creative ramblings & reverie

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Writing Spaces

“I discovered windows one afternoon and after that, nothing was ever the same.”  
—Anne Spollen, The Shape of Water

I don't think I could write, without windows to lose and find myself in, looking out.

image:  Tutto Design


noce di cocco

These are the flavors of gelato
offered in a little shop
off the Piazza Emilio Chanoux
before we walk to the bus stop
along the ruined Roman walls
to find the bus to take us
to the squeduct.

I can’t be wooed by gelato today,
not even this, though as a child
I did run off one Saturday morning
to follow—irresistibly—the bell
of the ice-cream cart.

What draws me
is more complicated now.
I’ve seen autumn come
suddenly to the mountains;
seen the millenium turn.

I’ve heard echoing shots
late in the afternoon, somewhere
in the deep woods above the inn,

caught glimpses of movement
in the upper windows of the old
stone houses
up beyond the red clay tennis court,
unseen watchers looking out.

What do they see that I cannot?

Today I feel lucky, graced by
the lavish colors of the gelato
passed in the little square,
as if I might
get finally to the heart of things,

catching the local bus that takes us
with the villagers from market
on the unnamed mountain road
to the aqueduct.

The Pont d’Ael in its remote valley,
one of the aqueducts
that carries water down
from snow melt to fountains

in order for our sake,
as Rilke says, to arrive.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing Spaces

Listen to the sea, and write what it tells you . . .

The sea always filled her with longing, though for what she was never sure.

—Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

image:  Tutto Design

La Conquistadora (Version Two), Beginnings

Sometime during the night of Sunday, March 18, 1973, La Conquistadora, the willow-wood madonna which was Santa Fe’s beloved patron saint, was stolen from her altar in the downtown Cathedral.  Sometime between 9:15, p.m., when Della Garcia, the sacristan, carefully locked the heavy outer doors with their sixteen carved panels (the arthritis in her hands, worsened by the icy March wind, making it an act of love), and just before 6:00 a.m. the following morning, when the doors were opened again for mass.  Sometime in those fateful eight hours the lives of a whole town were changed, forever.

Carlotta Muñoz, championship swimmer for St. Michael’s Highschool her last two years there but unable to afford college even with the swimming scholarship she’d been offered, and not wanting to go even to Albuquerque when Drew was here, whether or not she got to see him, had access to the files at Los Corazones (short for Los Corazones Solitarios, or Lonely Hearts, the singles club on Garcia Street next to La Leche League, where she was office manager).  She could have told the police, had they asked, that there were over 9,452 people living alone in the Santa Fe city limits, who would have had no one to vouch for their whereabouts that night.  No way of adding in exactly how many more were unaccounted for one way or another:  out cheating on their respective husbands or wives or other partners, off on business trips or long weekends in Las Vegas, in the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital, or in jail.  Or, of course, those who might have driven in from out of town, Española or Belen or Truchas, Madrid or Waldo or as far as Socorro—one of the words Carlotta knew best in all the world, help—or might have been working together, in the darkness of late winter.  Those who, like Carlotta herself, would do absolutely anything for the person they loved.  Whose elderly neighbor, snooping as usual, could report that he or she had come home late, had been carrying a suspicious bundle wrapped in garbage bags.  Just as Carlotta’s nosy neighbor, Mrs. Archuleta, who took in ironing and sold eggs, would report the suspicious bundle she had seen Carlotta stow in her garage.

At 9:30 that Sunday night Margaret Aspinwall, who with those 9,451 other Santa Feans lived alone, had just put the last dab of cadmium red on a painting of hollyhocks, a 4’ x 4’ canvas purchased with some money her mother in St. Louis had sent her for her fiftieth birthday, and was cleaning her red-saturated boar’s bristle brushes in the stained bathroom sink of her studio apartment (with kiva fireplace and vigas) on Camino Escondido, on the other side of the river, rented by the month from the secretary to the Episcopalian bishop on the understanding that Margaret would keep dusted the collection of priceless old kachinas that looked down on her with unnerving penetration from the built-in bookshelves there.  Margaret found it ironic that she should have found a place to live on the hidden road, thinking how perfectly that suited her need for anonymity, the name she had just changed before driving the stolen Mustang to this town in the high desert where no one knew her or what she was.  Where no one had any idea, any more than she did until now, this moment of reckoning, what she might or might not do.

Many hours after midnight in the kitchen at Tecalote, on Cerrillos Road, Peter Trumbel slipped the knife hot out of the commercial dishwasher into his cloth bag.  The bag, sort of a Navajo saddlebag rip-off, was from the Ortega weavers in Chimayo.  He’d lived in Chimayo before Philip took him in, near the Sanctuario; for three or four years after his brother was shot in L.A. had joined the pilgrims walking along the highway on Good Friday.  He had learned then—prayer had to be an act.  Though Peter shared a house on Bishop’s Lodge Road with his partner Philip Gabriel, Philip was currently making a fool of himself over a Japanese bath boy—a specialist in Flowing River Stone Massage at one of the spas in Jemez Springs, deep in the mountains, whose café au-lait skin always smelled disturbingly of pine oil and Lapsang Souchong tea, who was a Buddhist.  Peter was sous-chef at Tortuga Café (galley slave, more like), and started work at 4 a.m. each morning, making the thirty-five gallons of red chili sauce they went through every day.  Sauce for their famous breakfast burritos, carne adovada, enchiladas, frito pie.  Peter ground the chili pods from the ristra, added oil, comino, oregano, salt, garlic.  But lately he’d been coming in earlier still (the damned insomnia again) and using the kitchen for his own cooking, for the twenty kinds of flan he’d so-far invented, the cookbook that Philip had promised he would print for him on the letterpress in his print shop on Acequia Madre, which he called At The Sign of the Cottonwood Tree (because he saw the little outbuilding first during a merry June blizzard of cottonwood fuzz).  Tonight Peter was supposed to be experimenting with a new recipe for flan flavored with Calvados, apple brandy from Philip’s cousins’ home in Normandy.  As he downed another glass of the stuff, furiously, not smelling or tasting it, he thought about the crisis of faith the Buddhist massage therapist had caused—and what it had led him to.  His act of prayer.  He reached down to touch the hard blade of the knife through the rough woven fabric of the bag.  He might be needing that.

It was well after nine o’clock before Mirella Antonelli got to the last note of Ave Maria.  She was annoyed.  She had been scheduled to meet Dru at nine.  But the bride had been having doubts (smart girl), so the wedding started twenty, thirty minutes later than it was supposed to.  And then there was a lengthy sermon, endless readings by both bride and groom, communion, and an ambling guitar solo by the groom’s friend.  All the while she waited to sing, in the chapel with that crazy circular staircase apparently built without any nails (miraculous, they called it), Mirella worked on memorizing her part in the The Marriage of Figaro.  She would be part of the chorus, for the summer opera.  She had come to audition for the apprentice program the previous August, had argued over restaurants in Strasbourg with the Norwegian tenor whose favorite role was Tamino.  He’d been staying at the ranch in Tesuque of some rich eccentric local woman who taught show jumping and rode a motorcycle with the sidecar all around town to do her shopping and errands, carrying her riding whip.  Mirella hated the high desert, and especially the altitude, which left her heavy with fatigue, as if she were much older than twenty-six, and unable to sleep nights.  So she’d sat outside the sliding glass door of her bedroom staring out over the piñon trees and rabbit brush, chamisa, the foothills touched with moonlight, the million stars that you didn’t see in the cities she was used to, Paris, Munich, Rome, until she’d heard the splashing in the pool below her room, and had gone down to find a man—a boy really—swimming, grey-eyed, a kind of water spirit.  Dru or some such funny name, who kissed her in the deep end, who came back to her room with her and talked about how alive he felt when he was in someone’s dark living room, in a strip of moonlight, as if it was a new identity he put on.  She didn’t understand all the nuances of English, so didn’t understand until later that he was talking about breaking in, thieving.  But it was all the same to her.  Anything to counter the boredom.

The theft was discovered when the church was unlocked for 6:00 mass on Monday morning.

The rector, Father Miguel Baca, sank to his knees on the flagstone floor.  He could not help but thinking, though he tried to stop himself, of Jaime Lucero, Jaime with his little sister in St. Vincent’s, the other six brothers and sisters he had to support.

Martin Lilienthal, an archaeologist at the School of American Research, was on a plane to Washington that afternoon, where he would be meeting in secret with museum officials.

Renee Richard, owner of an art gallery off the Plaza, slipped out to the French Bakery for coffee with a friend, in the room with steamed windows, polished copper kettles, ferns.  They shared a crèpe with apricot jam, to go with their frothy glass mugs of café au lait.  The stories were flying.  Even those who were not Catholic, had not, perhaps, heard of La Conquistadora before.  The newcomers, the gringos.  About all of the little figurine’s dresses.  Her jewels.  Her crown.  The women who dress her.  “One dress, made by Cochití Pueblo artist Dorothy Trujillo, is of Native American design and includes small silver bracelets and a miniature squash blossom necklace.”

Mrs. Archuleta, who lived next door to Carlotta and took in ironing for a living, mounds and mounds of other peoples shirts and sheets, phoned the police late in the afternoon, before finishing a batch of tamales for her niece’s confirmation, the corn husks she was spreading with masa and then a tablespoon of roast pork and chili, to let them know what she had seen in the night, suspicious activity.  She had never liked that girl, she told them.

The police wondered if the crime were related to thefts over the past two years of other religious art from churches and Penitente moradas around the state.  On July 5, the year before, a valuable statue of San Miguel had been stolen from Santa Fe’s San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States, along with other statues and paintings.  A letter to be received by the diocese office the following week would suggest that La Conquistadora had gone off in search of the lost San Miguel, because he’d been gone so long and clearly needed help in finding his way back home.

The APB bulletin out on the woman who was calling herself Margaret Aspinwall, living among the kachinas and painting hollyhocks, hadn’t yet been connected with her.  The white Mustang, muddied by the winter snows, sat in the garage with its Massachusetts license plates unobserved.  She walked everywhere.  A ginger cat had adopted her.  She walked to Gormley’s Market on Canyon Road, to buy it Purina in cans.  Feeling less nervous now that the deed was done, she went to the Fenn Gallery, to see the luscious paintings by her art teacher’s favorite painter, the Russian émigré Leon Gaspard.  The gallery was marvellous, though nothing to do with the fens she knew, the marshes behind the baseball park in Boston.

The month went on.  The town continued bereft.  The police continued baffled.  Lent started.  A few sad crocuses bloomed.  The wind blew constantly.

Phillip made flan with amaretto, flan with ground almonds, flan with ginger.  The bath boy loved ginger more than anything, he told Phillip.  But he said that about a lot of things.  For a Buddhist he was uncommonly attached to things of this world, to the most intense sensual pleasures.  To commotions of the senses:  fear, jealousy, pain.  The thrill of taking and destroying things that others cared about.

. . .


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Writing Spaces

Writing in the bathtub!  During my last semester at college, that was the only place where I could study.  And this one in particular looks enticing, inspiring.

There's bathtub gin, so why not bathtub poetry?  A bathtub epic?  The Bathtub Diaries?

image:  Tutto Design

More Starts

The story starts when your protagonist returns to a childhood home.
Another character is a zoologist who is your protagonist's biggest competition.

The story starts when your protagonist tries to return a lost object.
Another character is a weather announcer who is incredibly charming.

The story starts when your protagonist is involved in a car accident.
Another character is a bishop who was forced to commit a crime.

The story starts when your protagonist finds an old book on a friend's shelf.
Another character is a researcher who has just gotten a place next door.

The story starts when your protagonist walks in on the wrong meeting at work.
Another character is a janitor who believes your protagonist has something that belongs to him/her.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing Spaces

(If not this time of year!)

image:  Santa Fe Stone

La Conquistadora (Version One)

Sometime during the night of Sunday, March 18, 1973, La Conquistadora, the willow-wood Madonna which was Santa Fe, New Mexico’s beloved patron saint, was stolen from her altar in the locked cathedral, no clue but a set of footprints left behind.  The town was shocked.  Bereft.  Grown men and women, said the front-page news reports, wept when they heard.  It was a horrifying crime, an act of sagrilege, a sign of the incalculable times.  And far more personal, besides.  A loss much closer to the bone than any ordinary theft.  As if appealing for the safe return of an abducted child, Santa Fe mayor Joseph E. Valdes vowed to "do anything in my power to be sure that La Conquistadora is found."

Lucy was only sixteen at the time, busy with boys and poetry and chess, and not especially interested in religion.  She didn’t see that it had much of anything to do with her.  But she sensed even then, in all her innocence, that the event was pivotal for Santa Fe—and for them all.  Began to understand, before it was over (though it never was, not really) that her whole life had somehow led up to that moment on the empty altar, and would, years after, however many thousand miles away, keep coming back to it, using it as reference.  That nothing from then on would ever be the same.  

The theft of faith, she’d write one day.

The cathedral, St. Francis de Assisi, was downtown in what seemed in that high desert country a vast and deeply shady park of elms and box elders, though looking back at it later, from the broader perspective of places like Rome’s Borghese Gardens or New York’s Central Park, it must have been no more than a smallish city block.  Behind the park was St. Vincent’s Hospital, where Lucy had been born—and where, almost exactly twenty years after the theft, the night after she started a new job in Palo Alto, California (an odd coincidence), the writer Wallace Stegner was to die, after a car crash there in Santa Fe during a trip to give a lecture.

Catty-corner from the cathedral on the east, the side closest to the Santa Fe River (dry most of the year, except for carrying snow melt in early May, when there was watercress growing in it above the reservoir, on Upper Canyon Road, the Prep School campus, once a compound of low-roofed science labs, where Lucy would spend three blissful school-years from seventh to ninth grades), was La Fonda, the inn at the end of the Santa Fe Trail.  You could stop on snowy days to warm yourself at the huge open fireplace there in the lobby with the polished flagstones and the worn leather settees, breathing the fragrance of the piñon wood crackling with sap and then left smoldering all day; and check the newsstand for the latest paperback by local writers Tony Hillerman or Donald Hamilton (whose daughter went to Lucy’s school—and, she discovered one morning, stricken with awe, kept homing pigeons in palacial cages in their exclusive patio with high adobe walls).  Where, Ernie Pyle the journalist from World War II wrote, “You could go … any time of day and see a few artists in the bar … a goateed gentleman from Austria or a maharajah from India or a New York broker … You never met anyone anywhere except at La Fonda.”  Where you could write bad, heartsick poems in a spiral notebook while consoling yourself with crèpes of sweet apricot jam and frothy cinnamon-speckled café au lait in the French Pastry Shop around the side, across from Packard’s Trading Post, with its green-hearted copper kettles and cozily steamed windows, pretending that you were (as you would some years after that day be, remembering) in Paris, writing your bad poems in French instead.

On the opposite corner, across Cathedral Place, was the old post-office, which would in the early 90s become a museum of contemporary American Indian arts, where the young Hopi, Cliff Nequatewa, would (Lucy would decide in a story) hang his first juried painting, of a ceremonial mask, the colors of the sacred Landers Blue turquoise his father set in heavy silver pendants, and of the earth in the canyon behind the dance plaza at home.

Across Palace Avenue was Sena Plaza, named for the Palace of the Governors and for the Sena family, respectively—the museum that had the old carriages and the letterpress, and the stern goateed forefathers and black-lace-mantillaed grandmothers of José Sena, who Lucy’s father worked for at the Abstract and Title company.  Uncle Joe, who had a cat named Saturday, who ate a fried egg on his enchilada, who gave her the garnet-red enameled jewelry box with the tutued ballerina twirling among velvet and mirrors, and dozens of Portuguese stamps with old sailing ships and Arabian stallions in cool dusty colors for her stamp collection; and who, among the musty ledgers of Spanish land grant records, taught her to use chopsticks (though the only place in town you could use them, in those days, was at the New Canton Café, whose waitress was Mabel, who’d come from St. Louis, widowed young; where Lucy loved the egg foo young with crispy bean sprouts, and the glossy cherry pie).

Sena Plaza had been the family’s hacienda, dating back to 1692—seventy years after the arrival of La Conquistadora.  The compound was made up of a series of uneven brick-paved patios and rickety dark wooden staircases climbing up out of the twining summertime embrace of honeysuckle to long narrow wooden balconies, worthy of Spanish Juliets, where there were appraisers and a dentist, a used-book shop, a soap merchant, the shop that wove the striped ponchos that Lucy and the other volunteer ushers would wear at the Santa Fe Opera that coming summer, her last summer before going away.  And in the middle was The Shed, everyone’s favorite restaurant.  The Shed had opened first in Burro Alley—where the donkeys of the firewood vendors used to be tethered—the year before Lucy’s parents moved to Santa Fe.  In 1973 (and still now, more than thirty years later), you could buy your firewood from Jesus, as her father loved to say.  At the wood yard of Jesus Rios, up where Camino del Monte Sol comes into Canyon Road, around the corner from the low-roofed studio where Lucy took ballet with Jacques Cartier, who did the fire dance each year for thirty years at the burning of Zozobra—he was the figure in red moving inexorably up the steps at Fort Marcy to set fire, at last, after an agonizing long approach, to the enormous groaning paper effigy, lighting the fuse that would eventually set off a fit of fireworks from its massive frowning thrashing head. 

Old Man Gloom burned, the legend went, and with him all the town’s cares burnt too, for another year.  But maybe not that year, or since.  The repercussions of the theft were maybe more than even Old Man Gloom could take away.

At night, especially in the winter months, downtown is pretty well deserted.  Despite the many businesses around, no one saw anything at all that might lead the police to the thief or thieves of La Conquistadora.  The cathedral sacristan, Della Garcia, had at 9:15 carefully locked the heavy outer doors with their sixteen carved panels (the arthritis in her hands, worsened by the icy March wind, making it an act of love, one has to imagine), and they had remained locked until just before 6:00 a.m. the following morning, when they were opened again for mass.  When Father Miguel Baca, in whose care the souls of tens of thousands were, surely sank groaning to his knees on the cold stones before the uncommunicative altar, sending a prayer of desperation heavenward.  Wondering how he could tell them, his trusting flock.  Her confraternity.  The women who dress her.  Those who knew well and others who would learn, in the papers, about the 130 dresses and valuable jewels in the Madonna’s wardrobe.  The accounts that would in retrospect amaze Lucy.  “One dress, made by Cochití Pueblo artist Dorothy Trujillo, is of Native American design and includes small silver bracelets and a miniature squash blossom necklace.”

Speculations flew.  Leads were pursued.  The police wondered if the crime were related to thefts over the past two years of other religious objects from churches and Penitente moradas around the state.  On July 5 the year before, a valuable statue of San Miguel had been stolen from Santa Fe’s San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States, along with other statues and paintings.  A handwritten note received by the Archdiocese office the week after the empty altar was discovered suggested that La Conquistadora had gone off in search of the lost San Miguel, because he’d been gone so long and clearly needed help finding his way back home.

Lucy went on blithely untouched.  That Sunday she was written up in The New Mexican herself.  An oddity, a girl who played chess (to the death, she’d say)—and most often won.  She travelled with the others on the chess team to Santa Fe High, Las Vegas, Los Alamos.  Took boys unaware, beating them easily.  (A kind of mating game, she’d write ironically one day.)  She checked the mail for answers to her applications to far colleges—Wellesley, the University of Victoria, Santa Barbara; it didn’t matter where.  She felt the end coming.  Despaired.  Was nostalgic for her past before it was even over.  Saw herself as an old, old lady, looking back.  Finding a bit of brittle chamisa (what they called “Rabbitbrush”) among her effects.  A few Portuguese stamps.  Her wistful poems which that spring began winning student awards.

She would have sworn later that the search for the missing statue went on for the better part of a year.  She would be surprised to learn it had been just a month.  The time it took for the grape hyacinths to bloom.  For tumbleweeds to collect on chain link fences around town, in the fitful early spring winds.  For the crowded kitchen at The Shed to go through seven thousand gallons of red chili sauce.  For her heart to be broken three times.  For the boys at school to grow away from her, go where she couldn’t imagine going, talking as they sometimes did of breaking into people’s houses, standing scarcely breathing in a track of moonlight on the threshhold of a bedroom like a strange new skin; falling for Swedish chorus members or Chilean clarinetists come for the opera; dropping out (the supermarket heir) to get married and move into abandoned houses in the ghost town, Madrid, south of town, where there had once been silver mines.

On Saturday, April 7, things started moving, fast.  Father Baca received a ransom note enclosing as proof of possession a cross from La Conquistadora's crown.  The note stated in poor Italian that the Madonna would be returned unharmed in exchange for $150,000 and a promise from the Governor that those involved would not face criminal prosecution.  If church leaders agreed to these terms, Father Baca was instructed to ring the cathedral's bells exactly 10 times at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11.  If the bells were rung at the designated time, the kidnappers would deliver additional instructions by phone the following day.

And then on Saturday, the 14th, giant headlines.  La Conquistadora had been found!
         “Montoya, Baca, Santa Fe police chief Felix Lujan and police captain Alfred
         Lucero accompanied the 17-year-old to La Conquistadora's location in the cold
         early morning hours of Saturday, April 14.
                  The minor, whose name was withheld because of his age, led police to the
         foothills of the Manzano Mountains, east of Los Lunas. The small group hiked
         about three miles, and, after crossing a stream, approached a remote, abandoned
                  Using only two flashlights, the men followed the youth about 200 yards
         into the mine. There the police finally found La Conquistadora, safely wrapped
         in foam padding and secured in a large plastic bag. Other stolen works of art
         were also discovered, including valuable missing artifacts from the San Miguel
         mission church.”

Word got around town like summer lightning, despite the disclaimer.  The minor was the son of the Lieutenant Governor.  The other boy involved had been in Lucy’s class, the year before.  A newcomer from out of town or state, a loner, someone who kept to himself, she’d thought.

She never did find out if the others stories she heard were true.  If there was someone else involved.  Someone she’d loved for a few mortal hours over a chessboard.  Whose hand lingered on hers one spring day in the sun-drenched library on Upper Canyon Road when they hadn’t yet left it, before taking her knight.  Who after algebra put the violets she’d used as a bookmark behind his ear, flaming against his tawny hair.
“Tell her when she comes to town again to call me,” he told a friend of hers a year or two later, when he was said to be studying medieval French, and Greek, at St. John’s College, where her elderly friend the Brigadier General lived as housemaster with a hummingbird feeder and mah jong tiles, where her father had taken her to see Japanese ghost stories on film, stories that haunted her strangely.  But long since gone beyond those days in Santa Fe, beyond recall, she thought about it with an ache of loss or something like, but never got around to calling.  Like the chance that he had been there in the dark that night in the cathedral (fifty-fifty?), the chance that something might have come again between them was left untested.  She didn’t want to know for sure, she told herself, one way or the other.  She’d learned too much and lost too much already.  There were things best let lie in the realm of possibility, vaulted like the cathedrals of green dappled light made by the lofty cottonwoods on Alameda in the time of love and lilacs, long lost now, the trees planted by the French archbishop along the momentary, snowmelt-swollen river

The theft of faith, she’d call it.  Knowing, too late, how smugly innocent she’d been.  How little of it all she’d ever understood.  Remembering that night in March that last spring after which nothing in Santa Fe, or anywhere she was to look, after, was ever again the same.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Writing Spaces

A comfy indoor space, for writing atmospheric novels...

image:  Tutto Design

Winter Morsels

sky without color,
what would I have it be?
Navajo turquoise, skin-warmed


The very word is plump.
Simple goodness, in corn husks.

purple wool socks

on this January morning
making my feet dance