title off
The inmates of the Air
Perpetual presumption took
As each were special Heir -
If any strike me on the street
I can return the Blow -
If any take my property
According to the Law
The Statute is my Learned friend
But what redress can be
For an offense nor here nor there
So not in Equity -
That Larceny of time and mind
The marrow of the Day
By spider, or forbid it Lord
That I should specify.

Joseph Cornell,
Toward the Blue Peninsula (For Emily Dickinson),
ca. 1953, box construction


Joseph Cornell,
Observations of a Satellite,
1956, box construction
[Cornell referred to this as his "hummingbird collage"]
... If there is a heaven, then it’s the sort of cruel heaven where supposedly we’re so transcended we wouldn’t even care about being together...