Yesterday, late afternoon, we went for a bike ride, 'the Stanford Loop,' up Alpine Drive, around Portola Valley and back home down Sandhill Road. It's about 25 km, and we set out at 6 pm because it would have been too hot earlier. But a great blanket (more like a duvet) of fog was sitting on the top of the range of mountains between us and the coast, and by the time we got to Portola Valley (it takes me quite a bit longer than my husband to climb the Alpine hill) the sun had disappeared, the wind was blowing and the fog was spreading the way it tends to do in the Bay Area. Little cat feet? No, I wouldn't say so--more like big lion paws--still it is uncanny the way it rolls down the hills, first seeping into valleys (or in San Francisco, under the Golden Gate to the Bay, then rolling down the Bay to St Jose), then spreading over the flat lands. There were stars and a new moon (holding the old one in its arms) last night when I went to bed; this morning we too were in the fog, which hasn't yet completely lifted.
A few weeks ago French friends served us some great local bread. It is a cottage industry bread, made by a woman in the next town north, an attorney, Tian Mayimin, who has converted to baking bread according to this story, bread that she delivers herself to one's doorstep in time for dinner.
So eventually we ordered some, and sure enough, around 7 pm Tian buzzed and knocked and when we opened the door she handed us two still-warm loaves of bread, of which we made a meal, along with olive oil (to dip it in) and a bit of cheese. It's just as good as the bread we get in Paris from Poilane or the Serge Kayser boulangerie. And still good the next day.
At Poilane in Paris, on the Rue du Cherche Midi, people line up along the sidewalk late afternoon to buy bread (and a few other bakery products like apple turnovers) for supper or maybe for a schoolchild's after-school snack or goûter. Schools get out late in France, and most children have a snack then, to hold them over till supper, which is even later.
Which makes me think of a not-so-funny-at-the-time but funny now (strange, amusing) story connected with how people think of time. In France 'afternoon' goes on till supper or dinnertime, and dinnertime, at least in cities, is more or less 8 pm. 'Evening' therefore begins at dinnertime. And 'late afternoon' might be 6 o'clockish. (Does afternoon in Madrid go on till people eat--at more like 10pm?)
So one summer, when we borrowed a friend's cottage on an island off Burtonport in Donegal in north-western Ireland, and its owner, who lived in Belfast, asked us to meet their friend Bernard in the Burtonport harbour to get the key and a boat ride to the island (tiny, with perhaps 4 or 5 other cottages) and we turned up 'late afternoon' our time, he had been waiting for two hours and it was very embarrassing.
There was no bread (no groceries at all, except if one caught some fish) on the island, so for bread and other supplies Bernard would come and take us over to the mainland--but that's another story.
The picture is of downtown Burtonport, as it is known in English, or Ailt an Chorráin, in the Gaeltacht.
after a Joseph Cornell box, is the title of my new collection of poems, which will be published by Carcanet Press (UK) at the end of August. It is in press right now, but here is a picture of the cover (designed by Luke Allan) with a painting by the artist Hope Gangloff, who had a show at Stanford's Cantor Museum last summer. Here also is a link to Carcanet's website for the book, where the collection can be pre-ordered.
I tipped this novel off the 'new books' shelf in the Lane Reading Room at the library a few days ago. Why? Nothing else tempted me, I thought I'd heard Stead was an interesting writer, though I'd never read anything of his. Also I thought he was a she, because it is, or used to be, often women who hide behind two initials, hoping not to give away their gender and be overlooked as 'women'.
Stead is a New Zealander (I thought British), but the novel is set in Paris, in the 5th and 6th arrondissements, also mine. The year 2014-15 (it ends with Houellebecq's Submission and the Charlie Hebdo attacks). He must live in Paris I thought, after a while; he certainly seemed to know all the obvious places to eat, walk and have coffee around St Sulpice, though he did get a few details wrong, such as a paid gardener raking/blowing leaves on the first of November, La Toussaint, one of those sacrosanct French holidays on which nobody works. This is not Anglosaxonia and its post-puritan work ethic. Holidays are holidays. There is more to life than work.
The characters: a 50-ish New Zealand professor of literature at the Sorbonne (already a stretch: it is hard for outsiders to get a foot in the highly protectionist academic door in France, especially in an old Paris institution); his French wife, Louise, a formidable academic (she's writing a book on Flaubert) from a formidable French family; a younger academic, Sylvie, with whom he has an affair while they are co-organising a colloquium to celebrate WW I poets; Helen, a charmingly worrisome, bipolar, recent Oxford graduate trying to understand Derrida ('We are dispossessed of the longed-for presence in the gesture of language by which we attempt to seize it'), who may or may not have stolen an heirloom Cezanne from over the mantel in Louise's living room. On the other hand maybe Louise's cousins stole and stashed it in a bank vault, out of spite that Louise inherited it, and they only got the castle which has depreciated, while the painting has increased x-fold in value. (Spoiler? Ok, no spoiler.)
It's tremendously readable, very well written, and, I think, very good, as long as one likes cool, well-written books. It would be a good movie, but it would have to be a French movie, because it's much too low-key to be an American movie. For example: on the subject of the revelations of American torture in Iraq: 'But either way, a short shrug or a lingering wince, what then? ...[Y]ou knew where yearning ended and reality began.'
Stead, it seems, lives in New Zealand. He was born in 1934. He has written a great deal: poetry collections, criticism, novels, an autobiography. I plan to read more.
A 'Bank Holiday' in Britain. In Canada we used to chant 'The 24th of May is the Queen's Birthday.'
And May is the month of holiday weekend after holiday weekend in France: the first of May (Labour Day), the 8th of May (WW2 Liberation), Ascension Thursday, et j'oublie). Not being entirely pragmatic, the French have not moved all their holiday days to a Monday, preferring to 'faire le pont (make the bridge)'; eg., if the holiday falls on a Tuesday then the holiday stretches over Monday to Tuesday, for four days instead of three...however, if the holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, no extra day. I suppose one could calculate whether this is better or worse for the worker. It does make the merry month of May in France a lot like a piece of Swiss cheese.
Here in the Bay Area, or at least in my part of it (south of San Francisco) today is one of the first really summery days, though if this keeps up it may become too hot. But for now all the windows and doors are wide open and it is comfortable in a sleeveless top and thin jogging pants, even on our side, the north side, of our building, which doesn't get sun until late afternoon. There's a little breeze stirring the leaves, the hammock on the deck looks inviting, though I have errands to run first. Plus a page of Hélène Cixous's latest book ('novel') Défions l'augure to block out, ie,. roughly translate, ready to start my writing day tomorrow. I find I can hardly wait to get my hands on it each morning, it's so delightful and so wide-ranging, and with my favourite character, her mother, front and centre.
Dear Blog Friends,
Here is a link to my story, featured on Poetry Daily today:
I hope you enjoy it.
The latest PN Review arrived in my mailbox this week and it carries an article (I'm actually not sure what to call it, but anyway, a piece of prose writing) that I wrote and rewrote for years
and will probably revise again once I get over the shock of seeing it in print.
Here's a link:
The sun is trying to come out, without, so far, much success. I don't know if it's fog or clouds, but we are going to the Cantor cafe for lunch, so I hope it's warm enough to eat outside.
Caught up with some friends this week, one for lunch, one long distance on the phone from Boston, where she and her husband moved from the Paris area about a year ago. She is American, he French, and she can't get over how nice people are--she forgot. It's strange because you only notice these difference for a while, a few months, a year after you move and then everything shifts and seems normal and hardly worth commenting on. I notice this every time we go back and forth between here and Europe. You note, in writing, a flurry of things in the first flush of arrival on either side of the Atlantic, then it all begins to seem repetitive.
A young, Swiss woman in my graduate seminar (Socrates) said what she missed most in California was Europe's health system(s). (Can't remember how the subject came up, maybe because we were talking about Eryximachus', the doctor's speech in the Symposium?
And so to lunch.