Prayers from the Ark

I am so sorry that I never thought to  contact Rumer Godden before she died in 1998. She translated into English Prayers from the Ark, by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold. My mother gave me the book when I was a child. I have loved it ever since, reading these gentle words of supplication throughout my entire life. To think that I missed such an opportunity to speak with the woman who not only translated these moving prayer-peoms, but had worked with their author in the Abbye Saint Louis du Temple where she lived.

As a young summer camper, I sang about the animals who came on [the ark] “by twosies, twosies” never reckoning what the experience might actually have been.  The gentle soul that was Bernos de Gasztold did. She imagined life on the ark as lived by the mouse, praying to God to be kept safe from “the claws of that deveil with green eyes.” For ten brief and beautiful lines she becamse the audacious rooster, reminding God who actually called forth sunrise. Each animal’s supplication for compassion is our cry, our hope; their songs of gratitude are our songs. 

I wish I could thank my mother once again for giving me this beautiful book. But I have the The Prayers of the Ark, and thus, the love within her gift.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

If I didn’t know better and time were malleable, I would wager that Marcus Aurelius (121 AD, Rome, Italy. Died March 17, 180 AD)  wrote Kohelet, the book we know as Ecclesiastes. His observations about life’s trials, friends and foes, and even our hopes jump off the page fresh as bread, sharp as pain.


Aurelius reminds me there is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9). Across the millennia, we humans continue to be vanquished by the same pitfalls, propelled by the same avarice, and soothed by the same comforts. I don’t know whether to be  despondent or relieved. Or simply grateful that in this ancient ruler of the Roman Empire, I have a fellow traveler

Mary Delaney, Creator of Collage

With her first line, Molly Peacock’s biography of Mary Delany grabbed me like the branch of a wait-a-minute tree. “Imagine starting your life’s work at seventy-two.” In 1772 Delany, twice-widowed and mourning her second husband, picked up her scissors and created a new art form — mixed media collage.

It came about, as life-changing discoveries so often do, in a moment of serendipity. What if Delany hadn’t noticed, as Peacock tells us “how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium.”? What if that jolt of awareness hadn’t impelled the newly-widowed septugenarian to reach for her scissors and cut a perfect petal of geranium from that scrap of scarlet-hued paper? 

Over the next decade, until her eyesight began to fail, Delaney created 985 collages of meticulously-cut paper flowers, each one botanicallly correct, each one so stunning a representation ther her paper works were often thought to be paintings. You can visit the British Museum, which has the entire collection, a gift from Delany’s niece soon after her  beloved aunt’s death. 

Everything about Peacock’s book is a treasure. The book’s designer must have loved being assigned this manuscript — a stunning cover, illustrations throughout the book, the bonus of a frontspiece showing a poppy and a sprig of wild roses. Of course and most crucial is the telling of Mary Delany’s story. Peacock’s research brought Delany so alive that I longed to share a cup of tea with her or better, watch as she drew forth a nearly-living flower from a scattering of gorgeously-tinted papers.

I first read The Paper Garden at a time in my life when 72 was as distant as Australia. Today, it is much closer to home.  Peacock’s book reminds me we can remake ourselves within each new day. We can stay alert to serendipity. We can follow our Muse for our own joy. We enliven ourselves every time we fan the spark of life within us. I am doing it right now, sharing this glorious book with you.

Tell me; inspire us all. What has been a Mary Delany moment of serendipitous noticing? How did it reset the course of our day? Your week? Possibly, even, your life?


My Reading Rainbow

If you’ve found your way to my Thank you, Yves Klein  post, you know that color does to me what truffle oil does to some chefs. This passion extends beyond paint chips, gift wrap swatches, a stash of gorgeous paper napkins and all the way to books about color. How could you not love a book titled Mauve? Or Indigo?

I’ll start with Mauve by Simon Garfield. Subtitled, How one man invented a color that changed the world, Mauve traces the 1865 labratory mishap by an 18 year old chemist. (I love these mishaps. A similar such unintended result begot Yin Min blue, too.) Young William Perkin was trying to synthesize quinine. Instead he produced an oily sludge that dyed silk a gorgeous shade of light purple, revolutioninzing the field of chemistry and its subsequent impact on photography, fashion, medicine, perfume to name a few.

Staying in the blue family, Catherin E McKinley’s Indigo traces the origins of this precious plant and how it has remained one of the most valued pigments in the world for nearly 5,000 years. Indigo’s journeys weren’t calm blue highways but fraught with slavery, trade wars, and agricultural exploitation. Had Perkin known about indigo’s anti-malarial properties (it repels the mosquitos that carry the disease) we might never have had mauve.

If there’s only one color book you want to enjoy, go for Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color. It is pure magic.  A rainbow of lore, information, color vocabulary, language and history.  The chapters are organized in color wheel fashion and each page is edged in the color it describes.  Ruffle the pages and dive in wherever you want. I’m familiar with woad, celadon and verdigris. But gamboge? Mountbatten Pink? Minium?

The best vocabulary word St. Clair taught me? Chromophilia.  Oh yeah.  I’ve got it bad. And happily so.


Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer

When I first read this book, and then again and again and again, I had no idea I was joining a forever-enchanted group of women who would still have this book on their shelf decades later.

A trove of family letters, dating from the 1700’s, inspired Norma Kassirer simple yet enchanting story for readers ages 8 – 12.
A young niece visits her Aunt Sarah one wintry vacation and is entranced by the elderly woman’s tales of a young child named Sally and the unsolved mystery of how her favorite doll disappeared one
Christmas morning. Debra Darvick 11.3.2020