Color Story #15: The Color of Cold

Blacks are black. Greys are infinite. The surprises are red and ochre and frosty sage. My toes lose feeling—it’s cold—but I’m distracted by a passing train and the beauty of ice hanging in the air over freshly turned clods of earth.

The walk concludes through what my children and I refer to as the secret passageway, a tiny alley lined by overwintering vegetable gardens, chicken enclosures and rusted gates. You emerge through two houses, an arm’s span apart, with a view of the seasonal sentiments strung out along a gate. Joyeuses Fêtes. Happy Holidays. Not a soul in sight. The air heavy with silence and the incense of burning logs.

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Musings of a Dish-washing Woman

Yes, the 25th of December was indeed Christmas. If there’d been any confusion about it, the stockings, gingerbread house, fly-away bits of wrapping, and abundant food would have clued you in. But I knew it was Christmas, really Christmas, when I stood over the sink of dirty dishes and pottered about my kitchen for literally hours cleaning it all up without one shred of resentment or boredom. In fact, all I was feeling was a peculiarly abiding sense of peace. I knew it was fleeting, but I recognized it from last year and I knew it would come again next. The unheralded ritual of cleaning up after the festivities is one that I hold dear.

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Without dragging sexual politics into it (thank God I don’t need to; my husband and I divide any and all chores the best we can), I simply felt the peace of being connected to generations of women who have stood elbow-deep in warm, soapy water, thinking the same thoughts. Listening to the children’s voices and the low, anti-climactic thrum of the post-gift-giving wind-down. Feeling my own tightly-wound clock let itself relax into a timeless contentment. Pondering the ups and downs of the past year and allowing the quiet thrill of having made it and-yet-again, one more year, without a user’s manual about How To Age or How To Parent or How To Be a Good Partner to sink in. Realizing, hands shriveling happily in warm water, that there are things we can just manage to manage if only we keep our hearts and heads open, our shoulders to the grindstone of life. If only we have some sort of faith that things will work out.

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Table cleared. Dishwasher loaded. Still, piles to clean by hand. The inherited porcelain too delicate for machine washing. The bone-handled knives. The champagne flutes and wine-glasses that don’t nestle comfortably despite the brilliant German engineering. The sheer numbers of pickle dishes and dessert plates and serving platters that don’t fit once the lion’s share of plain-old-plates has been loaded. The dishes that have to be rinsed and hand-dried before others will even fit into the sink. The left-over food that has to find a place, a nook, repackaged economically into the refrigerator. The cheeses that need to be individually wrapped. The crumbs that need clearing. The scraps that go to the dog, to the garbage or to the compost pile. Another pot of coffee please. I’ll have a bit more before the job is done.

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It goes slowly this job that I usually abhor. But I don’t mind. Not on Christmas Day. Each dish cleaned, rinsed off, toweled dry, is one more precious chance to reflect on the good fortune one has. To be in a warm home. To be surrounded by a life one has chosen. To rub against other lives and destinies that are intimately connected. To be alone with one’s thoughts even if they are wandering far away in time and space, covering the distances back and forth between now and what it took to get here. Step by step. Year by year. The creeping, invisible process we all go through from our own past to our own present. And these holidays are our breadcrumbs. Our way back. And our way forward.

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Christmases collapse into each other. A platter, held at a 45 degree angle because otherwise it won’t fit into the deep farmer’s sink, takes you back to the year it held poached salmon, or the Christmas it served rack of lamb, or the experiment 365 days ago with stuffed Capon. Meals telescope into meals, years into years, teenage children into wee ones peering into their first stockings and believing fervently in things you helped them to believe. They no longer believe, but somehow, fingertips pruning in the bottom of a sudsy stockpot, you do. Once again, you do.

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Finally, the dishes are cleaned. They are dried. They are put away. The heirlooms carefully stacked, breathing happily in their designated cupboard. The perishables back in the cool of the refrigerator or the box on the windowsill. After all, it is a refrigerator outside. Cold. Cold. The coffee stains have been wiped away from the hob. The counters have been wiped down. The bread crumbs have been given to the birds and the remaining loaves laid with respect in their basket.

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The job is complete. The kitchen is clean. The dining table is ready for the next spread of light leftovers (our appetites are exhausted). The year is almost over. I am happy to be the woman I am. I rub cream on my hands and head up the stairs where a good book awaits.

 

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Canine Prayers etc.

Part I: The Department of Prayers

I saw this posted inside the Duomo of Sant’Andrea (images posted below) in the beautiful mountain town of Carrara. It’s “The Dog’s Prayer” translated from Italian:

Oh Lord of all creatures, see that man, my owner,
is as faithful towards other men, as I am  faithful to him.
Make sure that he is affectionate to his family and his friends,
as I am affectionate with him.
See that he protects all that you have entrusted to him,
as honestly as I protect his home.
Give him, oh Lord, an easy and spontaneous smile,
as easy and spontaneous as my wagging.
Make him show gratitude as easily as I do.
Grant him the patience that I have,
when I wait for him without complaining.
Give him my courage, my readiness to sacrifice everything for him,
every comfort, even life itself.
Preserve in him my youthful heart and my playfulness.
Oh Lord of all creatures, as I am always truly canine,
see that he is always truly humane.

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Part 2: The Department of Well-Being

I had heard rumblings that the city of Milan was now permitting dogs to attend church, but it was just today that I found the proof. Translated from “News Cattoliche,” September 17th Edition, 2014

The Milan City Hall continues its battle in favor of animals, who may soon be allowed to “go to church”–thanks to the new rule which outlines the obligation on the part of those who manage public places (such as churches) to grant them entrance. The Milanese Curate didn’t deny the right of animals to enter holy places in the city: “We have faith in the good sense and education of those who come into the parish.”

The rough draft for the guardianship and well-being of animals has been fine-tuned by Guarantor Valerio Pocar and the Department of Wellbeing for the City of Milan. The document, now under scrutiny by the city’s zones, could become active by Christmas of this year.

For the Mass on the 25th of December, therefore, “animals of small size who are not aggressive” maybe be allowed to enjoy their first official entrance into church, complete with communal blessing.

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Postcard #33: Typical

[Sometimes the planets align, and you find yourself inhabiting a perfectly “typical” moment in a perfectly “typical” place. And so it was in this instance. Long September shadows. Cobblestone street. A chef outside his restaurant talking to a Mediterranean beauty. The red motorcycle. The balcony dripping with ivy. And me, snapping a picture as I typically do, tucked in a shadow out of view.]

POSTCARD FRONT TYPICAL

POSTCARD BACK TYPICALI couldn’t resist the beauty of the moment, and snapped another one for safe keeping. Also typical in Italy, the ochre color you see on the left (below), which keeps us warm when the weather fails.
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[If you enjoyed this post, and want to see more like it, all you have to do is click “Postcards & Kits”in the menu above. Have a good one!]

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The Instant Sunshine Cut & Paste Kit

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I don’t know about you, but I need to apply my photoshop skills to real life. This winter is going to be long, and if we can’t mentally apply yellow where necessary, it could get rough.

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Happy with a dog

Last December our dog Luna died. It seems she took an era with her. Funny how animals define and contain entire chapters of our lives. When they go, we see the clear end of a decade or more. We see the whole thing collapsed like an origami balloon folded in on itself, the beginning place lying flat against the finishing place. She was a puppy, and then she was old. And in between we grew and shifted and watched our own eyes change in the mirror.

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Her passage was hard. Letting her wade gracefully through old age was easy enough. (She was grace personified, or doggified as the case my be.) It was watching her suffer wordless, circular canine anxiety as her end drew near that tore our hearts. And when she was gone, sleeping forever, she left a blank space in her wake with a great gravitational pull.

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My youngest daughter asked me every day, no less than five times, holding hands, walking to school, “When are we getting another dog?” And then she’d carefully place the cherry on top of her longing: “Life is sad without a dog.” If this is a true statement in a logical world (someone help me with the philosophical accuracy here), then the following statement should also be true: “Life is happy with a dog.”

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At least that’s how—one day—I heard what she was saying, and I decided to act on the veracity of that claim, though I was not sure how or when I would make this happen. I would have to consult with my husband, make sure things were copacetic. What dog would we get? How old? Where? We’d wanted to help an abandoned one. But sometimes you just do not have to think at all or ponder long. The Universe takes care of the decision-making for you.

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A few days later, I was walking down the street, and a young man was walking towards me with a small puppy zig-zagging aimlessly on the end of a leash. The dog-let was darling. Still with a bit of fuzz to him. Wolf-like in his face. A long tail that wagged from shoulder to shoulder. I asked the man where he’d gotten him, hoping perhaps there was a litter somewhere with more puppies still available. He told me that he’d found the dog—rather the dog had found him—at a festival of peperoncini in a small town on the Calabrian coast called Diamante. The dog had escaped a cage (and an undoubtedly ugly future) where he was being kept with 13 other puppies, slipped through the bars (he was only 4 weeks old), pulled on the man’s pants leg and kindly asked passage to Milan and a better life. But now he, the man, realized he could not keep the dog. He was a chef, and work was just too demanding. He was looking for a new owner.

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I volunteered us on the spot (SFX: Universal gears locking into place). Two days later, the decision was made, and the dog was brought to us with equal doses of sadness and relief, along with his bed, his toy giraffe and his name, Pepe. That was one month ago.

We still miss Luna. But the gravitational pull is no more. Puppitude has taken over—a new chapter, a new decade, a new origami balloon in the making…

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Posted in IN THE HOUSE | 20 Comments

Upside down summer

Summer in France was long and wet and cold. I hardly blogged at all. There was work and there were “issues” to deal with and there was that infernal, driving, relentless rain. Closed up in our house, I felt closed up in my head. A reverse hibernation. Upside down and backwards. Sometimes the world feels like it’s getting that way. And yet, it does have it’s advantages:

1. Everyone—man and beast—shares a question: Rain again?

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2. The plants grow like crazy, and look that much more beautiful under a moody sky.

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3. There’s time to read and read and read. This book is beautiful if you dream of being one with nature but aren’t (like me).

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4. The hats look cozy hanging on the wall. And with no sun, that’s where they stay.

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5. The daily bread gets soggy instead of hard. Wait, that’s not an advantage.

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6. All creatures great and small take cover. Sometimes under the same roof.

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7. Snails! Snails! And more Snails! (They’re so cool.)

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8. Winter food regains its appeal: Onion Soup, anyone?

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Posted in AROUND US, FRANCE | 14 Comments

A river runs through me

Once upon a time, August 2010 to be fairly precise, I started a blog. I named it “The Daily {French-Italian} Cure.” The French-Italian part was stuck in there because I didn’t want this to be a generic archive of  things I like. I specifically wanted to collect those things about France and Italy that have, in a very substantial way, “cured” me of some restless desire I had as a young woman to have “more.” And by “more,” I don’t mean more in a material sense. I mean more life, more experience, more depth, more…more of that undefinable stuff that makes you feel connected to your own passage, the Earth, all of it.

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I often felt in the U.S. that I was part of a swiftly moving river of useless change. Change for the sake of change. New-is-better-than-old kind of change. I think, I hope, that the trend itself (which I experienced acutely in Atlanta, Georgia in the mid 80’s) is changing. Maybe it was the media (maybe it was Fox News!) but I felt like American culture was conditioning me to live in a state of anxiety, expecting the worse. Simultaneously, I felt, for lack of better words, “That there had to be more.”

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It’s easy—far too easy—to blame things on cultures and countries, without realizing that what ails you is inside yourself, perhaps buried in your own past, genetic makeup or lack of maturity. As the cliché accurately reports, “Wherever you go, there you are.” So it’s impossible to say whether Europe made me literally feel better, or if I, when I came here, changed in fundamental ways, thereby making myself feel better.  Ah, the things we will never know.

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But it’s nice to think that I found a home here. And that it did, in some way, speak to my soul in a language my soul could better understand. For whatever reason, I feel part of some great flowing energy. More than ever before.

When I started this blog, I remember being in a heightened state of gratitude about all that surrounded me here in Burgundy. It is, for me, one of the most beautiful corners of the earth. It makes my heart ache.

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A river runs right by our little town. It is called, appropriately enough, La Cure. The Cure. It rises in the Morvan and merges into the Yonne. I have no idea what the origin of its name is—if, in fact, it was considered a cure of some sort—but our pilgrimages here, every year, are definitely therapeutic. We cross the river and enter into another state of mind. We watch the little river flow by, and let ourselves flow away with it. Rivers don’t wait for you to find your meditative state; they take you to it without hesitation.

Hence “The Daily Cure.” Not a grand promise that I can cure you of anything at all. But an attempt to feel the river’s flow even when it’s not running at our feet. I don’t always succeed, and recently I’ve not even been able to carve out the time to write, but I wanted you to know the reason behind the name. The reason this experiment exists.  I can’t take the beautiful Cure back to Milan with me, but I try. The river keeps flowing…

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Cherries and cold cherry soup

Forty-eight hours in France and there was something I was craving pretty badly. Cherries from this region—l’Yonne. We’ve got wonderful cherries in Italy (Vignola, Ferrovia, Durone etc.), but nothing—I’m not sure why—quite compares to these almost black beauties that are sold by the road and go out of season before you’ve had your fill. IMG_8350

As the Italians say, “Una tira l’altra.” One pulls the other. Dark, glossy, densely juicy, sweet, tart. You think you’ll eat two, and before you know it you’re well on your way to a stomach ache. It takes true discipline to stop. That said, they’re best when fresh from the picker and don’t improve with time in the refrigerator drawer. So we get small quantities to eat immediately. Then repeat.

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When our eyes are bigger than our appetites, which is too often the case, and we end up with cherries in più, we like to make cold soup out of them. Once upon a time there was a recipe, but it went from stained to dog-eared to lost. So now we just play it by the senses. I’ll share the basics with you, because I’m sure you can’t go wrong. And if you do, there are a thousand websites to set you straight. But, really, you won’t go wrong. With ingredients like these, it’d be a challenge to produce something less than delicious.

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You take your cherries (about a kilo, or just under 2¼ pounds, but I don’t even bother to weigh them), and you pit them. Nasty job, but someone’s got to do it! Next, I put the cherries in a pot with a bit of sugar and a small amount of water. Not too much, because the soup can tend towards “too sweet” depending on which wine you choose to add next. Cook and stir your cherries until the sugar is dissolved, then add a bottle (if that makes you squeamish, use a bit less) of lovely white wine. Dry, not sweet. Or red. Or, as we often do here, a combination of white wine and Ratafia. (Ratafia is a red, sweetish wine leaning toward a Port flavor, so we use less sugar when cooking with it.) Bring just to the boil, then simmer until the alcohol has cooked off and your liquid has reached a consistency you like. You can add cinnamon sticks, cardamom or clove during this phase according to your tastes. Remove from heat. Let cool, then refrigerate. Eat as is, or with a dollop of ice cream or crème fraiche.

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NOTE: Some recipes call for thickeners—a bit of cornstarch or flour—but I’m not big on those additions and have had great success ignoring them. The soup gets adequately thick and syrupy on its own. Another thing I like to do, especially if I’ve got too many summer stone fruits lying around, is add chopped apricots, peaches or nectarines right before I put the cooled soup in the refrigerator. Delish.

Posted in FRANCE, IN SEASON | 13 Comments

Small

Walking about town the other day, I allowed myself to veer in the direction of Society, a bedding store that I’ve only ever let myself admire from outside. I usually salivate a bit at the beautiful linens just out of my wallet’s reach, and opt instead for a more reasonably priced espresso. But this time, it was not so simple to walk away. The window display was outdoing itself. There was just too much luscious stuff to take in: texture, color, softness, roughness…dyed, natural, deep, light…carmine, slate, ecru, cerulean…

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And
it
was
all—MAGNIFYING

In fact, the window was full of 30 or so miniature iron beds (custom made), each accompanied with a magnifying glass, so that you could observe not only the finer points of the “bed linens” arranged upon them but the mission statement behind the effort. Embroidered on tiny tags, tucked into the edges of the bedspreads, were the words, “Details never sleep.” (The following two images are from the store’s site.)

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Half the store space was dedicated to this unusual showroom, which had been created for the Salone del Mobile back in April. The back half of the store had absolutely nothing on display. Just shelves full of the actual-sized blankets and linens waiting to be purchased.

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The “vision” belongs to stylist Beatrice Rossetti. If I ever have a chance to work with her, I will. I think she’s a genius. Maybe it’s because I agree with her obsessive nature when it comes to one’s profession, art or craft. Or maybe it’s because I can’t resist all that reality translated into a scale too small to accomodate a Barbie doll.

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The amazing thing was how effective the display was at actually selling the merchandise. I’ve walked by the store many times and, as I said above, moved on. But this time, I couldn’t. The tininess of the merchandise forced you into an interactive and deeply imaginary role with it. You were sucked into a minuscule world of comfort, of ideal homey-ness. And there, the imagination went wild. I fell for it and bought a bed spread. There you have it: desire created out of scraps of fabric too small to line a pocket. Gazing at Lilliputian luxury from my Gulliver-world of cars and cobblestones, I couldn’t resist. As Tiny Fey said on “30 Rock,” “I want to go to there.” And so I did.

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