Jacaranda

Like a lavender propeller

As capricous as a feather

As focused as a stone

It fell in a dismal spin

Into gravity’s hypnotic embrace

 

From a canopy that spread like a garnet cloud

A feminine twilight

In filigree flight

Flagrant and fragrant

It was detached, still in its summer youth

 

And I watched the tiny, delicate descent

A silent and subtle thing

Blossom before the tree

Child before the parent

In gentle acquiescence

Resting beyond my troubled hands

jacaranda

The Unknown

They are a ghostly population.  They have no identity, no heritage, no family.  Nameless and winsome, they stare from rooms or gardens bound with sculpted wood.  Their eyes reflect the artist’s gaze, their own secrets and the fey knowledge of a story that has not yet been told.

Their names and titles might have once been written on the canvas, by a brush that was bound with only a few silken hairs.  Shields quartered into patterns and designs that spoke an ancient heraldic language might have hung in a corner.  Allegories painted along hillsides, played like a surreal fete galante.  Battles tucked into the background, violent and silent.

Unknown Man, style of Jacob Huysmans, 1717

Unknown Man, style of Jacob Huysmans, 1717

These things would have given a coy hint as to the subject’s identity or accomplishments.  But often the stories lie buried under centuries of varnish the color and consistency of syrup.

But there could be other promptings too:  armor lying discarded like unsuccessful letters at a warrior’s feet, a bower of curving vines, architecture rising from pastel mists,

Unknown Man, by Isaac Oliver, 1595

Unknown Man, by Isaac Oliver, 1595

and once – tantalizingly – a metaphor of flame rising like a wall behind a dark-eyed, ardent courtier.

Unknown Man Standing Before A Wall Of Fire, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590's

Unknown Man Standing Before A Wall Of Fire, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590′s

And yet they try to communicate with us, to escape their silent anonymity and reach beyond the two dimensions of their unsatisfactory worlds.  As a shadow is never black but actually full of color a portrait is never a complete enigma, for it possesses a bounty of allusions.

The portrait was the haven of the aristocracy.  Jewels, glittering ornaments that reflected light long since extinguished were eloquent centerpieces that spoke of the wearer’s affluence.

Unknown Lady In A Plumed Headdress, unknown artist, 1633

Unknown Lady In A Plumed Headdress, unknown artist, 1633

They wrapped around throats, dangled from waists and hung from ears like luminous satellites that had been captured and contained.  Pearls were especially costly, but the wealthy wore them in thick ropes, were harnessed in capelets planted with seed pearls and wore them nestled in gardens of metallic lace.  One would think the oysters happily scattered their nacreous offspring into the waiting hands of jewelers before accepting the grain of sand that would start the painful, nurturing process all over again.

Unknown Woman, by Cornelius Johnson, 1636

Unknown Woman, by Cornelius Johnson, 1636

This lavish, uncomfortable dress made a mockery of the body’s natural silhouette…only the lower classes dressed for comfort, allowing them to accomplish their ugly tasks quickly and efficiently.  The aristocracy dressed for its lovely agony, with only their hands allowed freedom of motion – to finger a pair of perfumed gloves or to let a chain flow like a flaxen rivulet.

Unknown Woman, by unknown artist, 1570

Unknown Woman, by unknown artist, 1570

But if dress did not indicate a class, it could signify a calling, such as a bright rose tucked inside of an unlaced bodice:

Unknown Woman With A Rose, by Dmitry Levitzky, 1788

Unknown Woman With A Rose, by Dmitry Levitzky, 1788

Or the déshabillé costume of a shepherdess, a dimpled arm draped about the neck of a member of her flock:

Unknown Woman, studio of Sir Peter Lely, circa 1675

Unknown Woman, studio of Sir Peter Lely, circa 1675

Sometimes gems would be cradled in a sitter’s hand, as if to draw the viewer’s attention to it.

Unknown Lady with a rose and a jewel-encrusted diadem, in the manner of Gerrit von Honthorst, 18th c.

Unknown Lady with a rose and a jewel-encrusted diadem, in the manner of Gerrit von Honthorst, 18th c.

Engraved within the yielding, opaque facet, as if it was a tiny canvas,  would be portraits, symbols or stories from myth or religion.  Pelicans, hares, dogs, cats all spoke in zoological code.  Intaglios and cameos of Minerva, Apollo, Zeus and Venus boldly claimed a relationship to the wearer.  Images of the Virgin and Child, stories of saints and martyrs were carved on stones which the owner wore proudly as if they were vindicated from their profane sumptuousness.

Portrait of an Unknow Man Holding A Medallion, by Sandro Botticelli, 1480's

Portrait of an unknown Man Holding A Medallion, by Sandro Botticelli, 1480′s

 

Unknown Woman, in the style of Holbein, 1540-1560

Unknown Woman, in the style of Holbein, 1540-1560

Occasionally, however, it is not the scenery – not the allegory or battle kindling in the distance, or even the clothes thick with decoration and parable that is the viewer’s most trustworthy confidante.  Sometimes the secrets are kept – and revealed – in the expression.  It is up to the wit of the artist to portray those mysteries – in the dark eyes as lowering and perilous as an oncoming storm,

Unknown Woman, by Ivan Kramskoi, 1883

Unknown Woman, by Ivan Kramskoi, 1883

in a face dimpled with barely concealed mirth,

Unknown Woman (the 'Turkish Slave') by Parmigianino early 1530's

Unknown Woman (the ‘Turkish Slave’) by Parmigianino early 1530′s

or in one overcome with a devouring melancholy.

Unknown Man, by Moretto da Brescia, 1542

Unknown Man, by Moretto da Brescia, 1542

These extraordinary people had decided to have their emotions preserved for eternity, rather than the proofs of a successful life well spent.  They mock us, they share joy with us, they seek our sympathy:  but most of all they communicate.

The art world, in a fit of pique, has given this impenetrable society its own surname:  ‘unknown’.  Experts, teachers, scholars have thrown up their hands in frustration; cancelling all research, they have instead christened each resident with the title that symbolized their investigative failure.

But there are those who have the leisure to wonder.  They look deeply; they retrieve meaning from the depths, a fish that shows twisting and luminous as it is drawn to the surface.  They are attracted to the humanity of the portrait, the philosopher’s stone of artistic endeavor.   They are not content to abandon a face pining for recognition.  And most of all they remain tempted by the lure of the unknown.

The League of Extraordinary Ladies

I am fortunate in that many people follow this sorry blog.  However, at the same time it is true that several of these followers are IT Companies, Bedbug Exterminators, Travel Agencies, etc.  I would dearly love to boot them out of my neighborhood, but it seems that I am unable to, and for that let me thank WordPress for standing by me.

But I digress.

Many followers are quite extraordinary – actually daring to not only be extremely, even Agressively talented, but to be successful with that talent as well. A truly extraordinary league. Two of them – hailing from my old Vox stomping grounds – are published authors.  One has published a novel, a mix of snowboarding, coffee, paranoia and the internet (a recipe that can only be cooked up in the fearful 2000’s).

The other has brought to un unsuspecting public a story of mythology, reality and naughtiness – OK, in her words, smut – and has future plans for icons of American history and legend…all equally unsuspecting, I assure you.

I must admit that even I have done my best to join this league, as well.

But I have fairly recently met someone who has also been published.  And for that I will seriously thank WordPress.  Her book reads like “The Jet Set” episode of Mad Men, when Don finds himself immersed in the desert, in a world of modern glass, pools and morals, peopled by lovely, languid denizens whose talents lie in false conversation and relaltionships.  Yes, the book is about Hollywood.

The story is cynical, with varying scruples carrried in each character’s pocket for all to see and steal.  There are innocents, there are the guilty, and most interestingly there are those that try to stay innocent or to hide their guilt.

And to finish, let me just say that I had not read 10 pages before I came across this line of dialogue:

“Could you be angling to be my muse, Mr. Nelson?”

Muse-status just isn’t being discussed enough nowadays.

lady writing

Why I Swim

I love to swim.  I love to feel the cooling, therapeutic resistance of the water.  I love to feel the fluid strength of the ribbons of currents as they wrap around me.  I love the gentle struggle against the challenge of the water’s pressure, goading my muscles into movement and future strengths.

I swim the way I dance; with little style but with great enthusiasm.  Remnants of distant lessons still remain: breast, butterfly and side stroke combine to provide an extraordinary passage through ocean or pool.   And when I float, I still listen to the water gurgle and whisper in my ear, like the faint dialogues of naiads and sylphs.

When the water splashes around me, I can visualize its disruption.  I see it freeze for a moment into a crystal palace of waves before it dissolves into itself to await the next interruption.  It is like being surrounded by a lithe mosaic, which glitters into life only briefly before its diaphanous vanishes.

In the swimming pool, it amuses me see my arms and legs beneath the water, distorted by the fun house trickery of the mischievous water.  The effect is heightened by the sunlight, melting like diamonds in the tiny valleys between the chattering ripples and curls.  Light and water join together in a conspiracy of delight and deceit.

But when I swim in the ocean, I can only imagine what is below the surface.  I visualize my legs, reaching out with toes en pointe, hovering over the turrets of grottoes and the sea-swept dunes of sand and shell.  I glide and tread in dark colors, my skin awash in mystery.

When in the throes of summer, swimming is my cold comfort.  During the thick, enervating days and the nervous, sweaty nights the thought of its cooling recklessness is all I have.  Swimming is innocent and disruptive, guileless and graceless, childlike in its joy in the water’s benign acceptance.  It invites and encourages nothing but spontaneous happiness.

I really do love to swim.

BB

My Father’s Garden

Every year, during the final days of Spring – when the soil is gentle and rich – my father is in his garden.  It is a warren of vines, seedlings and latticework and there until high summer he grows and encourages a flock of tomatoes.

My father takes great pride in his heavy summer crop.  Sultry globes of many sizes hide within galaxies of green, starry leaves.  My father kneels on the dirt and reaches into the verdant haze to harvest the recalcitrant blend of fruit and vegetable.

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His care, patience and indifference to heat and insect would be expected of a farmer or a grower – not of a 6-time Emmy winner and former jazz disc jockey.  He does not have to grow tomatoes.  He does not have to tend a garden.  He chooses to.

I believe that there is something in the nurturing of the earth; to witness the seasons pass through it like varying shadows that influences his choice.  The wonder of change and growth:  the relief at its simplicity, the happy confusion at the wonder drives the noble gentility of my father in his garden.

When he worked as a video tape editor for the local news, every year he’d bring a collection from his harvest.  Once, the weatherman went on the air with a sunset of tomatoes arranged on his desk:  red, yellow, orange, purple.

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I remember that my father used to walk through the yard with my brother and I.  Together we would peer into flowers and hedges, looking for spiders and for the worlds spinning through leaves, twigs and their earthy darkness.  Even now, he will watch honeybees hover in oblique, filigree flight over the blossoms of his tangerine and nectarine trees.  I will even watch:   though at a safe distance, respectful of the bees’ reputation for suicide by sting.

My father’s garden has brought him modest fame:  amongst co-workers, neighbors, friends, family.  Within the smothering city,  it is a source of cultivation and unpretentious culture.  It is a creation of my father’s:  from his hands and his heart.  It is quiet, gracious and humble – just as he is.

I love my father, and from the heart I wish him a Happy Father’s Day.

From Harvesting Hops In Santa Rosa (1946) To Raising Tomatoes In Los Angeles

From Harvesting Hops In Santa Rosa (1946) To Raising Tomatoes In Los Angeles

But I will always hate tomatoes.

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane

Wingspan Couldn't Fit On My Camera Screen!

Wingspan Couldn’t Fit On My Camera Screen!

It’s pelacanus occidentalis!

It’s both!

The Birthday List

Whenever the first week of June approaches, I once more hear the footsteps of another year, the arrival of another birthday.

I hear the knock at my door, and there it stands – an unwelcome salesman – with an updated catalogue of wrinkle creams, dyes, diets, medications and a new list of anxieties, depressions and furies.  Everything, of course, at a reduced price:  a special deal for the birthday girl.

I slam the door in its face and yell out the window to get the hell off my lawn.  I am not interested in these inferior gifts.

But there are others to which I have given some thought.  Now, I am not registered at any store – Crate & Barrel will not have any of these, trust me – but I thought I would list them here, for your buying comfort.  Please note that I have given you an entire week to complete your shopping.

Aubrey’s Birthday List:

Aubrey would like to see the extermination of all insects.  Butterflies are exempt, because they are pretty and show no interest in invading my apartment.

The death penalty for any person guilty of animal cruelty.

Aubrey would appreciate the elimination of Summer.  Just allow Autumn to be awesome for a few extra months.  Easy.

Aubrey would like Daenerys Targaryen Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, and Lady of the Seven Kingdoms to cross the Narrow Sea, already.

A swimming pool.  There isn’t much room in back of the Aubrey apartment complex, but have a word with the Lovely Landlord.  He’s very nice.

A year of potato salad.  Each month, a different recipe.  Some with bacon, some with mustard, some with mayonnaise, some with Miracle Whip, etc.  And in December ALL ingredients would be used.

A few days ago, Aubrey saw a whisper-thin young man dressed in skinny black jeans.  He wore a baseball cap with the bill turned not to the front, not to the back, but sideways.  Find him and have him arrested, please.

The daily fumigation of all buses – and most bus riders.  Yesterday Aubrey watched a young man scratch his ears, scalp and rub his eyes for nearly 10 minutes STRAIGHT.  It’s not that she wanted to watch, yet at the same time she couldn’t look away.

Aubrey would like an audience with whomever decides on the choice of exhibits for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Dear Whomever:  stop trying to be clever.  Featuring artists that inspire discussion is good; featuring artists that merely inspire a dialogue as to whether that artist is good or CRAP is bad.  Also, Aubrey does not like Impressionism.  Let this be your guide.

Aubrey would like to have dinner with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Aubrey does not like working in Culver City.  She would like her job to be moved somewhere prettier.

Now, obviously Aubrey wishes for world peace.  As to that, she believes that certain representatives of the world kitten population has that in hand.  Do you think I kid?  What war can commence/continue in the face of this?

My Parents' Cat:  she's put on 7.5 pounds since this picture was taken

My Parents’ Cat: she’s put on 7.5 pounds since this picture was taken

So this is my list.  I hope you don’t find me too unreasonable!  My lovely landlord has given me a new floor and carpets, so the Aubrey residence is looking most palatial.  My party will be shiny and witty and will be, like dragons or any other type of magic, hard to ignore and difficult to forget.

I do hope you can attend.   I long to see you.

vintage-celebrate

The Invitation

The dead seagull lay huddled in the rocks                                                                                 Its head curved beneath its wings                                                                                                 In a solemn, moribund prayer                                                                                                       The air pricked at its feathers as if the bird still lived                                                           And could feel the salty, impudent fingers

Nature tried to interrupt the corpse’s devotions:                                                                   The air, the ocean                                                                                                                                 Refused to let the deceased blood,                                                                                                 The slowly evaporating DNA                                                                                                           Disperse amongst the shoreline’s lonely cathedrals

I did not take a photograph of the body                                                                                     To create a memory of its sadness                                                                                                 But the grief stays with me:                                                                                                               Of the soft creature prodded by the wind                                                                                 Inviting it to join its salty ranks once more

 

My Mother’s Gifts

I am reminded every day of my mother’s generosity.

I am reminded each time I look in the mirror.  The shape of my mouth, the slope of my nose recalls to me another face – one that I know and treasure so well.  Through this delicate inheritance my poor profile has achieved what charm it could ever dare to hope for.

I am reminded whenever we go shopping together.  We can be as silly as the most repellent teenagers, yet mother-daughter mirth is at the same time quite different:  something far rarer, residing on a higher plane – proof of a relationship that will extend into eternity.

I am reminded every evening, when we talk on the phone.  There is friendship to be heard, where maturity hangs by a precipice and its mournful fingers are in danger of being stamped upon by the words of two girlfriends visiting.

I am reminded by this same voice, but at the same time a distant one, whenever I read the diary of a new mother, full of love for her daughter.

I picture my mother writing – no doubt with me howling in the background – sequestered in a bower of her free time.  I carry the image with me, her serious expression carrying my future profile:  a vision so powerful it has become a memory, even though I was not even there.

My mother’s gifts surround me, as obvious as air:  as all-encompassing, and as life-giving.  What she has given defines me.

Mother, did I ever explain why I never added “love” to all those greeting cards I gave you during my younger, more cumbersome years?  It was because I always thought it was assumed, that my love was so deeply ingrained, so much a part of my flesh and blood that I thought it didn’t need to be said.

But I will say it now.  On my blog, for all my visitors, as well as yourself, to see.

I love you, Mother.

Happy Mother’s Day.

New Year's Day Pajama Party In Catalina

New Year’s Day Pajama Party In Catalina

“Draw Close The Curtaines”

“When thou goest to thy bed… draw close the curtaines to shut out the Moone-light, which is very offensive and hurtfull to the braine, especially to those that sleepe.”

-   A guide to healthy living, 1621

I did not see the blood moon last week, even though I tried to.  Slightly after midnight  I stood outside – night gowned and barefoot – but all I saw was a dark sky blushing orange, as if the moon was too shy to show herself in her red, blatant flesh.

A blood moon carries with it a weight of myth and symbolism.  Such an anthology of legends is so heavy that it is a wonder that a satellite cloaked so stridently has the strength to rise to its proper lunar height.

The scientific explanation is simple enough.  When the earth is in alignment between the moon and sun, it casts a shadow on the moon, a disc-like fragment obscuring its metallic phase.  That is the eclipse.  But on the other side of the earth, the sleepless sun is casting its rays through the earth’s atmosphere.

Obligingly, the blues and violets – the colors of the daytime sky – are filtered out.  But the furnace-cast of reds and oranges travel through this atmosphere, bent through a prism of dust and ash that extends for thousands of miles.  By the time the color reaches the moon, the palette is arranged for her scarlet, saucy profile; for her misplaced sunset.

But before science took the upper hand, men found other explanations for the tarnished shadow floating above them. A moon running red with blood signified the coming of the end times, of the Bible’s terrible prophecies, of dark suns and the “terrible day of the Lord”.

According to the Ecclesiastical tables this bloody moon was a Paschal (Passover) full moon. As it was the first full moon after the vernal equinox – it was also a herald for Easter, the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon.

A red moon during the harvest was a sign of the huntsman, of his prey run to ground and his bloody catch. It was a time of feverish activity, when forests rattled with hunter, horse and hound, and a successful outing would guarantee a healthy season of food for all.

Priests, shamans, mystics and story-tellers did their best to explain why the moon burned like a flushed sun in the latest corner of the night, at the very height of her languors.  But it was science that discovered that every few years, when earth, moon and sun were aligned in an astral set dance, the moon was able to experience her own sunset:  a rare closing of bronze and tawny curtains as she begins her nightly, silver vigil.

All of this I missed on that soft night. And it was a shame, really, but since that night I have given the moon and her amours a great deal of thought. And I have found that there are times when memory adheres more firmly to matters of reflection than vision. And that no matter how closely the “curtaines” are drawn, the moon and her stellar court will wait on your drifting contemplation.

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