creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, October 5, 2012

Writing Spaces

The intensity of the color would drench any writing done here—as indeed it does the music of Verdi, whose villa this was (though perhaps not painted so exuberantly in his time).

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Verdi's Villa, Sant'Agata

Tucson, February 1996

some running horses, mostly tail—

a rooster painted on the square of glass above the sinks (the left now filled with dirt, like a small planter)

a wire curtain, draped with horseshoes, outside the main doorway

painted blue tiles set one by one into the raw adobe of the kitchen

the prints of horseshoes in the adobe kitchen floor

an open door to the rest of the compound—twelve studios

a potter's wheel and a pot of poppies, oriental or Greek

the stations of the cross (how hard his fall was, the third time, the red color of Indians, not much hope)

the wonderful crown for the desert Indians—silver and jeweled sajuaros and turquoise; tiny figures going about their business.  A crown of the sajuaro harvest; a crown of thanksgiving.

the rough wood lintel with ceramic horses or bulls, unshaped, running across it

rough frescos in the wall:  three panels each

rocks painted turquoise in a kind of wash, tumbled slag heaps

the mine shaft doorways, the cross-sections of cactus stem set polished into the floor like polished redwood burls, like flowers or sea creatures

colored metal flowers in the bare branches

cupped ceramic cactus leaves, prickly pear, the size of ping-pong paddles, turquoise blue

rough blue-washed earthen walls (or yellow or pink)

the perfect chapel with twig bars in its adobe belfry; the joyful colors within


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writing Spaces

Writing a life . . .

image:  I'll give credit just as soon as I find the artist's link!

If You Want to Write

You want to write?  Do anything, however menial, to earn a living, except edit or teach. 

Advice I followed to the letter; followed like a lodestar or the Holy Grail.  My favorite writing teacher told me that when I was starting out, and almost thirty years later I’m telling you—I can’t impress on you strongly enough how essential it is to get a job that won’t exhaust your creativity during the day, leave you depleted.  Something like . . . well, making goat cheese, say.  Start small, a couple dozen Nubian goats, those quizzical faces with Roman nose and lop-ears, and that voracious appetite, the way they butt and butt against the slightest resistance.  What better example for a writer?  And the cheeses you will set to curdle in the little molds—the earthy tang of distant rock-bound lands, the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved, the copper and stringed instruments, red clay and peppers, fiery hot and mild, of some great souk in Marrakesh, followed by solitary nights out in the desert with a tribal memory of water and a skiff of stars.  For full-flavored Old Testament language, pithy and fine, ringing with native truths—yes, spend your working hours with the goats.

For good practical prose, though, you might dock ferries.  Keeping a seaman’s eye ahead, gauging the distance left to go before you launch yourself over the breathless yard or so of sea onto the sturdy pier, sure of your footing in your lucky running shoes from freshman track, trusting the land to come to meet you halfway.  You’ll learn to deal with ponderous coils of rope, to pull the boat in after you and tie it in a looping knot around the dock cleat with its salt-worn patina—your large docile thick-skinned beast, a sort of whale or hippo or a floating elephant (think how each of the six blind men knew a different elephant; remember the teaching of Buddha.  How can you weigh a large elephant?  Load it on a boat and draw a line to mark how deep the boat sinks into the water.  Then take out the elephant and load the boat with stones until it sinks to the same depth, and weigh the stones.  How can you weigh a life, or tell a big serious story?  The same way, surely, stone by stone).  Haul your ferry in to shore gladly, hand over hand; just make sure that you fasten it securely so it doesn’t slip away and get up to some mischief in the harbor with the pleasure boats while you’re sneaking a smoke with your mates.  Wear a striped Breton fishing shirt, why not—an element of whimsy never hurts. 

Or okay, so you want to write philosophy, or poems like Merwin, full of clarity and quiet grace?  You must carve doors!  In early morning in your workshop on a good acre of rented land with an artesian well near Tucumcacori, one of the schoolrooms of the original Mission, swept clean as a medieval guild house and shot through with all the light and calm of a Vermeer, study the vastly different characters of different woods, the way they confide in your hands, the contour maps of time drawn on them in unhurried rings—the long, blond grain of Native Hemlock, the rustic backwoods scrawl of Douglas Fir, the golden monastery brown of sacred Burmese Teak, the royal tree, and sometimes for a change African Ayan, South American Chontaquiro.  Planing, giving shape to transitory aspects—entry, egress, portal, limen—so many things a door can be, and always peering ’round the other side to see what lies beyond it.  (O absolutely anything at all, there’s the beauty.)  Imagine that in what you have to say. 

Something more urgent, edgy?  Sure.  Run a small country.  Being a petty dictator pays well, as long as you don’t let the unbridled power go to your head.  Perfect the role of amiable tyrant, one whom everybody really rather likes though they can’t resist grumbling at tax-time.  Your bodyguards a little boisterous but never actually drunk.  Insist on eating lobster regularly; keep a pocketful of black pearls in your natty cargo pants, a thumbworn Penguin paperback Machiavelli with a picture of a Latvian heiress you think you might as well marry as bookmark on the passenger seat of the golf cart you like to drive; design a jaunty new national flag, with your mother’s initials cunningly embroidered onto the hatband of the first garden gnome; like Fitzcaraldo build an opera-house in the jungle, where the 17.2% under-employed can come on Saturdays to watch Met simul-casts.  Bringing roasted almonds in their peasant cloth bags, staring in wonder at the rainbows thrown to every corner of the vaulted ceiling by your chandelier of Murano blown glass.  All terrific for generating off-off Broadway drama, cutting edge, those plays with lean, muscular dialog and lots of exposed brick. 

Or what about adventure writing?  Rum-runner, venom extractor, rider of Brahma bulls, the one who solders spigots to the county pipes . . . 

A what?  An office job?  Oh no, not that—didn’t I say what a mistake it’s been, that terrible advice?  A lodestar long since flickered and burned out.  Do nothing menial, is what he should have said; I’ve missed the forest, avoiding the trees.  Dedicate yourself to vital things.  Wrestle with angels, tramp the world, espouse what’s quixotic and strange.  If only I had seen, even ten years ago, before it was too late.  What is the cost of following a god whose feet when bared are cracked and crumbling clay, of trustingly taking a simple cry from the heart as a universal truth? 

It’s only writing, some would say.  What does it matter if you write?  But what words of any kind does a person have left, who looks up from her desk one day, politely, after all the years doing just that, doggedly doing “anything,” on other people’s terms, only to see—just disappearing like a silent flight of teal across a distant bit of sky outside the office window, twice removed—that she’s been too busy earning a living to have lived a life?

—Christie (February, 2008)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Writing Spaces

image:  A Roman Milestone in Bourg St.-Pierre, Michael Krier

Meditations on a Roman Milestone

The Roman roads, that covered some 56,000 miles of the ancient world and connected the firths of Scotland with the Euphrates, were marked off every thousand paces with a milestone.
        The roads were written out like mathematical sums, solving the insoluble spaces.  They added themselves to language and to mental landscape as surely as to geometry, to sciences of measurement and motion.  “To lay out a road, the linesman set out with a surveyor’s poles, a line which was called rigor was laid down, and the straight line was corrected by the surveyor until it was ‘in line.’”  Thus rigorously in their laying and their going they delineated the journey.  Mile by mile by mile, they measured out the chancy mountains or lands silvered with olives.

        But one day in a consequential July we find the twenty-fourth mile moved—casting the whole equation into doubt.

        We went down into Switzerland this morning (I wrote on a page of fine blue squares torn from the lab book I'd brought for the archaeology) after our breakfast of dry bread and jam, following the descent of the Roman road out of the clouded mountains of the Grand St. Bernard Pass to the nearest village, Bourg St.-Pierre.  A town fragrant with wet hay, wild thyme, camomile, and fennel, which grow wild there; where I crushed herbs with my clunky hiking boots wherever I stepped.  A town made for photography, with shutters the ice-melt green of the lichen on the stone crags next to them, and splendid red-headed chickens in a grand old stone structure with a screen door, grand as what is left of the Norman castle and Charlemagne’s impossibly high bridge spanning the cloud.  A hospitable town where we were given homemade cassis and local cheeses late in the morning in a room above what was at one time hospital, jail, and stables.
        In the middle of town is the Roman milestone, a white column capped with marble and inscribed with Roman numerals and Latin that I can’t read anymore.  Latin!  Who ever would have thought I’d come across Latin again one day, outside the schoolbooks I labored over back in seventh grade in Santa Fe in that sunny low-roofed classroom with box elder bugs on the windowsill, sure it had nothing to do with life or love or who I’d come to be.  I remember thinking of it (dry old Latin, all about phalanxes and footsoldiers and decorum) pressed between pages like brittle flowers that have lost their color.  But all these years later I’m sorry not to have teased out a little fragrance.  XXIIII [sic] is all I can make out.

        And even that turns out to be wrong.  It turns out that the milestone has been moved down from the Pass.  It marks the distance not from Bourg St.-Pierre, where it stands, but from Mons Jovis, back up the steep drop where we’ve dropped from, back up into the clouds, where the temple was to Jupiter, storm god of the mountains, before the Christians chased him out and built their monastery with appropriated pieces of temple marble and carted off the column too.  (The phalanxes powerless to prevent it.)
        The roads all crossed there:  Celtic, Roman, Medieval, Napoleonic.  But the roads are gone, now, except for the modern highway for the bright red tour busses which is closed by snow ten months out of the year, and the scars of avalanches which too look like ways down from the mountains.  The bedrock is a cicatrix of vanished roads.  The exact course of the Roman road—the one we’re looking for—can only be guessed at, in the tumbled fall of rock like a dry river bed, like the arroyos in New Mexico that carry vestiges of thunderstorms and  flash-floods.

        And so the displaced milestone measures something other than linear distance now.  It marks a different kind of journey, into ambiguity and flux and loss.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing Spaces

Oh don't I wish!

image:  Tradizionalmente Marche, Foto di Valentino Di Stazio

Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing Spaces

Writing fortunes in coffee foam, as in 
tea leaves . . .

image:  Slow Italy

Notes on Santorini

When you're standing at a high point on Santorini looking out (which is what you're almost always doing there), the magnitude and consequences of the volcanic explosion four thousand years ago become clear.  You see at once what's there and what isn't and why; the blackened bones.  What is now called Santorini consists of five broken islands circling 84 "square" kilometers of sea which was once solid land.  This is the caldera of the volcano.  It is so deep—as much as a mile—immediately offshore, that no ships can anchor.

The two bits of land in the middle are called the burned islands, and were formed by lava in 1508 and from 1707-1928.  The largest, the New Burned Island, holds the crater of the still-active volcano.  We went over by boat and climbed it:  a strange, bright procession streaming up the black mountain.  No molten lava is in evidence, just a few steaming sulphurous patches and heat coming up through your shoes.

There is room for only one boat to dock at the volcano, so the three or four that came after just tied up to the first and we disembarked by being handed across all the boats in turn—a bridge of boats.

After climbing we sailed around to the other side of the New Burned Island and went swimming off the boat, in thermal waters.  There was a small white church in the cove, and above it a cave with an outhouse in it overrun with goats.

Boats only run from Crete to Santorini if there is no wind.  The hydrofoil goes once on Fridays, at 8 in the morning.  If there is wind, it doesn't go again until Sunday.  The ferry, on the other hand, which costs less but takes half an hour longer, runs on windless Saturdays, but not Fridays of any complexion.  This might be a problem if you've already paid for a room on Santorini for Friday night.  When you ask the ticket sellers whether it's usually windy once a week, or only once a summer, you're answered by a shrug.

The crossing is monstrously rough, even without wind.  Everyone gets seasick on that passage, including Theseus and Zorba!  Several people on our (Friday) hydrofoil were deathly ill.  But dolphins accompanied us alongside, and with the elastic wristbands I felt strangely well, blithely writing and drinking black Greek coffee (the boatman, who looked like Gene Wilder, taught me to say "without sugar" in Greek when he wasn't collecting seasick bags), and sympathizing with those who felt as awful as I normally do.

Planes may or may not fly to the island when it's windy.  They are little prop jets (baggage claim is a hand-lettered sign stuck in the earth outside by the exit gate), and nearly as rough as the boat.  A big, strapping young man practically had to be carried off feet first when we landed in Athens.

The Santorini airport ambiance is casual.  We waited twenty minutes in the Olympic Airlines "Check In" line while the single attendant helped wash the windows behind the desk.  (Cleanliness is important in an airline, don't you think?)  When the building was entirely filled up with waiting passengers, they sent some of us outside to wait.

Nor are taxis entirely to be depended on, though that was the only way to get to our hotel outside of town.  If the drivers don't feel like going where you do, they won't.  At the taxi stand in town everyone stands around calling out their various destinations, and should one of the drivers hear one that catches his fancy, he'll whisk up that fortunate passenger while those who have been waiting maybe hours longer glare or call out nasty things in Greek or German because they figure you've slipped him a thousand-drachma note or something.  Luckily we were a hot commodity with taxi drivers, since they could make lots of money off us and be back in no time to (not) pick up someone else.

Just past the taxi stand was a run-down carnival featuring a "German Animal Show."  We passed it a dozen times in our cabs.  The evening we left we saw that they had covered the bumper cars, as if they too were leaving.

(July 1993)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Writing Spaces

Overlooking the Italian coast, on an idyllic summer's morning—

On the other hand, how much writing would actually get done?

image:  Slow Italy, Alvaroig

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica is immense, overgrown, like a greener Pompeii.  The vast shipping complex at the mouth of the Tiber, silted over and excavated.  Wildflowers are everywhere, now, and the lovely cross-hatched patterns of brick.  In the Forum of the Corporations, astonishingly extensive black and white mosaics pave the open court—elaborate constellations of mythological beasts and swimmers, sinuous sea creatures.  Neptune in his chariot, horses with sea serpent tails, and then more ordinary ships and dolphins, and even an elephant or two.  The mosaic images were the equivalent of signboards advertising the shipping companies doing business there, carrying their cargoes between Ostia and the far ports of the Empire.  Constantinople, Alexandria, Carthage—and up the river into the voracious mouth of the imperial city itself.
     It’s not a holy place, though it is hushed and redolent of other worlds:  here were bars and restaurants, shoulder to shoulder with the temple of Isis.  A working port.  There are stone mills, and rounded clay ovens that look like the adobe hornos of the New Mexico pueblos.  (I heard once too that the Navajos glaze their pottery with piñon sap, as the ancient Greeks did their amphoras—there are always these connections, these reverberations.)  Not empty beauty, but a feeling of significance beneath it all.  That’s what charms me, I think.  The charged fascination of the ruined places (lime kiln, baths, shops, laundry), the poignant traces of lives (fragments of frescoes, inscriptions).  I follow happily the narrow cobbled passageways running between still-standing walls and under gentle arches, their foot-polished stone rippled and glistening as lapping water, as wet to the eye as if the ancient shopkeepers had that morning again sluiced off their doorsteps.
         There is a grassy space that seems to be planted with the broken mouths of storage jars, stone rings with grass and myriad tiny white daisies growing up through, the jars themselves buried or decomposed below, their contents spilled or sprouting.
         And then the broken columns, the umbrella pines.  The hush of the silt over all—until a bevy of Italian schoolboys comes, shattering the trance.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Writing Spaces

The notebook or novel-in-progress has only momentarily been put down; a brief pause in which to consider the world anew . . .

image:  Seven Arts Friends


Funny how it comes together here
the afternoon of the pow-wow
in Waimea, Hawaii—
the upcountry town with chickens
always grilling on a spit beyond
the row of twelve or thirteen churches—

as if something in me has healed,
after the years of longing
for things I can’t have or be.
Or grafted, maybe, like the pear trees
our landlord has married
(Seckel to Bartlett, Comice to Bosq)
back in our California yard. 

In a real sense
I am of these people, all of them—
the Indian dancers
         with fine feathered wings
mainland tribes
earth dwellers,

Theirs are my ways:  the old ways
I have come to this island to learn;
the way the Tao is said to be;
the way I feel here, longing
and belonging, welcomed home.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Writing Spaces

It looks to me as if the demoiselle sitting in Bonnard's lovely garden could be working on an iPad or laptop . . .  Knowing that I might well be if I were there!

image:  Pierre Bonnard, Terrasse a Vernon

Class Exercise, with Dachsund

I haven’t found my way clear
to being an artist.
Everyone can tell
my glasses are always too clean,
no unexpected dabs
of burnt umber or crimson lake,
my hair never askew,
nothing you could call artistic, really.
I watch my dachsund running
in ear-flying loops
around my uninspired garden
that is not the garden of an artist
though he thinks it paradise enow,
and finding an alluring sea
of broken blue Italian tiles
beside a patch of neglected oregano,
precipitates himself
into the deepest wave,
then dries himself by rolling on
the bath towel I’ve left out on the step,
with gentlemanly courtesy.
All of this stirs up my urge
to pick a #2 boar’s bristle brush
out of the brushes in the coffee can
in what is not a studio, to run it
in a wriggling line of sassy color
along the quellingly white wall
of the plain room where I’ve spent
too much of my life
teaching myself to get used to it.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Writing Spaces

One of my favorite spots to sit in Mallorca while working on my novel and consulting Robert Graves, who lived part way across the island.  (Consulting his Greek Myths, that is.)

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Cushions, Mallorca

Graves's Grave

He climbed back up and up and up the higher trail, along the olive terraces—the olive trees they graft onto wild olives, for strength; the silvered trees hoary, druidic, wise; the twisted trees like arthritic old men on their many-layered terraces of drystone.
He liked to think of Gabriel Garcia Márquez visiting Robert Graves (not just all of the movie stars) in the house Gertrude Stein suggested Graves buy on the outskirts of the village of Deià. 
And then he visited the grave.  He paid his respects at least twice a year.  Robert Graves, poeta.  He’d seek out the simple gravestone just as the light was going and the names could scarcely be made out.  Marti, Colom, Maroiag, the local families.  He’d be alone in the small walled graveyard behind the church on the hill (d’es Puig), the highest point of the village, trying to identify the source of the goat bells that carried so clearly from across the valley, somewhere among the steep stone terraces, the olive trees.  No goats that he could see; only the dead poet, his stone surrounded by white lilies.  He was always moved by the simplicity of it.  E.P.D., En Paz Descanse.


(On Memorial Day, remembering a visit to the grave of the collector of the myths who’s been important to me in my novel that talks so much about them.  This passage from the long short-story I have still not finished about the detective in Mallorca, The Mirror.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Writing Spaces

The perfect garden chair, in Santa Fe, perfectly placed for jotting down lazy spring dreams.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Snowballs, Canyon Road

Unfinished Haiku

In the wind a bride,
anchored by her husband’s hand.
A haiku, never finished, in an old notebook.
I wonder how I might have finished it?
A kite now airborne.
Or in a different mood, a kite not airborne.
Even a single letter changes everything,
depending on my leniency—or whim.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Writing Spaces

OmmWriter.  The new app for my new iPad.

O brave new world.

image:  OmmWriter screen


Getting ready to leave on a long trip,
I’m conscious of being grounded by
the pale green lichen on a branch with rough bark
the smooth richness of Greek fig yogurt.

I prowl around the drugstore, looking for 
     potions, talismans. 
Black mascara, rye crisp, miniature tubes of 
     Colgate Whitening,
the momentary temptation of a nailpolish
the color of the blue against the evil eye.
(I love to travel, so it’s got nothing to do with that.)

With me I take lavender to lay among my clothes,
two British mysteries I’ll read cover to cover 
     on the planes,
stories and poems I’m working on, in a 
     maroon folder,
in case my muse deigns to take off her earbuds 
     and talk to me.
My favorite flannel nightgown with its seven 
     white buttons.
A compact quarter-pound of Peet’s French roast 
     decaf, Melita grind.

Coming home again, I must first wander 
     through the house,
turn on the heaters, microwave my purple striped 
make tea in both teapots to go in the refrigerator 
     for tomorrow,
fill the bird bath, water my lime tree since it 
     looks like it hasn’t rained.

And after all these homecoming rituals, 
    start to miss being away.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Writing Spaces

Another view of Gertrude Jekyll's lovely walled garden, where writers and photographers can find endless inspiration, on the far north coast of Northumberland near where Mallory situated Lancelot's castle.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Garden2

Northern England

On our Wednesday night in Durham, Michael Shanks threw out some interesting thoughts about Hadrian’s Wall.  The Wall as a concentration of energy.  The Wall as connection, as much as anything.  The Wall as threshhold—threshholds being “where things get noticed.”

You could feel all those things working, as you stood at the top looking out, considering the vastness in conjunction with the square inches of soil we would concentrate on again the next morning, scrutinizing each for traces of the Romans who had come and gone, and trying that way to connect.  (Uncovering the stones of more immediate thresholds, the doors of buildings, barrack rooms.)

The Romans were all about being noticed, making a statement writ large in the landscape, but what did they notice themselves there, in that foreign place, with time stretching as hugely as the green land around them?  Syrian archers, Gauls; soldiers from Germany, Spain, far parts of the empire, desert lands, out of their natural environment.  What was it for them, to be there?

The Wall is about regionality, Michael went on.  It plays a big part in defining the region, he suggests—that nebulous sense of regionality, crucial to who we are.  Isn’t a region connected with boundaries?  It was the borderlands that Walter Scott wrote about.  The region near the Wall.  The north—that liminal space, charged with possibility—there, where we felt so energized, so very much alive, exploring its present and past.

It’s also about finding similarities in difference, I think.  Recognizing affinities.  Like archaeology; like travel of that best sort.

Michael jotted notes for that evening lecture on the bus back from Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, after recounting to us the story of the Laidley Worm, and reading to us about Gertrude Jekyll and her gardens.  We had half an hour between the bus dropping us off and walking to the lecture hall at Durham University to find some garlic shrimp tapas and Spanish red wine; and afterwards would take the river path back to our rooms at University College, the path in its dense covering of trees gone all dusky and still.  

I sat among the archaeology students imagining being one too, someone who studies ancient kilns and builds them, the woman with her treacley Northern accent who sorted and cataloged the bits of bone and pottery and crusted iron at the dig.  Imagining belonging to that region, truly, and what that might mean.

Durham, that far northern city on “the edges of empire,” was a special time-out from the world below—meaning the southern regions as well as the busy everyday bustle below the castle and Cathedral hill, with its grand outlook over the slow, winding River Wear.  It seemed a bit shameless to have a castle to myself (Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, the original 11th-Century fortress with a fine-arched Norman chapel at its foundation), other than all those weekend wedding parties in blue kilts, but I decided I wouldn’t look a gift house in the moat.

There in the bracing north, in the Cathedral Close, in University College, sanctuary of both mind and spirit, it was light by 4:00 a.m., and all the way till 10:00 at night—a generous stretching of time.  What night there was, was counted off by bells,   comforting watchfulness.  I rose early, drank coffee spiced with cardamom, made instant oatmeal with dried tart cherries and hazelnuts, went out exploring with my camera and climbed up again the 39 steps winding up the castle tower to my dorm room with its turret view and the adjacent bathtub (good for washing out the mud from my once off-white archaeology pants, now and forever off-off-off-off-white). 

I went to the sung Eucharist in the Cathedral on the last day before the choirs went on tour for the summer, and then to a Sunday luncheon of roast pork with Yorkshire pudding, roasted vegetables, and a St. Cuthbert’s Slice.  The peals of bells reminded me of Lord Peter Wimsey and The Nine Tailors; and being resident in the college over the summer, of Harriet Vane’s similar stay at Oxford in Gaudy Night.  Dinner one evening early in the week was at the Almshouses, a quiet welcoming retreat next to the Close police station where singing practice could be heard in a back room, with choice of wholesome fare—salad and soup, or quiche, or mushroom cashew nut Madras on rice, and maybe just a slice of pear and almond tart with cream (another special time-out).

We were charmed by the sign on the door of the library in the Close, “No milk today, please.”  By the 37 days of grace given those who came and banged the sanctuary knocker on the main Cathedral door.  In the cloisters I saw notices for Eucharist and Evensong; for Wednesday evening organ concerts, Thursday photography from 18:30-21:00, an endangered colony of Pipistrelle bats. 

I was charmed by so many things:
learning that wattle is willow or hazel, woven
a crab stottie at Bamburgh (local crab on seeded whole grain bread), and Farne Island Bitter
the potato and egg shop, and
the farm shop offering potatoes:
the flavors of crisps, like Strong Cheese and Spring Onion, or Prawn
the container of “Grit” at Durham Cathedral
the Celtic cross with its commemorative war scenes and its panel of birds
the Grouse and Claret Bar
the town of Wallish Wall
two Labradors crossing a bridge
the college toaster with its moving belt
the story of the Laidley Worm
Hadrian Veterinary Group (and later, the Keats Pharmacy)

After an icy, blowy day digging at Binchester, a hot bath, damson gin, and more tapas—potatoes fried with onions and peppers, pork stew with thyme, almost-Mallorcan bread with tomato and garlic (pa amb oli), and Ropa Vieja—in this variation with garbanzos, eggplant, and turmeric.

I was pleased to notice the marks in a planted field that show the presence, even in absence, of the planter.  To hear about a model village created to satisfy the aesthetic taste of the local landowner who would have to look down on it from his adjacent castle.  To learn that the broken bit of pottery I found, with its high-polished red glaze, was maybe not the elegant Samian ware of the Romans, but fake Samian ware—an earnest if not quite successful imitation of the fancy stuff that everybody craved.

To think again of Michael’s talk, in that connection, his description of path dependency. The width of Roman roads was axel width, he pointed out; and one gets stuck with axel width, in ideas also.  Dere Street, of the Romans (from York to Scotland, through the Cheviot Hills), the Great North Road of Medieval times, running straight and impressive and sure through those border regions.  But consider instead the more ambling country lanes, the sheep paths, the line of stakes along the mud flats where the pilgrims cross to Lindisfarne at low tide.  All those, just as surely, are ways of going, ways of interacting with the landscape, ways of making a region your own.

A Roman bead, the faintest outline of a boar over a ruined window, a trace of sunlight on a tower step—these are quieter threshholds of the past, the other, the vast exhilerating realms of knowing and un-. 

Appropriately, just now when I looked on Google for the story of the Laidley Worm, I was led to Michael’s archaeography site, and this comment of his that perfectly concludes my rambles here, the happy journey from immensity to tiniest detail— “The specifics, often overlooked, the mundane and unspectacular are often what create a sense of place.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Writing Spaces

Gertrude Jekyll, writer and garden designer, wrote with colors as well as with words.  She wrote, wisely:
"It is the size of the owner's heart and brain and goodwill that will make his garden either delightful or dull."

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Gertrude Jekyll garden, Lindisfarne Castle

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing Spaces

What cozier place to write than in an old country kitchen with fireplace (and maybe a roasting chicken or two, or baking bread)?

image: Table de cuisine, Château de Beynac, France, Photo personnelle de Gérard Ducher