Friday, November 30, 2018

Laguna de Santa Rosa, (colored pencil drawing)

My first real outing using colored wax pencils. Learning as I go. Not having the right paper may prove a challenge. It’s all about that bend in the road leading you ever on. Following the shores of the old laguna bed—reduced to that line of trees in the distance. Soon, winter floods will restore some of the memory of that ancient lakebed. 

I need a dry place to store a closet’s worth of art supplies—mostly for teaching—plus a few boxes of books would be grand. I miss not having my art supplies nearby—even if I rarely use them.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Elephant Mountain, 4 views (tempera paintings)

Elephant Mountain & fog, (tempera on cardboard)

While waiting to present a poetry workshop, I chanced upon an arts workshop at the Jewish elder home and I painted the morning away. Five visions of Black Mountain. This is the only way I know how to heal after tragedy. Art has always been my first language. Tempera, or cheap gouache on cardboard. Yes, cardboard. I'd run out of painting surfaces, this was supposed to be my painting palette.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A note on Medieval spices

The early Medieval era, when the Irish epics were first recorded, wasn’t quite the gastronomic desert we imagine it today. Sorrel sauce, and sour verjuice was used to flavor meats, as were rose hips, sloe plums, bitter cherries, crabapples, pears, huckleberries, bilberries, bog berries (a type of cranberry), and juniper berries; coriander seeds were used, as well as caraway, fennel, and mustard seeds; lots of pot herbs were used, such as young tart pine needles, heather, woodruff, and many types of mint—also mushrooms, garlic and onions. Rose petals were a popular dessert flavoring too.

Caraway seeds and greens were used, both as a spice and a pot herb. Any Roman potherb or spice that was introduced and easily grown in Britain would also have been readily available. Main spices used during the British Middle Ages were introduced during the Crusades, but some were introduced to Britain by the Romans. Roman cooks traditionally used aromatic herbs (dill, coriander, cumin, chervil, laurel, carrot, parsnip, lovage, rue, anise, mint, mustard, oregano, savory, myrtle...). I would imagine rosemary was also used as well as geranium and carnation, or pinks. Spices included pepper, silphium or laser, saffron, turmeric, cardamom, ginger and nard. Cinnamon was considered a medicine. I imagine clove was also a medicine, as was sugar!

I once hosted a medieval Celtic feast for my final project at UC Berkeley, using traditional ingredients. Toasting the oats for shortbread produced a strong vanillan flavor, as would using fresh pine needles, etc. We discovered that leached ashes were also used as leavening agent, when eggs weren’t available. Kind of a primitive baking soda, or powder. (See pearl ash, or potash—there's a reason why it's called potash!)

The medieval Irish roasted their oatmeal, and then flattened the hard grains in a saddle quern (think rolled oats) before making their famous griddle cakes. Roasting the oatmeal imparted a strong vanillan flavor. Just because we think of vanilla as a modern flavor, it doesn’t mean the compound itself didn’t exist in other foodstuffs. Epic hero Cú Chullain roasted his oatmeal on an iron griddle for his oatcakes before going into battle. Medieval Britons primarily used rose water, etc., and later saffron, as a custard flavoring.

In Germany and Scandinavia, during the end of the Middle Ages, powdered deer antler was also used as a leavening agent (ammonium carbonate) for hard cookies such as Springerle, Liebkuchen, and Hartshorn. (Leavening could also be made by distilling hair or decomposed urine.) Apparently the ammonia odor as they were cooking was memorable. Cookies as strong medicine....

Contrary to popular belief, Essex was not the original place where saffron was cultivated. Greece, maybe. It comes from the Middle East, especially Iran. Saffron is a Persian word. Saffron was the costliest of all medieval spices, more costly than sugar. The English word "saffron" probably stems from the 12th-century Old French term safran, from the Latin—safranum, from the Arabic za'farān, from the Persian word zarparan meaning "flower with golden petals".

Saffron as a color is also mentioned in medieval Ireland as a dyestuff, but other plants were also used to achieve that color dye, including gorse and brassica. The color itself, regardless of its plant origin, was called saffron, which is a well-attested classical reference. It doesn’t refer to the edible crocus sativus, as the edible crocus is not native to Britain. And it sounds like crocus wasn’t introduced until ca. 1560, when the bulb first appeared in the Netherlands. It didn’t become a common garden plant in Northern Europe until ca. the 1620s.

Speaking of medicine, you can get a fair indication of spices used during the Middle Ages by looking at the medicinal cures from the Middle Ages...Rosa Goidelica. (now I can't find a reference to it....I know it exists as I once spent an afternoon reading it in the Rare Books basement of the Doe Library at UC Berkeley). One of my favorite recipes for a toothache, eat a cinnamon-infused chicken—but it must also be eaten at the crossroads. Apparently saffron rice was another medicinal favorite. Wherever  did they get the rice from? That sort of dates it, timewise, along with noodles—to the age of Marco Polo.

Any spice popular in Rome would’ve made its way into the cooking pots of Britain. The Greeks and Romans were aware of cardamon (a member of the ginger family) and used it as a perfume, and it was well known in Egypt and the Middle East. The Indian spice could’ve been reintroduced by way of the Vikings several centuries after the Romans pulled out of Britain.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Poems for Armistice Day

John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday is Veteran's Day, called Armistice, or Remembrance Day in the U.K. This year is the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, which was called "The War to End All Wars". It didn't take. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor serving on the Western Front, wrote In Flanders Fields after the Second Battle of Ypres, in 1915, for a close friend who died in battle. He wrote the poem, graveside, after conducting his friend's burial service. McCrae caught pneumonia in January, 1918, and died two weeks later. His poem, In Flanders Fields has become a leit-motif of the War, and is recited each year at Remembrance Day ceremonies around the world.

Siegfried Sassoon's poem, Suicide in the Trenches, was composed in response to his witnessing the atrocities of WWI, on the Western Front, and Sassoon, a much decorated soldier, became a focal point for dissent when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his Soldier's Declaration of 1917. Instead of idealizing war, he was the first poet who spoke of the atrocities he had witnessed first hand at the Front, in vivid detail—which landed him in a military psychiatric hospital where he met fellow soldier and poet Wilfred Owen, who ironically was killed in 1918, one week before Armistice.

Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967)

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Moving a hundred years forward to time present, a poem of UK poet laureate (2009-2019) Carol Ann Duffy, The Wound in Time, caught my attention. Even though few surviving  members of WWI are still with us, and ditto that for WWII, we are all still wounded by war. Her second poem as Poet Laureate, Last Post, was commissioned by the BBC to mark the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the last two British soldiers to fight in World War I, is worth a look.
Last Post makes explicit references to Wilfred Owen's poem from the First World War Dulce et Decorum Est. It imagines what would happen if time ran backwards and those killed in the war came back to life; their lives would still be full of possibilities and filled with "love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food."  Wiki
Last Post opens with Wilfred Owens' first two lines:
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning....
Itself, which is a line borrowed from the Roman poet HoraceDulce et decorum est pro patria mori ("It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country"). Memory, remembrance, in memoriam, these notions have fed a self-fueled war machine since Classical times.

Duffy is a Scottish poet/playwright of Irish parentage, who was born in the Gorbals, Glasgow's version of Hell's Kitchen, wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
When she was 16, she met Adrian Henri, one of the Liverpool poets, and decided she wanted to be with him; she then lived with him until 1982. "He gave me confidence," she said, "he was great. It was all poetry, very heady, and he was never faithful. He thought poets had a duty to be unfaithful." Wiki
I guess Adrian was successful, as he seemed to put Carol Ann off men for good, but I can attest that he was a charismatic pied piper, having met him at Poetry International in Rotterdam in the mid 1990s. Adrian and I shared a common bond in that we both worked in the schools teaching kids poetry. I gave him an armful of student anthologies. Perhaps some of Adrian's work rubbed off. In 2011 Duffy spearheaded a poetry competition for school children, dubbed Anthologise.

Many assume that, Scottish-Australian poet-songwriter Eric Bogle's No Man's Land is a reference to the Battle of the Somme, which celebrated its centenary in 2016, but Eric, a great storyteller who immigrated to Australia, penned this song in response to sectarian violence in Ireland. I first met Eric in Sebastopol for the Celtic Festival, ca 2000. At the time, he said that he wrote it during the Vietnam War, but it wasn't even about WWI. Bogle gave the fictitious dead soldier an Irish name to counter the anti-Irish sentiment in Britain during the 1970s. In an Irish News interview, in 2106, Eric said:
"I’ve often said that there never was one actual soldier called Willie McBride that I wrote about. I didn’t sit by the grave of a Willie McBride to write the song, that would be bulls**t. But I wanted to remind people that a lot of Irish lads had died fighting for king and country during WWI as well because when I wrote it in 1975, the IRA bombing campaign on the UK mainland was in full swing and there was a lot of anti-Irish feeling about and I just thought, ‘Well, here’s a wee subtle dig at the haters. “It was so subtle that most people missed it, of course,” he laughs, “but I don’t like to harangue or shove a point down people’s throats in my songs."

Eric often follows No Man's Land up with And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, (1971) a reference to Gallipoli, and the futility of war. In 2015, Eric played a concert at the site of the slaughter at Gallipoli, something he had previously refused to do because “the thought of singing for all those ghosts has always intimidated me.”

Poem on the centenary of Armistice Day 2018
Carol Ann Duffy (1955-)

It is the wound in Time. The century’s tides,
chanting their bitter psalms, cannot heal it.
Not the war to end all wars; death’s birthing place;
the earth nursing its ticking metal eggs, hatching
new carnage. But how could you know, brave
as belief as you boarded the boats, singing?
The end of God in the poisonous, shrapneled air.
Poetry gargling its own blood. We sense it was love
you gave your world for; the town squares silent,
awaiting their cenotaphs. What happened next?
War. And after that? War. And now? War. War.
History might as well be water, chastising this shore;
for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice.
Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.

aka The Green Fields of France, or Young Willie McBride
Eric Bogle (1944-)

Well how do you do young Willie McBride?
do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside
and rest for a while 'neath the warm summer sun
I've been walkin' all day and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
when you joined the great fallen of 1916.
Well I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Willie McBride was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drum slowly,
did they play the fife lowly,
did they sound the death march
as they lowered you down
did the band play the last post and chorus,
did the pipes play the "Flowers of the Forest"

And the beautiful wife or the sweetheart for life
in some faithful heart are you forever enshrined
and although you died back in 1916
in that faithful heart are you forever nineteen?
Or are you a stranger without even a name
enshrined forever behind a glass pane
in an ould photograph torn tattered and stained,
fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Now the sun shines down on the green fields of France
a warm summer wind makes the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished all under the plows,
there's no gas, no barbed wire, there's no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land,
the countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
for man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
to a whole generation that was butchered and damned.

Now Willie McBride I can't help wonder why
Do those who lie here do they know why they died
Did they really believe when they answered the call
did they really believe that this war would end wars
Forever this song of suffering and shame
the killing, the dying, was all done in vain
for young Willie McBride it's all happened again,
and again, and again, and again and again.

My application bio to be a California Arts Council panelist

I have worked my entire life in the arts, both as a visual artist and as a poet, teaching people of all ages to access the power of self expression. I have received 7 individual CAC AIS grants including one artist in libraries grant at Napa State Hospital. I have been part of several multi arts CAC and NEA grants, as well as a pilot evaluation grant with Philip Horn. I was on the roster for the Montana Arts Council AIS program as well. I have worked with Herb Kohl, and many other arts educators, and have taught poetry and art residencies in CA and abroad to students of all ages and abilities. I am area coordinator for CalPoets in the East Bay, and I work with diverse populations. I am widely published, and have had numerous art exhibitions, and have been a cultural worker all my life. I have received two regional NEA fellowships, and have collaborated with artists and musicians. I was nominated Poet Laureate of Sonoma County. I have produced literary events for two decades, and coordinate the youth poetry reading for Watershed Festival.

I have worked with underreprrsented and disenfranchised communities for the past 20 years in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, and am familiar with the matrix and the needs and cultural sensitivities of underrepresented communities. Through poetry I have taught kids to read while allowing them to develop their creative self expression potential, giving them tools to give them voice. I have worked with public and private school kids, involuntary shut-ins, elders, and disabled populations. Though not formally trained, I am conversationally fluent in Spanish, and have taught residencies where English was not the dominant language. Perhaps the most diverse workshop I ever taught was to cultural workers in a mental hospital in the Netherlands (I also taught in the USSR, where I headed up a poetry and art exchange) where we had not one language in common. (We had a minimum of 5 unrelated languages. I had to think outside the box, as English was not the lingua Franca. I also toured with Ken Larsen, of Rural Arts Services bringing arts programming to isolated CA communities from Covelo to Colusa County. Through Poetry Out Loud, I have trained two Contra Costa student poets to place in the CA state finals, and coordinated POL in Alameda County for 7 years.

Friday, November 9, 2018


Vermillion afternoon light
filtered through lace curtains,
Sunlight stained by smoke,
strangely silent & beautiful.
Almost no traffic on the roads.
So quiet out today.
Cold red sun, a strange winter eye
bathed  in orange light.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Paradise is Lost

Vermillion skies, angry red eye of the sun—fallout from the Paradise fire in the Sierra foothills of Butte County fueled by the Diablo winds. Years  of prolonged drought, an unusually hot summer, and no rain in sight has turned California into a tinderbox. This is the face of global warming. The air is so thick with smoke on the coast 200 miles away, it hurt to breathe. Ash was falling like grey snowflakes this afternoon. The afternoon sun was  absolutely vermillion, the iPad couldn’t catch it, so there’s a vermillion halo around the sun instead. But the sun itself was a mad inferno of an  eye.

I left the window open last night. I feel like I have the flu. My throat is raw, my chest hurts, and I had the sweats. Didn’t dawn on me that the smoke was affecting me. I know the smoke begins to fall from the sky after midnight, and the AQI index returns to normal, but even still.... what was weird, was that there was no frost, we’re in a vast smudge pot. Salmon colored skies this morning.

Someone said the #Paradise #CampFire was up to 70,000 acres in 24 hours. I fear there is nothing left of Paradise. It took the Carr fire nearly a week to get that big. There’s nothing left of the town of Paradise. See the photos below. Our new normal. Yes, and ash was falling on me this afternoon. Like rain.

Paradise is Lost. A useless rain, these tears....

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Nicasio Reservoir, bridge, photos

The old bridge, drowned creek bed, and retreating reservoir. I keep circling my quarry, looking for the quintessential bridge photo. This one’s close. I will make a drawing of it, I think. There’s more water in the Nicasio reservoir this year than in years past, the old bridge is just beginning to show itself this week. It usually shows up in October if it’s a dry year. The Canada geese and pelicans patrol its shores, the box turtle is busy sunning himself on the cement pylon of the old bridge, and the deer come down en masse to drink along the old roadbed. The coyote, however, is late to the potluck.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Samhain, a cross-quarter festival

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh! Happy New Year. May the Gates of the Otherworld stay open long enough for you to escape the coming darkness. And mind the Galoshins!

Astronomically speaking, Samhain should be celebrated November 11, which means that gates of the otherworld are open until November 16. Beware!

Modern calend dates are somewhat meaningless as the Julian calendar was off by ten days when the Gregorian calendar was introduced.

In the 8th c., Samhain was shoehorned into the Christian festival calendar of saints, and the original Roman festival of the dead that was celebrated in in May, and later, the Mexican El Día de los Muertos (originally celebrated in summer) was added to the mix. (See my rant, El Dia de los Muertos was moved atop our Day of the Dead/New Year.

Blame Pope Boniface IV for that mass conflagration of holidays to the dead now celebrated on Nov. 1 & 2.

The Celtic fire festivals are held on the cross-quarter days, midway point between the solstices and equinoxes. Samhain means summer’s end. It is part of a harvest-pastoral, or hunter’s festival calendar. Imbolc is the beginning of spring (first milk) and Beltane is the beginning of summer, followed by the games gathering festival of Lugnasa. And the church tacked on a whole slew of saints to each of these festivals in an attempt to desecularize them. Didn’t exactly work.

There is some thought that the festivals predate the coming of the Celts, which is plausible, as the Bell Beaker folk were sometimes called proto-Celts—at least by my anthropology professor. However, the megalithic standing stone monuments wouldn’t record any astronomical alignment to denote the timing of these fire festivals as they’re aligned to the solstices and equinoxes, not the cross-quarter days.

According to the early medieval Irish epics, that reflect an earlier oral tradition, Samhain was equally celebrated in Ireland, and much of the modern Halloween tradition was introduced to Scotland from Ireland.

Whose? I did a Google image search via Sean Folsom, no luck.

The Celtic wheel of the year with the cross-quarter days, nestled between the solstices and equinoxes. Samhain, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, is a harvest festival, (Halloween), followed by Imbolc, or spring (first milk), and Beltane, (May Day) or the beginning of summer, and Lugnasadh, the time for the great games and clan gathering—which lives on today as the Highland Games. Lughnassad (no double s, btw—) or Lunasa, is the festival of Lugh, is the beginning of August. It lives on in Ireland as the Puck Fair. Someone’s thrown in some other festivals. Oestara was not a Celtic festival, nor was Litha, or Yule, but Mabon was celebrated on the continent. It’s a bit of a mishmash, as someone was trying to shoehorn Roman, Germanic, and astrological signs into one thing. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not an can’t mix apples and oranges and a box of thumbtacks and expect it to make a fruit salad