Thursday, June 23, 2016

Second Spice of Life Blanket.

I have finally finished my second crocheted Spice of Life Blanket, after many months of work, much teeth-gnashing and a great deal of 'frogging' - ie ripping out rows and rows of stitches.

Nevertheless, I am happy with the result, but am unable to get a decent photo of it in its entirety - it's actually quite long - with or without the cats. So here are close-ups of the blanket and beasts...

The sunlight on the blanket was from the very few rays of sunshine we've had this month. I don't think I've ever seen so much damp weather over such an extended period of spring/summer time. This has, predictably, given rise to numerous remarks about how "On se croirait en Angleterre", but no, we're definitely in soggy, strike-struck France. Anyway, the sun has finally returned, making all the colours brighters, but vibrant green is certainly the most dominant.

I've now put the crochet hook aside for the time being, as I'm trying to get my head around learning.... the Code de la Route. This is proving to be far more difficult than I ever even imagined possible. I think that I have sufficiently nailed how to row a boat and crochet a blanket, but this third mission for the year is one big hurdle I can't just leap over. And I won't even mention the actual driving lessons!

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Forest of Faux at Verzy...

The wet weather here has in no way let up, so I decided to see what all this rain looks like in the wilds. The Forest of Verzy is not far from Reims and its key attraction, the Faux (beech trees) do indeed look just as striking in the summer months, in full folliage, as they do during the barren winter period.

They just happen to be a little harder to locate when covered in a very green cloak of leaves!

The Faux domaine is said to be set in the gardens of an early abbey, from the 7th century, itself marking the site where a certain Lorrain evangelist, Saint Basle, had lived as a hermit.

Nothing remains today of this edifice that was destroyed during the Revolution years. The only link back to these origins are these strangely twisted, dwarf trees themselves - les faux - which may initially have come from the Lorraine region of France.

Indeed, apart from the relative wealth of Faux here in Verzy, this natural phenomenon is to be found in very few places around Europe (near Hanover in Germany and Malmö in Sweden).

 In spite of scientific research, the actual emergence of these trees remains somewhat a mystery, although a similar process of growth can be seen in certain forms of oak and chestnut.

A unique genetic composition is at the source of the phenomenon, but the tortillard effect is not always transmitted by seed (les faïnes) , of which few are fertile. Reproduction is also carried out by the formation of runners (le marcottage), which means that branches (les marcottes) grow out along the forest floor, taking root and creating off-shoot Faux, rather like ivy or honeysuckle.

The more usual trees...
Alternatively, a new Fau may grow from the formation of a long-running root (le drageonnage), which finally gains autonomy as a drageon from the parent tree.

Very wet underfoot!
Of course, there have been suggestions that the Faux are in fact fairy trees. Hmm... Well, what certainly was magical, was the effect of all that greenery, dripping with water.

Mosses, unfurled bracken, ferns and fungi...

All vying for space on the forest floor.

It's amazing how many shades of colour can be incorporated in the humblest form of 'greenery'.

Some of these growing forms looked like strange frilled flowers, or even frost...

These really were distinctly soggy, but still beautiful...

As were some of the local inhabitants, in their own slimy, soggy right!

Then, of course, there were the more traditional forms of flowering beauty...

And finally those majestic ferns, with their branched forms that just remind me of flying buttresses on Gothic cathedrals...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Linear Cathedral...

Despite the sunlight pouring onto the flowers in the last post, the weather here has been incredibly wet! Everything seems to be dripping, spitting or spouting water - not least of all the gargoyles on the cathedral. However, it was the beautiful linear effect of the scaffolding on the eastern end of the edifice that caught my attention.

Like strange branches of a tree, the shoots of a creeper or the vast web of a crazed spider, this intricate mass of lines has enveloped the architectural structure below, forming its own pattern, whilst highlighting the beauty of the forms of the cathedral too. The overall impression of cascading lines that underline the cathedral's calm and composure reminded me precisely of the stained-glass windows inside, of the  Atelier Simon-Marq.

These I just love...

Detail - vitraux de Brigitte Simon 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Patience of Nature...

The anemone bulbs that I planted in late December (they were a Christmas present) slowly, but surely produced the beautiful flowers that I love so much - all those rich colours offset by the stark, matt black stamens. It's such a natural process, but yet it is one that still seems quite exhilarating as you watch the first shoots emerge, almost mysteriously, and the strange leaves develop, followed by the flowers that burst out boldly, or unfurl in a furtive, secretive manner. The patient resolution of this cycle of growth is so powerful that it is always surprising - like the tree roots and weed shoots that rise up from the thickest layer of tarmac, undeterred.

"Adopt the pace of Nature,;her secret is Patience" is a quote from the American poet and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) and there is surely a great deal of wisdom therein. However, patience does not necessarily come to us 'naturally', although it would be the best approach for much in our lives.

This month has been devoured by my impatient efforts to advance in different personal undertakings... A great love-hate relationship with my new crocheted blanket has resulted in many lost hours as metres of wool have been unravelled in the creative process, only to be rewound again after a great deal of dismantling. So this Work In Progress has not progressed as much as it would have done, had my obstinate nature not taken over from common sense. My inability to put down the crochet and walk away has been its undoing here - quite literally!

Meanwhile, I have been trying to cram my brain with the facts, figures and theories of.... the highway code (don't ask). Thinking this would be a brisk process was indeed an error. As much as I would love to stride on ahead, another pace has been set. My brain's seeming unwillingness to absorb all or any of this stuff has forced me to be patient, or at least try to be patient with the whole learning process. Unfortunately, I don't even seem to have the patience required to learn the art of patience itself!

Meanwhile, the forms of Nature around me move along in their determined fashion; the nasturtium seeds that I planted months ago have grown up to produce the bright, bold leaves above. Oh for the patience of Nature!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cat Café - Le Café des Chats - Le Marais - Paris

I went to visit one of the two 'Café des Chats' in Paris, last week. This one was in Le Marais, not far from the Beaubourg centre - the other is near La Bastille.

Well, the concept is pretty easy to grasp; since 2013, visitors to these establishments have been able to eat and drink surrounded by friendly felines.

Affable yet suitably aloof, these former rescue cats are in their element. Free to roam or relax, they focus on their human guests or to simply turn their backs on them with typical feline nonchalence.

Depending on their passing fancy, the cats may fleetingly visit your table or chair and rummage through any of your possessions..

Given the slightest occasion, they will gladly relieve you of a few choice morsels from your plate or fork, and then race off, revealing die-hard street-cat ruses. Some of them seem to have perfected their technique to an art, as visitors are not actually allowed to feed the cats!

Should they find things to their liking, they may stay a little longer, or not.... In which case, the cats will watch over their visitors from a dignified distance and/or height, peering out from the various perches or strategic points around the room.

For in fact, just as much as the cats are observed, they themselves observe us, each other and even the  odd passing dog...

And when that requires too much effort, they can always recline and roll up together in the café window...

The owner of the cafés is putting the business up for sale, yet hopefully there will be a long and prosperous future for these establishments, part of whose profits are given to cat protection associations.

Of course, such a café would not be to the taste of everybody, for obvious reasons. However, there is already history between Paris and the symbolic cat figure, but that will be for another post...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

End of month, end of 'Spice of Life' blanket...

Cheating time, as time has run out on me. There's no way that I'll be able to do a real post, so I'll squeeze this in, for the end of this month. I finally finished my crochet project - the Spice of Life blanket. As this was a first for me, I'm quite proud of the result, although I wish I'd been more adventurous with the colours.
For every crochet session, the cats were firmly latched onto the wool, the growing blanket and the crochet hooks, but needless to say when I wanted to take a photo of them on the finished work... nobody home. So here it is anyway!

Beautiful blooms in Canterbury...

Each year, I go to Canterbury for the day, around mid-April; this year was no exception. During the last few visits, I've noticed this beautiful plant, whose blooming coincides with the my day-trip. Apparently it is a rather toxic plant, and can be an skin irritant, so I'm glad that I didn't actually stroke those feathery leaves, as I had been tempted to do.
Known as the 'Pasqueflower' (therefore linked to the Easter period), or the Latin name of Pulsatilla vulgaris, it is said to grow in areas that had once been drenched in Viking blood. Marauding Vikings did indeed lay siege to the city of Canterbury over a thousand years ago, burning down the cathedral, so there may be an element of historical truth in this, although in theory it was Vikings who were spilling blood, and not their own...