Friday, January 29, 2010


Reading spot

I'm going to catch up on my reading this weekend. Got myself all the Stig Larsson books (the Millennium Trilogy), can't wait to have an opinion on him. I expect to be highly entertained but will the experience live up to the expectations?

Also, the news of J.D. Salinger's death made me put "The Catcher in the Rye" on my ever growing "to read again" pile of books. I haven't read it since I was 16, when I was going through a brief period of stupid self harming, and I'm sure I'll experience it very differently now. My youngest sister once developed an obsession with this novel, it's the only book she ever truly loved with a passion.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


...and they lived happily ever after...

When the medication she was taking

caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.

After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,

but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.

I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,

spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,

while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.

Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.

Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,

walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—

It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.

My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,

something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.

-- Tony Hoagland --

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mozart's Birthday

Albert Einstein said "We cannot despair about mankind knowing that Mozart was a man."

For me personally, Mozart is the voice of God. There's no other music so vital, so indispensable, so transcendent.

Some beautiful quotes about Mozart can be found here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Sketch of Thought

Poetic Liberty

Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
Grown tired of their solitude,
Upon some brand-new happy day:
Wind shrieked and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.


I'm tired of so much mockery.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The old piano

The old piano

We came to the conclusion that it was almost certainly built while the RMS Titanic was being built. It was bought by my great-grandfather for my great-aunts when they were small children, we think it must have been around 1910-1912. The construction of the Titanic started in 1909 and its maiden (and only) voyage was in 1912.

Fortunately, unlike the unlucky Titanic, our beautiful piano is still fit for purpose a century after it was made, having survived two world wars, several house moves and numerous children's fumbling fingers.

Four generations have learned to play on this Kaiser piano (a German brand that has recently resurfaced after having disappeared in the turmoil of the first half of the 20th century). For a hundred years, pleasure has been derived and given through it, frustration, joy and sadness have run wild on its gorgeous ivory and ebony keys producing all sort of melodies. It has endured a lot but it still sounds wonderful, a deep sound with a very particular tone. We regard it as our oldest family member.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy Times

1972 04 02 Capuchos_2A (2)

My sisters, my cousins and I in April 1972. I was 4, my cousin Bli was 3, blue-eyed sis was 2, my youngest sister and my cousin Miguel were 1. We were looking at a barking dog, all of us either mesmerized or terrified. I cherish this picture because it's one of the very few where all five of us are together.

We were very, very close when we were children, had endless fun playing our own make believe versions of "Space 1999" and Enid Blyton's Famous Five, looking for treasure (irony of ironies, us looking for treasure when the biggest treasure was ours already) and adventure in settings where adults intervened much less than what is present day norm. We had plenty of energy, imagination and will to have fun. At least three of us were completely and almost insanely fearless (although we did try not to upset the grown ups so that they wouldn't bother us back). And yes, I was the leader of the pack.

We started growing apart during the American years. Then, shortly after we moved back to Lisbon, my cousins moved to Brussels. Then I got married. Then Miguel got married and went to live in Paris. Then Bli got married. Then I came to the UK. Life pulled each one of us in a different direction and although we all still love each other dearly we hardly get together anymore. The rides that have brought us to where we are now have been bumpy for all five of us. But then again, bumps can be good if you survive them. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? And there are still some major bumps ahead.

I miss the innocence.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Mill


Rembrandt van Rijn, The Mill, 1645-1648

The heart is a wheatgrain. We are the mill
where this body is a millstone
and thought, the moving river.

The body asks the river why it runs on so.
The river says, Ask the miller who made
the millrace that directs my falling
that turns your stone.

The miller says, You that love bread,
if this turning were not happening,
what would you dip in your broth?

So a lot of questioning goes on
around the milling of wheat,
but what really is this breadmaking work?

Now let silence ask
about wheat and the river,
about the miller and the stone
and the taste of bread dipped in soup,
and this listening we do at the mill.


Coleman Barks' note: The mill is one of Rumi's images for the process whereby individual grains get crushed to make something less separate, more communally useful (bread). Thought (the riverwater) and the body (the millstone) are part of this work, as are the miller (creative intelligence) and the customer (desire), who wants a piece of bread for his soup.

* * *

Note on why I'm using a windmill instead of a watermill to illustrate this post (apart from having just noticed that in spite of loving Rembrand I didn't yet have a reference to him in my blog): thought rarely flows as fluidly and orderly as the waters of a river, its complexity is far more akin to that of the wind.

* * *

Thank you, Ruth, for sharing this wonderful Rumi with me!

Friday, January 15, 2010


A moment of reflection...

A fog that will lift

Song for the Rainy Season by Elizabeth Bishop

Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
rain-, rainbow-ridden,
where blood-black
bromelias, lichens,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
familiar, unbidden.

In a dim age
of water
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.

At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times--always five--
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.

House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
to membership
of silver fish, mouse,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew's
ignorant map;

darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
maculate, cherished;
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water

the great rock will stare
unmagnetized, bare,
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
waterfalls shrivel
in the steady sun.

and a fog that won't

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Joyous Day

1972 08  Rita Agosto

A very happy song for a very happy celebration!

Happy birthday, sweet little sis!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Enough already

I need yellow blue and green
Warmth and light and sound
But there's only white to be seen
And frozen silence all around

Last night "The Hours" was on BBC2. I couldn't resist watching it again, it's hard to find a movie where all leading characters are so shatteringly well played. I must say that I find Nicole Kidman's Virginia Woolf one of the best ever female performances in cinema. Ever. And Julianne Moore is nothing short of sublime in her portrayal of the sacrificial 1950's American housewife. As for Meryl Streep's Clarissa - Mrs. Dalloway - well... it always moves me to tears (as does Ed Harris's tragic Richard). That genius who goes by the name of Philip Glass further catapults these superb performances into even higher heights of effectiveness through an extraordinarily brilliant film score.

I always feel a relapse into my darker moods after "The Hours" however... The whole subject is too close for comfort and the mastery of its cinematographic mise en scène drives it like a spike into my soul.

Enough already.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

An English Winter with an Accent

our street

my street


by Ted Hughes

Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one.
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening,
And you turn to meet her, saying "It''s snowing!"
But it is not. And nobody's there.
Empty and calm is the air.

Sometimes the snow is a he, a sly one.
Weakly he signs the dry stone with a damp spot.
Waifish he floats and touches the pond and is not.
Treacherous-beggarly he falters, and taps at the window.
A little longer he clings to the grass-blade tip
Getting his grip.

Then how she leans, how furry foxwrap she nestles
The sky with her warm, and the earth with her softness.
How her lit crowding fairylands sink through the space-silence
To build her palace, till it twinkles in starlight—
Too frail for a foot
Or a crumb of soot.

Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.

It's snowing heavily again and the girls' schools have had to close right after the return from Christmas break. England seems to come to a halt every time a couple of inches of snow fall overnight. But I don't mind, as a matter of fact I'm loving the distinctive American feel of this remarkable Winter. Even the fact that over Christmas Mom had old fashion nightdresses made for Ana, Clara and me which are identical to the ones my sisters and I wore in the States 30 years ago contributes to this nostalgic and cozy feel.

Ana and Clara with their new nightgowns

This is for you, Mom...

I promise I'll answer all your nice comments and emails soon, dear blogger friends (old and new!). I'm not in the least indifferent or ungrateful and I very much cherish your kind words. It's just that sometimes I can't reply straight away and then things tend to pile up exponentially... Thank you all for taking the time to be nice.