Monday, October 19, 2020

What Can We Do On One of Those Mondays?

What to do on the bad mornings when even making a cup of tea seems too much engagement with the world? When the coldsore cluster newly erupted on one's upper lip (for "one" read "My!") demands one admit an exhaustion of body and spirit, wave the white flag of defeat. . . . 

Stay in the slough of despond for a while, perhaps, until resilience and experience with "trusting to process" kick in, along with some self-chivvying. . .At which stage, for me, a shower or bubble bath might be the next step. But most often, I turn to formulaic activities, something that lets me fake purpose until I take that purpose on for its own self, for my own worth. . . .

Unfortunately, this particular bad morning coincided with some software program nonsense that I'd decided to resolve. Ancient (three years old!) software to be updated . . . bumped into ancient (five years old!) computer OS . . . and an hour of patient, clear, and helpful "Online Chat Support" later, I've got money for new software refunded (incompatible, so. . . ) and old software licences restored (back to my Starting Point, in other words, and it only took me an hour, insert eye-rolling emoji). I've added Buy New Computer to my ToDoEventually List . . . and also added New Computer to my Christmas wish list.  

But not yet feeling any buzz of purpose, nor even less of achievement, I turn to my default list of creative or productive or utilitarian activities I've found calming or endorphin-producing. The structure of a blogpost, for example. A brisk walk listening to a French or Italian podcast. Knitting a few rows on a sweater. Writing out the conjugation of an Italian verb across the tenses I know.  Running a load of laundry. Paying some bills online. 

Some of these seem impossibly ambitious for my currently deleted energy account; some of them dispiritingly trivial. But I know that sometimes energy levels can, weirdly, be charged up in their use, the way a car battery can be charged as the car is driven.

This morning, I'm going to charge my battery in the simple task of copying out a Donald Hall poem for you. I promised this several posts ago, but "This Poem" seems particularly apt to me today in the simple discipline of its form. Donald Hall was known for his use of common language in tackling themes of love and loss, for pointing to the presence of the numinous in the ordinary everyday.  Often, his "common language" is deployed in conversational "free verse," but he's also known for his craft within such formal restraints as blank verse.  (Read more about Donald Hall here, here, or here.)

And he played around a fair bit with syllabic verse, of which "This Poem" is a stellar example. Here it is. . . the end of Stanza 3 will spell out the governing formula for you. To quote William Wordsworth's sonnet "Nuns Fret Not," the poem's form, although different from that of a sonnet,  offers a "scanty plot of ground [within which those of us] Who have felt the weight of too much liberty / Should find brief solace there, as I have found."


This poem is why
I lie down at night
to sleep; it is why
I defecate, read,
and eat sandwiches;
it is why I get
up in the morning;
it is why I breathe.

You think (and I know
because you told me)
that poems exist
to say things, as you
telephone and I
write letters -- as if
this poem practiced

One time this poem 
compared itself to 
new machinery,
and another time
to a Holstein's cud.
Eight times five times eight
counts three hundred and
twenty syllables.

When you require it,
this poem consoles --
the way a mountain
comforts by staying
as it was despite
earthquakes, Presidents,
divorces, and frosts.
Granite continues.

This poem informs
the hurt ear wary
of noises, and sings
to the weeping eye.
When the agony 
abates itself, one
may appreciate
arbitrary art.

This poem is here,
Could it be someplace
else? Every question
is the wrong question.
The only answer
saunters down the page
in its broken lines
strutting and primping.

It styles itself not
for the small mirror
of its own regard --
nor even for yours:
to fix appearance;
to model numbers;
to name charity
"the greatest of these."

All night this poem
knocks at the closed door
of sleep: "Let me in."
Suppose all poems
contain this poem,
dreaming one knowledge
shaped by the measure 
of the body's word.

Of course, Donald Hall was a master, and I'm hardly suggesting that choosing a form or discipline and working within it will yield such richness for/from all of us. But isn't the poem instructive simply at the level of demonstrating what submission to process can deliver? Never mind what it says about poetry itself or about the human need for comfort and consolation. But, "when you require it, / this poem consoles" . . . . and "Suppose all poems / contain this poem, / dreaming one knowledge / shaped by the measure  / of the body's word.

And that's all I have for you today. And my wishes for a good week.


Monday, October 12, 2020

Thanksgiving, Covid-Style, with a Harvest Poetry twist. . .

 First of all let me acknowledge, this Canadian Thanksgiving Day, that I have so much to be grateful for. Paul and I have just returned from a three-day getaway into the interior of our province, the Okanagan specifically, where  there was abundant natural beauty everywhere. I've already posted photos on Instagram -- red apples ready to harvest and red Kokanee swimming upstream to spawn. Blue skies and golden leaves and tawny undulating hills rolling into dark-evergreen mountains. . . . 

On the hillside of Naramata, sloping down to Okanagan Lake. . . 

A collection of vintage farm equipment fronting the orchard beside the Fruit Stand we stopped at, somewhere around Keremeos. . . .
Such a particular landscape -- I love the difference from our Coast (although I'm so grateful for our more moderate temperatures, to be honest)

Passing through the mountains on the way home (so grateful, now, that we missed this week's snowfall!)

Back home, I've been for walks in the rain and my iPhone camera twitches in my pocket needing to snap shots of drops glistening from dangling chains of dark purple berries . . . 

And although we ate our turkey on our own, just the two of us yesterday evening, the bird was delicious as were the beets and the baked Kuri squash and the mashed potatoes and gravy and my dad's sausage stuffing (still recalling him, both in the making and in the eating, twenty years though he's been gone). My apple pie, with just a dab of ice cream. . . Leftovers for days, something else to be grateful for, sandwiches and soup perfectly suited to the Fall's stormy weather. . .  

We're too many here in town to gather for dinner, nine of us (and if we can't invite both little families, we can't invite either). . . only three more than the suggested "bubble," but those bubbles are meaningless anyway, now that the kids have resumed--thankfully--some of their activities: dance class, school, sleepovers with best friends.  . . We missed being together on Thanksgiving, but we had FaceTime chats with our Island City crew and with our Italian famiglia.  

From the Island, the Five proudly shared the French she's learned so far: the magic-key sentence that gets her permission to go to the toilet; how to ask someone how they're doing; and the way to wiggle a hand when answering that you're doing so-so: "Comme ci, comme ça."

From Italy, the Six showed the new vacancy in the front of her mouth. We've lost count of how many teeth she's lost so far, but she tells us it's six. . . The new "adult teeth" are crowding in now and as ridiculous as that description seems -- "adult"?--there are intimations already in the changes to her smile, a hint of change at the jawline. . . Fluently, effortlessly bilingual, she's rarely keen to speak Italian to us but recently she's been willing to check (and correct, ever so kindly) my pronunciation. I'd just learned the delightful Italian word for "puddle" -- pozzanghera -- Out of context (and, I've since discovered, because I put the stress on the wrong syllable), she frowned at first, wrinkling her forehead. But when I explained, she brightened and nodded encouragingly, and when I tried out a sentence with the word Sono molte pozzanghere sulla strada oggi (There are many puddles on the street today), she left pozzanghere alone but got me to repeat strada with more roll to my "r" and more stress on the first syllable. Gratitude. 

If the storm winds abate this morning and the sun manifests, as the weather forecast suggests they might, we're hoping for a walk in the woods with some of the local gang and perhaps a dog or two. If we make up some turkey sandwiches we can have a Covid-19 open-air Thanksgiving Picnic. Not sure that will be a tradition I want to foster, but if it happens today I'll be grateful. If it doesn't, well, I will muster Thanks for turkey soup and a mystery novel . . . 

But. . . . You didn't suspect there was going to be a But? Honestly, I'd almost forgotten that plan as well, and then, proof-reading my post, I remembered that I began by acknowledging all I have to be grateful for, this Thanksgiving. . . 

But. . . 

And I remembered that I'd started the post thinking of the Donald Hall poem I intend to share with you, as declared back in this post, triggered by another poem of his that my daughter had sent me. . .  However, when I reached for my copy of Hall's Old and New Poems (which copy I bought in 2011 at the iconic City Lights bookstore in San Francisco), I had to first lift my open copy of Louise Glück's A Village Life. And given I had that book off the shelf and open because Glück was just awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature, I've chosen a poem of hers instead.

You can read more about Louise Glück and her poetry here, but let me just say that she doesn't write poems that easily fits into the theme of Thanksgiving. There's beauty observed in her writing, yes, but there's always the darkness of reality and of myth as well. Her writing, especially in A Village Life, is almost conversational in its rhythms, plainspoken, the diction easily accessible; it seems to fall between lyric and narrative, the descriptions of quotidian and seasonal, cyclic phenomena sketch narratives that somehow invite and alienate at once, pointing to the mythic, the numinous. . . 

No Hallmark turkey dinners. . . .

But she gets at what we're holding at bay, with those dinners, especially in this poem. . . 


It's autumn in the market--
not wise anymore to buy tomatoes.
They're beautiful still on the outside,
some perfectly round and red, the rare varieties
misshapen, individual, like human brains covered in red oilcloth--

Inside, they're gone. Black, moldy--
you can't take a bite without anxiety.
Here and there, among the tainted ones, a fruit
still perfect, picked before decay set in.

Instead of tomatoes, crops nobody really wants.
Pumpkins, a lot of pumpkins.
Gourds, ropes of dried chilies, braids of garlic.
The artisans weave dead flowers into wreaths;
they tie bits of colored yarn around died lavender.
And people go on for a while buying these things
as though they thought the farmers would see to it
that things went back to normal:
the vines would go back to bearing new peas;
the first small lettuces, so fragile, so delicate, would begin
to poke out of the dirt.

Instead, it gets dark early.
And the rains get heavier; they carry 
the weight of dead leaves.

At dusk, now, an atmosphere of threat, of foreboding.
And people feel this themselves; they give a name to the season,
harvest, to put a better face on these things.

The gourds are rotting on the ground, the sweet blue grapes are finished.
A few roots, maybe, but the ground's so hard the farmers think
it isn't worth the effort to dig them out. For what?
To stand in the marketplace under a thin umbrella, in the rain, in the cold,
no customers anymore?

And then the frost comes; there's no more question of harvest.
The snow begins; the pretense of life ends.
The earth is white now; the fields shine when the moon rises.

I sit at the bedroom window, watching the snow fall.
The earth is like a mirror:
calm meeting calm, detachment meeting detachment.

What lives, lives underground.
What dies, dies without struggle.

Again, this poem, "Harvest," is from Louise Glück's A Village Life, published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Congratulations to her for winning the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature. . . 

and gratitude and thanksgiving for Poets and Poetry! (yes, even when they/it make us uncomfortable for speaking truths we'd rather not see).

So here we hover, between the grateful-celebratory and the holding-at-bay-of-darkness, doing our best. The wind's blowing here this morning after last night's storm, but the sun is shining and I have hopes for a few more of the figs to ripen before frost hits later this month. The tomato vines will get pulled out of their containers today . . . mildewed as they are, there are still a few sweet cherry tomoatoes I'll pop in my month, and there are five good-sized apples I've left on the little tree outside the window, just so that I can watch them grow a bit rosier each day. . . But knowing that if I'm not careful to pick them in time, wind will blow them to the ground and bruise their sweet flesh. . . Intimations of mortality and all that.

Enough. I've been here a few hours now and that's reason enough to call this a conclusion, however unsatisfactory. Especially since I spent another few hours yesterday and posted my September Reading over on my book blog. It was a month full of absorbing, entertaining, thought-provoking, moving, and amusing reading, and if you're looking for something to curl up with as the chilly weather settles in, I have a few recommendations.

Breakfast calls. . . do indulge me with your comments, please? I will be most grateful. . .No prompts from me today, except those you find in the post. Poetry, Gratitude, Glück and the Nobel Prize, Family Gatherings (in the time of Covid-19). . . et cetera. 


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Dressing for Happiness, in Troubled Times. . .

 It's been a busy week: had one daughter's family over for dinner; went for a long walk in a small forest with another's; spent one morning cycling to a favourite wetlands park with my husband; two Italian evening classes (Zoom) and a Skype conversation with my French tutor; a couple of yoga classes; an appointment with my physio; bread-baking, soup-making. . . You know how it goes. 

And so many emotions to process watching and listening to and reading the news. So much going on that makes our daily concerns feel insignificant, irrelevant, petty. And yet perhaps more than ever we need to focus regularly on the domestic quotidian, on what we can manage and what we can take pleasure in every day, so that we can stay healthy, physically and emotionally.  Without that self-care, our efforts to make a contribution to the greater good become more precarious. That hummingbird who kept carrying water --drop by tiny drop -- to help put out the raging forest fire must surely have taken time to splash 'round in a circle of water cleaning feathers occasionally. Given her metabolism, she would have had to stop to sip nectar regularly.  (I wrote about "philosophy of the hummingbird/philosophie du colibri here -- scroll down in that post for the reference and explanation.)

All of which preamble, I hope, will explain why today's post is a What I Wore post. Even against the background of craziness that we're living through at the moment, and even with social life and life outside our homes as constrained as it is, I'm still taking pleasure in getting dressed.  And the dress I'm wearing in the photos in this post has brought renewed pleasure to my wardrobe since I picked it up in a summer sale on a visit to my son's family early August. Besides being on sale and in a sale I'm crazy about, it's made of 100% cotton (men's shirting-weight),  by a Scandinavian company (Two Danes), sold in a local and independent boutique in my son's city, so it ticked a number of my shopping-ethics guidelines. (How much do I like my new dress? Even let myself smile a full smile in the photo above, which also has something to do with my orthodontic work nearing completion.)

This dress was fabulous for wearing in summer heat, "wafty" (to use That's Not My Age's term: see her great post here on Wafting your Way through a Heat Wave) So easy to "style": Just add sneakers and sun-hat and your choice of straw beachbag and you're ready (I generally choose my small leather backpack instead, for hands-free city walking). . .  I wore this when I took a quick overnight trip to visit friends on the island early September (taking advantage of good weather that allowed long conversations on restaurant patios). 

Gratuitous "artsy" photos, if you don't mind, from the ferry's car deck. . . Small pleasures, remember? 

While we can't travel further afield, I'm doing my best to find eye candy closer to home. . . 

We're still having a few days here with temperatures warm enough to suit my dress. But turns out that it is a great transition piece for early fall. . . because. . . Layering!

I think the navy-and-white vertical pinstripes of the dress pair well (a bit playfully) with the grey and navy stripes of the Kate Davies-designed Strodie sweater I knit last year. This is how I wore it (under an umbrella through pouring rain) for dinner-with-a-view last week during our getaway up to the Sunshine Coast (see last post). . . (In case you're curious about Covid-19 precautions, that table is on an open outside deck, but there was a fibreglass roof above to protect us from the rain -- made for a romantic soundtrack ;-)
Then this past Friday,  putting away some summer gear, pulling a few sweaters out of boxes, I remembered this sweater which I knit when we first went into lockdown. . . 
Honestly, I'd completely forgotten it. By the time I finished it (early June -- see better photos of it on my Instagram) it was too warm to wear. So that will be my Fall wardrobe replenished -- shopped my closet and found something brand new! . . . turns out it was still too warm for it on Friday, but I stayed on the shady side of the street until I got to my local yarn shop so that I could show it off.  (That wasn't my primary reason for the visit -- was buying yarn for a granddaughter's birthday sweater -- but they helped me choose the yarn last spring when in-store visits were impossible, and I wanted to share the result.) After that, it was folded into my backpack, and now I'm actually looking forward to cooler days. Sweaters and tights ahead. Might even get out my Blundstones soon. . . 

That's it for this week's post. I still have a Donald Hall poem to share with you, and a recent sketch or two,  but right now I have some neglected Italian homework to catch up on and a new sweater to get on my needles.  

Your comments keep me going here, and they're always welcome.  I'm curious to know, for example, whether you've found some favourite OOTDs (outfits of the day, in case you're not up on your Social Media acronyms) to help you transition from Summer to Fall . . .or Winter to Spring, if you're a reader from the other hemisphere. I'm also keen to hear your self-care practices for coping with all the tough news we're confronting.  Anything make you laugh a wealth of endorphins this week? Anything brought happy tears to your eyes? Any fragrance slowed and deepened your breathing deep into your belly? Maybe, like Annie, you used a skill developed during confinement to make something great (see Annie's  fabulous new coat here) . . . Share your good news here (the more quotidian and domestic, the more encouraging, really) and we'll all smile with you. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Quick Getaway, With Kayaks (and a bit of Fear that snuck into my packing). . .

 We were away most of this last week -- barely two hours driving, another 40 minutes on a ferry, and we were at the edge of an inlet, our backs against a treed rocky hillside, next to a 5-kilometre trail through a 123-hectare provincial park, a forest allowed to grow undisturbed for over 70 years. . . and at the end of the walk,  the second-largest saltwater rapids in the world.

One fairly decent sunny-with-cloudy-periods (or was that cloudy-with-sunny-periods?) day before we were assailed by the gusting winds and pelting rains of Fall's first storm, three days of it. . . Still, we made good use of a few breaks in the weather, and managed a decent paddle together along the inlet (away from the rapids!!) and twice hiked that trail through the rejuvenating air and light of the West Coast forest.  Despite the No Service reading on my iPhone screen when we were away from the cabin, and the very erratic Wifi when we were in it, I managed to post a few "forest walk photos"on Instagram . . and I've got more where those came from, as you probably suspect. 

But I also have a few photos from our first morning, when I conquered my not entirely irrational fears (that current -- all the signs that forbade swimming because of it! and that wind that Environment Canada forecast) to join Pater in our jaunty yellow kayaks. . .

I'm making rather light of my trepidations, but they were overwhelming for a while that morning, and there were tears, and I almost sent him off without me (and that in itself was an achievement of trust in his ability to assess safety for himself). . . I've written here before, although not for a few years, about my fearfulness in various ventures (climbing, city cycling)  -- and my determined efforts to overcome it. This post, for example, and then this one and this one wherein I consider the dubious value of the term "BadAss." . . 

Pater must remember those struggles -- and remembered that I did manage to overcome similar fears in the past -- because just as he was heading out on his own, promising to be back within two hours, assuring himself that I'd be content with a book in the cabin, he turned back, hand on the doorknob, to insist that I come along. Insisting that I was a strong enough, capable enough paddler. Insisting that we would paddle along the shore, that the current was easily manageable, that the winds were unlikely to rise seriously during the next hour. . . insisting, above all, that I would return exhilarated from getting out on the water, happy that we'd gone out together rather than listening, wistfully, to his account of a solo paddle in stunning scenery.

He was right.  Although I was sullen with apprehension as we dragged the boats to the water. As I manoeuvered my way awkwardly into the cockpit, worried (possibly panicked a bit) at releasing my always stiff rudder. Then realized that the current was tamer than imagined, that even when the rudder jammed, I can navigate well with the paddle. . . recognized that I was enjoying the effort of paddling, an effort that was light enough and automatic enough for looking around. Saying hello to the seal that followed my boat, checking out my technique before slipping below the surface again (was that a quick nod of approval before she disappeared?)

I won't pretend I didn't keep an eye out for those places we could have pulled the kayaks onto shore if a fierce wind blew up, dramatic TV-series style. . . .

But the more we paddled, the more I relaxed, and the bigger I grinned. . .

Enjoyed myself so much, in fact, that I felt foolish about momentarily succumbing to near-hysteria earlier. . . but also accepting that, given I'm 67 and I haven't shoved the fears away yet, I might just settle for knowing that this is my pattern, my process. . . 

That slogan "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" seems too sloppily general to me, too all-embracing. Surely there are instructive, useful fears; surely some activities one shouldn't "Do Anyway." But I concede that "Evaluate your Fear and if it's not objectively reasonable by measurable standards, Then Maybe Try Cautiously to Overcome It in a Series of Small Steps" doesn't have quite the resounding ring required to incite action.  . . I don't think anyone's going to call me Badass Nana anytime soon. 

Anyway, enough of that. Hope you enjoyed the pictures of our brief paddle along the shores of Sechelt Inlet. If you're ready for a whiplash-inducing change of subject, I thought I could close with a poem my daughter texted me a link to, last week (unexpectedly but delightfully, very much a departure from our normal pattern/subjects of correspondence) with a note that she'd come across Donald Hall's "The Things" and known I'd like it.

I did, and I think you will as well. And I suspect many of you will understand it as I do, in ways that I'm sure my daughter doesn't yet (I hope not, at least. I think it would be too hard to really understand that in one's forties).

The Things     Donald Hall (1928-2018)

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
--de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore--
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial--a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy--valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate. 

You can listen to Donald Hall read his poem here, in a 2011 YouTube post.

My daughter's text not only introduced me to a poem I hadn't known, but also prompted me to pull my copy of his Old and New Poems of the shelf. . . and I have another I'd like to share with you, but not today. 

Today, it's time to turn the mic over to you -- I'll welcome your thoughts on any of the topics I've introduced here today, including (obviously) Hall's poem. Perhaps you'll want to come back later after you've thought about what you treasure from your past, and in your present; what you'll leave behind, and what your children will throw away as "unforgettable detritus." . .  And perhaps what you threw away, and yet it remains with you, those remembered Kodaks and cards. . . 

All grist for the mill, right? But since we're talking flour (see what I did there?) I'm off to bake a pie or two with the apples that grew on our little tree, in a big container, on our 5th-floor terrace in the middle of the city. . . 


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Autumn's Here. . .

A hearty rain is currently scrubbing our Vancouver skies clean of the smoke that choked us all week. . . So no complaints about our Wet Coast weather, at least not for a few days.  I am, as always happens for me in September, trying to get my head around another summer being gone -- somehow, summers feel numbered, limited, my life's supply now reduced by one, each September. Sorry, I know that concept has a decidedly morbid edge. It's my little truth, though. . . (back in November 2007 I posted this sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I've re-posted it a few times since then. She captures so much of what I feel about Autumn "and all is over that could come to pass / last year")

Not that I dwell on it overly long because another truth about September is that it promises new beginnings. My Italian classes have started up again and I've scheduled sessions with a French tutor. Trying not to dwell on the cancelled trips of this year, of our granddaughter being so much older by the time we can visit -- at least I'll be better able to understand the locals and perhaps join in a conversation or two next time we're there. 

And as long as we're here, I'm doing my best to embrace signs of Fall -- such as this display of Red Kuri Squash at last Sunday's Farmers Market.

Can you believe I've never bought or cooked one of these beauties? They seldom show up at grocery stores here, and I don't think I'd seen any until one Wednesday a few years ago when we cycled the Roger Lapébie piste cyclable from Bordeaux to the weekly market at Créon. I wrote about that market day here. And was momentarily back there (ah, if only!) the instant I recognized the gorgeous red squash in our neighbourhood last Sunday.

So one came home with us. 

And to make the most of it, I sketched it (and its table mates) before cooking . . . 

Next, some quick research via Google to learn that these squash are known for their sweet, rich flavour. The descriptors "buttery" and "hint of chestnut" popped up regularly as well as references to the skin being edible.  I sorted through a wealth of recipes and decided on a hearty salad which we had with a small halibut filet for dinner last night. Delicioius and healthy (and yes, buttery and hinted of chestnut both).

Here's where I found the recipe for this Kale-Red Kuri Squash salad. If it appeals, but you can't find Kuri squash in your neighbourhood, acorn squash would make a decent substitute, although it wouldn't offer as lively a palette.  (By the way, I roasted the pumpkin seeds, tossed in a bit of olive oil and salt. Honestly, that's a bit too much fibre for me, but Pater munched his way through a few handfuls.)

Saturday plans here include a yoga class, making a pot of soup (I have half that squash left, roasted, and I think it will be a prime ingredient); reading a few chapters of an easy Italian novel, this week's homework; and, in English, wandering the streets of Florence with detective Sandro Cellini thanks to Christobel Kent's mystery novel A Time of Mourning. . . a cosy fall day, in other words.

And you? What are you up to this weekend? I'm curious to know. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Le Piccole Cose . . . It's The Little Things, in Life, in Romance, in OOTDs . . .


A twist, today, in my little series on What I Wore, What I Listened To, and What I Saw while walking. . .  I didn't wear this outfit for walking, at least not any further than to the patio of a favourite local restaurant where my husband and I celebrated our 46th anniversary a few weeks ago.  The linen pants are a new purchase; I took advantage of a late-summer sale at a small, independent boutique, and while they are undoubtedly bright, I know I'll love wearing them for years to come.  That night last month, I'd planned to wear them with the navy cotton 3/4-sleeve T-shirt I've been wearing so much this summer, but the day clouded over, the temperature dropped, and there was a possibility of rain. No problem, my extra-thin cashmere V-neck subbed in perfectly. The pink Oxfords are a few years old, so the outfit altogether works just the way I like, anchored by older pieces. 

The connection between this outfit and my walking series, though. . . . I can explain.  The podcast I want to tell you about today was an Italian podcast I've been listening to lately. Speak Italian: Pensieri e Parole is geared at intermediate to advanced learners, and while I'm barely at the middle of that range, I'm thrilled to find that I can follow quite a bit of what Linda says about Italian culture, language, and literature.  

I was especially pleased, a few weeks ago, that the episodes focussed on Amore, coincidental with the approach of said anniversaryThe first episode began by recounting the love story of Dante's Paolo and Francesca and then ended by speaking of the 20th-century love between the actors, writers, and directors Dario Fo and Franca Rame (I hadn't known of this politically activist, artistic Power Couple, but I'm sure some of you have. If not, you might find this synopsis/timeline interesting, and this site advertising a documentary about the two, on the occasion of Fo being awarded a Nobel prize, has a three-minute video (trailer for the documentary) that's lovely to watch)

The second episode under the "A for Amore" heading took a different approach, and I'll be honest: while I understood enough of the poem, in Italian, to be charmed by the lists of Stefano Benni's Le piccole cose che amo di te (The little things I love about you), and I could hear the repetition, with changes, through the several stanzas, I didn't catch the deterioration of the relationship over time. . . For your enjoyment and amusement, here is a satirical twist on the poetic tropes of romantic, lasting love. . . . 

Below: photo sof my handwritten copy of the poem, stanza by stanza, in both its original Italian and my English translation, such as it is. And underneath each photograph, a transcription of the English translation, in case my handwriting is tough to read (especially in pencil!).

If you'd like to see a clearer version of the Italian,  you will find one here. There are also numerous videos of the poem being recited in Italian, if you care to search for them, or you can listen to Linda's charming iteration in her podcast. 

The little things I love about you
That smile of yours, a bit distant
the slow gesture of the hand
with which you caress my hair
and say: I would like to have such beautiful hair also
and I say: darling, you're a bit crazy
And in bed, waking
next to your breathing
and on the nightstand
the evening paper
your coffee maker
that sings in the kitchen
the smell of the pipe that you smoke in the morning
your scent, a little indifferent
your amusing vest

The little things I love about you
That strange smile of yours
the continual gesture of your hand
with which you touch my hair
and repeat: I would like
to have such beautiful hair also
and I say: darling,
you told me that already
and in bed
listening to your breathing
slightly laboured
and on the nightstand
sodium bicarbonate
your coffeemaker
that hisses in the kitchen
the smell of your pipe
even in the morning
your scent
a bit old-fashioned

The little things I love about you
that stupid smile of yours
the idiotic craziness
of pulling my hair
and you say: I'd like
to have such beautiful hair as well
and I say: Cretin,
Buy yourself a wig!
and in bed, to stay awake
and listen to you snore
and on the nightstand
your sock
and your coffee-maker
that exploded,
finally, in the kitchen!
the pipe that infests the air
until morning
your scent
of chimpanzee
that hideous vest
The little things
that I love about you.

I hastily assure you that our anniversary celebration did not feature the impatience, acrimony, and all-round Romance Fatigue that the woman in Benni's poem expresses. Although there have been moments, to be sure. . . Let's be real!

To keep the Italian theme going here, I just realized that I had a little bit of Italy with me the evening of our anniversary dinner. Not made in Italy, but that clutch is one I got from our daughter who lives there, back when she was selling Stella & Dot. 

A closer view of my experiment in mixing-and-matching prints.  . . I think I got a bit too excited about the opportunity to dress up a bit, these Covid days. . . .
I hope you enjoyed this foray into Italian culture -- I had fun, at least ;-)
And if I've whetted your appetite for Italy, I will recommend two films that we enjoyed re-watching recently: Vittorio De Sica's brilliant 1948 neo-realist The Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di bicicletti). Astonishing, really, how fresh this still seems, more than 70 years after its release (and almost 30 since I last saw it, I suspect). 
Second recommendation is for the 1996 co-directed (Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci) Big Night which takes place in New Jersey rather than Italy, but definitely features Italian culture, particularly through its food. The cook in our family (you know, the guy I've been married to for 46 years) was very impressed by the character Primo's prowess in the kitchen -- Tony Shalhoub had clearly beaten an egg or two before he took on that role. . .

That's probably enough for you on a Monday morning. I look forward to any comments you care to leave. I'm off to the physiotherapist this morning after two weeks of doing a set of exercises religiously, every single day -- and my knee situation is noticeably improving, so I'm keen to hear what he says.

Take care,

Friday, September 11, 2020

Speaking Kindly to Ourselves. . .

First: I've posted my August reading on my reading blog, including a few titles I'm sure you'll enjoy; I'd love to have you stop by and check it out. . . . 

Otherwise, though. . . .Today's a tough day for no identifiable reason. I know you understand, and I know you probably have them too, perhaps more often these Covid days. Only the levain for my sourdough bread, waiting for me on the counter where I'd left it to rise last night, gave me momentum this morning. Without that task coercing me into purposeful movement, nothing felt worth the effort, but once the measuring and mixing, stretching and folding imposed their kinetic demands, I was ready to be propelled by other formulaic actions on my list. Simply having a list deserves gratitude when the void of meaninglessness looms. . . 

For me, that means the bread-making, writing out some Italian verb conjugations across the tenses I've learned so far. I listen to a French interview sent by a friend, and I sketch a grand-daughter's re-arrangement of the paraphenelia on my night-table. In all these small endeavours, I remind myself of what Clotilde Dusoulier instructed in one of the personal development/life-coaching Change Ma Vie episodes that accompany my neighbourhood outings: "Se Parler Gentiment." Speak kindly to myself. Don't be so critical.  Because when I'm in this mood, it's easy to judge everything I do very harshly, as mediocre or banal at best. I'm learning, trying to do better. . . 

For example, instead of beating myself up for not having a longer, more substantive post for you today (one which only needs another half hour or so, in fact, but more thought than I can muster at the moment), I'm waving "Hello" with a few photos of a linen dress I bought at the End-of-Summer Sale of a local, independent boutique. (and yes, that smoky pall over all we can see insists there are more serious topics I might consider, and yes, I'm trying to Slow my Retain Fashion Shopping, but for now, Respite, Regrouping. Self-Care, even . . . )

I do wear this dress for my podcast walks some days, although (wait 'til you see the back!) it might seem a bit extravagant for that.  I ground it, I think, by wearing it with sneakers, and then I just say Tant mieux (Good! So much the better!) for the way it lifts my mood -- or announces it! And under my breath a Tant Pis (tough luck!) to those who think the colour or shape or colourful buttons too noisy. . . 

In fact, my loyalty to this jolie robe verte was cemented forever last month, when we visited Son, Daughter-in-law, Granddaughter and Grandson. The second day in their city, we'd parked the car to meet them at a playground near Granddaughter's pre-school.  Just as we put some money in the meter, I looked up to see my DIL and the two Littles, a couple of blocks away, moving in our direction.  We walked towards them, and when we were still a block away Five spotted us -- and called out, in clarion tones, "Nana! I love your dress!" To the delight and curiosity, as you can imagine, of all the pedestrians heading to and from the busy downtown streets. . .  

Once in the playground, she and her brother attacked the slides and swings and various climbing apparatus with their usual gusto, but then my DIL caught Five's attention to point out the buttons on the back of Nana's dress. . . which earned me a big hug and a fervent declaration: "Now I love your dress even more!"

She made me smile, of course, and I'm smiling again remembering that day. Perhaps my little anecdote might prompt a smile from you as well.

Some days, smiling is an achievement, and if we've learned to speak kindly to ourselves, we might give ourselves credit for managing it.  In truth, mine feels a bit forced, these last few sentences, forced and tremulous, even, the effort too visible, the self-talk too pat. It's a work-in-progress, though, right? What I can do for the moment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some sourdough to wrangle (not mangle, I hope). 

You might stay a moment and admire these cheery seed balls from a neighbourhood dogwood tree (Cornus Kousa, I believe, but let me know if I'm mistaken, please). 

 And then if you have a minute, I'd love to know your plans for the weekend. . . .and also whether you've had to be more gentle with yourself lately or not. . . any surefire antidotes to feeling low or anxious would be welcome. . . 

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