From Santa Fe to Odessa: Evocations of Ukraine, past and present

Recently I reconnected with a woman I’d known long ago, during dreamy, youthful days (the early ’70s) on an island in Greece where we both lived. “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end …”  though we didn’t “… sing and dance forever and a day…” As it’s turned out, I’m now in NYC and Mary’s in (who’s have guessed it) Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Have a look at her website:  Quite impressive. Quite surprising. What a winding and wonderful journey she’s taken.  And now, she’s published an historical novel, titled: NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA.
Here’s the gist: It is 1919. The Russian Civil War rages in the Ukraine. Elvira Maria Andrushko, a mother, recently widowed, flees the embattled countryside bound for the safe haven, Odessa. As the night train approaches she is violently separated from her small children and arrives in the seaport alone and traumatized. Bewildered by the city’s harshness, alienated by unhelpful authorities, and tormented above all by her loss, she searches Odessa hoping to find her children. When Elvira Maria meets Michail Lukashenko, an artisan with a puppet theatre, she is attracted by his charm and the fairy tale performances that entertain hundreds of children, who could be her own. But the innocent faces cheering in the crowds are not all happy, nor have they all come to watch the show. Elvira Maria reluctantly enters an underworld where the price of life and the cost of war dictate the terms of survival. NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA is a beautiful and moving novel of hope and courage, and a loving tribute to Odessa.
Have a look, the book’s just been released, is being launched by its publisher while, simultaneously, traveling on a train to the city at it’s heart in the hands of a well-meaning courier.  Here’s the ticket for that journey to Odessa:
The author explains the reason for that ticket: “The young woman, Mariya Reva, a former architecture student of mine at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, is Ukrainian with family ties to Odessa. She knew I was writing this book and was excited when she heard it was going to be launched this September in Santa Fe. Though she lives in New Jersey, she was headed to Ukraine in a matter of days. Unknown to me, she had a train ticket – dated September 13, 2023 – for the night train that runs between Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine. I quickly sent her a box containing my book, NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA, to take with her and to share with readers in Ukraine – especially in Odessa. Hence, the photos of her reading the book on the train, arriving at the historic Odessa railroad station, visiting the book bazaars, and finally being photographed in front of the iconic Odessa Opera House – the same image featured on the book.”
What a sober, also touching, story. A fraught story, a fraught location as a different war ‘rages’ between Ukraine and Russian Federation … rages on and on and on … sucking the life out of all of us.
As it happens, two different neighbor on my floor are from Ukraine–the neighbor on my left from Kiev, the one to the right from Odessa. My own grandparents  left their families behind (see photos of great grandparents below) in Ukraine (then a part of Russia) to travel to America–by foot, train, ship, and subway to Brooklyn–between 1906-1908. It’s a country that UNESCO has designated with eight sites on the World Heritage List; it’s given us the writings of Lesya Ukrainka, Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel, as well as more than eighty-five chess grand masters, and much more.
I’ve never traveled to this consequential country, and regret it. I’ve visited its neighbors–Poland, Russia, Hungary–but somehow, with all other cross-crossings, didn’t make it–have never trod on its fertile steppes, nor glimpsed it’s rivers, even the River Bug though my heart was in my mouth during the hours long footage of that river on screen in Claude Lanzmann’s sprawling documentary “Shoah” and again, on first reading Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” (over which the ‘wild grasses rustle’) since this is where the relatives (who didn’t make it to American) probably perished and were never heard from again.
Congratulations on such a serious, very readable, imagined evocation of a time and place, Mary Grow!
“My only weapon, dear words that I cherish,
We must ensure that not both of us perish “
from a poem by Lesya Ukrainka



Michelle’s walk against the wind

I became something of a (lazy) cheering squad during my recent transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary II, wanting to cheer on my friend, Michelle, who lives year-round on the beautiful Isle of Wight. Because she would miss the annual charity walk for the Earl Mountbatten Hospice on Isle of Wight, she planned an ambitious duplicate walk on the Queen Mary II instead. Following, her short essay on her walk.  Brava Michelle !!! I was there drinking coffee, reading in Cabin 6066, watching you through glass. I salute you!!

Walking the Wight on the Queen Mary II

I didn’t know the projected date of the 2018 Walk the Wight when I booked a balcony cabin on the Queen Mary 2, last November. So when the date was announced, I realised that I would be mid-Atlantic ocean, en route to New York, on the 13th May 2018.

Why this voyage? Well, after graduating from Nottingham University, I went to the USA in 1964 to study Oceanography. In those days it was cheaper to go by boat than to fly! I travelled on the Cunard RMS Mauretania and returned to the UK the following year on the RMS ‘Queen Mary’. So, this year, a voyage to New York, on Queen Mary’s replacement, Queen Mary 2, was intended as a ‘bucket list’ celebration.

As a recently ‘hipped’ grandma, I’ve tried to complete the Flat Walk, with or without doggie, several times over the past few years, Missing out in 2018 was not on my original list of 2018 resolutions.

Why not do the WtW walk distance on board, I reasoned with myself? Why not indeed?

I examined the deck plan of this huge ship and calculated that 20 circuits would be approximately the same distance as Sandown to Shide – 8 miles.

I had hoped that Cunard would offer some support – perhaps in the ship’s daily newspaper, so I prepared an appropriately modified poster (below).

As it turned out, Cunard have a strict policy of supporting only their own contracts with selected charities, so no ship’s newspaper support for me then!

Nevertheless I decided to press on and do my own thing in concert with the thousands of Mounbatten’s Walk the Wighters.

BUT, I hadn’t banked on the North Atlantic weather! Force 7 gales and the temperature dropping as low as 5 degrees!

As I prepared to go out on the morning of the 13th, I realised that, foolishly, I had not packed any warm clothes!! So, as the deck rocked and rolled under my feet, I sallied forth in a couple of layers covered by my 2018 WtW T-shirt …

After 3 circuits of the deck I was freezing. Stopped for a hot chocolate and resumed in the afternoon after warming up a little to do another 3 laps before re-freezing.

2nd Day …!

The following morning I completed a further 3 laps and realized I needed warmer clothing – in the form of a Cunard waterproof and windproof jacket.

Suitably fired up I did a further 6 laps that afternoon and the remaining 6 laps the following morning. That made a total of 21 laps of the main deck or just over 8 miles.

Success – sweet if belated.

How far?

I reflected that during my walking distance of 8 miles, the Queen Mary had covered 60 nautical miles at an average speed of 20 knots. So I guess my WtW actually amounted to the equivalent of 77 miles …!!

So ended my Walk the Wight – PLUS, adventure. Happy to have contributed again!

<>MN May 2018<>

Becoming a stranger to

It seems that a few of our so called ’emotional supports’ and/or ’emotional comforts’ are turning into strangers; some with, some without, consent. Service peacocks, turkeys – out of the blue – (willy-nilly) just now forbidden on airplanes, on trains, cruise ships, in halfway houses, gyms. Also ‘under review’ for possible expulsion – ‘hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, spiders, reptiles and non-household birds’. The lot, sadly. And, all of the above on the cusp of exclusion from suburban malls, schools, post offices, government offices, public parks, museums, graveyards, train stations, hospitals, movie theaters, shoe shops, youth hostels … on and on. Ditto ‘comfort turkeys‘, possums, even goats.

[© REUTERS-An emotional support peacock was turned away from Newark airport]

So much for these helpful pets. What then is there to keep us safe, to protect us from unraveling? We can count on whats not yet at risk of prohibition: Rabbit’s feet, crystals, maneki-nekos (lucky cats or fortune cats), wishbones, handkerchiefs, ladybugs, four-leaf clovers, evil eyes, voodoo amulets, Celtic love knots, St. Christopher metals, alligator teeth, horseshoes, laughing buddhas. Happily, the protective cricket is still unthreatened, as is the three-legged toad. Chances are though, I fear, that one-by-one, whatever offers a leg up, will be ripped from our hands/pockets, from under our pillows.

What’s remains? Foot massage remains. The French cruller remains – the glazed, airy cruller, the kind Auntie Em offered Hickory, Zeke and Hunk after Dorothy gets back from Oz. Ethel Merman* remains. And? What’s as yet untried remains. As in? As in persons, places, sensations. An idea whose time has come. When? As soon as the false bottom falls away, revealing what’s been cleverly concealed so far.


*[“Down in the Depths” by Cole Porter sung by Ethel Merman]

The Misreading of a Mishearing: a Translation Tale

I met Suzanne Jill Levine (often called Jill) in Santa Barbara in the early 90s. Since then our paths have crossed many times – in Los Angeles, New York City, upstate New York at the charming Arbor B & B where we spent days doing a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle between savory meals conjured by the owner, Nancy Greenwald; once in Desert Hot Spring, California at Two Bunch Palms Spa and chatted/laughed while floating in a 97 degree thermal pool. (Accompanying photo of Jill was taken while drinking coffee/laughing together at the Rubin Museum in Chelsea as golden Buddha looks elsewhere with indifference.) My friend is a fun-loving, comely, erudite woman with a well-stocked brain. Her cv is as thick as Under the Volcano. She’s a noted translator of the Latin American boom writers and author of the literary biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions (FSG), and The Subversive Scribe:Translating Latin American Fiction (Dalkey Archive Press); has translated Jorge Luis Borges, Manuel Puig, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Adolfo Bioy Casares, among others. Her latest translation is Eduardo Lalo’s Uselessness (University of Chicago Press, Fall 2017) – highly recommended for anyone who has been touched by the disquieting passion of Paris. Uselessness: A Novel  is a stirring saga. Following, Jill’s ‘translators tale’  – not for prudes. Note the saucy, irreverent sensibility. A few of the reasons I enjoy her company:

The Misreading of a Mishearing: a Translation Tale

In 1970 something, the famous writer V.S. Naipaul, greatly admired by Roberto Bolaño and considered by many one of the most accomplished stylists of the English language, was writing his book on Evita Peron, and had penned an extensive chronicle in the NYRB on the subject of his research visits to Buenos Aires. The luminous Trinidadian spoke with some pride of immersing himself in the local and literary scene, acquiring a command of Argentine Spanish. Among his achievements during that trip, he visited and interviewed the mythic Borges, whom many a foreign literary emissary in those now distant years journeyed to the Southern Cone to meet or at least glimpse.

The jewel of local wisdom Naipaul dug up on the occasion (which produced a guffaw or two among rioplatense friends of mine in New York) was a bit of jargon concerning Argentine sexual mores. In a bar, listening to a couple of men brag about sexual exploits, and then carping censoriously on the well-known Argentine fascination with sodomy—not homosexuality he meant, but rather the practice of men sodomizing women—Naipaul made a bugger of a blooper. I am reminded of this now distant faux pas by my recent reading of yet another posthumous plum from Roberto Bolaño’s bottomless hard drive, The Secret of Evil (2011), a slim volume of unfinished essays (or an unfinished volume of slim essays) translated elegantly by Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer. The particular pages to note are pp. 38-41 (New Directions, 2012).

Here Bolaño revisits his much-admired Naipaul’s anecdote in an essay titled “Scholars of Sodom” insisting that homosexuality (only fleetingly if at all mentioned by the reticent Naipaul) was not festering under the macho obsession with anal sex, that Naipaul was reflecting, rather, on the violence of those barbaric Italian and Spanish Mediterranean sheep-fornicating ancestors that had produced Argentina’s population of men who would brag to each other about “taking her up the ass.” What surprises me now is that Bolaño (and his translators) didn’t realize the slip-up. How did this erroneous translation of eavesdropping occur in which Naipaul claimed he heard the words “La tuve por el culo”?—one can only assume that he didn’t realize such words would have meant the speaker had been sodomized (something most heterosexuals then or now wouldn’t brag about either in a bar or a boudoir) or in Anglo-Saxon, “I had it up the ass.” Bolaño’s attempt to rescue his hero however strangely failed as he too, incredibly, seemed weak on his Argentine Spanish. And, whether unconsciously or ingenuously, Naipaul did introduce homophobia (or philia) into this Argentine tale, thinking one of the journalists he overhears said “I had” in English, thus translating literally what he thought he heard into “Tuve” but not what evidently had been uttered by an Argentine, that is, “Se la meti por el culo” which would have meant, correctly, that “I had her up the ass”.

Of course all this is only a translator’s guess or maybe gas. But I just can’t help thinking that even the clever Bol-año—whose name contains “ball” and “anus” if not spelled with the correct diacritic mark as in his fictional avatar “Belano” which translates as “beautiful asshole”–lost his way in a machista labyrinth of forking tongues.

As a monoglot, I take all this on faith, digesting Jill’s anecdotal essay, but passing no comments. Only, at some point, perhaps, irrepressible gas.

Naomi Replansky


(FROM 16 MAY, 2017)

The rain poured down. The separate umbrellas my friend (Diana Jones, singer/songwriter) and I held over our individual heads didn’t shield us from getting wet, wetter, wettest. We were in a part of town I rarely visit these days. Splashing across 109th Street from the subway at Central Park West we turned up Broadway where we passed corners that pierced all but forgotten memory clusters. 109th and Broadway: An amorous (bold) encounter in a walk-up when I was twenty from which I couldn’t escape fast enough. 110th Street and Broadway: One of my first jobs (age thirty-two) as enthusiastic apprentice/assistant to a documentary filmmaker (Phyllis Chinlund) in a large residential building on that corner. Each day I’d get my son off to New Lincoln School then dash for the 57th Street crosstown bus to Madison and transfer to the uptown Madison Avenue bus. Once, during a transit strike, I peddled my folding bike up and back home from my job working at a flatbed Steenbeck editing machine, trying to keep the various plates straight, reconstituting trims. 112th and Broadway: On a second floor, (I think it was there), a favorite dirt cheap Cuban-‘Chinese restaurant were one could sit for hours – eat, read, gab.

At 113th Street my wet friend and I were relieved to reach our destination and get out of the rain.

The occasion was a reading by the poet Naomi Raplansky. For some reason libraries still smell the same as they always have and are, as ever, slightly overheated. So it was at the Morningside Heights Library. Only a few folks including the poet and her long-time companion, Eva Kollish (scholar and author), had arrived. In the basement room we met up with another friend (Barbara Lapcek) who’d saved us seats – second row center. I pealed off my soaked jacket, realizing I was wet under it too; stowed my umbrella. Small puddles of water began gathering beneath my chair. As it turned out, we’d been lucky, since attendees trickled, then poured, then squeezed in; standing room only. For the next forty-five minutes Naomi delivered about twenty-five poems with a few off-the-cuff words thrown in. She declaimed rather than recited her spare and careful compositions, some quite brief, like:

Gray Hairs

crowd out the black

Not one of them

brings me wisdom.


provide no armor.

I still quiver

to anyone’s dart.



From five hundred miles away

jealousy can hear

the crumpling of a pillow

beneath two heads.

She reminded me of my Aunt Dorothy (see Lost and Found), both stalwart (loyal, hardworking, unwavering, tough, independent) woman who’d grown up in poverty, Dorothy in Brooklyn, Naomi in the Bronx during the Great Depression, children of eastern European Jewish immigrants. There was never enough and neither ever learned how to swim. In other words, Naomi could have been a relative; her manner, tone, concerns were comforting and familiar. With these familiarities came an ache for those long gone family members brimming with personality who’d been toughened by fate and would never again walk through my doorway carrying a paperbag full of still-warm bread.  Saying it all, Naomi’s poem, You Walked a Crooked Mile –

You walked a crooked mile

you smiled a crooked smile

you dropped a wandering tear

all in a crooked year

When there was one kiss

against ten curses

and one loaf

against ten hungry

and one hello

against ten goodbyes

the odds stalked

your crooked steps.

And you turned no corner

without heart-tightening

and against ten cannon

you had one fist

and against ten winters

you had one fire.

After the last poem ended, a standing ovation, then a cake with burning candles was brought as it was Naomi’s ninety-ninth birthday. She blew out the candles, her thick white hair billowing, a wide smile on her fully alive face.

Back outside the rain continued pouring down. Maybe even worse than before. My (also white) hair dripping wet, was plastered to my scalp.


Collected Poems of Naomi Replansky is available on Amazon and elsewhere. The book and the poet are described as follows on the site: ‘Nominated for the National Book Award in 1952, Naomi Replansky’s first book Ring Song dazzled critics with its candor and freshness of language. Here at long last is the new and collected work of a lifetime by a writer hailed as “one of the most brilliant American poets” by George Oppen. Replansky is a poet whose verse combines the compression of Emily Dickinson, the passion of Anna Akhmatova, and the music of W.H. Auden. These poems, which Marie Ponsot calls “sixty years of a free woman’s song,” are Replansky’s hymns to the struggle for justice and equality and to the enduring beauty of life in our dangerous world.’

I strongly suggest reading her poetry and receiving the blessing Naomi has on offer.

Guest poet/clown/old friend

My great old friend Richard Vick (I’ve always called him ‘Rick’) left his job as a reporter on London’s Fleet Street just before his twenty-first birthday with a small suitcase plus £50 in his pocket. It was 1969 the year the 5th Dimension sang and sang and sang ‘Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.’ As Rick explained in a recent interview: “These were exciting times. Everything seemed possible. You could walk out onto the road, stick your thumb out and hitch a ride within seconds. We went to beach parties, got into Buddhism, meditated naked on mountains and smoked a lot of pot. It was a far freer time. Free expression and free love. Most of all though, there was a real feeling that things could change for the better. It had to.”***  They were indeed free and footloose times, I can attest to it too. And the sun DID shine in and in and in. Our paths first crossed in Greece when Rick became a friend and I first read (and warmed to) his early verse. It didn’t hurt that Rick was one of the most talented also beguiling men around. His partner at the time, Jane Motley, an artist, did this drawing of Rick around the time we first meant – early seventies.


Our paths re-crossed in London, in British Columbia, also in California, and most recently in Stroud, England. His various wanderings have included overland odysseys from Afghanistan to India and Nepal via Iran. He’s spent time in a Tibetan monastery, as well as Sierra Leone, Egypt, Sudan, Cameroon and Nigeria. At various times he’s worked as a sailor, a ferry skipper, a salmon fisherman, a journalist, a biographer, a teacher and has published several collections of verse as well as a short work titled ‘Indian Eye’, after a recent sojourn to India. He has three enchanting children – Lucian, Faye and William. In recent years he’s organized a writing club and freely gives his time to teach writing at the Brimscombe-based charity – The Nelson Trust. His writing course is meant to provide support for those ‘freeing themselves from addiction.’ Additionally, he’s a trained clown/mime – see below, Rick is on the right, in black. Also below; a short piece on clown days – ‘Chico and Rikko’ – and four poems – ‘Biro’, ‘Father’, ‘Black Bike’, and ‘Prayer’ by way of an introduction to my soulful, generous, clown/poet friend now based in Stroud, UK:

rikko and chikko

Chico and Rikko

Chico and Rikko, that’s me, had been out on the thronged summer streets of Amsterdam through the morning. He a Brazilian, I, English. We had met on a clown training course in London and had blithely set off for Amsterdam as soon as we had completed it to test our new skills! Neither of us spoke more than a few words of the other’s language. We’d put on our grease paint faces, fitted ourselves into our baggy garb, he in white, I black. We were nervous as newly fledged cormorant and a gull poised on the edge of an unexplored world. I’d walked on broken glass, lain on the shards whilst he danced on my chest. He’d eaten and whooshed fire I tried to extinguish with a feather. We’d danced around each other, cartwheeled and tumbled. We’d got some laughs and a few coins in the battered bowler hat but it had not felt right, whatever right might be for a clown.

Despondent, still in our costumes, we mingled down-turned smiles, jingled the few coins and found a supermarket. We wandered around looking longingly at expensive items of food. Sniffed at cheeses, felt the texture of cooked meats and put them back. Chico picked up a bottle of wine. Looked at it inquisitively, shook it, smelt it, tried to twist the top. Rikko joined in poking a finger at the cork. We were puzzled, bemused. How to get in? We wandered on shaking the bottle. A young woman amongst a group of shoppers who had stopped to watch, took a corkscrew from a shelf and held it out. We were delighted by the gift. Examined it, turned the triangular handle at the top and watched excitedly as the shiny spiral of steel turned around and around. She motioned to the bottle. We brought the two together, the strange mechanical item and the green bottle. Clashed them with big smiles on our painted faces. We had not a clue. Then she motioned with a smile an action of holding an invisible bottle and taking back the metal thing twisted it above the imagined bottle.

Our eyes, within their coal black outlines, opened wide. We looked anew at the bottle and implement. By now a crowd had gathered around. Chico clutching again the shiny metal twisty thing motioned Rikko to hold the bottle out. He tapped it on the glass. The clink delighted us and we laughed and did it again and again. The woman motioned to the top of the bottle and Chico, light dawning, pressed the pointed end into the cork and glanced at her head cocked. She motioned twisting. He pushed down and began to twist. Our mouths fell open as slowly the spiral disappeared into the neck of the bottle, deeper and deeper till it had vanished within the green. We both looked to her as she mimed pulling them apart. Rikko held the bottle in both hands and Chico tugged. Nothing happened. We were sad, mouths turned down. We were close to tears of frustration.. Then she motioned putting the bottle between thighs. Our eyes and mouths opened wide at the erotic implication. She shook her head of blonde curls. Rikko clamped the bottle between his thighs and Chico, bracing himself, pulled and pulled and suddenly with a pop the cork pulled free and both clowns fell back onto their bums, Rikko holding the bottle high. There was laughter, clapping. How happy all of us were.

For that brief time we were truly clowns. Un-knowing, innocent. We had learned that you can’t act as a clown, you have to find him within.



I may be only a 50p biro but when your fingers

Close about my clear plastic shaft –

Thumb and forefingers pressing down I feel

The tremors vibrating through my dark juices

To my silver tip from where they flow

Into any shapes you want. I may be cheap

But I’m as classy as you could ever crave.

I am wanton and I know no rule

So make me do whatever you desire.

My sighs are silent.

I am your slave, don’t be afraid.

I will reveal your darkest, sweetest,

Deepest secrets

Surprise you with what you didn’t know you knew.

Be afraid and pass right through that thin skin

To Xanadu, to Paradise and Hell – yours,

To reveal the longing of now

For ever and ever


Black Bike

The black bicycle was strung

Like a desiccated bat

To the cobwebbed beam of the garage.

a bird’s nest in the wicker basket

strapped to rusty


I could picture my grandmother,

straight backed then,

pedalling to work, when the money had all gone,

leaving him, oxygen tank by his side,

to smoke his ration of Player’s un-tipped

to finger burning


I pedalled off, sandwiches made by her,

now widow humped,

in the basket.

The pedals clunked

at each rotation.

I followed casual lanes

winding where horses and carts had gone before

skirting low hills,

past fields just greening and fields

of glistening brown clods

and spinney’s of gnarled oak and underbrush,

home to badger and fox,

pigeon and rook.

Long stems of intoxicating light

cascaded over a field of mustard.

The world in balance

On two wide wheels

one before the other behind.



Did we collect chestnuts together?

Why do I even imagine we might have?

The image grows –

Tying them with string into holes pierced

Through tough skin to white flesh and out again.

He was a tree I wanted so much to climb –

Not chestnut or oak – more likely a conifer,

One with branches close to the trunk, Juniper or Cyprus,

Reaching tall, spreading narrowly.

I shrink to think of us playing that game.

Face to face, conkers dangling.

What if I had broken his?

I have no idea.

Such a familiar stranger he was – Daddy.

We skirted about one another, he and I –

And when we met – eye to eye,

Recognising noses and shaggy brows –

And maybe, a look of sadness and of

Bewilderment deep in our eyes.

I wish we had found some game to play,

Not chess, nor tennis or golf or scrabble –

One with dice and all the chance

Fate plays. We might have discovered

How much we are of each other.



I thought it was a crumple of coat lying in the road

As I walked down the long sinew of hill from home,

As I got close, eyes turned back from circling hawk,

I saw it was a badger on his back.

I knelt, touched the soft spikes of fur.

His eyes looked blindly into mine.

I thought of the distances he’d travelled –

So much safer beneath the earth

Than on this thread of lane.

Taking his paws, I lifted and laid him

In the dew bright grass of the verge.

Pressed a hand upon him,

Searching for the beat of his heart.

Slow the road home,

The soft throbbing of a broken dawn

[***See article on Rick Vick in

– Stroud News Journal –

and thanks for helping me fill in some informational gaps.]


The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens


IMG_3651The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


A nocturnal visitor


I received an impromptu visit from my great friend Corinne Trang last night. She’s formidable, beautiful, simpatico, highly accomplished in every one of her many areas of expertise. Truth be told, she’s become our third sister. (She was also a subject I interviewed for my book Love in the Second Act, True Stories of Romance, Midlife and Beyond, Section: ACT TWO, SCENE FOUR – COMFORT AND STABILITY – “I tried everything else.” – though it happened to be her then husband, not Corinne, who had reached ‘midlife’ at the time. She was about 30 then.)

When Corinne’s surprise call came, I took off my pajamas and put my day clothes back on though I needn’t have. Once inside she tossed off her shoes and seated herself on my rust-colored rug. While we caught up on news, she removed two tiny ever-ready white porcelain teacups along with a tiny tea pot from a cloth carrier. From a silver flask, she filled the tea pot. After briefly letting the pot sit, she poured a thimbleful of deep golden, maybe amber-colored tea into each cup.

So mesmerized by the graceful way she had of pouring thin streams of liquid gold, I referred to her as a ‘master’  and the tiny cups and pot as a ‘tea set’.   She quickly corrected me:

CT: My pot is called ‘gaiwan’ in China. the cups are traditional small, like espresso cups, if not smaller. You shoot back the tea in three sips.  And … I prefer being called a tea professional not a master. I don’t like the idea of being a master…

ALG: Would you call yourself a tea purveyor perhaps?

CT: Yeah, that’s more like it. A purveyor, an enthusiast … I love tea for its meditative qualities.

We were on either side of my deco table with its cobalt blue glass (cracked) top, she sitting on the floor, me on my couch. I took a sip – tasted a mellow, slightly perfumed, appealing flavor.

ALG:  What are we drinking?

CT: Jin Jun Mei from Fujian in China.

ALG:  It’s very smooth.

CT: Yes, it’s excellent. … a sweet, floral flavor, like honey nectar on your tongue …

ALG: Exactly!

I wish I could have described it as well. The light in the room is dim, there’s not much street noise. The ESB is lit up in two shades of blue for reasons I can’t fathom. She’s right, the atmosphere has become meditative. Corinne pours. We sip. We pause, then she pours some more. I lose count.

CT:  We’re into our seventh tea soup ….

I ask if she means that she’s poured seven cups.

CT: Yes, it’s a sign of clean, balanced, high quality tea served in multiple infusions … or ‘soups’ … an excellent tea.

Soon we’ve heated more hot water, drunk ten soups each.

CT: In Asian culture tea is always offered at home. Ten soups of tea – a sign of an excellent visit.

ALG: An excellent friendship too.

We drink to that and discuss this years approaching Thanksgiving. It’s not too far away at this point and Corinne and her beautiful daughter Colette, part of our family, will be with us once more.img_0356

A little background: Corinne is an award-winning author of nine cookbooks, a chef and expert on Asian cuisines, a certified holistic health and nutrition counselor, and yoga and meditation instructor over 20 years in personal practice. Born in France’s Loire Valley of a French mother and a Cambodian-Chinese father, Corinne Trang was raised in Phnom Penh, Paris, and New York. Here’s how she describes her interest in tea on her new website:

It was only a matter of time until tea started flowing through my lips. Tea came to me at an early age, though it wasn’t until much later in life that I started truly appreciating this elegant beverage of humble beginnings.

As a child, I remember my parents always offering tea to guests, and being offered tea when visiting friends and family. In Asian culture, tea is a way of life, and no greeting, no visit, personal or professional, is complete without a cup of tea. I have come to love it so much that a few years ago I started incorporating tea drinking into my daily spiritual practice. I have spent long hours contemplating the leaves, learning about them with the guidance of wonderful tea masters. I am fascinated still…

How is it that a single plant, camellia sinensis, and the caring hands that come in contact with it from harvest to technique, have brought to life dozens of tea varieties over many centuries?

Big or small, twisted, curled, or rolled, smooth or fuzzy, the colorful leaves are truly beautiful. The way they unfurl before your eyes as they undergo several steeps, the varied textures and flavors, some with a thick buttery mouthfeel that lingers, awakening the senses while salivating.

The characteristics of tea are many from delicate to robust, savory to sweet, buttery to grassy, and so much more. Like music, there are crescendos, peaks, overtones, undertones, and I become more curious as I select the teas you will find here. Out of roughly 100 varieties I have recently tasted, you will only find 20 or so on my menu. Quality over quantity is my motto. I look for top quality leaves that are beautiful when dry and equally so when wet. To please the eyes is essential. I expect multiple steeps, at least 5 and often experience 9 or more with every tea you see here. The “soup” should always be crystal clear, whether yellow, green, orange or red (depending on the type of tea). I also look for a flavor that is balanced and clean. The cha qi (tea’s energy) will reveal itself gradually and when it does there will be a certain “ah ha” moment. We love a fragrant bouquet (nose) but sometimes, like wine, the flavor and aroma surprise you. I promise that my teas will surprise you in the most wonderful ways over and over again. Last but not least, because I want to keep it interesting and fun, I only acquire small quantities from select farmers. When the tea is gone, it is gone; a practice in non-attachment. To appreciate the taste in the present moment and be able to let go and move on is a gift. Tea facilitates this practice. The yearning may be there for a little while, but curiosity grows and makes it possible for us to try something new.

When I sip tea, I am transported to a different place and time. Indeed, tea is filled with secrets revealed over time and time we all have. 

As it happens, a workshop is scheduled on October 23rd from 3 pm – 6 pm in Chinatown. For details, see:  






New York Notes by Jill Levine

My friend Jill (aka Suzanne Jill Levine) who lives and teaches in Santa Barbara, California, passed through town last week. We met for coffee and/or food at the Rubin Museum restaurant.

[see unskilled selfie of Jill – laughing, Buddha – observing human suffering, non-enlightenment, gastric over-indulgence,  and Allie – spaced out – below]


After catching up (though I could easily have had another cup of coffee or two), Jill was itchy to wander through the streets of her former hometown and I joined her. We strolled over to Housing Works on 17th Street (I bought a jacket for $10), then on to Muji on 5th Avenue (socks for $3.99).

As explained in her internet site: Suzanne Jill Levine is a leading translator of Latin American literature, and professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara where she directs a Translation Studies doctoral program.  Her scholarly and critical works include her award-winning literary biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman (FSG & Faber& Faber, 2000) and her groundbreaking book on the poetics of translation The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction (published in 1991 and reissued in 2009 by Dalkey Archive Press, along with her classic translations of novels by Manuel Puig). 

Her many honors include National Endowment for the Arts and NEH fellowship and research grants, the first PEN USA West Prize for Literary Translation (1989), the PEN American Center Career Achievement award (1996), and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. In 2010 she published a five volume series as general editor of the works of  Borges for Penguin Classics, and since then won yet another PEN USA prize for her translation The Lizard’s Tale by Jose Donoso. Jill has recently translated fiction by Puerto Rican writers Luis Negron and Eduardo Lalo, among other creative work.


She is also very funny and dear. Yesterday she sent me a few musings on her New York visit.

New York Notes by Jill Levine

September 17:

I arrive at night at JFK—encouraging: the flight came in early, 8 pm instead of 8:30. Hop into the limo Carmel 666-6666, and off to Manhattan, almost immediately we hit standstill traffic; my driver, Girinda, from New Jersey, explains, “The United Nations…they come into town…and for the whole week the traffic is blocked everywhere!”   From my bubble in Santa Barbara, California, I land in the midst of New York brimming buzzing honking; an hour later we are inching on the Williamsburg Bridge: Girinda: “Impossible to take the tunnel… UN…gridlock…etc” but the city’s laser-bright colorful spires come into view as I scan from dear old Empire State Building to the still unfinished-looking Freedom Tower…. Now Girinda and I sitting on the bridge for what seems endless I watch a slim smiling girl dressed for her night in exercise tights move agile along a sidewalk …over two hours after landing I finally make it to the West Village, my friend Lee Percy (editor of the film “Snowden” I will see later in the week) patiently waiting, and I learn that it was the bomb explosion in Chelsea—around the time I landed—that had held up the works—29 people injured—we look out Lee’s 9th floor window and see the flashing blue red yellow white lights of the police and emergency vehicles up the avenue toward Chelsea.

Relieved to feel the sidewalk as we walk along these night streets I knew so well in my youth. We have our late dinner at Pizzeria Malaparte, delicious pasta and light subtle wine, a New York restaurant—so much closer to Europe—that Santa Barbara cannot beat.

September 18:

Up to the Berkshires on Amtrak for a brief interlude:

The Hudson—river of my childhood in Washington Heights and Inwood—and now, heading north, lush forests, passing Beacon, their Sunday fare by the river, near the station, I take note of a person sitting on a bench under a tree to read. People make the most of nature here in New York. There is nature for solace. From the train window I catch the ruins of a house, almost castle-like on a little island in the river. How I love to be in the lush countryside of the east coast. At Lee’s house in Canaan, my nephew David drives down to visit that night, such a dear face I am glad to see.

Would I have become a translator if I hadn’t been a native New Yorker, if I hadn’t spent my young years in that city, “melting pot” of peoples from all nations, religions and ethnicities? Now that I’ve lived on the West Coast for over thirty years—decades that seem to have gone by at breakneck speed even though many a “why am I here” moment of anxious self-doubt lasted a century—I know at least one answer to the question my students ask: “how did you become a translator?”

I cannot imagine having translated, as I did in my early to mid-twenties, writers like Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Severo Sarduy, from Havana, or Manuel Puig, from Buenos Aires, had I grown up in suburbia or far from Saul Steinberg’s center of the universe [see below*], New York, city of salvation and rebirth for exiles. Maybe, like Susan Sontag born in the suburban spread of Orange County, I would have been alienated by my surroundings and would have bolted, first to Chicago then to New York, never to return to the ‘left coast’—as a wise guy I know calls California. But I also might have been seduced by beach bumming and outdoor hedonism—after all I loved tennis—and, mostly, how I would have had the opportunities available to me then, as a high school student at Music & Art, and on Saturdays, the Juilliard School of Music. Where, but in the city, could one be so intensely exposed to theaters, museums, pulsing street life, and the brilliant people I was to meet, a few years later, in those post-Cuban revolution 1960s.



Come back soon, Jill!




Aylam’s travels

I asked my young friend Aylam Rosenthal to tell me about his and his mother (Johanne’s) journey to photograph wildlife in Finland a few years ago. Here’s what he told me:

The first thing we noticed when we stepped off the plane in Kuusamo* was how small the airport was; the check-in counters, security, and terminals were all in the same high ceilinged room. As we went to collect our suitcases from the minute luggage carousel, anticipation for our upcoming adventure began to build. My mom and I had been planning this trip for months, and now all our dreaming had become a reality. From Kuusamo we were going to be driven to a small lodge near the Russian border where we would spend 18 hours a day, every day for a week in a small wildlife hide (a camouflaged structure used to view wildlife). Since it was June, the midnight sun made for long stretches of time where animals could be watched. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of elusive bears, wolves, and wolverines.img_4524

Since I was 13 I had been a serious amateur wildlife photographer. Living in Providence, R.I. and not content photographing squirrels and skunks meant that I had to travel in order to find good photography subjects. I was homeschooled by my parents, so I had the ability to travel during the school year. I had gone to Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountain National Park, and others, to photograph pikas, bears, and everything in between. This was the first time I had left the country to photograph wildlife, and damn I was excited for it.

As we stepped out into the humid summer air, we saw our driver. A weathered old Finnish man holding a sign that said “No English”. He helped us load our bags into his truck, and we were off!

After arriving at the lodge we got acquainted with the people who ran it. The owner was named Lassi, a 60 year old wildlife photographer of renown who managed the wildlife hides and lodge along with his wife and grown children. One of his kids, Anti, was to be our driver to and from the wildlife hides.

We packed our equipment into Anti’s truck, and set off for our first night in the woods. After he dropped us off we had a half mile hike to the hides. We walked through a small mossy path, winding it’s way through bog and forest. At one point I stepped in the wrong place, and fell knee deep into the bog, which caused my legs to get plastered in mud.
That night we had an awesome sighting of a brown bear, and my stoic, muddy suffering was made well worth. img_4523 img_4522

Our last night in Finland was Finnish Independence Day, also known as “National get shitfaced day”. That night the hide next to ours was occupied by Steve, a witty British wildlife photographer, and Lassi, the owner of the hides. The next morning we found out that they had been drinking beers and shots of cognac in the hide. Steve said “The photos I took looked sharp through the viewfinder, but were blurry when I looked at them afterwards”. Just another danger of mixing work and play, I guess.

That morning we packed our bags, were driven to the airport, and began our long trip back to Providence. This is where that story ends.

Our week in Finland was exhausting. The combination of jet lag, staying up to see wildlife, and the midnight sun screwing with our circadian rhythms left both of us incapable of doing anything productive for at least a week afterwards. I’m also convinced that we got more mosquito bites in that week than we will get in the rest of our lives combined.
Despite how draining it was, spending that time among different photographers from all around the world was incredible, and the photos and memories from that trip will last a lifetime.

I knew he was about to begin solo traveling, and asked for an update. Here’s what he told me:

Since my trip to Finland I have switched from wildlife photography, to street photography, to portraiture.img_4521

In June 2016 I started a business shooting events and portraits. After managing it for 2 months and seeing moderate success, I decided to leave it behind in order to travel. I’ve always wanted to travel alone. If I were to build a business over the next few years, it would be difficult for me to dissolve a more established business it in order to travel then. I can always come back to it later with more references and portfolio photos later on.

I decided on Israel for a few reasons. Firstly, my entire family on my dad’s side lives there, and some of them have been kind enough to let me stay with them. Even though I am going on this trip alone, it’ll be nice to have a support network.

In addition to that, I have never had a chance to explore and photograph any cities in the West Bank even though I have been to Israel many times. I know a few different people who are able to take me, and am excited to document and experience firsthand the conflict that we all hear so much about.

Exciting stuff but also a bit nervous-making.  Good luck Aylam, I’ll be following your travels. Here’s how to follow too –


Facebook link:

Instagram link:

[*Kuusamo: A town in northern Finland]

[[Photos: Top: Early photo, Pika photographed in Colorado,

Rocky Mountain National Park.

Center photos: Wolverine and Bear are both from Finland shoot.

Bottom: A portrait of my sister, Olivia, in the water during a family trip to Israel]]