Category Archives: Journal – Vol. II

CXVII. Snow Comes Softly

Sunday, December 8, 2013 —Yesterday came cold and blustery while we presented our wares at our town holiday outdoor market. Flurries of visitors arrived and it was good to be out among the people and to greet them. Choruses of children sang and Santa Claus came to town. The Newshound from the Delaware State News came and, holding up one of my books, To What Green Altar, posed beside me while his photographer took our picture. Like most hounds, the Newshound newspaper mascot doesn’t talk, but the photographer alerted me to look online at Delaware Newszap, http://delaware.newszap.com/delawarestatenews/, and the photo noting this author should be posted by Wednesday.

Today it is snowing. The purity of the white is centering. Snow falling is quiet, peaceful. I have decorated my Christmas tree in small clear lights this year with only a few balls in silver hues. It is a quiet tree, a tree decorated not for anyone else, but for me, a tree to give off a soft, warm light.

It is Sunday. The bell in the little Episcopal church across the street rang this morning, as it does every Sunday. It is a real bell, in the steeple, that somebody rings. This little historic church recalls all the chapels in all the English villages, meadows and dales that I see in all the British dramas I watch. They don’t ring the bell long in this Episcopal church – eight times for the eight o’clock service and ten for the ten o’clock service.

One Sunday morning, I was walking in front of the Methodist church down the street when suddenly the bell tolled. I know convention says you’re not supposed to be startled when you’re in front of a church: I rose several feet off the sidewalk and I suspect not lifted on angel wings. In fact, I exclaimed, “Holy [expletive].” This is a real bell, too, and apparently a good sized one; it is loud, and it goes on ringing for eons. It’s a big church and the congregation continues arriving for ages.

Snowflakes alight briefly in flurries or waltz in endless patterns bending, swirling, reaching and touching everything all the dull gray day and into the deep blue night, well beyond three o’clock in the morning.

Prose arabesques ornament the characteristics and romance of snowflakes. Each snowflake is uniquely shaped. The flakes fall softly, individually, in pairs and in gatherings. Yet they all come from the same source and have the same composition. Snowflakes have a mission: they fall out of the clouds and they land on black slick streets, red-brick sidewalks, brown winter grass, mounds of dried leaves blown into corners of flower beds and on the bare dogwood branches outside my window. Sometimes the snowflakes melt on contact, sometimes they pile up. And then everything turns white. Watching them fall, we become quiet, meditative, nostalgic, always a little awestruck. We watch snow fall with anticipation: snow disperses our routines, makes us turn to something new. Sometimes each snowflake makes a light ticking sound as it touches down. The birds get quiet when it snows. I watch the squirrels and the birds and I can predict the weather. The squirrels bustle gathering nuts in advance of the coming cold. Birds flock and chatter and then get quiet. Birds have different songs for different types of weather and different times of day. They have their cheery morning song, their spring song for temperatures mounting on soft southern breezes; they have their evensong.

Mothers brought their young children outside this morning to witness the first snowfall of the season. I observed one child hold out her pink mittened hand to watch the snow accumulate in her palm.

I like driving in a car when it is snowing. I love being in the magic of the snow flying at me, the cypress and cedars and oaks lining the road, their branches laden with snow, the padding of the car tires on the snow, the few other cars on the road all traveling slowly as in a dream, and the tire tracks of an unseen car gone before me.

Snow fulfills its own purpose. Snow comes softly; it piles on tree limbs, bushes, holly berries and cars. Snow comes softly, like a gentle soul, filling in the footprints on our paths. It stays for a while, and then it is gone.

—Samantha Mozart

CXVI. The House of Seven Staircases

November 25, 2013 — I have been winterizing my home the past few weeks. This home was built in 1894, and although some repairs and improvements have been made since then, it needs more, like new plumbing, electrical wiring and workable storm windows. The house has 34 windows, not counting the windows in three of the four doors, the fourth being the basement Bilco doors. All but five have triple-track aluminum storm windows and screens installed over them, so I have been going around the house pulling down storm windows.

I have included a soundtrack with this plodding piece:  three compositions on my playlist in the right sidebar, by Chopin: numbers 36, 37 & 38: “Marche Funèbre” from the second piano sonata; “Largo in E” from “24 Preludes,” Op. 28; and “Nocturne No. 10, Op. 32 No. 2, respectively.

Since, oddly, the windows and the screens do not seat properly in their sashes, frequently sticking rather than sliding, this task involves fingernail breaking and colorful language speaking. These features notwithstanding, generally I pick the windiest autumn day for this project. The front and back aluminum storm/screen doors have large plate-glass windows that slide up and down in grooves. I raised the window on the back door sash easily, thus covering the screen and converting it to a storm door. The window on the front storm/screen door won’t budge, and it’s heavy. Last spring, I couldn’t slide it down to where it sits in the bottom half of the door. It came out of the sash, and I set it against the wall until I could get the guy painting the exterior of my neighbor’s house next-door to come fix it. Now it won’t slide up. All I need is to force it, have it come out of its tracks, drop it and break it. So I’ve left it until I can nab a likely candidate to help.

This house is of balloon-frame construction; that is, with no platform framing or drywall, so the joists run all the way from the foundation up to the attic. This allows air to circulate excellently: on the hottest breezy summer days with the doors and the 34 windows open, the house is comfortable. I’d leave the attic door open to enhance the circulation, but then the bats come down and circulate in my bedroom in the middle of the night. When I climb the attic steps, where Lancelot Dampwick, a former owner, removed the horsehair plaster from the lath lining the staircase walls, I can reach into the open space between the joists and feel an intense draft. This draft, as you might imagine, is chill in winter; and in any case, on windy winter days, even with the storm windows in place I wonder if I’ve left all the windows open: the wind blows right through not only the glass double layer but also the vinyl siding layering the clapboard walls, circulating magnificently. I can place my hand in front of any wall outlet and feel the draft. Drafting so splendidly, in the event of fire the house instantly would convert to one big chimney, spectacularly.

Jack the Handyman comes every spring and fall and carries my three window air conditioners from the first and second floor windows to the attic. The first floor window air conditioner is substantial and Jack accommodatingly transports it on a dolly up the main staircase to the second floor and, lifting it off the dolly, from there carries it up the winding attic staircase, setting it neatly against the wall dividing the large front room with the finished floor from the back, windowless storage area.

Out in the yard, to make it easier for Jack to simply pick it up and carry it down the outside cellar steps, thoughtfully I coiled my hundred-foot garden hose having the precise diameter and black and yellow markings as the garden snake we found coiled in the corner at the tortoiseshell cat’s feet in my friend’s house.

So Jack could get into the cellar, I descended the staircase out of the kitchen to the cellar, ascended the steps to the Bilco doors, opened them, and on the way back down, nearly trampled a herd of stampeding crickets who had settled their winter ghetto there.

Seldom have I lived alone, and here I have housemates – Marjorie the Mouse in the kitchen cupboard, and Jupiter and Jiminy Cricket around the kitchen. I rarely see the bats, only attic evidence of bugs they have eaten, so I can’t name them. The other day, I transported Jupiter, the big cricket, who was standing in the sink near a water puddle, into my backyard in a clean empty refried beans can. Jiminy’s still around, or maybe it’s Jennifer. It’s hard to tell. I do know their bodies sport nifty brown and black horizontal stripes, like little pullover sweaters, or jumpers, as the Brits aptly call them.

A few months after my mother and I moved into this house in August 2002, standing in the big attic room one winter morning, I noticed a tall thin thing in the center of the back of the attic. I walked over and peered through the climb-through opening in the wall separating the front and back sections. The sun, lower in the sky this time of year, shone through the front window into the back illuminating – a red brick chimney that had been truncated, probably when they re-roofed the house in the 1990s, so it no longer extends through the roof thus eliminating leaks around the flashing. I wondered why the wood shelves beside the kitchen stove, their surrounding paneling extending in equal depth from the wall and flush with the front of the stove, were so shallow. Somebody paneled around that same chimney there that formerly drafted the smoke from a woodstove, and put shallow shelves in the front. A woman near my age, who grew up in this house, told me that she and her three sisters would sit around the stove and watch their mom bake cookies. I don’t know if that was before or after that day while their mom was at the store they painted the two-story barn behind the house two shades of purple. Since the property sits on the top of a knoll, “It could be seen from all over town,” the woman said. That barn is long gone. In its stead is my shed under which the Peter and Bunny Cottontail clan lives. These girls’ dad cemented the hitherto dirt cellar floor, built the back steps (their initials and ‘51 are incised in the cement) and blocked off the back staircase to the attic, to create a closet on the lower landing. This is the closet where my clothes shrink on their hangers, in the room above the kitchen that I now use as my studio, with the winding staircase out of the kitchen, directly below the walled-off back staircase to the attic.

Their dad used the smallest upstairs room, my den, as his office. This is my reading room, where I sit in the chaise between the two perpendicular windows, beneath my bridge lamp. I am gradually converting my den to a library. I want to line one wall with floor to ceiling shelves. This is the perfect wall, since the front chimney juts out from the wall at the end next to the window, creating the perfect indentation for bookshelves. I could spend endless hours there among my books. Books are people’s souls.

Balancing the scales, though, is my love for music, and recently I was invited to and attended a free piano master class in the Steinway Hall in a store where they want to sell me a piano. They could move the piano into my house facilely, since only four steps lead up to the front porch and then one more from the porch into the entrance hall opening to a wide doorway into the living room. This doorway once accommodated pocket doors handily removed by a former owner who had undergone a lobotomy thus rendering him senseless to matters historical. Here, the problem is that at the price of the piano I want, I’d have to live in it. No more climbing stairs. I could fit inside a nine-foot grand, but I don’t know how I’d roast a turkey, mash potatoes and cook bacon Brussels sprouts or any other meal in it. Master classes are a great way to gain appreciation of an art. In piano master classes you learn about composition, the composer’s intention and how to enhance performance. Alas, few but I can enjoy such an event. I invited friends who replied that they vaguely recalled a definitely possible engagement they were somewhat certain they had probably committed to; that is, if they weren’t too busy winterizing their homes.

This week I carried my eight-foot artificial Christmas tree from the attic down to the living room. The tree is a beautiful, lush Norway spruce laden with cones. It comes in four heavy, unwieldy sections. I laid the sections out on the living room floor and then assembled them in the stand. This is tricky, because inevitably I place the second part in the stand first rather than the base part, and then wonder why it’s all wobbly. I have to take it apart and do it again. This year I bought those tiny clear lights to string on the tree until after Thanksgiving when I will add my fabulous bubble lights and other colored lights and ornaments. All of this was easier ten years past when I bought the tree. I saw a television commercial a few years ago where the guy stood in front of his tree with those little clear lights all in a tangle around his neck. Ultimately, giving up trying to sort them, he flung them at the tree. They looked artfully placed. Did I try this? Yep. They looked like someone flung them at the tree.

This house has seven staircases. This makes the house sound like a proper setting for filming “Downton Abbey,” thus requiring a below stairs staff. No, not trolls; rather, actual servants. The house isn’t that big, though; in fact, it’s rather small; simply, it’s tall and long and thin and has a lot of steep and winding staircases. At the least, I’d like to have a dumbwaiter; and no, not some inebriated footman who trips over your chair and spills the tomato bisque necessitating your ladling it out of your black satin pumps, the ones with the silk grosgrain bows; but since I usually carry my meals upstairs to eat while I am at the computer or watching a movie or TV, it would be handy to have that food lift. I’m glad the kitchen isn’t in the cellar, as many were in the old days. Two staircases lead from the cellar, one to the outside, through the Bilco doors and one up into the kitchen. From the kitchen, through the laundry room, are the back steps down into the yard, and, over by the sink, the winding back staircase up into my studio and, above them, the stairs from my studio to the back of the attic where the truncated back chimney exists. From the front entrance hall the main staircase leads to the second floor and at the far end of the upstairs hall, the winding staircase to the front of the attic.

From the attic windows, beneath the front of the three gables, unobserved, I can watch my neighbors cartwheeling in the middle of the street after eating their Thanksgiving turkey. No one looks up.

This year on Thanksgiving I will contact family, who live at a distance, and imbibe in a gathering at the home of a special friend.

My idea to use Chopin’s “Marche Funèbre” for a soundtrack was inspired by my tedium with this post and by a blog I follow, “Excelsior” [http://xlsior.blogspot.com/2013/11/and-so-this-morning-as-we-begin-our.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FQtQM+%28Excelsior%29], where I was delighted to find that blogger not only enjoying my nerdy musical taste, but intelligently discussing it and providing a video with the performance.

May your home abound with warmth, love and laughter this Thanksgiving.

—Samantha Mozart

 

CXV. The White Grape

November 8, 2013 — The white grape on my hors d’oeuvre plate rolled onto the floor in the corner in front of the closet, so I picked it up, wiped it off and ate it so it wouldn’t roll off in the center of the gathering and create a scene.

I was attending the annual artists reception at our local historic opera house. I walked along the walls of the two rooms, viewed all the pictures and incidental artwork. I finished eating my hors d’oeuvres, ate no cake for dessert, drank the small glass of opaque purple wine, exhibited in my hand like a royal crimson smudge on the chronicles of the peoples. I tossed my clear plastic plate and glass into the trash.

Moriarty came up behind me, then, tapped me on the shoulder and told me it was time to go. I remarked how amazed I always am at the wealth of local talent, and then I quietly exited down the stairs.

I removed my stick-on nametag as I descended the three flights. Against the outside brick wall of the opera house, well lit and encased in glass, I was keenly aware that I was exhibited in my descent.

I walked home alone in the dark.

Once home I ate a bowl of rich pumpkin soup from our nearby farm market and finished it off with bread pudding from our Odd Fellows Café. The works of artisans.

I sat out on my front porch after eating, sipping a glass of red Zinfandel, beneath the golden leaves of the walnut tree thriving in my flower bed, mourned its loss before it was gone, melancholic – the huzun, the Turks call it – soon to happen, for if it stayed in its place growing there under my porch, it would eat my house. I stared at the hundred year old Norway spruce etched against the night sky across the street.

Artists, I ruminated, know art comes from nowhere. The music of the spheres. What artists see and they create comes spontaneously. It’s not there and then it is. It is not something expected and then comes and you can arrogantly spout platitudes about or look down you nose about as you try to explain to lesser beings the work you have done. Works of art are not entities you can lord over awestruck others. Only the impresarios, the ones who present the art in a forum of camaraderie, food and wine or on a theater stage can do that. Artists simply visualize or hear the work and record it. Artists don’t know whence it comes, and they are humbled in that knowing, in its genesis and its presence.

It is with life the same. It’s temporal. We come, we exist, we exhibit what we create and then we quietly go.

There’s nothing to hold superior to that of others; all come and go, create and exhibit in their own ways, in their own time. There is parity in this.

There is no hierarchy; there are no mind games. Mind games are played by those caught in themselves, those mesmerized by their own images in the mirror – the adored but illusionary phantom.

Does art imitate nature or does nature imitate art? The proverbial and paradisal question, the eternal paradox. Does art merely mirror the spectator? Does art express anything but itself? Does it simply exist?

The white grape rolled off my plate and onto the floor in the corner in front of the closet. I bent and picked it up, wiped it off and ate it.

—Samantha Mozart

CXIV. A Treat for the Senses

October 24, 2013 — The cook toasted a purple chicken atop the flagpole until it became crinkled like the brown cellophane you crushed in your hand yesterday.

I am preparing a recipe for my Blue Deer Writers Workshops I intend offering in my home after the first of the year. Writing gets easier and improves when you don’t try to control it. Hell, you can even write upside down, Stephen King said. You can’t hold all the reins. If you do, you become so busy trying to control your team of words the reins entangle and you get writer’s block. So many potential writers tell me they want to write but they just can’t seem to get the story out. Everyone has a story to tell. My answer is, just write: write anything; just put the words on paper; write for 10 minutes without stopping; go back and edit and rearrange the words and phrases afterwards. If you don’t know what to say, begin with “I don’t know what to say,” and write that over and over if you must. Or talk about purple chickens. Combine seemingly unrelated words and see how they taste together. You may be pleasantly surprised. Unless you’re in a dark closet, be aware of your surroundings. Is your neighbor really cooking dog or does it just smell like that? Outside my window the vermillion dogwood leaves burnished by golden October sun, against a slate-gray wind cloud backdrop, quiver in the breeze surfeiting a corner of my mind with abundant beauty as I type filling the white page with black words in Times typeface.

Take a walk. Leave your cell phone home. With your face aglow in the light of the smart phone in which you’ve buried your nose, you miss your natural surroundings – the golds and reds and browns of the fallen maple leaves and the dry, smoky aroma rising from them as you shuffle through them; the venerable bald cypress incensing your hair and ears and shoulders with exotic fragrance as you walk in the cathedral of its graceful arms and hear the chittering and chirping of the many, busy little lives sheltered deep within.

In the Eastern High Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the dry air smells of pinesap and granite dust. Hiking up the mountainside, at 9, 000 feet altitude and higher, I round a bend, unexpectedly to come upon a waterfall. I stand in awe, mesmerized, watching it shift and lift and change, sonorous, a white lacey veil played by the fingers of the wind. I move on, tripping the light fantastic along the banks of a glacier lake, taking care not to stumble over the plumbing, the pipes running from that lake down to the next and the next, ultimately to supply water for the town of Mammoth Lakes and other California places. The long arm of mankind reaches into the backcountry.

Sometimes I hiked with companions; sometimes I hiked alone. Always I listened, felt, watched, sensed, sniffed the air. High above, the sun glinted off an airplane, a silver sliver aloft in the blue, the singular sound of its jet engines in the high dry atmosphere, a sound that carries me back to the Sierra on the rare occasions the humidity is low here on the East Coast and I hear that sound again. Hiking in the Sierra, I didn’t take a cell phone, though always a camera, a bottle of water and a snack. The wildlife was different there from at home in Southern California; there were blue stellar jays, marmots and mule deer. The marmots resemble miniature bears; I steered clear of real bears, which at close encounter appear way bigger than portrayed in photographs.

Today a friend in the Seattle area mentioned buying delicious vegetable lasagna at Trader Joe’s. In Southern California I shopped regularly at Trader Joe’s. I bemoan the absence of Trader Joe’s in our local area. The nearest one is an hour away, and here in Delaware the law prohibits selling wine in a grocery store; TJ’s sells excellent wines at excellent prices. I really miss that store; and Whole Paycheck (oops, Whole Foods), too. A writer friend called it Whole Paycheck on her blog (http://lameadventures.com). I find the term accurate. Our family-owned Willey Farms, though, just up the road, is a combination of the two, everything locally grown or in winter trucked from their Florida farms, connected to the farm stand where I used to work. I smile when I walk in the door — it smells so good, of the season — in summer like melons and beans and tomatoes; in fall like squashes and cauliflower and broccoli; in winter, citrus; and onions in spring; a feast for the eyes in red, yellow, green, orange and purple. Of course, there are the homemade soups and the mac & cheese seemingly made from the recipe Thomas Jefferson brought back from Paris. Then there’s the candle department, perpetually illuminating my temptations.

This is my favorite time of the year. It is also the time of the year my sinuses get stuffed up and I develop a sinus infection. This has happened to me every fall, from October, before Halloween, through Christmas since I was a kid (on the East Coast, though not in Southern California). As a kid I suffered from terrible sinus pain and infections, having to be in bed and take this horrible green liquid medicine. I would have a mild fever and hallucinate. Big cinderblocks closed in on me in my bed as I dozed. Mother fed me orange Jell-O which I didn’t like, but found interesting to poke with my fingers and play in. Now every time I see that particular color green, I can taste that medicine and feel that sickening sinus pain. Every year Mother and I rode the trolley out towards West Chester, Pa., to the office of Dr. Tunnell, who washed out my ear. Interesting name for an ear, nose and throat specialist. The accent is on the second syllable.

I had a set of wooden design blocks that amused me while I was bed bound. Each side of the block had a different geometric design – adjoining triangles in complementary colors – or was a solid color, in red, blue, yellow or white. I could make several different designs with those blocks. I liked the red/blue combination because they are the colors of the University of Pennsylvania. The design examples were pictured on the inside of the lid. I wonder what happened to those blocks. I often wish I still had them. I read a lot, too – Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse, classic short stories and novels – The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew – and biographies.

Last year my left ear was closed for a month. This year when I felt it coming on, I began taking colloidal silver. That normally stops the infection in its tracks and clears it up in three days. Colloidal silver kills the bacteria. It’s a liquid I administer by dropper — mouth, nose, ear.

I intend to begin the new year with a series I call “The Scheherazade Chronicles Afternoons of Authors Tea Readings.” I want to do these Sunday afternoons monthly until summer, in my home, each month featuring a different revered author, at $15 per person per session, beginning with a Jane Austen Tea Reading. At that time I will, of course, promote my books, Begins the Night Music, To What Green Altar, and hopefully by then I will have published my new one, The Phantom of My Blog. Moriarty’s been nudging me on that one.

I will also launch my writers workshops then. I’m planning to offer these workshops as 10 weeks of weekly hour and a half sessions for $300. If you are interested you can make a reservation via email at samanthamozart@gmail.com; and you can pay through PayPal at the “Donate” button here on my site. I will keep writers groups small, no more than nine, and I want to invite local authors to come read their work and discuss writing. The only tools you will need for the writers workshops are a couple of good, easy writing pens and a spiral bound notebook. We will handwrite our work, we will take short walks, listen to music and otherwise immerse ourselves in sensory stimulation. We will read our work aloud.

My Blue Deer Writers Workshops: The blue deer rends the cloth of the common brown herd.

—Samantha Mozart

 

 

CXIII. Sebastian’s Flight, Part 4 — Flight Path

September 21, 2013 — I held Manon’s diary open, Moriarty and I sitting on the folly foundation in the warm September sun, and I continued reading aloud:

[My “Sebastian Quartet” comes with a soundtrack: Click on my “The Dream” player (right sidebar) for no. 32, Thomas Tallis’s ethereal 16th century “Spem in alium” and no. 33, Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice, Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (Italian version).]

I sit now among my roses breathing in their sensuous aroma. I hold his response on my lap:

“My dear Manon,

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