Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miami Sky

It's not often the moon shows through a clotting up mackerel sky. This one's a beauty, full, silver.

Meridian Avenue is quiet tonight. We've finished a dinner of beans and rice. The door to the little balcony is wide open; from time to time a voice floats up from the street, indistinct.

I'm savoring the quiet after sitting next to a wild child on the flight down. A little mite, maybe two and a half or three years old, with her mother. At one point I heard the mother pray to Jesus in Portuguese. She was a saint of patience. The little girl would shriek, tireless, squirming, flailing, in charge. Three and a half hours! Until she slept, after her mother had nursed her, for the last five minutes of the flight. I can still see her pretty, charming face, heart-shaped, with dark eyes. She never smiled. I drank lots of water; even today I'm drinking glass after glass.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Day After

After Christmas Eve with our friend S., whom we met in the 1950's in college, and Christmas Day with our son, his wife, and our grandson, the day after Christmas was a let-down: we paid our bills. There are the calculator and folder of bills among Christmas presents.

The red Christmas candles are quenched, the bills stamped, and enough money in the account to cover them, luckily. The bill for heating-oil was enormous.

Now the stamped envelopes are clipped up near the back door ready to be slipped through the post office slot; the library books will be returned tomorrow.

I can't feel too sorry for myself--and you shouldn't. We are leaving for South Beach on Tuesday, where there is no TV, and where I'll walk after dinner in the warm air.

After the bills and my gathering receipts for taxes, which I'll have to bring to Florida--the taxes are my job--I got into bed and read The Journal of Helene Berr, who was murdered by the Nazis. From time to time I had to stop reading. It was unbearable to know the end before she did, unlike my experience in college, reading Oedipus Rex, when I was thrilled to learn about dramatic irony, how we know the fate of Oedipus before he does, and how our knowing casts an ironic light on his actions. He believes he understands what he is doing, but it is we who understand. He gets it all wrong. Helene Berr eventually does know what will probably happen to her and her family and chooses not to escape into the Free Zone because she believes it would be cowardly to desert other Jews, her mother, and aged relatives.

I put the book down again and stared into space. Just then J. came in. He was glad that on a Saturday night he had found stamps; they sell them at the Stop and Shop. Floating up from his hand was a balloon with a picture of Minnie Mouse. What does she know about Nazis?

Buoyed up by helium-filled Minnie, I gathered up all the vegetables in the fridge and made stock, which I'll eat today with rice. There were apples, which we wouldn't have time to eat before leaving. They're stewing in the slow cooker. There's a warmish rain falling. What could have stopped Hitler? It wasn't Walt Disney.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Morning

Wishing you all the Brightest Holiday!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tea Time with Melissa

The other day I met Melissa at Sofra, which is usually so crowded it's impossible to find a place to sit, but not that day. The place cleared out at 3:30, and we had our choice of tables. I drank good camomile tea and ate an almond crumb bun. Melissa had the bad fortune to end up with a greasy wrap/sandwich, and a vile cup of coffee. She was wonderful about the bad food and drink, didn't mention the coffee until days later, and said only a few words about the wrap; though, when we were about to leave, she told the man behind the counter how greasy it was. It oozed oil.

Served bad food, many people seethe, grumble, and ruin what could be a good time. Not Melissa. We talked and laughed. I first met her at the Bagel Bards, which gathers every Saturday morning at Au Bon Pain in Davis Square. We also follow each other's blogs. If I had not met her actually I'm not sure I would have had the courage to meet her in the flesh. Meeting people through blogging is a lot like carrying on an epistolary correspondence: we become acquainted with the narrative self: a composed persona, no matter how fragmented the post may be. I am afraid of disappointing in person.

I tried to find a dog ornament for Melissa's tree--she is devoted to dogs--but had to settle for a mouse-like dog. She liked it!

The weather was bitterly cold, but Sofra was warm, the toilet even hotter. I staggered out, faint: "It's as hot as a sauna in there," I said, and we laughed again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Light, Heat, Sweets

The early morning light builds up against the window, seeps in through the closed blind and leaves a band of light on the framed picture. This is the light I see when I wake up, tempered light--a feeling of possibility, the world in full when I pull up the blind. The snow is knee-deep and clean.

J. is trekking through Walden Woods; I'm inside near the hot radiators. All during this cold spell the house had been frigid, many of the radiators icy, the rest luke warm. I blamed my feeling the cold so instensely on being older and unused to cold winters because of spending time in Florida. You know that old expression about blood thinning out. What a medieval notion. We burned a lot of wood. It turns out that the new burner was incorrectly installed. Three men worked on it most of Friday, and now our house is habitable.

I'm making gingerbread cookies, fruitcake bars and "Holiday Snack Mix" to give as gifts, the bars and snack mix from recipes from David Lebovitz's blog, the best food blog ever. The oven will be on most of the day. I'm wearing the sturdy pink apron my son bought for me years and years ago. There's pepper in the snack mix recipe, and I will put a few drops of lemon extract in the gingerbread frosting: it is necessary to check the cloying notes, to cut sweetness.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wandering Concentration

It's difficult to concentrate. We need the third eye, a candle flame, paying attention to our breaths. This morning as I did my breathing exercise/ mediation, I thought of the snow storm, the ants in the cupboard feeding on the bait I had laid out for them, a passage from Marilynne Robinson's novel, Home. Our minds have peripheral vision, so to speak. (When I framed this second picture through the window screen, in the view finder, the camera picked up a moire pattern, but in the final shot the pattern disappeared. I began to think about that.)

Earlier as I breathed and counted, I thought of the cold snow and the warm life of the ants. They went for the mixture of sugar, butter and boric acid. Should I leave them be, as some believe? I would have if I hadn't found them crawling on me. It's easy to blame odd things on global warming, but I have never seen ants inside in winter.

I concentrate when I'm writing and reading.

Robinson's novel was interminable, yet I kept at it, reading a small chunk before I fell asleep. It was worth it. She gives us a sensitive portrait of a minister's family and of Christian believers. There was far too much dialogue--most of the novel is dialogue--but she lets herself finally go in this description, which was also in my head as I paid attention to my breath, inhalation and exhalation:

And here is the world, she thought, just as we left it. A hot white sky and a soft wind, a murmur among the trees, the treble rasp of a few cicadas. There were acorns in the road, some of them broken by passing cars. Chrysanthemums were coming into bloom. Yellowing squash vines swamped the vegetable gardens and tomato plants hung from their stakes, depleted with bearing. Another summer in Gilead. Gilead, dreaming out its curse of sameness, somnolence.

Now I'm looking out through two panes of glass, through the screen. The snow comes down. Across the street a little boy and his mother play frisbee. The red disk flies; they are covered with snow. Now the father comes out. He is lifting his camera.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The sun set today at 4:13 p.m. I plugged in the strings of colored lights on two windows that faced each other, and later managed to get a shot of one window reflected in another. In the distance are my neighbor's Christmas lights, or are they a reflection? I want all the lights to be at least doubled.

The little Chanukah lights burned down very quickly. It's the sixth day of Chanukah. The miracle of the lights is reported to have lasted for eight days. The Holiday will soon end, but there's nothing to stop me from lighting a candle every day.

Once walking on a Florida beach I found white candles washed up, the flames, of course, extinguished, but the wicks black, and the top of the candles with that shallow indentation, the dimple the heat had made. In Maine, on Swan's Island, we used to build a fire out of salt-soaked driftwood and let the incoming tide quench the flames. Sometimes a burning piece would drift on the water before the flame went out. There was so much blue in that fire.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Film Hang-Over

J. and I made the mistake of watching "The Bad Lieutenant" before we went to sleep. J. had a nightmare. I woke in the middle of the night, my head racing, full of scenes from the film. Harvey Keitel plays a cop gone bad. And I mean bad. Cross-addicted: he guzzles liquor, snorts cocaine, smokes crack, shoots heroin, all day, all night. His connection is a woman with red hair: a devilish, beautiful angel of death.

"Why are we watching this?" J. said at one point.
"For the plot," I said.
"Mim, there is no plot."

He was right. It was just one rotten thing after another. Some of the rotten things were exciting. I smothered my excitement.

One critic believes the Harvey Keitel character finds redemption in the end. Not so. The ending is muddled: he frees two men who may rape again. He gives them money. The truly redeemed character is the nun played by Frankie Thorn. She forgives the men who rape her. The film portrays a Manichean world: evil is as powerful as good. Is it really? Good and evil equally matched, forever warring?

The morning after this bad night, J. told me his dream as I emptied the washing machine. In the dream he had gone down a narrow tunnel, the end of which was death. But as he described the dream, he was alert with intelligence. He was sure of his interpretation. And he was alive! I went out for a walk. The weather had turned mild. I took off my gloves and opened my hands to the sun. I felt better in the tender air. For a moment it seemed as if I could see each particle of air.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flowers and Fire

During the week of December 3 the temperature was in the high sixties. The early rhododendron near our back door got the message and began to bloom. This plant usually puts on color after the snow drops come up. I took these pictures today, December 11. The Easter pink and violet are holding. This is not a case of being nipped or blighted in the bud but of spring in winter. There's snow on the ground. I don't think the plant will bloom in the spring.

The wood stove has been going all day. The dead wood J. took off the cherry tree is ash; now we're burning mostly Norway maple.

The steam from the pot of water on the stove slicks the kitchen windows. The foggy coat on the glass breaks and drips. Beyond the glass you can see green--faint through the wet. If I stepped outside I would see vivid green grass.

"Winter under cultivation
Is as arable as Spring"--Emily Dickinson

While I find heat in winter, Dickinson may be writing of other things: true winter. How will I manage with when the temperature drops below zero?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Talking of Pleasure"

Nothing I ate today could equal Keats's experience with a nectarine, at least not in the way he describes it. His is a very breast-like fruit:

"Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine--Good God how fine. It went down, soft pulpy, slushy, oozy--all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beautiful Strawberry. I shall certainly breed."

But the Italian wedding cookie and an apricot rugelach from Bella Moto (Beautiful Motion) in Arlington, Massachusetts (916 Mass. Avenue) were delicious, tender and absolutely fresh. The portions were dainty, not like the bloated pastry that overwhelms me. It's so easy to go from delight to disgust, but not at Bella Moto. Before opening the Arlington bakery, the owner Frances Grandinetti was a baker at the Blacksmith House in Harvard Square and at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston.

Bella Moto windows are poorly lit, which may be why I've never gone in until today. How many other pleasures have I passed up? I'll be stopping by again. Grandenetti handles her dough with bella moto.

Monday, December 7, 2009

David Hockney at Pace Wildenstein

Someone has called Hockney's recent paintings "pop Van Gogh." I agree about the Van Gogh influence, but I would say, "Klimt Van Gogh." The pictures at the Pace Wildenstein in New York are as intensely and obsessively patterned as a Klimt.

Hockney colors are a knock-out--except for the one above, these pictures don't do his colors justice. He puts together pinks, oranges and purples.

The other day, my friend S. said, "Who would have believed that melody would come back." At the height of abstract expressionism who would have believed landscape would come back.

Hockney has left California for his native Yorkshire, so you won't see any paintings of swimming pools at the Pace Wildenstein, or men in bathing suits.

The gallery, which you can enter without paying a cent, was empty of people except for us, until a lone man came in. There were no recorded guides--white walls, quiet except for our murmurs of pleasure. It reminded me of museums years ago in Boston when I would walk through the Fens to the MFA to see Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going." Most of the time, I was the only one looking at the painting. I'd glance down one of the long galleries and sometimes see one or two people in the distance, then go back to Gauguin with his unanswerable questions.

PS: My friend, the painter Nan Hass Feldman sent this message:

Thank you Mim for posting this. As you know, I am a Hockney fan and looks like his new works are a bit more surreal or infused with fantasy like a cross between Morgan Bulkely and Grant Wood! One of the joys of Hockney's work is his metamorphosis of mediums and subjects.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The High Line

Asters on the High Line, December 2, 2009--Katie Lorah

--Jonathan Flaum

--Joel Sternfeld

In London, a disused power station has been converted into the Tate Modern. Visiting the Tate was exhilarating: the past transformed, the past in the present, born again, fresh. I had a similar feeling when J. and I walked on the High Line, forty feet or so above ground level on the lower west side in New York. The High Line, built on what once was the track bed of an elevated freight railroad, now runs from just below 14th Street to 25th Street. When completed, it will reach 30th Street: a mile-and-a- half traffic-free park through the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and Clinton/Hell's Kitchen.

The design is brilliant; the path meanders, lush with flowering plants, accommodating with little tables and chairs, benches, and lounge chairs for sunning. West are the Hudson in full view, the Jersey Palisades, the Statue of Liberty. East are dramatic views of the crosstown streets. Above a view of a big big sky.

As we walked, two of us among many, I became hopeful: beautiful, good things can happen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jude Law in Hamlet

People are at their best when watching marvelous, beautiful things. They become thoughtful, entranced, enlivened. For my birthday I was glad to be part of the audience at the Broadhurst.

On the screen, Jude Law is movie-star handsome; on stage he is merely attractive, which is just as well, because his appearance does not detract from his brilliant acting. I've never seen a better Hamlet. Law's Hamlet is vulnerable, active, intelligent, and arrogant--an arrogant royal, who has good reason to think before he acts. Commanding the stage, Law uses his hands to good effect: embracing or touching friends, his ill-fated mother, the skull of Yorick. His enunciation is clear and natural sounding.

All the speeches we know so well were fresh!

I thought about the theme of obedience and loyalty, which Shakespeare, who lived as a subject of the Crown, knew inside and out. The ghost of Hamlet's father orders Hamlet to obey him and avenge his murder; Polonius asks his son and daughter to obey him; Claudius asks Laertes to be 'governed by him in all things'. They obey. Better not to obey. Obedience sets the engines of death in motion.

Geraldine James gives a fine performance as Gertrude; she plays Hamlet's mother as a gracefully mannered conventional woman completely out of her depth; and Kevin McNally as Claudius is the smoothest murderer, except when confessing his sin. Bravos for Jude Law. It was a pleasure to see this actor go all out to show us how powerfully a man can act when all the forces of destiny are against him.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Odds and Ends

It's been a day of contrasts. Bright and dark. The morning began with drizzling rain; the sky cleared, and for a few hours it was orangey bright. I've just turned on the bubble-light bouquet,
the liquid in the stems surges: yellow, violet, and blue.

Anyone who comes to see us will have to pass through the moths that cling in hearts and half-heart shapes to the glass and clapboards. The camera's flash drew more, confusing them.

It's soup weather. I've more or less followed Julia Child's recipe for lentil soup but used the orange and brown lentils I had in the pantry rather than running out to buy French lentils, though I will do the French thing: puree some of the thick mash in the blender. J. came home from his walk-in-the-dark around Fresh Pond, and a stop at the market for a baguette. I just broke off the small crusty tip--can't call it a heel; it's too small; OK, an infant's heel. I love the crusty bits and do not understand why some people do not eat the crust.

Earlier today, driving home from the Bagel Bards, a group of poets who meet every Saturday morning at Au Bon Pain in Davis Square, and a trip afterwards to the Good Will with Ms. M., Ms. S. and Mr. B. I thought of a way to begin a poem I've been mulling over. I wasn't thinking about poetry as I drove, just watching the road, and the line came. It might work.

PS: At Goodwill, M. looked at me intently and said, "You're happy." Yes, I love to grub in thrift shops. She does not and had the good sense to leave me and Ms. S. to our romping, discriminating, greedy, grubbing, while she went back to Au Bon Pain for something to eat. Mr. B. was downstairs, so I can't say anything about his shopping habits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Description Hall of Fame

The Description Hall of Fame welcomes Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert. He joins Willa Cather, Colette, M.F.K Fisher and other masters of the art of description.

Our readers group will be talking about Herbert's collection of essays, "Still Life with a Bridle," in which he describes paintings that have moved and astonished him, among them, Torrentius's "Still Life with a Bridle." Herbert describes his first glimpse of the work: "How to describe this inner state? A suddenly awakened intense curiosity, sharp concentration with the senses alarmed, hope for an adventure and consent to be dazzled."

For the experience of surrendering to art, I like "consent to be dazzled" better than Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief."

Herbert is best on the background: "black, deep as a precipice and at the same time flat as a mirror, palpable and disappearing in perspectives of infinity. A transparent cover over an abyss."

Herbert is also very good on weather: "The sky was clear. The wind stopped. Faraway lights went on and off, and all of a sudden without warning, without a breeze or anticipation, a huge cloud the color of ash appeared, a cloud in the shape of a god torn apart.

Yet for all his descriptive power, Herbert in his poem, "I Would Like to Describe," wishes he could write without dramatic effects. (Comparing a cloud to a god torn apart is certainly a dramatic metaphor.)

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say—I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shadow Self Portrait

I'm not sure why this photo gives me so much pleasure: shadow silhouette on a lichen encrusted rock, perhaps because it corresponds to the ephemeral state of life. Oh, no, that's too ponderous. I love the shape, the little tail of my scarf, the peak of my hat, the absence of most color. Not that I mind seeing myself in a mirror, colored in, so to speak.

I once heard Jean Rhys say, 'Nature does not care for us?' But it must sense us, the lichen quiver imperceptibly when covered in shadow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Labels and Signs

It seems everything comes with a warning label or an advertisement, every banana, every apple with a sticker, every box of strawberries with a website printed on its tag. The other day I noticed a cart for the disabled in Whole Foods onto which was bolted a sign that said in effect: 'We provide this because we value our customers.' But nothing beats the warning label on the Pyrex storage containers I just bought, which are addressed to people with no experience with glass, the plastic generation.

Among other things, the manufacturers warn us not to drop glass. Is there anyone who has not dropped something made of glass! "It's legal," you may say. Pyrex protects itself against lawsuits, but the result in fine print reads like the anxieties of someone insanely terrified of glass. It's enough to make me drink a glass of wine and fling the empty glass against a hard surface. I bought these glass containers because of the threat of bisphenol A, which coats most plastics and the insides of tin cans. Canada has already banned this chemical which may cause dreadful mutations, but I hadn't realized what a dangerous thing I had done.

Here is my favorite section of the detailed warning:

Be careful when handling broken glass because pieces may be extremely sharp and difficult to locate. Handling your glassware without an appropriate degree of care could result in breakage, chipping, cracking or severe scratching. DO NOT use or repair any glassware that is chipped, cracked or severely scratched. DO NOT drop or hit glassware against a hard object or strike utensils against it.

There's more:

SAFETY AND USAGE INSTRUCTIONS AND WARRANTIES. Read these instructions and Save them for Future Reference. For more information, visit or call the World Kitchen Help Center . . . . As with all glass products, you must exercise an appropriate degree of care, especially when cooking food at high temperatures. There are three primary risks associated with using glassware for cooking: (1) breakage due to a sudden temperature change applied to the glassware; (2) breakage due to impact if the glassware is dropped or knocked against a hard object; and (3) burning when handling hot bakeware. ! FAILURE TO FOLLOW THE WARNINGS BELOW MAY RESULT IN PERSONAL INJURY OR PROPERTY DAMAGE, OR MAY CAUSE YOUR GLASSWARE TO BREAK OR SHATTER IMMEDIATELY OR LATER. Avoid sudden temperature changes to glassware. DO NOT: add liquid to hot glassware; place hot glassware on a wet or cool surface, directly on countertop or metal surface, or in sink; or handle hot glassware with wet cloth. Allow hot glassware to cool on a cooling rack, potholder or dry cloth. Be sure to allow hot glassware to cool as provided above before washing, refrigerating or freezing. Oven must be preheated before inserting glassware. DO NOT use on or under a flame or other direct heat source, including on a stovetop, under a broiler, on a grill or in a toaster over. Add a small amount of liquid sufficient to cover the bottom of the dish prior to cooking foods that may release liquid. Avoid handling hot glassware (including ware with silicone gripping surfaces) without dry potholders. Avoid microwave misuse. DO NOT ue glassware to microwave popcorn or foods wrapped in heat-concentrating materal (such as special browning wrappers), heat empty or nearly empty glassware in microwave or overheat oil or butter in microwave (use minimum amount of cooking time.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Elegant Insults

Catullus the poet is a great insulter. He names names: "Egnatius aping class with your thick black beard and/ flashing teeth scrubbed white with Spanish urine . . . " Reading Catullus has emboldened me. If he can write "prick,"--that's the mildest of his insults--I can begin a poem with "Shit for Brains, don't tell me . . . "

I'll never achieve Catullus's polish but I hope to find language as vulgar as his. But that's not all I've learned from Catullus. He wrote a love poem to a place, "Of all near-islands, Sirmio, and of islands/ the jewel . . . " Paene insularum, Sirmio, insularumque/ ocelle . . . ." So musical in Latin. And he talks to himself, "Miserable, Catullus" one poem begins.

I've now begun a poem with, "Poor, sorry Mim." If I'm lucky I will be able to write a love poem to a place.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Through the kitchen door I can see the moths gathering in the light. The temperature has dropped to forty degrees. There will probably be a frost. The moths have found the back door light, which gives off a little heat.

We are surrounded and inhabited by living things but mostly look at each other. When I suddenly see moths cluster I'm shocked and delighted.