Sunday Morning

“She had described her home and her life in a way that had often returned to me during those years and that I could still clearly recall. Her description of the town where she lived – a place I had never been to, though I knew it wasn’t far from here – and of its beauty had been particularly tenacious: it had often, as I had said, returned to my mind, to the extent that I had wondered why it did. The reason, I thought, was that this description had a finality to it that I couldn’t imagine ever attaining in my own circumstances. She had talked about the placid neighbourhood where she had her home with her husband and children, with its cobbled streets too narrow for cars to pass down, so that nearly everyone travelled by bicycle, and where the tall, slender gabled houses were set back behind railings from the silent waterways on whose banks great trees stood, holding out their heavy arms so that they made plunging green reflections in the stillness below, like mirrored mountains. Through the windows you could hear the sounds of footsteps on the cobbles below and the hiss and whirr of bicycles passing in their shoals and drifts; and most of all you could hear the bells that rang unendingly from the town’s many churches, striking not just the hours but the quarter and half hours, so that each segment of time became a seed of silence that then blossomed, filling the air with what almost seemed a kind of self-description. The conversation of these bells, held back and forth across the rooftops, was continued night and day: its cadences of observation and agreement, its passages of debate, its longer narratives – at matins and evensong, for instance, and most of all on Sundays, the repeating summons building and building until it was followed at last by the joyous, deafening exposition – comforted her, she had said, as the sound of her parents’ lifelong conversation had comforted her in her childhood, the rise and fall of their voices always there in the next room, discussing and observing and noting each thing that happened, as though they were making an inventory of the whole world. The quality of the town’s silence, she had said, was something she only really noticed when she went elsewhere, to places where the air was filled with the drone of traffic and of music blaring out of restaurants and shops and the cacophony from the endless construction sites where buildings were forever being torn down and then put up again. She would come home to a silence that at those times felt so refreshing it was like swimming in cool water, and she would for a period be aware of how the bells, far from disturbing the silence, were in fact defending it.”

~ Rachel Cusk, Kudos: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; June 5, 2018)


Notes: Photo above & Book Review: ‘Kudos’ by Rachel Cusk deserves kudos indeed.  This book, the last of a trilogy, was named one of the NY Times Top 100 Books of the Year in 2018 and an Amazon Book of the Month in June 2018. Reader beware, imo, “Outline (Trilogy Book 1)” and Transit (Book 2) were preferred by this reader.

It has one of everything, so it is in a sense an ark

I felt at home, strangely, because it is a miniature world.… One manor house, one farmhouse. A vineyard, a field of potatoes, a field of wheat, a cherry tree, an orchard. It has one of everything, so it is in a sense an ark. It is like when you draw a place when you are a child. I don’t like large-scale things, not in architecture or evolutionary leaps. I think it’s an aberration. This notion of something that is small and self-contained is for me a moral and aesthetic ideal.

~ W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country 


Image: Cristiana Coucerio for The New Yorker,

Driving West Side Highway. With Chip off the Old Block (not).

It’s 5:40 a.m. An early jump to beat the morning rush to mid-town Manhattan. I’m in a 50 mph zone, and traffic is blowing by me as if I were standing still. No matter. I’m not chasing them, not today.  I’m on the West Side Highway. Manhattan condo’s tower overhead on my left. Hudson River flows silently on my right. Sun is rising and casting a dreamy glow over all things. Passages from Richard Powers’ new book (The Overstory) flick through consciousness:  It’s morning like the morning when life first came up on dry land.

And the mind panned from Now to yesterday. From Richard to Rachel. To my Rachel.

Rachel’s birthday was yesterday. She took the day off and came home. “You don’t expect me to work on my birthday do you Dad?” With Mom and Dad both working, she was going to spend the day alone at home. Now that doesn’t seem right.  I cancelled meetings, worked from home and scheduled lunch with Rachel at the Rowayton Seafood restaurant.

She orders the Lobster Roll (butter poached with lemon on brioche). Plus fries. Dad orders the blackened salmon on a bed of corn, tomatillo and asparagus. Plus fries.

Waitress asks her if she’d like a glass of wine with lunch. “No Thank you. Ice water would be great.” I watched her interaction with the waitress, her unfolding of her napkin and placing it on her lap, her straightening her dress over her knees, her ease in the surroundings, her comfort in her own skin. Wow. Look at what you’ve become. [Read more…]

Each small accomplishment completed brings me closer to…what exactly? The finish line?

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All month I’ve been making lists, crossing things off lists, making new lists – grocery lists, to-do lists, gift lists. Somehow the act of writing things down and crossing them out calms me, as if each small accomplishment or task completed brings me closer to…what exactly? The finish line?

Of course, the idea of completion is an illusion. There will be to-dos until the day when there aren’t, and I’m certainly not in any hurry to get there. Nor do I want to look at December 25 as the end of some silly holiday race.

So my challenge today, and every day this season, is to simply relax into the day’s doings, whatever they may be. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the closer I stay to home and hearth during these short, dark days, the more peaceful I feel.

~ Katrina Kenison, from “Spicy Holiday Granola” (December 15, 2017)

A Journey Around My Room

In Lin Yutang’s view, you must possess the capacity to open yourself to seeing what’s in front of and around you all the time, not just when you are on a special trip. He gives us a sizable translation from a Chinese philosopher who expands on this, explaining that seeing the beauty and grace in the most majestic mountains means nothing if you can’t see beauty and grace in “a little patch of water, a village, a bridge, a tree, a hedge, or a dog….”

A travel book that takes this philosophy as far as it can go and then further is that remarkable little book: A Journey Around My Room. This is book was written in 1790 by a young French officer named Xavier de Maistre. […]

With nothing else to do, he wrote a guidebook to his room, visiting over the course of those weeks various bits of furniture, paintings, his bookshelf, letters he’d kept, and his own memory of a charming and slightly rakish life … De Maistre makes a case for traveling around his room as the truest kind of travel … “The pleasure you find in traveling around your room is safe from the restless jealousy of men; it is independent of the fickleness of fortune. After all, is there any person so unhappy, so abandoned, that he doesn’t have a little den into which he can withdraw and hide away from everyone? Nothing more elaborate is needed for the journey.”

Like all good travel writers, de Maistre begins his book by giving us the lay of the land and the route he intends to take:

My room is situated on the forty-fifth degree of latitude, according to the measurement of Father Beccaria; it stretches from east to west; it forms a long rectangle, thirty-six paces in circumference, if you hug the wall. My journey will, however, measure much more than this, as I will be crossing it frequently lengthwise, or else diagonally, without any rule or method. I will even follow a zigzag path, and I will trace out every possible geometrical trajectory if need be. I don’t like people who have their itineraries and ideas so clearly sorted out that they say, “Today I’ll make three visits, I’ll write four letters, and I’ll finish that book I started.” My soul is so open to every kind of idea, taste and sentiment; it so avidly receives everything that presents itself!…And why would it turn down the pleasures that are scattered along life’s difficult path? …

But when he wants to be awakened to what is going on in the world far from his window, and learn more about the human condition, there is another destination in his room that he can visit—his bookshelf, which is filled mostly with novels and a few books of poetry. These take him out of his room while allowing him to stay in it, and expand his experiences a thousandfold. He writes, “As if my own troubles weren’t enough, I also voluntarily share those of a thousand imaginary characters, and I feel them as vividly as my own.” …

After reading A Journey Around My Room, I vowed that I would take a trip to my room every few months, and these have been some of the happiest days I’ve spent. It’s an incredible luxury to be home and not sick, to wake up with no agenda other than to wander around the apartment all day. I can lie on the sofa and look at the light as it plays across a glass table. Or see the way it catches on a cracked ceramic vase. I can play with the shells I’ve brought back from the beach. I can admire our hearty little African violet. And I can visit my books, flipping through this one and then that to light on a passage.

This only works if I remain totally unplugged. The rules for such a day are simple—no electronics at all (except for music).

~ Will Schwalbe, from “A Journey Around My Room. Traveling.” In Books for a Living.


Notes:

Running. Around Gitche Gumee.

6:37 am, Sunday morning. Father’s Day 2017.  57º F, rain is falling. No, better depicted as the heavens opening up, c’était le déluge!

I’m running.

An eerie, fifty foot layer of fog hangs over Lake Superior. I’m looking out at the break wall at Presque Isle Park in Marquette Michigan. I’m alone on the “Island”, as it is referred to by the locals. The park is closed to car traffic.  Alone on a 323 acre island, my idyllic state.

It’s not November, but I start humming passages from Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald:

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘gitche gumee’
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

The day before, we walked this same two mile track.  Black flies were feeding on the leeward side of the island, Humans were on the breakfast menu. You don’t see a single insect on 47th and Madison in NYC with tons of auto exhaust and air conditioner coolant spilling into the atmosphere 24 x 7 – the invisible chemical mist numbing everything in its path. [Read more…]

That was what he said. This was what I heard

One day, alone in the kitchen with my father, I let drop a few whines about the job. I gave him details, examples of what troubled me, yet although he listened intently, I saw no sympathy in his eyes. No “Oh, you poor little thing.” Perhaps he understood that what I wanted was a solution to the job, not an escape from it. In any case, he put down his cup of coffee and said, “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

That was what he said. This was what I heard:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

I have worked for all sorts of people since then, geniuses and morons, quick-witted and dull, bighearted and narrow. I’ve had many kinds of jobs, but since that conversation with my father I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.

~ Toni Morrison, excerpt from “The Work You Do, The Person You Are” (The New Yorker, June 5, 2017)


Photo of Toni Morrison: contramare.net

You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.

Andrew Wyeth,

Later he told me he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden. Faraway windows, opaque and unreadable. Ruts in the spiky grass made by an invisible vehicle, leading nowhere. Dishwater sky.

People think the painting is a portrait, but it isn’t. Not really. He wasn’t even in the field; he conjured it from a room in the house, an entirely different angle. He removed rocks and trees and outbuildings. The scale of the barn is wrong. And I am not that frail young thing, but a middle-aged spinster. It’s not my body, really, and maybe not even my head.

He did get one thing right: Sometimes a sanctuary, sometimes a prison, that house on the hill has always been my home. I’ve spent my life yearning toward it, wanting to escape it, paralyzed by its hold on me. (There are many ways to be crippled, I’ve learned over the years, many forms of paralysis.) My ancestors fled to Maine from Salem, but like anyone who tries to run away from the past, they brought it with them. Something inexorable seeds itself in the place of your origin. You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.

Who are you, Christina Olson? he asked me once.

Nobody had ever asked me that. I had to think about it for a while.

~ Christina Baker Kline, from Prologue of “A Piece of the World: A Novel


Art: Christina’s World is a 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth, and one of the best-known American paintings of the middle 20th century. The woman in the painting is Anna Christina Olson (3 May 1893 – 27 January 1968). She is likely to have suffered from Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a genetic polyneuropathy. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when he saw her crawling across a field while he was watching from a window in the house. Wyeth had a summer home in the area and was on friendly terms with Olson, using her and her younger brother as the subjects of paintings from 1940 to 1968. Although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model—Wyeth’s wife Betsy posed as the torso of the painting.[4] Olson was 55 at the time Wyeth created the work. (Source: Wiki)

I’m very much in love with where I’m from

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“Palmist Building (Summer), Havana Junction, Alabama,” 1980.

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“Palmist Building (Winter), Havana Junction, Alabama,” 1981.

Sarah Edwards: The photographer William Christenberry was often described as a chronicler of a decaying American South. It is true that in much of his work—shots of older buildings emptied of people, beams gap-toothed and nature ready to overtake—there is an attraction to what is passing, or what has passed. But Christenberry rejected the idea that his work was a lamentation or an elegy…“I feel that I’m very much in love with where I’m from. I find some old things more beautiful than the new, and I continue to seek those places out, and I go back to them every year until sooner or later they are gone.” [Read more…]

T.G.I.F.: Road Trip!

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Singer Céline Dion is cutting the price of her Florida estate to $38.5 million. See the 19 other amazing pictures here: Celine Dion Jupiter Estate.

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