Saturday, April 16, 2016

Finisterre

FINISTERRE
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves. 
- David Whyte (from Pilgrim)






Friday, April 15, 2016

The Fog Town School of Thought

They should have taught us birds and trees
in school, they should have taught us beauty
and weaving bees and had a class
on listening and standing alone—
the children should have studied light
reflected from a spider web,
we should have learned the branches of streams
spread out like fingers or the veins
of a leaf—we should have learned the sky
is the tallest steeple, we should have known
a hill is a voice inside the sky—
O, we should have had our school
on top and stayed until the night
for the fog to bloom in the hollows and rise
like cotton spinning off a wheel—
we should have learned a dream—a child's
and even still a man's—is made
from fog and love, my word, you'd think
with the book in front of us we should
have learned how Fog Town got its name.



-- Maurice Manning





 

Saturday, April 09, 2016

jelly


Circles

Today there is rain. There is rain, the Grand National on the radio, live from Aintree, there is a dog with a sore foot (and the wherewithal to skirt around the giant cone of shame on her head to nibble at it, surreptitiously), a visit from the people who grew up in our house, a cake to be baked, my oldest son and his lovely girlfriend, and a visit to the mercado in East LA. As it never rains in Los Angeles, this offers the opportunity to stay home, to be lazy, to reflect, to clean, to re-organize, to do all the things one normally doesn't, because of the ridiculous sunshine and blue skies. Today is a day that feels like Norway. Not enough exercise, not enough reading, too much contemplating, too much napping, and an ongoing sense of wasting one's time.

My lovely boyfriend is in London and he calls me to tell me he has been to a see an exhibit of a Norwegian artist I adore, that he has been to a German film done in one take, that he has eaten a cheese sandwich, and been on the set of a movie he is working on, and I feel that I need to achieve something more than washing the bedsheets and cleaning the kitchen. I rinse and soak the dog's foot in warm salt water and think of my grandmother's cure for everything, growing up as she did alongside the Oslo fjord. I slather the foot in antibiotic ointment, I grumble at her for trying to lick it, but I take off the cone because it's just a weapon of torture as far as I can tell. I look at the piles of books by my bed, on my desk, in my room on the shelf, and wonder why reading has become so hard for me: the thing I loved most in the world, except for walking with dogs or riding horses. I wonder why getting through just one is such a chore. I watch the dog's foot swell and wonder if she should be on an antibiotic, but I don't want to overreact. I carry her with me to East LA so she won't lick the foot, and make her sit on my lap till she falls asleep.

I listen to the Grand National, and think of my whole family with their bets. My mother bets on three horses. It's a tradition. My father always bet on many of them, some to win, some each way. I miss England at the beginning of April, esepecially when it's raining here, and that's how I decide upon the cake, a fruitcake from Mrs Beaton, from a recipe my mother sent me. It's here, if you'd like to try it. Our Sunday tea cake. After a big lunch and a nap and a black and white film, tea in the blue and white Danish cups and crumbly, moist fruit cake.

The cake is a way of assuaging homesickness, of course.

I'm still passing through this place, with its owls at its greenest time of year, with the yellow flowers that bud like stars just for a week or two, with its eucalyptus beetles and it coyote brush, sage and golden yellow lantana. I wonder whether the hillside should be terraced and whether we need three different types of groundcover, whether the acacia redolens will work in the shady areas, whether the patches of rock can be reclaimed. I'm passing through. It's home but it's not home. I'm a stranger still, I know this. People ask me where I'm from all the time. I say "Hollywood" and know I'm being churlish.  Thirty years I've spent in this place with its wooden sided cars, and its longboards, pink camellia, bougainvillea, banking nasturtiums and women with big hair held in place with a visor (you still see them, on the lawns outside their Beverly Hills houses, waving at a neighbor or a walking companion, in similarly prolific amounts of make up). And then of course the hills, the stark beauty of the sagebrush, the blue skies, the impossibly warm seas. But it's not damp, or uncomfortable, or grumpy. Just today. And I'm still answering the question about where I'm from.

I'm from the Chilterns. Yes, it's near London. No, it's not Kent. Yes, near Oxford. Oh, did he? A Rhodes scholar. Ok. Yes, those dreaming spires. Cotswolds. English breakfast. Say something? Ha ha, no it's you that has the accent.

Where I'm from, I'm no novelty. We eat peardrops still. He brought me some at Christmas and I keep them by my bed and mete them out only on an as needed basis, essentially to assuage home sickness. Yes, it still lingers, annoyingly. You can't move back, you're not English any more, they say. I don't think they know how cruel they are being when they say this. I'm not really anything, to be fair.

My grandmother was Danish and moved to Norway. My mother was Norwegian and moved England. I am English and I moved to California. My Californian-born daughter is now in Denmark, and when we were there, we visited the church in which my great-grandmother was christened. Everything is a circle, as the New Seekers so wisely sang.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

LES



I am perched on a narrow balcony on the twentieth floor of a hotel on the lower east side of New York, at a little red cafe table, the sun pouring down on the back of my neck, the sound of sirens and horns, with bridges all around me. One is the Williamsburg, I think. The trees I can see are bare because it is the beginning of March, and there was snow here two days ago. Despite the sunshine, I'm in a big puffy jacket and a warm sweater, and I'm trying not to look down because it gives me a strange feeling in my bottom. My beloved is asleep on the bed next to me. I can see him through the glass window, his hands folded on his stomach, and BBC Radio Four playing from the iPhone on his chest in crisp highly-annunciated sentences. He looks happy.

I am happy. There was a moment, just two days ago, when I looked out of the window down onto the street and saw the people, bundled up and walking in the cold, and the yellow cabs, and the light, and I thought that this might be the pinnacle of happiness. You know that feeling that you get when it feels that your ego has melted away and all you feel is great, swooping, abiding, huge love for everything? That this is the moment but the moment is everything and everything is love and everything is all right? It happens so very rarely but it happened with such delicate precision, so quietly, so unexpectedly, that it made my cry. "Don't worry my darling, I'm here," he said, for he is a sweet man, a kind man, a man who cares for me. "I'm not sad," I said, "I'm happy." And then of course I realized how silly it sounded. How do you explain that? 

The same night we went to see the Terrence Malick film "Knight of Cups." Malick is a transcendentalist. His films no longer follow a narrative of any sort really, and the critics have been, with a few exceptions, somewhat 'meh' about this one. But I can't dismiss it that easily. The women in the diaphanous gowns and vertiginous heels, the portrait of Los Angeles as a character, the nothing being said. For me, all of it made absolute sense because I often walk around like that, and allow life to just wash over me. I'm like a dog, not worrying about tomorrow or yesterday, but just experiencing the things that are happening, observing them, taking them in. And then, of course, there are days when I'm not like that at all. But try Malick. But do not expect anything close to traditional. This isn't a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, unless you of course subscribe to TS Eliot's time theorem, proposed in The Four Quartets:

 In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field,, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.

This is the realm of poetry, and why, I believe, poetry plays such an important role in our lives.

People are popping out on their balconies on different floors to have a smoke, a conversation on the phone, a kiss. I'm noticing water towers all over the city, on the rooves, since C pointed them out. And sirens too, but birds, lots of birds, singing sweetly on this Sunday afternoon in NYC.







Saturday, February 20, 2016

Kibbeh Meatballs with Tahini Parsley sauce

I'm a huge fan of Lebanese cooking, but a lot of the recipes I've inherited from the Lebanese side of the family seem to assume that you have days to prepare. Kibbeh, the delicious Lebanese-style meatloaf with ground lamb and pine nuts, for example, takes hours and includes instructions for dousing your hands in iced water as you go. Last night, because I like to do things at the last minute, I made oven-baked meatballs which worked rather well as an approximation of kibbeh. Serve with lebanese rice with vermicelli, a fatoush salad, and tahini parsley sauce. These are easy-peasy and take about 15 minutes in the oven.

Roast Chicken Legs with Za'atar and Kibbeh Meatballs


For the Kibbeh Meatballs
2 lbs ground lamb
1 cup fine bulgur (soaked)
3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
salt (don't be afraid of salt)
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts
an egg

Set oven to 350F. Combine ingredients in a large bowl using your hands, and shape small balls (about the size of golf balls). Roll them between your palms (it's marvelously meditative and place on a cookie sheet cover with foil and a spritz of olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes.

For the tahini parsley sauce (adapted from Anissa Helou's Lebanese Cuisine)
1/2 cup (give or take) tahini
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
7-8 tblspns water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smushed
salt
1/4 bunch parsley, finely chopped

Put tahini in a bowl and slowly stir in lemon and water, slowly. Paste will thicken quickly and then thin out, to the consistency of runny yogurt. Add liquid as you see fit. Stir in parsley, garlic, salt and taste.
 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Honor Elisabeth

Have you ever felt that you were treading water, just waiting for life to start? It felt that way today, which happens to be my daughter's twenty-first birthday. I suppose this is what got to me: why aren't I with her today? Anything that I had on the agenda paled, actually, in comparison with her luminescent beauty today. Today, of all days, I wanted to hold her in my arms and tell her how happy I am that she exists in the world, how proud I am of the woman she has become. I mean, I'm so damn proud. And tonight I make Lebanese meatballs in her honor, and as I chop the parsley and roll the meat and eggs and bread in my hands, she is all I think about.

I didn't know she would be a girl. I'd had a boy and I thought boys were the greatest things ever and I convinced myself that another boy would be wonderful, and then she appeared, my little baby girl, and all my dreams came true. She was induced, because my doctor is in Beverly Hills, and because I am a princess, by proxy, and because he was going away and she was due on Valentine's Day. And I didn't want another doctor with his hands inside me or panicking me. My doctor was cool and laid back, and watched Oprah with me, and held my hand. "I've had four," he said "and my wife had the last three on her schedule." So I did. And there she was, this beautiful little pink thing, and she was a girl. HONOR. There was no doubt that was her name. And then this funny, tow-headed, blue-eyed, fierce, lovely, strong-willed, compassionate, sweet person appeared. I wasn't prepared. "Oh, you've met your match" said my mother-in-law. "She's going to be TROUBLE." I didn't know what she meant. I thought all little girls were supposed to be strong-willed, decisive, brilliant. I thought all little girls would fiercely decide that they would only wear the hideous bright pink sweats given them by their nanny for Christmas. I thought all little girls knew their mind like she knew her mind. I was in love. I was so in love.

We lived in a house with an apricot tree in the middle of the lawn in the garden. We'd sit under there and watch the little Norfolk terrier FEAST on the apricots. He shat yellow, got enormously fat and farty, and we loved it. And although he bit everyone, he never bit my children. They'd pick him up by the belly or the back legs or the neck, crooked in their tiny elbows, and he'd never complain.

I remember that time so well. We listened to James Taylor incessantly. Shower the people.

The years fly by. They tell you that, don't they. They say "enjoy it. It passes so quickly." And you roll your eyes and think they're ridiculous. It passes so quickly. The games, the horse shows, the birthday parties, the recitals, the Halloweens, the Coachellas, the first boyfriends, the getting high for the first time and wanting mamma, the hating you, the loving you, the only wanting you, the ignoring you, all of it. It passes so, so fast. And then, she's 21. And she's a woman and today I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't imagine how anything was as important as being with my babygirl who happens to be in Copenhagen.

And you know, as fierce as she is, as tough as she can be (oh, she's a General, no doubt) there is this soft, soft core, this sweet middle part, all full of kindness and emotion and loveliness, and I saw it today, on Skype this morning. We both cried. Nothing is better than her. She's my little buddy, my minky, my sleepover pal, she of matching pajamas and similar taste in bad movies (13 Going On 30 ftw), my little pastry chef, my bolognese maker supreme, my Donald Trump imitator, my defender of the weak and disenfranchised, my feminist, my rabble-rouser, my dog lover, horse lover, monkey lover, Prada shoe lover, my beautiful, beautiful girl.

Thank you for indulging me. My daughter often asks why I don't write about her here and I tell her because she is too close to my heart. This time, I had to write about her. I had to blurt it out because it's cathartic. I can't hold all this love inside me. Honor, I love you so much.