Monday, July 31, 2017

Morning Walks by Mount's Bay...


My early morning walks around Penzance, Newlyn and Marazion already feel distant in time and space, but I try to hold onto that feeling of freedom and simplicity that I get from these wanderings, whatever the weather. Easier said than done, as my life here bears no resemblance to life in Cornwall!


 The expanse of sky and the vastness of Mount's Bay never fail to amaze me and I love watching the boats setting off...


Or lined up, ready for action in the fishing port at Newlyn...

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With St Michael's Mount as backcloth...


Common or Garden Visitors....


On my recent trip back to England, I carried out my ritual walk through Hyde Park. As I wandered along the paths, I became aware of the process by which flora and fauna no longer seem exotic to us and start to become commonplace and customary. The green parakeet was a fine example of this, flashing past, screeching and squabbling in the branches and occasionally deigning to eat from the hands of visitors. Although they must be a very long way from their original homeland, the species appears to be thriving in the London parks.


Whilst the jay (Garrulus glandarius) may appear a little less exotic, its distinctive, primitive cry sets it apart from the other birds. Attracted by acorns, these ones nevertheless seemed content to observe the proceedings, chattering away amongst themselves as we tried to feed the parakeets...  Not even vaguely appropriate for any creature other than teenagers, the barbeque-flavoured crisps did manage to draw in a few birds and one North American expat - the grey squirrel!


A Poet of Street Posters... Levalet

Battre en Retraite
Well, last few hours of this month, and not a single post to show for July so far... However, I have been very preoccupied by walls; scrapping off old paper (kindly pasted directly onto plasterboard), replastering, sanding and applying paint. Still one more room to go. Until that's finished, the domestic chaos will continue. Despite that, I was able to sight these beautiful street posters that appeared on the walls of Reims earlier in the summer. The one above, Battre en retraite (Retreat), is near the cathedral car park, and I really liked the Middle Age theme, with the dignified progress of the mounted knight recalling the historic importance of Reims (Cité des Sacres de rois de France) set against the scruffy modernity of the town centre.


While the rider looks towards us quite defiantly, the horse seems resigned to his fate, trailing along the pots and pans behind him. Intégration is another poster applied to the scaly, distressed paintwork of an initially bland city wall in the centre of town is equally impressive, showing a group of young men loiteiring around. The yellow used in this work lifts out the dull colours of the ugly stretch of wall behind, and the road markings on the kerb to great effect. Shame the real-life loafers of Reims have taken it upon themselves to rip off parts of both posters, but hopefully the artist will provide some more pieces in the future.

Intégration
Charles Leval - 'Levalet' is the artist in question, from the city of Epinal, itself known for its characteristic printwork (Imagerie d'Epinal). Although an art teacher in the national education service, he turned towards developing his own artistic pursuits in street art, which enabled him to use the numerous personal drawings that he had accumulated. Like the street art of  C215, (much of which is still visible around Reims), the largely black-and-white drawings of Levalet can now also be seen in many cities around the world - inhabiting urban landscapes with a strange harmony of contrasts. Apparently, work by Levalet will be shown in Paris from September, in the Galérie Géraldine Zberro in an exhibition entitled Under Cover... 
And now back to my sanding....



Monday, June 26, 2017

Busy as a Bee...



Things have been hotting up here, in every sense, and yet I have ended up with... a cold.


This seems to be a strange state of affairs; feeling so low when the temperatures are so high...


And likewise unfortunate, when the work load is heavy. Finding moments of peace and tranquility is a little frustrating when you can't actually smell anything!


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Retreat in the Sun near Aix-en-Provence...


I made the most of a fluke gap on my timetable to take a flying visit to the South of France - in the area surrounding Aix-en-Provence, to be precise.


Above all, this gave me the chance to catch up with old friends - the oldest, in terms of acquaintance, being my old correspondante française. A trip had been planned since the beginning of the year, but had never materialized, so last week saw me setting off into the sun.


And the blazing heat... Luckily, the early mornings were spent at the place of work, which happened to be in the most amazing grounds of a former Jesuit novitiate.


Built in the 17th century, as the county house for the Collège royal Bourbon d’Aix, known as the Bastide Saint Alexis, it changed hands in 1763 when the Jesuits were banned from the kingdom.


The bastide was finally bought back by the Jesuits in the middle of the 20th century.


It is now a cultural, spiritual and intellectual centre - La Baume-Les-Aix - that also offers hotel rooms at remarkably cheap rates. The term baume signifies an appeasing, soothing balm for the body and soul, and here it seems quite appropriate.


While it may not have the same glossy veneer as other, more modern, standardized establishments, the calm of the setting, wholly makes up for this. Who needs flashy, trashy facilities when you can walk down the long alleys of noble plane trees (les platanes), and wander around the lavender gardens?


Before the sun has fully risen, you can hear birdsong all around, followed by the cigales that suddenly come to life in the heat, just as they abruptly fall silent at dusk. Baume is also an aromatic and here the name finds its full strength in this setting.


No words could describe the rich quality of the smells in the early-morning provençal air here; pine resin, grasses, earth and dew, amongst other things that I simply couldn't define.


Well, all the above, plus endless conversations in great company were certainly balms to my spirit... and the odd glass of rosé never goes amiss!


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sainte Clothilde in the Cold...


The Cathedral Notre-Dame naturally dominates the urban landscape of Reims and its imposing form can still be seen from the distance much as it has since its construction in the 13th century, despite the intrusion of modern buildings. Another contender here is the relatively 'recent' edifice of  Basilica of Saint Clothilde (Basilique Sainte-Clothilde), built at the very end of the 19th century.


Unfortunately, most of the dramatic views of Sainte Clothilde are to be seen from the motorway so I have to content myself with photos from a far greater proximity. These look stark and imposing during the winter months; the summer hides everything behind leafy trees. The day I visited, the skies were dark and damp, the temperatures freezing and the doors firmly locked so I never managed to see the interior of the basilica.


What I like the most is the slightly oriental 'feel' that emerges from the mass, from certain angles. In fact, that was indeed intentional on the part of the architect resposible for its design.


Sainte Clothilde was conceived in 1896 as a commemorative church to mark the forteenth centenary of the baptism of Clovis, the great historical figure as first Christian king of the Franc kingdom. His conversion to Christianity is said to be due to the influence of his wife, Clothilde, hence the name of the basilica we see today.


It was also designed to house a reliquary offering an impressive collection of items of religious significance, 'les reliques', in the crypt. These I have yet to see, though this will be more out of curiosity than any religious feeling on my part. There are some two thousand Relics!


Cardinal Langénieux, archibishop of Reims, ordered the construction of an edifice that would be dedicated to the saints of France; Sainte Clothilde.



The Rémois, Alphonse Gosset (1835-1914) took on the task of designing Sainte Clothilde. Gosset was a well- established  architect, with the creation of the Grand Théâtre de Reims, the grounds of the champagne house Pommery and the workers' districts of the city  to his name.


The neo-byzantine style was employed and the basilica is based on the form of a Greek cross. The stature is imposing.


Drawing inspiration from his research work published in 1877, Les Coupoles d'Oriént et d'Occident, Gosset makes references to Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome and the church of Saint Augustin in Paris.


The rather detailed brick structure looks very sober from a distance and the angular forms of the towers are set off by the rounded forms of the domed roofs. At dusk, the skyline is quite magical! In the summer, the atmosphere is lively and the open-air Sunday market of Quartier Sainte Anne held around the basilica brings another feel to the site all year round.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Upside and Downside of Crochet


While you'd usually make a vague effort to tackle the less appealing parts of crochet as you go along on your W.I.P (Work In Progress), when not sure where the work is going, or taking you, these get put off to a later date... This has its upside - overall speed and ease of 'frogging' ie ripping out when there is an aesthetic/technical problem. The downside of this delay tactic probably speaks for itself - and brings a whole host of other aesthetic/technical problems...


Monday, May 29, 2017

Poppies to remember by....



Over the past week, pockets of poppies have appeared everywhere, from the edges of fields and vineyards, to the scrappiest of building sites and scruffiest of wasteland. Whatever the location, the image of these flowers always seems to have the same visual impact.


I saw these near the fast lane of a dual carriage way, just in front of the ugly concrete mass of a bridge which has nevertheless been decorated with the head of the Smiling Angel (L'Ange au Sourire). The original sculpture became a symbol of the suffering of France during the Great War, when the cathedral of Reims was victim to the violence of war. During the bombing of the city, the angel was decapitated, the head duly fell from the façade of the edifice and shattered, thus marking "French culture destroyed by barbarity". Despite this, the angel was pieced together and just as the cathedral itself, emerged again, in phoenix fashion, from the flames and destruction, its enigmatic smile intact.


There was very little to smile about this week as yet another terrorist attack was carried out, managing to surpass others in sheer brutality by targeting the youngest civilians. Lives lost before they have even been lived. This was Manchester, but it could have been any other worn-torn country, for whatever the land it falls on, blood is still blood. Tears are still tears. And so the little poppies that emerged over the past few days seem all the more symbolic this time, ever more the image of those fallen. Here, however, the victims, as civilians, never signed up for this war, nor were they conscripted.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pretty Feline in Pink....




Another month racing by; time-management failing dismally, punctuated by the weirdest extremes of temperature! However, here's one feline looking suitably pretty-in-pink, yet snooty/snaky, curled up in the sunshine on a shawl that I brought back from the Witches' Market (El Mercado de las Brujas) in La Paz, Bolivia - a long time ago now.


Strange to think of the origins of objects - preferably old and/or second-hand - that end up becoming part of the fabric of our everyday lives, and rather sad when we no longer notice them as we should...


Here are some of the flowers I pass by, on my usual way to work. I always keep an eye out for the changing plants in these beds, set next to the tram stop, and try not to just take them for granted as I race on. These looked all the more delicate today, with their ruffled petals and raindrops.


With their bold pink colour, the rosebushes along the canal have likewise come into flower, so much so that it is hard to remember the biting cold period when we actually had to break the ice on the canal when rowing!


Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Blessing of Unicorns...


The month has run out on me, so no time to write anything to accompany these beautiful, beguiling beasts - the mythical unicorn - symbol of purity, incarnation of Christ. Or so the legends go.
This fine specimen is in the Palais du Tau in Reims, the Palace of the Archbishop, in which the kings of France resided before their coronation in the cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims.


In fact, the sculpture dates from the 19th century, part of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's restoration project of Medieval buildings and is set alongside the customary lion figure. The relationship between these two noble creatures has been highlighted in many myths, the most famous of which is surely the Lady and the Unicorn in the Musée de Cluny (Paris). The unicorn here in the Palais du Tau no longer has its spiralling horn but assumes the standard 'begging-dog' position. As for the regal lion, he seemed more mealy-mouthed than majestic, but nevermind!


The vast tapestries that cover the walls of the Palais du Tau are from the 16th century. These are full of intricate detail with symbolic meaning that is largely lost on us today, but are well worth discovering. Although we probably cannot really relate to the piety of the menfolk, the quirky expressions of even the humblest of the animals displayed are still revelant today. None of us have had the privilege of actually seeing a 'blessing' of unicorns, but how magical is that term of venery? That led me to look up other, equally unusual terms for animal groupings and I was not disappointed:

A pitying of turtle doves, a phalanx of storks, a parliament of rooks, a wisdom of wombats, a scream of swifts, a scurry of squirrels, a scourge of mosquitoes, a cackle of hyenas, a convocation of eagles, a crash of rhinoceroses, a charm of magpies, a kit of pigeons, a lamentation of swans, a scold of jays, a skulk of foxes, a shrewdness of apes, a flight of swallows, a flamboyance of flamingoes, an army of frogs, a murmuration of starlings, a sloth of bears, a mess of iguanas, an unkindness of ravens, a gaze of raccoons, a bellowing of bullfinches, a bouquet of pheasants, a barrel of monkeys, a labour of moles, an ostentation of peacocks, a pandemonium of parrots, a puddling of mallards, a pounce of cats, a fluther of jellyfish, a bloat of hippopotamuses, a business of ferrets....
and the list goes on....