Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Earth and Sky

The Moon appeared on the right-hand side of the bus, the side I was sitting on, the window next to me, there it was, all perfectly round and silvery white, a bright shiny button surrounded by all of the night sky, an immensity, an ongoing, almost endless blackness – or near blackness – that could only be imagined in the bus, where night was neatly framed by the window, giving an illusion of safety and security, of warmth and protection, the way human life does in this part of the world anyway, neatly severing you from ‘the outside’, the natural world, with its chilly inconstancies its limitless power to chasten, to batter and sometimes – to defeat. We are lulled into a complacent – and irrational – sense of containment and shelter, pressing our faces against the glass houses of protective habit and assurance; except for those who have stepped out – both metaphorically and literally – and are unprotected. And this, we have allowed to happen, as we trail from one brightly-lit shop to the next, performing our Christmas rituals because we’ve opted in to custom, window-pane screens, brick walls and warmth at the touch of a button.

The streets are empty, says one shopkeeper, bus-stops are empty, no-one is out buying, last month was deserted at the end of the student semester.
Austerity, we agree, has put paid to people’s spending. And fearful uncertainty for the future.
I remember, I say, that other time of austerity, growing up in the 50s, when there was so little, none of the imports we’re accustomed to now – peppers and avocados, Italian coffee, French cheeses –
We’re spoiled, she agrees. And tells me how, when she was small, she was sent to someone who had an allotment, to buy potatoes from him. And the pail was so heavy, the potatoes were covered in earth and mud, I could only carry it a few feet then had to rest and put it down; and then when I got home, they had to be washed and peeled – and there were cabbages too and turnips, but that was about all. Yes, we’ve become used to so many things since then – we’ve been spoiled.

And the question hanging in the air that we turn over endlessly in our minds and our fingers – what will happen in the future, and I think, once I’ve bought two boxes of incense and said goodbye, that maybe this is part of what has to happen, an erasure of taking for granted – the selection of food and the heating of houses and the clothes that we buy and that hang in our wardrobes while, all those decades ago, winter coats had to last, winter boots too and winter meant deep snow and ice formed on the inside of windows.

It’s true that the streets are not crowded, but there are plenty of illuminations – in parks, in shop windows and house windows and there’s little sign that the world of commerce will close up shop, that the carousel will slow down and its gears will grow rusty and disappear in the long grass, like the branches I collected in winter, and got covered over in summer growth. I found them just the other day, when I peeled off the damp and withered foliage, its lank tendrils rotting on the branches of pine. I pulled out the branches – one day, I’ll saw them into logs for the fire.

But it could be that the signs are there, and the shopkeepers notice, whereas I live in the country, dig potatoes out of the ground, cut up logs for the fire, pile on layers of clothes to keep warm, dig a path to the gate when it snows. Which it hasn’t, this winter, not yet.

Misty morning Moon

On the walk home from the bus stop there’s nothing between me and the night sky and I stop to watch the round Moon, screened by a filter of cloud, then it’s as if it melts it with its brilliance and all round the Moon there’s a sheen of pink, a gauzy light and there’s one star above it, far up in the sky and I remember this morning, watching a plane flying through misty cloud, in a straight line, and thinking how planes are things of such grace, so seeming-assured yet so vulnerable, and in my mind, I hold it up in the sky, in its trajectory feathered by cloud, to its safe landing, its airport, its gentle descent to the earth.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Pushcart Prize Nomination

Edward Lear drawing: Gjirokaster

I was just back from the USA after a journey even longer than usual because of cancelled and re-routed flights. It felt appropriate that I was still on East Coast time when I heard that my travel writing about Albania, Passages, had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This came totally out of the blue but I could not be more delighted. Many thanks to Julian Torres Lopez, editor at the Nasiona Magazine for this nomination. 

It turns out I’m in good company too –  the award winning Canadian writer Douglas Glover (founder and editor of Numéro Cinq), has also been nominated, by the Brooklyn Rail  where an excerpt from his forthcoming novel was published.

View of Gjirokaster today

Friday, 7 December 2018

Fragments of Tulsa Time

The food – wonderful & plentiful, food in stores, food at home and food in restaurants. The USA’s birthday is July 4, the sign of Cancer the crab – food and nourishment, the family, the home. 


Photo credit: @FJSobriquet

There’s family, of course, part of your own heart beat. There’s extended family, who may not be genetically related to you, yet they are. Then there are fascinating branches of the extensions, such as H who says he’s sure his dog is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, he’s looked it up on the internet – and he shows me an image on his phone. They look similar, I agree. He’s got arthritis says H and he’s only 5 years old, that’s young – 

His son interrupts – that dog’s got ill, he says – because you spend so much time worrying about him and his health, he had to produce something real, some real symptoms. You remember that time I walked past him without saying hallo and you said I hurt his feelings because I didn’t say hallo to him?  – all your worrying about him has manifested this, now you’ve got something real to worry about.

H smiles, looks a little quizzical, looks at me, I look at him, and I laugh, as much at C’s precise, pin-point diagnosis, as H’s look of bemused innocence, shrugging off the verdict, in the late autumn sunshine, sprinkled with broad leaf shadow like black pepper on the table.

One day is really hot and we have a morning yoga session, then M & I stroll down Cherry Street before meeting up with the others at Roosevelt’s restaurant where the sun is so bright and hot we have to ask for the awning to cover the table and give us some shade.

Later we all go to the Gathering Place, leaving the car in the overflow car park, all dust blown, as if we’re in the centre of a desert though it’s a densely populated desert. The creation of the park itself was the idea of a monied philanthropist, who gifted it to the people of Tulsa. The park has many paths, trails, climbing areas, a Boathouse – with cafe – mirror areas, sound areas with metal or wooden xylophones – bridges, open areas and lots we didn’t see. There will be canoes to go out on the lake which will be joined to the river.

On the skyline as the sun goes down, an industrial complex with chimneys & cranes, mechanical herons with long necks and metal probing beaks, showing up black against red sky. 

The next day it’s turned cold and the wind’s so strong, the wide and crackly curled up at the edges leaves have piled up in the entrance-way between house wall and garage so you come in wading through a tunnel of leaves.

And in the park near the house the leaves have climbed up the wire fence enclosing the tennis court, because the wind pushed them into a drift, like snow, then pasted them up the fence. They look like some flag-strewn artistic faux-natural design. Awards are won for less. This is the real thing, gains no award. It is itself, the bestower of awards.

The park this morning is mono-coloured, creamy pale brown with a hint of russet, the grass and leaves more faded than coloured, like an old shirt bleached by the sun.  If wind has any colour, it’s this one today, woody, bark-scented, dry and crackling.

I wait outside the bookstore. The temperature has changed again and though the air is still cold, the wind has dropped and the sun, high up in the sky, is warm on my face.

The square of shops is vast. In fact there’s probably a word for it, other than square. The shops are huge, the sign Barnes & Noble is written above the entrance in enormous letters. Signs above the other stores are almost as big – Trader Joe’s, Surplus Stores, Ross’s, where you can ‘Dress for Less’ and where I’d just bought a pair of jeans (VIP – Must Have).

As I wait, I watch a few cars pull up near Barnes & Noble, people get out and walk towards the store. They walk slowly. No-one ever hurries. The pace is languid.

I stand in the vast square of buildings, set back from the road, so there’s no traffic noise here in this other world, quiet and peaceful, sun warm on my face.


Great coffee at Shades of Brown

and the best Lip Balm ever at Ida Red Gift Store on S Peoria

We leave the next day, at sunrise

Photo credit: M McBroom