Thursday, April 30, 2009

Strolling in La Paz

La Paz in the morning. The sun is bright, the air cool, a breeze rifles the surface of the water and throws mesmerizing patterns of light and movement--constantly altering, distorted squares--onto the undersides of large motor yachts docked nearby.

The air is fresh, clear. Later, as the heat rises, it will smell of ozone and diesel and cooking fat, but for now it smells like the sea. Small songbirds flit from one coconut palm to the other, rest in the bougainvillea, twitter and sing, and now and then fish leap. An egret wades in the shallows and picks at a clam; two egrets fight for the same morsel; a fisherman wades waist deep and stands in the water, casting his small net.

We walk along the malecon to the mercado, where everything is delicious: two kinds of tortillas, maiz and harina, seafood--fresh shrimp, marlin ahumado--and eggs, yoghurt, queso fresco, golden marigold-fed chicken, kilos of limes, oranges, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, mangos, two kinds of bananas and tiny yellow ciruelas, plums they are called, with a hard skin and tender meat and an intoxicatingly sweet odour.

When we've done our shopping, we stop at a juice bar and order jugos grandes--orange for Marike and El Diablo for me--beet and carrot and orange and celery. The women who serve us wear anti-influenza masks, but they are not really a health precaution, but a fashion statement, for most of the time, they simply wear the blue squares around their necks. Marike teases them about this, and so for a time they pull the masks up over their faces, all the while laughing and trading chistes.

Sculptures along the malecon
Rosalia butchers chicken in her Pollo Fresco stall

This looks more like it

Flying over the Sea of Cortez at last! The visibility is extraordinary, and we can pick out all sorts of landmarks: San Carlos and the Tetas de Cabra, Isla Carmen, Loreto, La Paz. We are thrilled, and hop from side to side in the plane, to see what we can see.

I crack open my fortune cookie from the Chinese restaurant where we ate yesterday and draw out two fortunes:

Now is a good time for you to explore. Take a vacation.
A bold and dashing adventure is in your future within the year.

Marike laughs at me when I tape these messages into my journal. You like those fortunes, she says.

Of course, I say; they tell me what I've already decided to do, so I like them!

She laughs and tells me to write all of this down, so I do.

Marike's fortune isn't nearly so interesting:
Tomorrow will be a productive day. Don't oversleep.

But maybe they all amount to the same thing.
Carpe diem!

Wait a minute! This isn't Mexico!

No, it's not Mexico, it's Leduc, Alberta. The view is from a Day's Inn near the Edmonton airport. It had snowed earlier in the day; here and there in dark corners one could still see traces of the white stuff. We were definitely not dressed for this weather!

But what could we do? Fog kept us from leaving Halifax on time; when we arrived in Calgary, our connecting flight to Los Cabos had already left. So Westjet flew us to Edmonton and put us up overnight; we would leave on a flight to Mexico in the morning.

Once settled in our hotel, we piled on the layers and made our way across the parking lot to a Chinese restaurant for a buffet supper. The chatter all around us was about the economy. Most of the people we talked to--or overheard talking--during our brief stay in Alberta seem to be relieved, despite many visible closures, that the pace of development in the oil patch is cooling. The general consensus seems to be that the boom has been inhumane, even dangerous. This surprised us, but it shouldn't have I suppose. Of course the ethics and aesthetics and economics of the oil patch are at the heart of conversations here; it is the landscape and the reality everyone inhabits.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mexico on My Mind III (Leaving San Carlos at Dawn with Blue Pteron)

Life really isn't so bad--these photos were from my winter break, in February.

Some days really are like this--blue sea, enough wind to sail, warm light. The Tetas de Cabra (Goat's Teats) rising above the harbour. Dolphins swimming out to meet you. We set out at dawn from San Carlos, which is in the state of Sonora, on the mainland side of Mexico. We were making what is known as "the northern crossing"--the approximately 70-85 mile run across the Sea of Cortez from the Guaymas area to Bahia Concepcion or points south.

You'd never know I was terribly sick this whole day--poor Marike single-handed on the crossing for nearly 15 hours, while I slept and gathered enough energy to help anchor in the dark, not long before midnight, in San Juanico, on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez. That's where the pelican sketches (Mexico on My Mind II) were made.

We were sailing alongside our friends Paul Seamon and Dee Vadnais--that's their lovely Christina, Blue Pteron, above. Dee is a painter; she's been extremely generous with Marike and me, inviting us on painting expeditions with her. I wrote the poem with which this blog begins after a day with Marike and Paul and Dee in the sun in San Juanico.

Mexico is on my mind. Marike and I will soon be heading back to the boat, which is in La Paz right now. I probably won't post for a few days--too much to do before we go away. But I'll have plenty to show and tell once we get settled on the water, I promise. In the meantime, I hope these pictures keep you dreaming with us....
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Mexico On My Mind II (Drawings)

It's so hard to figure out how to draw birds in motion. I spent days over my winter break trying to catch pelicans in motion. Hopeless. Thankfully, mountains move less quickly--although the play of light on them does not!

These sketches were made in San Juanico (pelicans) and from Isla Coronados and Isla Carmen, lovely islands that make up a protected sea park area off of Loreto, Mexico. We'll be returning to these spots--where sometimes you can see hundreds of dolphins, along with whales, pelicans and boobies feasting on schools of fish--all of that activity roiling about creates what are called "boils," lush feeding zones.
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Mexico on my Mind I

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We're in the Baja, headed for Isla Carmen here--and circling high above us is a Magnificent Frigate Bird--gorgeous in the sky, and a stinking menace if it lands on the boat. They have scissortails, like swallows, but are the size of geese. And although they rely on seafood to survive, they cannot submerge their feathers. So they have perfected the art of snatching prey from other birds' jaws. Taxes or interest? They're certainly capitalists, profiting from others' labour. They hover on high, poised to dive and snatch away the goods.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Feast for the End of Term

Orange-Lime Goat Cheese Tart (recipe below)

Okay, we'll confess; we had the first lobsters of the season. That was Monday, 20 April.

For the record, here's what that looks like:

(Marike presents the beasts)

Today, however, was a different celebration, a different feast. Classes over, I filed my grades: another school year done, perhaps the last one; we'll see.

Marike had been yearning for a cheesecake. She bought some cream, some eggs, and a package of cream cheese. Not enough for most cheese cake recipes. But then in an old Canadian Living Magazine from July 2008 that our friends Bette and Susan had given us, I saw a recipe for a Raspberry Goat Cheese Tart. We didn't have any raspberries, but goat cheese, yes. Anyway, I decided I wanted a lime or orange cheese cake. So I set to work and modified the recipe. Here's what we ate tonight--with pan fried haddock (in flour and allspice) and roasted broccoli (in olive oil and salt and pepper in a 450 oven for 15 minutes; add two cloves chopped garlic, a bit more oil and ground grilled ancho pepper and grill 7 more minutes): the Orange-Lime Goat Cheese Tart.

Crust is a sable pastry:

1. Measure 1/3 c. raw almonds and grind them in a food processor until meal. Add 1 c. flour, 1/4 c. icing sugar, rind of 1 lime and a pinch of salt. Process until well mixed. (You might have to scrape almond paste from the sides.)

2. Cut 1/3 c. cold butter into small squares and blend at medium speed in short bursts, until the whole has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Turn into a bowl.

3. Separate an egg--discard or find another use for the white. Stir the yolk with a fork and whip into flour/almond/butter mixture. Knead with your hands until you have a neat ball.

4. Press dough into a 10" tart dish. Cover with plastic or wax paper and put in the freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Move oven rack to lower 1/3 of oven. Preheat oven to 400F. When dough is firm (has served its time in the freezer), line pie shell with foil and fill with dried beans (or pie weights if you have those). Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake 3 minutes longer--crust should be golden to light brown. Remove and let cool on rack.

For cheese filling:

1. You will need to have washed out food processor while pie crust cooks. And let the cream cheese and goat cheese warm to a degree of softness. Mix 1/2 c. goat cheese and 1/2 c. cream cheese (we used Lactantia light) on high speed in the food processor. Add 1/4 c. (scant) granulated sugar (I used organic cane sugar), 2 eggs, one at a time, 1/2 c. heavy cream, and finely chopped zest of another lime. Add 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 2-3 T orange juice, and the juice of one lime. Scrape sides of food processor, so that cheeses don't stick there, and reprocess.

2. Move rack to center of oven and preheat to 325 F. When tart shell has cooled enough to be able to touch, mix up filling one last time and pour in the crust. Settle tart in center of oven and let bake for 20-25 minutes, until top slightly golden and the center is no longer runny. (It will jiggle just a bit as long as it is still hot.) Remove and let cool on a rack. When cool to the touch, refrigerate for 1-2 hours before cutting.

Orange-Lime Sauce

1. While the tart cools, you can prepare the topping. Measure 3/4 c. orange juice into a bowl and add juice of remaining (1) lime. Whisk in 1/4 c. icing sugar.

2. Pour half of this mixture into a small saucepan. Add 2-3 T. tapioca flour and heat just to bubbling. Stir. The mixture should thicken quite a bit, enough for you to add the remaining juice/sugar mix and still have a rather thick sauce.

Serve slices of the tart covered with orange-lime sauce.


Tastes like spring. Elisabeth says she heard peepers today in a bog pond along Quoddy Head Road. Guess that proves it.

Photos in this entry by Elisabeth Bigras.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Coming to the end of a paying contract

bit of an antique woven saddlebag for a donkey (El Maestrazgo, Spain)

It was nearly the end of March. I learned that a teaching post I'd hoped I could apply for would not be opened. There were still some decent short-term contracts to be had, perhaps, but then those too had been axed. Suddenly, overnight, it looked like my time as a university professor was over--unless, of course, I were willing to teach for small sums per course, maximum of two courses per university. You could teach full time on such contracts and not scratch $20,000 a year before taxes. And no benefits. This was not a career. I wasn't getting any writing out as it was, just correcting, editing, tweaking, cultivating other peoples' work. This is not so bad, but I wanted some hand-holding with my own work. So I thought, I am eligible I think, for unemployment. Let's take it and see what else we can make.

The day I heard even the short term sessional positions were pulled, I was a bit jittery, worried. How would we manage? I went outside after my office hours, and walked up the street to the public library on Spring Garden Road. I sat in the window, looking out at the street, trying to calm myself by reading poetry. I found a lovely poem by Robin Blaser, an American poet who won the Griffin poetry prize in 2008.
In his collected works I found a poem he wrote in 1959 called "Quitting a Job". There are many fine lines in the poem but here is one I liked the most:

O, I expect the joy to last all summer. I'll have to hang onto it
with a gull's beak.

Later he writes:
Look at it!
The joy will outlast summer.
I quit my job.
I abolished money.

These lines gave me hope. And so I sat down and wrote my own poem:

Today, the end of something.

It comes abruptly;
in thirty seconds I am shuddered elsewhere.
I arrive in a place without paving, without shoulder or roundabout.
Wheels are no use here--
From this point: water.

And here's the strange thing:
I am giddy with relief. I must remember this,
today the first day warm enough to stop on the street and
turn your face to the light--
the sun alone ignites happiness.

Here's another thing: every person in the city's out, walking a dog;
three punk rock teens feed their apple to a starling.
Generosity is everywhere, and always surprising.

Look at it!
The joy will outlast summer!

KMC March 26, 2009

See Robert Blaser read at Berkeley in the Lunch Poems Series:

Dante cat asleep in my study

On Some Differences in Style

On Some Differences in Style



Spare arctic landscape scoured

clean of colour by the howling blast.

Wind trims every stripling, eats

bark from trees, polishes

snow to steel, leaves

no moss.

We survive

as lichens do:

grey whorls tightly clinging.


Build no fires.

Let/ no searing tongues leap.

(Let nothing be


anywhere/ on the plain.)


Cover is everything.)

II. Rules for American Poetry

1. Add every word you know. Extra locutions too!

2. Make it jump! Make it jazz! Make it jangle, rumble, rattle and rhyme.

3. A little chili; let it sizzle; fry some fat; do add salt.

4. Bite down hard.

5. Let crumbs fly.

6. The sun is high, don’t bother with a hat.

Karin Cope

Columbus, Ohio, USA //West Quoddy, NS, CANADA

The Company of Painters

The Company of Painters
(for Dee Vadnais)

I’d like to write a book of poems called In the Company of Painters.
I’d make poems from Dee’s words (Gather your whites)
and the names of colours (Blue Phtalo, Venetian Red, Burnt Sienna)
Van Gogh’s letters to Theo (Don’t scatter your darks)
and Cezanne’s enigmas (Let your colours answer each to the other).

I would be sure to put Picasso’s line in it: Each of us is a colony entire.
His explanation for his changeable style, his virtuosity.

And I could make statements about the appearance of the world, like
as we were sailing to the Isla Coronados today,
we passed through bands of pigment-dyed current,
as if vats of orange-hued cobalt red had been dumped into the sea.
Algae dying, in living colour.

We watched Dee paint today in Caleta San Juanico. We sat on a stony beach, settled in the shade of several large rocks. She sketches the bones of the scene in pencil, then, with a large brush, erases, emphasizes, lays a wash, keeping clear significant swathes of white. Then she lays down a few patches of light. Transparent colours: raw sienna marks the sky, the hills; she drags her brush in verticals, drawing out reflections. She works back and forth, side to side, darkening by degrees; each stroke develops shadows. She is mindful of diagonals, the conversations rhyming back and forth across the page. Demarcation comes last, often as scant suggestion: lines supply atmosphere, weight, more definition.
You have to be wary of what you think you know about how things should look, she says.

Here’s what I learn:
Whether painting or writing, landscape is less what you see then space of suggestion or apperception, malleable ground to knock up against.

Paint, words, landscape: they are all raw elements. You tug at them, pull what is hidden into view; manufacture novel reality.

Now I see:
she paints the way I write poetry: pirouetting with possibility.

Karin Cope
3 March 2009
Enroute between Caleta San Juanico and Isla Coronados, Mexico, BCS

Watercolour by Dee Vadnais, San Juanico, Mexico