Sunday, November 28, 2010

December will be magic again!

So, December will be magic again....Well, that's more a wish than a statement of fact...But before being snowed under by work, and possibly actual snow too, I am determined to make the most of this time of the year, since there are so many things to catch the eye and the appetite in order to savour the season. In fact, although we can now hear the robin singing early every morning there are still some vestiges of the past months...especially here in the Champagne region.
The last remaining grapes - just outside the Management School....

Of course there is also our local Sunday market with all the usual bright colours that seem even more so when the temperature drops and the skies get heavier...
Clementines from the Sunday market...
 These just seem to smell of December, along with the roasted chestnuts that are sold on the main place here...The Romanesco brocoli this morning even managed to look like mini futuristic fir trees from a certain angle!
Romanesco brocoli
Despite the cold, there is some activity in the garden, and I love the dew drops on the last spiders' webs - a little like silvery decorations on the Christmas tree, glistening as they catch the light.
Last web from the garden...
So, on that note I am going to start to prepare for the arrival of our own Christmas tree... With a kitten this should prove interesting - quite a feat, in fact. The Christmas cakes were made weeks ago and we're off on our annual day trip to Canterbury to see the pantomime next Saturday. After all, it was perhaps no coincidence that my son was born on Christmas Day!
Here is the link to a track of Kate Bush that I always loved.....December Will Be Magic Again.... Well, what else! Even if my experiences of the season haven't always lived up to my expectations, this song never disappoints!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Green glass beads.... Elusive green to die for.

Reims cathedral
Green glass in all its forms and colours catches my eye and draws me in everytime, but especially when there is a play of light or reflection. One of my favourite views is that seen through the transept of cathedrals and churches in faded light which gives a sense of watery depth.
Greenhouses and their reflections, Jardin de Plantes; Paris

This same effect can be seen here, in what was sacred place of discovery and display in Victorian times; the greenhouse.
 Autumn raindrops in the garden
From around the newt pond this summer
Growing in the pond

However, nothing can have quite the same effect as green glass beads...
Glass bracelet I made using Swarovski beads, and black 'seeds'

Handmade earrings and  Swarovski ring...
With its green glass beads stolen from the moon, I loved this poem, Overheard on a Saltmarsh, when I was a child and even today it still has a magical feel. It was written by Harold Monro (1879-1932), with the illustration by W. Heath Robinson.

Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
Give them me.
Give them me. Give them me.

Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.
Goblin, why do you love them so?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than vocies of winds that sing,
Better than any man's fair daughter,

Your green glass beads on a silver ring.

Hush, I stole them from the moon.

Give me your beads, I desire them.
I will howl in a deep lagoon
For your green glass beads, I love them so.

Give them me. Give them.
In fact, green has always had a certain hold over humanity, said to symbolize the greenery of paradise in Islamic culture and today emblematic colour of all environmentally-friendly issues.
Tea room in La Grande Mosquée; Paris
One stable, unchanging fact in the history of this colour and Man's desire to reproduce it synthetically is its very instability and elusiveness! Since the Italian Renaissance artists have endeavoured to recreate the vast range of greens in paint, pigment and dyes yet their attempts, even when initally successful, usually led to faded, discoloured, leached shades. The vibrant blue of the Medieval tapestries that inspired William Morris' wallpaper in the19th century, had in fact been green.
Not only has green proved to be elusive, but as a result of this it bears what has aptly been referred to as a 'noxious heritage'. Quite simply, synthetic green has a degree of toxicity that makes it very 'un-green' since it contaminates all in its contact. The consequences of our goblin greed for green has at times been lethal, but never more so than in Victorian Britain, as the book The Arsenic Century by James C Whorton demonstrates.

'Scheele's Green' was a copper arsenic-based  pigment invented by the chemist K Scheele in Sweden in the 1770's which was to replace the older, less effective colourants based on copper carbonate. As a natural by-product of the metal mining industry, arsenic was in a ready supply -  especially during the Industrial Revolution - and much of it could be found in Britain itself.
Contrary to our understanding of arsenic  today, the Victorians believed that arsenic had many beneficial properties, despite being an effective, inexpensive rat poison! Indeed, it was used as a medical answer to many health issues - Charles Darwin is said to have used it to treat eczema, whilst many men would use it as a form of Victorian Viagra. However, it had a wide range of usages in Victorian manufacturing as an ingredient in cosmetics, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, paper, paint and candles. Arsenic in one form or another played a daily role in the Victorian household - with varying noxious consequences...

With this new pigment many aesthetic possiblities were offered and so was born a desire for all things green, using a pigment ever-cheaper to manufacture. Nevertheless it gradually became apparent that people would pay the real price with their health and lives...
Levant mine; Cornwall
Scheele's Green was soon improved upon to become more durable as the pigment was stabilized further using verdigris. It was now to be known as 'Schweinfurt Green', after the German town where it was invented, or more commonly, Emerald Green or Paris Green, but whatever the name given, the pigment was to bear the same deadly characteristics.
It is reported that during the mid 19th century, up to 100 million square miles of arsenic-based pigment wallpaper adorned the British home as the demand for bright green decoration increased daily. Even cakes and confectionary were coloured green to satisfy this hunger for the verdant colour; absinthe was often fatally coloured to give it an attractive tint. Likewise, the textile industry witnessed huge enthusiasm for Emerald Green, and while ladies ostentaciously waltzed and paraded in green ballgowns and excessive daydresses, even wearers of discrete socks, stockings and underwear opted for shades of green, whilst more visible hats and gloves were, needless to say, green in colour.

Although the Victorians were aesthetically blissful in their ignorance, the effects of arsenic pigment soon exposed themselves. Damp wallpaper would decompose and release toxic arsenic vapours that smelt strangely of mice-droppings or garlic but would surely lead to serious intoxication through inhalation. It is indeed said that Napoleon Bonaparte may have died of such arsenic fumes in his wallpapered cell on Saint Helena island in 1821.
Those working in manufacturing industries reliant on arsenic suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning, often death, but similarily, those using their products had their health severely impaired too. The magnificient Emerald Green clothes liberated noxious particles that affected all those around them giving the beautiful wearers a lethal beauty. One perhaps to even die for...

Despite growing awareness and ever-increasing warnings about the noxious quality of arsenic-based pigment, these largely went unheeeded. In fact, arsenic production increased significantly so that Victorian Britain was to be the largest producer and consumer of the substance. Whilst the French and Germans took note of the hazards involved and introduced legislation accordingly, the British did not curb their appetite and despite safeguards recommended by the National Health Society, none were enforced by law.

Little by little, fashion dictated other aesthetic ideals and Emerald Green fell from grace, leaving behind it a trail of devastation and many fashion victims, although Scheele's Green itself was continued to be used as a highly effective insecticide until the 1930's.
The ultimate green-eyed monster who just loves causing havoc on a laptop keyboard!