Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Back to school

In Food, Music, Summer Story on August 31, 2009 at 7:58 am


Summer holidays are over. The pressure is on, locally, to put my local blog back in service.   The pressure is on, internally, to focus my attention on those things I consider essential, my personal writing being foremost among those.  I’ll do what I can for the community and for my stories, both –  while remembering you can’t please all the people, all the time. Sometimes, you can’t even please any of the people most of the time. But I’ve known that for a long time.

Today:  fig chutney, stories and whatever else life sends along. Music, certainly. For now,  Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.  I like the fact we use the word ‘playing’ for a skill requiring that level of concentration and dedication. That’s where the fun happens though – children have always known that.

Photo:  wild fig trees at the old bridge.



12:00 Of course, in this kitchen, the recipe was used for proportions and the ingredients got tweaked. As in:

no ginger – the figs were aromatic and I didn’t want to fool around with their flavor

no raisins – who needs raisins when you’ve got figs??? (an old French expression ‘mi-figue, mi-raisin’ refers to someone half smiling, half scowling after buying figs augmented with dried raisins –  unless it’s the other way round, I forget.)

no cardamon – again, would overpower the figs.

Instead:   fennel seed, dried poblano pepper and lemon rind, pulsed. Plus  fresh slivered garlic (lots),ground coriander, turmeric and a pinch of cinnamon. Wine vinegar, brown sugar; cook, pack in sterile jars.


18:00 All I can say is: every time I tell myself I won’t be able to juggle all the pieces, I simply realize it’s a question of choosing which of the pieces really matter. The rest simply takes care of itself. So: chutney, done (tasted it this noon: it’s good.)

R’s photos for the street artists: done (special authorization from City Hall:  they won’t have to pay the permit so long as they belong to the Federation).

Story: moving forward.

Calling it a day over here. Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles, Messieurs, good day/evening/night to you over there, wherever that may be.

Full fathom five

In Food, Poetry, Theater, Uncategorized on August 30, 2009 at 9:03 am


Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:

Burthen Ding-dong.

Hark! now I hear them,  – -Ding-dong, bell.

Ariel (Act I, scene 2) The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Those are the words I woke up with. None of mine seem to want to join them for now except: I came in peace. In peace, I leave.

The Tempest is one of my favorites in Shakespeare’s plays.


13:15 Finally a break in the oppressive heat. Lunch in the courtyard: grilled eggplant with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, grilled veal chops, fresh tomato salad with fresh basil; coffee. The trees are yellowed, leaves falling already because of the drought. Having trouble concentrating on story today.


16:20 Good. Grief. Bumper crops of figs this year, apparently: someone else just dropped off four kilos of them, straight from their garden. I’ve never made fig chutney. There’s an interesting recipe I can fiddle with over here – but I’ll use pink garlic instead. That said, I’m out of this house now before someone else rings the doorbell with food offerings. Thank you most kindly, food gods. Namaste. Merci. Really, really.  I hereby extend wishes of  Peace, Health, Love and Fig Chutney to all sentient beings (yes, I’ll report on the finished product).


In Summer Story on August 29, 2009 at 7:47 am


No matter who they may be in your personal pantheon:   iconic authors you’ve revered all your life. Thinkers you’ve  analyzed and thought about for days, years, half a lifetime. Spiritual teachers. Great minds in depth psychology. Art teachers, acting coaches, writing coaches.  Family members, relatives, close friends, lovers. Therapists, advisors, counselors, facilitators.

No matter who they are, no matter how much you may admire them or love them, no matter how great they may be, here’s what you must know: once you step away from the crowd and decide to follow your own path, there is no turning back. There is also no guarantee anyone will be waiting for you at nightfall. You’d best remember also there will be precious few places to replenish your water gourd or trade stories over a campfire.

I quoted Colette yesterday. She also wrote: “Writing only leads to more writing.” There are much worse choices to be made in life. Whatever you choose, you just have to remember  it becomes your path. You’d best embrace it with all you’ve got because there may be times when it will be all you’ve got.


In Current reading, Ridgewood, Summer Story on August 28, 2009 at 8:14 am


“Against the familiar logics of possession in which a woman is fatally seen and evaluated in her femininity, Renée opposes the need to see for herself.”  Nancy K. Miller quoted  in Aging and gender in literature by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown, Janice Rossen.

Not that I would have expressed it quite that way when I read Colette for the first time – an enterprise involving much stealth.  I used the same technique to read Chéri at a neighboring bookstore as the one  I used in class to read poetry during algebra classes:    the old hide-a-book-in-another-book ploy.

Reading book excerpts on Google is… what it is meant to be, I suppose. In this instance, pages 247 to 254 are only available if you buy the book. But what I read on Colette was enough to remind me it’s high time I re-read Le Fanal bleu (a good review in English here)and  Le Pur et l’impur (available in English as  The Pure and the Impure – I can’t vouch for the translation, having never read Colette other than in French. But she considered it her most important work.)

There is so much I could quote of Colette. In Sido when the clairvoyant, speaking about Sido’s father, says: “Because you represent what he would so much have wished to be on this earth. You are precisely what he hoped to be, but couldn’t.”

Or, in La Vagabonde:  “Il n’y avait pas de soin plus impérieux, dans sa vie, que de chercher des mots, des mots pour dire combien le soleil est jaune, et bleue la mer, et brillant le sel en frange de jais blanc (…) comme s’il n’y avait d’urgent au monde que son désir de posséder par ses yeux les merveilles de la terre !” (There was no more pressing care in her life than to search for words, words to express how yellow the sun was, and how blue the sea, and shiny the salt in a fringe of white jet (…) as if the only urgent thing in the world was her desire to possess the marvels of the earth through her eyes!”)

Or the finest self-epitaph any writer could wish for – the last words in her last book, Le Fanal bleu: “A suivre …” – To be continued…

Mostly, I owe Colette my first realization at fourteen that one could exist for the purpose of writing one’s true sensations and feelings, no matter what others thought of them or of you. That this, in itself, was reason enough to live, even if it meant writing in secret or having people make fun, laugh, scold, denigrate or punish.

Salutations, Colette.

The photo: yesterday evening, coming up with Cybèle from Passage docteur Beaumelou where I picked wild rosemary and lavender.

Back to story – where else?


17:10 That’s all from me today, folks. I’m afraid most of my word supply gets used up in storyland at the moment.  Best to those who drop by anyway. Much appreciated.

Dealing with it

In Current reading, Ridgewood, RLB trivia on August 27, 2009 at 7:51 am


It’s  probably been said before – what hasn’t? And there are also other reasons that lead people to acting, singing,  writing or other forms of expression. But for me, this one is key among them: outside of our private dream time, they are maybe the only places where we can step away   from what others expect of us.The only places where, just like children do, we cross the border into the world of raw sensation and emotion and struggle to give them the shape and the meaning they have for us – not what our parents or caretakers make of them; not what the neighbors would have us think; not what the teacher insists on calling the right answer, or our lover claims is our most lovable trait. It’s a tremendous privilege. A scary one, too. Sometimes in storyland, you discover things  you would rather not know. The same way children make up stories and – lo! – the adults around them start laughing, or grow fidgety; or suddenly decide it’s way past that child’s bedtime, isn’t it?

You step into storyland the way Orpheus went down looking for his sweet love Euridyce, only to lose her again. Or the way Demeter went through hell to claim back her daughter Persephone from that godawful Hades – and discovered all parties involved had to make painful concessions.

You think you’re writing one story and discover another, lurking within it. You think… never mind what you think, says Maya. Never mind. Just deal with it.

The photo: early morning shot of J. Fonseca’s house on boulevard de Genève. Monsieur Fonseca is a barber and hairdresser who plies his trade at his customers’ home and advertises such in Portuguese tiles on the front of his own. (What does this have to do with today’s post? I don’t have the slightest idea.)


17:10 Breaking for the day. Running two storylines at once isn’t a choice, just something that happens sometimes. It’s fascinating, but tiring.

I started reading excerpts of this book which I picked up as a suggestion on this blog.  Planning to read the available excerpts on Colette this evening. Considering a) I’m a writer b) I’ll turn 63 this time around the sun c) three characters in the stories I’m working on are well into their seventies or eighties, the topics of Aging and Gender in Literature definitely interest me.

Best to whoever drops by. Thank you for reading my blog.

Go figure

In Food, Mary Etteridge, RLB trivia, Story material, Summer Story on August 26, 2009 at 7:36 am


Some people get anxious if others scowl at them or start laughing when they walk into the room. Some folks get uptight if they’re criticized or told about their various inadequacies. I can’t say I enjoy any of those things but they don’t make me anxious. I get anxious when people are nice to me. It’s enough to send me running for cover down a laundry chute. Don’t ask, we all have our quirks.

So I wake up from one of my typical anxiety dreams where  people are showing up with smiles on their faces and suitcases full of gifts. I know they’ll be really angry when they discover something or other about me – in this dream,  I’m a fraud of some undisclosed variety. All  hell will break loose when the gift-bearers realize that. It’s enough to wake you up, believe me.

Ho-hum. So another night, another anxiety dream. Time to read through what I’ve written this past week – not to savage it to bits but to ask myself what the story has told me up to this point. Maybe it’s following a different arc from the one I’d imagined for it. Could be. So read, then think about it while cooking up kilos and kilos of fig jam.

I don’t know what it is about the place where I picked the figs yesterday. It unsettles me every time. It’s a gorgeous old house in the countryside but for me, there’s something creepy about it. As if unpleasant things had been done there. Maybe it’s a story waiting in the queue. Maybe I’ll   figure it out when I’m invited back  to gather walnuts this fall.


19:10 I’ll spare the reader yet another view of jam jars neatly aligned in a ‘Mission Accomplished’ pose. Suffice it to say the jam is cooked, the jars are filled and sealed; story revision proceeds.

best to all.

The best way to walk*

In Current reading, Food, RLB trivia, Summer Story on August 25, 2009 at 7:12 am


When I walked Cybèle last night, it hadn’t rained in well over a month. Along the Chateau’s old retaining wall, the mingled scent from the fig trees, the wild rosemary and the lavender was almost overwhelming. I picked a tiny sprig from the plants and one leaf bud from the fig tree. All three were  gummy with resin and so fragrant the smell still lingers this morning.

The storm finally broke at about two o’clock this morning. I opened the basement door leading to the courtyard and  listened to the water gurgling in the drains. The air is a bit cooler now, some cloud cover lingers; but having the coffee iced is still the best option.

I’d never read any Francine Prose. Just read Chapter One of  Guided Tours of Hell online. Fierce talent. Daunting.

There’s only one thing for it – whether ‘it’ be  impressed, cowed, daunted, admirative, depressed, elated or too sad for words: tea or coffee, hot  or cold.

Then back to work.

* A line from a French marching song: ‘la  meilleure façon d’marcher, c’est encore la nôtre, c’est de mettre un pied d’vant l’autre et d’recommencer.’ (Ours is still the best way of walking: you place one foot in front of the other, then you start over again.)


17:15 All I wanted was a brief respite around 3 pm, after reading through what I’d done in the past week or so and before the rain started up again. What I got was this:


I wish to make it clear I am most grateful both for the earth’s bounty and for the generosity of our friends. I also wish to say anyone known personally to me who might like some fig jam is most welcome to express interest in same. (We’re looking here at ten kilos of figs which I’m about to mix with the same quantity of sugar, the juice and chopped rind from one lemon, and let sit overnight. The rest of the operation is well-known.)

P.S. the vine behind the figs is a passiflora. Should anyone know if the passion fruit can be made into jam, please: keep  the information to yourself, or pass it on to a deserving someone  in the Fidji Islands? You’d be doing me a favor and I thank you for it. Why? Because some people have a problem with drugs. I have a problem with saying: no, I will not plan for the day food becomes a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

P.P.S. Yes, I did manage to move the story along, nonetheless. It only takes about twenty minutes to pick ten kilos of figs, thank goodness, especially when the skies  decide to open up  – for which rain I am also truly grateful.

Best, and so on and so forth.

Founding Myths

In Animals, Story material, Summer Story on August 24, 2009 at 7:18 am


At some point between 1500 and 1535, someone in the old town put an earthenware vessel next to an archway leading to the stream running to the river. How it came to be left there and the archway sealed, I don’t know. I would never have noticed the broken pottery if someone hadn’t decided to have a cook-out along the path where the stream used to run. (Useful if ever I find my way back to one of my local stories.)

The photo has nothing to do with the dream I had last night in which I was running down a rainy street on all fours, except for one thing – the story buried under the debris. The one no one bothered to spell out for you when you were a child, so obvious was it at the time. The founding myths of who you are and why you are that way – whatever that way happens to be.

My dream was all about some of the basics in every small child’s founding myth: how you are at once exposed and vulnerable, inadequate, and fundamentally wrong about something no one need explain to you – considering your inadequacy,  you wouldn’t understand anyway. It’s the level of childhood powerlessness Franz Kafka explored all his life. I doubt anyone can do better with that theme than he did in The Castle.

In a way, it’s always a relief when you discover someone else wrote that book – whatever that book may be – since it frees you to work on wherever  your own obsessions insist on taking you. Besides, my take on  being born wrong and inadequate is completely different from Kafka’s; if  my characters ended up dying in the village below The Castle (or buried in rubble near a forgotten archway), you can be sure of one thing: no matter what shame, ridicule, embarrassment or despair they would have experienced, they would have come up for one last ‘but…’ before the gods dropped the boulder on their heads. C’est comme ça. Why?  I don’t know but I suspect that  a long, long time ago, whenever I was subjected to Shame, Ridicule  & Co,  I worded my very own, ultra secret codicil to the founding myths as told to  me.

No, I won’t reveal the secret codicil.  If I did, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. (Just as I was typing these words, a bee flew into the room and landed on the keyboard; bees know how to keep secrets, so that’s ok.)

Back to story.


17:35 The character I’m working on at the moment is so untrustworthy, she’s keeping her author guessing all the time. From one paragraph to the next, I don’t know what she’ll come up with. Boring, she is not. Slightly tiring, though.  Sorry Midge, your author is calling it a day. Besides, you need your beauty sleep. (God, if I could lie half as well as Midge does, my life would be a piece of… a piece of… would be a mess, basically.)

Evening greetings, I bid you all.

Just one thing

In Summer Story on August 23, 2009 at 6:17 am


It can be anything. A physical handicap, a moral imperative (broken or respected), a financial break (or its opposite), a wrong turn, an unexpected delay. That’s all it takes for the stories to unfold.  How this one is broken, how that one fights back. How a third keeps repeating the same  turn up the down ramp. How another turns water into wine  or … darn, got it wrong, again. How  some lose interest, how others break their toys.

Just one thing. Any thing at all.


18:05 I have no ambition. That’s my problem. Just deleted an invitation to invest in a great money-making venture that only requires I invest one thousand dollars. I could have doubled that amount in a week; it was a geometric progression from then on. Let’s face it: I’m just shiftless and lazy. (But the writing went well – fairly satisfied with today’s latest scene.)

I now walk the dog.

Evening, Sir, Madam. A demain.

The Size of It

In Music, Summer Story, Uncategorized on August 22, 2009 at 6:31 am


The picture, that is. Sums up my contribution to the blogosphere for this morning. For better or worse, whatever goes through my head at the moment gets rerouted to the story.  C’est comme ça.


17:40 Time to walk the dog and shake out the kinks. Hopefully, my main character gets to air out in downtown Montréal tomorrow – god knows  after the day she’s had, the poor kid deserves it.

A goodly whatever to one and all, from the quiet backwaters of Graulhet.