I couldn’t resist downloading this picture. It was a promo for the Quaker Oats Company. My dad, John Baker, had just cinched the legal deal with Canadian lawyers to allow a deed for one square inch of land in every cereal box – Quaker Puffed Wheat and Rice – in most kitchens in America.

OK, but what does Mae West have to do with cereal? She was an icon. mae_west-thumbShe began in Vaudeville and on the stage on New York. By the fifties, when this photo was taken, Mae West had been a a cinema heavy for nearly twenty years. Here she was, holding the deed to one square inch in the Yukon! I wonder what my Dad was thinking…   Mae had great wit and sparked controversy. Actress, comedienne, and writer in the motion picture industry, she pushed the edge. Here’s a selection of scenes that show Mae as a mixture of Bette Midler and Marilyn Monroe:

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful! – Mae West





Sardines, Mackerel, Words and other Food

img_0840_21It was good to get the letters sardi_e down as the first move. Shabda had the N there in toner. Scrabble is still an option, if you are willing to put down the book, get off the computer – away from any screen at all, or come inside out of the chilly night.

Sardine is a lead in to my Mark Doty theme of late. Here is an excerpt from a favorite poem in Fire to Fire. The sardine is one of those  small identical fish like Mackerel… sardines remind me of salt and The Costa Brava in Spain, whereas Makerel, as everyone knows, are HOLY.

A Display of Mackerel                              img_0808

They’re all exact expressions

of the one soul,

each a perfect fulfilment


of heaven’s template,

Makerel essence. As if,

after a lifetime arriving                                                        


at this enameling, the jeweler’s

made uncountable examples,

each as intricate


in its oily fabulation

as the one before.

Suppose we could iridesce, 


like these, and lose ourselves

entirely in the universe

of shimmer –

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That is only 5 stanzas from the middle of a 17 stanza poem. Look it up. You’ll be glad.

Last week was the final time to see Mark teach or read in the Bay Area. He finished his program at Stanford University with a Colloquium, introduced by Director of the Creative Writing Program and premier poet, Eavan Boland. The subject of the paper he presented was “Memory and Desire,” with respect to Constantine Cavafy and Marcel Proust. One wrote poetry in Greek, the other,  prose in French. Both were held by the work of memory. Mark spoke of “the poetics of space,” the meeting ground between the space occupied by the reader and that of the writer.  After all, where did we store intimacy and daydreams in our childhood? We had secret places – the fort under the stairs, the attic, the tree house. He mentioned that memory is organized by the spaces which hold our intimate moments (more than by sequential time). Cavafy and Proust each set out to construct a “memory palace.” Memory, he goes on to say, “is a way of holding that which is lost” and may be “a stay against dread.” Mark Doty always has me considering new directions of thought.

The talk was geared to a group of Cavafy’s small poems about love  and love-making that occured in a room, afterwards, in the poet’s memory. This work was personal, and concise, not like his famous Waiting for the Barbarians, with the closing lines:

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?

Those people were some kind of solution.

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img_0827 Best dining tip: Cafe Collage way out in the middle of – well, north of the North Fork of the Eel River, off Marysville road, off highway 49, there is a village called Oregon House – I never saw it – but the zip is 95962.  I guess I’m an urban girl when I’m so far out in the country that the actual restaurant seems to be a kind of hallucination.  The restaurant is elegant,  the Chef-owner,  Salim Ben Mami, is a gracious and gentle Tunisian, who takes small groups on Culinary Guided Tours of his home country. The word “pizza” on the sign is not a reflection of what is inside.  His menu mentions “fine Mediterranean Cusine.” Pizza is probably a code word to keep the rednecks thinking it’s a normal place to eat. It’s not. The food is sublime! And I am a choosey eater.I had a the best spinach pie I have ever tasted. Shabda had the Moussaka. Being with our great old friends, Ann and Terry, was also delicious.  If you are ever wanting to drive and drive and drive and eat like this, go see Salim. Call first. 530-692-2555.