Thursday, July 26, 2007

A painted church for summer

After our walk on the beach at Jospinet we stopped off at the little church at Morieux - opposite which is a bar with an outside terrace where in the season you can also eat moules frites, with cream added to the poaching liquor and really good frites made from real potoatoes with the skin left on, though this time it was late and we didn't stop to eat.

I wondered whether to post about this church in another post, alongside my other favourite little painted church which is inland at Langast, because they seem to me to be to be filled with summer and winter respectively. Instead I shall post about the Langast one another time, in it's own season, and show you Morieux now.

The church and its frescos date from the 12th century up to the 17th. I don't know exactly which are the oldest of the paintings, though in some the draperies and features depicted are more elaborate and realistic, and the linework is finer, clearly later work. These photographed less well than the bolder, simpler pictures with their blocks of colour. They were almost all whitewashed over from about 18th century, which of course preserved them, and restored during the last century.

It looks at its best in the light from these main, west-facing doors, which opens out towards the sea and the green fields between, on a summer afternoon. Today they are closed, perhaps because the frescos are fragile and sensitive to light ( flash photography is forbidden ) and we enter by a smaller side door.

It is a smiling, sunny place, the earth pigments on the walls retain strong russet and gold hues, and between the storytelling pictures and in the window recesses are dolly mixture florals, lazy daisies and polka dots,

and bold geometrics that look like Turkish kelims.

The barrel vaulted ceiling is limed wood, elegant and graphic,

and the thick, roughly sculpted walls and the ochres and limewash and the light falling on it give a much more southerly, Mediterranean feeling to the place.

The paintings themselves, while illustrating the standard mediaeval Christian staples of death in general and martyrdom in particular, also elicit smiles, and feature many smiling faces.
See how the virgin saint ( who? I don't know, Saint Foy perhaps, this could have been on a remote capillary of the Camino... I'll find out sometime), seraphically undergoes her very gruesome end,

while these characters (below) have perhaps better reason to be jolly. This fresco shows the celebrated resurrection from the dead by St Nicholas of the poor little Pickled, or Salty, Boys. This episode in the saint's life is one reason why he became the patron saint of children ( the other being that he saved three young girls without dowries from being sold into prostitution by their father... a far cry from the sanitised version of dear old Santa Claus as we now know him, and indeed of childhood generally,) and forms part of Benjamin Britten's 'St Nicholas' (the link is to Amazon where you can listen to a bit of it):
'See! Three boys spring back to life
Who, slaughtered by the butcher's knife
lay salted down!
And, entering hand in hand they stand and sing
"Alleluia" to their king!'
My sister was especially pleased with this one, as she has a friend who is fond of that particular work by Britten, and it has become a refrain between them on Christmas cards to ask 'Got any pickled boys in this year?'

The dead seen below rising from their graves on the Day of Judgement are as merry as jack-in-the-boxes or singing telegrams, as indeed perhaps they should be.

This angel's long bumble-bee striped nightgown ( again, the exact story being illustrated eludes me)

and the cartoonish toes of this Grim Reaper - or Ankou, as he is known hereabouts -

cannot fail to raise a smile. But perhaps the prize for the most rumbustiously gleeful depiction of something frightful must go to that of the Mouth of Hell, yawning wide to yield up the previously damned souls in the triumph of The Harrowing, the Devil small, puny and weaponless in the wings.

It is perhaps glib and facetious to laugh at these works, when one cannot really comprehend, at this distance, the workings of the minds that executed or beheld them. But it does not seem fanciful to perceive in them a strong current of robust joy, an energy and vitality and humour which is not lost in translation from then to now. They seem to me 'a beakerful of the warm south' in these wet, windy northwesterly fringes, and a glowing treasure still to be relished.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Being almost totally shellfish

My dear first sister has been ceremoniously handed over to my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Mayenne. While she is here, she causes me to talk out my substance and to get out more, neither of which are any bad thing, and when she's gone there's plenty of unprocessed stuff on the camera to be sifted and sorted. She always goes away with a pleasant collection of goodies, or 'preciouses', as she refers to them in a Gollum voice: this time they included a rather enviable compact digital camera (her first), a pair of Kickers sandals in green with pretty appliqué leather detail (shoe shop sale in St Brieuc), a piece of striped silk from Emmaus's Big Bastille Day Special Sale (patchwork for the making of), a woven grass shopping basket with leather handles in shades of green and purple from Lamballe market, and a large pack of good quality white card from Noz (probably the best discount shop-cum-rummage sale in the world, on a good day, serendipity rules...). Plus a chunk of our DVD and book collection which she always exchanges with a similar sized chunk from her own.
So I shall try to post a few items on the places we went.

The mussels consumed every year on this coast must be numbered in millions, and most of them are very local. At La Moulerie de la Baie at Jospinet, they are brought in from just a few hundred metres away, from the great serried ranks of bouchots on which they are cultivated.

The posts with their spiralling ropes encrusted with the delicious blue-black bivalves are harvested every low tide by special tractors and amphibious vehicles.

They stand out from the lapping waters like strange, patient beings waiting in line for something, or perhaps in mourning...

... or a little like those mysterious, ancient and inexplicable wood-henges that have been discovered on other shorelines.

As the tide recedes, people, with dogs or horses, or armed with rakes and forks and spades and buckets, quickly chase the retreating waters, to forage, or just to play. It seems irresistible.

We forage with cameras only, on the rocks and in the rockpools,

where the oysters, which I have no desire to bash off the rocks with a big hammer, have taken up residence in abundance.

Shells on shells, worlds within worlds...

... preciouses galore.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Compasses 16 to 20...

The next five of Joe Hyam's 'Handbook for Explorers' cycle of poems, with photographs, is to be found over at Compasses. If you've not been before, please find time to read them from the beginning. If you have, many thanks, and please keep reading!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

How full is your glass?

How full is your glass?

It runneth over.

What is your glass?

Viridian, obsidian, amber and cranberry, (but old mustard glasses serve the chatelaine!)

Red molten, alchemical, the Glass Animal Man, down the hill from the train on the way to the sea.

Clear sight at last after squinting denial.

What's in your glass?

Black wine of Cahors, and Rosé d'Anjou ( with a perfume of strawberries at Montreuil Bellay...),

White moelleux, soft as bone marrow,

Eau de vie, uisgebeadh, aquavit, water of life, love and friendship.

But purefied water to light me to bed.

( Bastille Night, 2007. With thanks to GrannyJ for the meme.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Questions meme

Just picked up a list of questions over at Lee's , who has nothing worse to fear than folk dancing, which in my current creatively challenged state I'm inclined to answer.

Mobile phone? Breizh Mobile, in my bag in its special wee pocket.
Relationship? Married. Very.
Your hair? Greying and obstinate.
Work? Paid - English teaching. In general, what I'm always supposed to be doing when I'm in fact doing what I like.
Your sister? Coming to stay tomorrow, hooray!
Your favourite thing? Peace of mind.
Your dream last night? Can't remember, last one I do was the night before. The people in the giant modern faceless office building where I often find myself had taken Tom and Molly away with a lot of others to put them in the gladiatorial arena, for which, they told me, the modern world had an insatiable appetite. I would never see them again, and further, they had taken every shred of my own identity too.
Favourite drink? Tea in the morning, red wine in the evening.
Dream car? One that works.
Room you're in? Kitchen/dining room, by the window.
Shoes? Manky old corksoled sandal things I wear instead of slippers because they've a shaped footbed. (Flat feet).
Fears? Loss.
What do you want to be in 1o years? Alive, emotionally and physically intact.
Who did you hang out with this weekend? Tom and Mol
What are you not good at? Too many things to go into. Coping with people being pissed off with me.
Muffin? English wholewheat with a poached egg on top. Or a crumpet.
Wish list item? Time, more of it.
Where you grew up? Berkhamsted, Herts, England.
Last thing you did? Put the kettle on.
Wearing? Old red pyjamas, red fleecy top.
Not wearing? False teeth. That's to say, I don't wear them, present simple not continuous.
Your pet? Black cocker spaniel, 7 years old, often infuriating but much, too much, loved.
Computer? Dell laptop, liked more than I ever imagined it could be.
You life? Ongoing
Your mood? Hopeful.
Missing? Not much, a bit more sun wouldn't go amiss.
What are you thinking about? Boiled egg and bread and butter.
Car? Beaten up red Citroen BX, still going.
Your kitchen? Blue-grey, gold and cream, sunny, bit cluttered. One of my favourite places.
Your summer? Hasn't really shown yet.
Favourite colour? Depends on the shade, most colours if that's right. Least fond of pink, perhaps. There are colours I like to see but wouldn't wear, colours I'd wear I wouldn't want on walls... These days I prefer sludgy, deepened or darkened versions of colours to brights or pastels.
Last time you laughed? Don't really notice, perhaps this morning at Molly.
Last time you cried? Don't recall. Probably the last time Tom did, he sets me off sympathetically.
School? Of life.
Love? The price we pay for love. ( Salley Vickers originally, but ain't it the truth?)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Thursday, July 05, 2007

More compasses

The Handbook for Explorers sonnets nos. 11 to 15 are to be found, with photographs, over at Compasses. From No. 13 onwards have not been previously published; No. 15, which I think of as The Water One, is perhaps one of my favourites.

Many thanks for encouraging noises and nice things said, and many, many thanks to Joe for the wonderful and generous opportunity he has given me. I feel utterly blessed and privileged.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Rise and shine

Sunrise, Sunday morning, probably the most sun we'll have all day. Yes, I know I probably shouldn't have been looking straight at it.

I stand on the emergent terrace and take photo after photo, go indoors and do three yoga salutes to it, make a cup of fruit tea, and settle down at the computer. I am alone, save for the dog, and blissfully happy.

The divergence between larks and owls, the keepers of early and late hours, is similar to that between introverts and extroverts, with each side assuming a moral and/or social superiority over the other. I am an introvert lark. Of course there are many shades of personality in between, and I also believe that, while these things hold as general and persistent tendencies, they can vary at different times of one's life, and are more or less valued and encouraged in different cultures.

Extroverts are people-people, party-animals,whom I feel are rather favoured in the world of today. They see introverts as selfish, moody saddos, stay-at-homes and party poopers, who, moreover, shirk their social responsibility by not being willing to be cheerfully available to others at all times.

Introverts, among whom I would count myself, see extroverts as noisy, overbearing, attention-seeking show-offs who take up too much space and feed off other people, and who are pitifully incapable of being self-sufficient. What's more they have more friends than we do, so they are the objects not only of dislike but envy. This does give the extroverts a distinct edge, as they never envy the introverts. It wouldn't occur to them to do so because they don't stop and think or allow any healthy self-questioning into their lives or minds. Now however, I am turning into a bitter, bigotted, morose old misanthrope, which is a perennial danger of being an introvert.

Owls, like extroverts, have more fun, or so they would have us believe. They are awake and in best form at the playful, exciting, after-work, intoxicated times of night which better qualifies them to be party animals too, then lounge in bed all morning like perpetual carefree teenagers whenever they can, or indulge in enjoyable and, as they see it, justifiable grumpiness with anyone who wants anything from them before lunchtime.

There are,indeed, introvert owls. My brother, I think, was, and presumably still is, one. He seemed most comfortable doing his own thing alone, but would mooch about wakefully all night long to do it, then sleep away all of Sunday. An extrovert lark must be a fairly unbearable creature; not only are they up and about bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at an early hour but must needs be bouncing all over other people while they're at it.

But larks have, historically, enjoyed a kind of smug moral superiority; they will catch the worm, grow healthy, wealthy and wise, the hours of sleep they have before midnight are beauty sleep, worth two hours at least of the owl's lie-in. Keeping early hours has traditionally been seen as virtuous, and as such will bring its own reward. I make the most of this officially sanctioned self-congratulation, crowing like my neighbour's cockerel over my slug-a-bed friends who given the choice, would really achieve nothing and get nowhere before afternoon.

As I say, in the world as I see it, extrovert owls, sociable party people, late night carousers, seem to have the advantage. Yet in the world in which I grew up, it wasn't so. In our recent family reminiscences about my father, there has been some amusement about how he would very kindly bring a welcome cup of tea in the morning, then rather offset the kindness by briskly throwing open the curtains so the light was violently thrown into our sleep-fuddled faces. This even in the holidays when there was no immediate need to be up and at it. He was a virtuous morning person! ( My brother's stubborn and exceptional individuality gained him exemption from the rise and shine requirement, at least on Sundays.)

Extroversion was not over-valued either. My mother was an intelligent, sensitive person, with gifts for language and human understanding and a remarkable memory for anything from poetry to the medical and pharmaceutical knowledge from her nurse's training. Sadly her insight into people was not always coupled with tolerance and forgiveness, and her memory also had quite a large capacity for retaining perceived slights and hurts. Much of the hurt, from uneasy relations within her own and unkind treatment from some of my father's family, from fear and uncertainty in the Depression and the War, from opportunity blighted by hardship and simply being female, was real. She was naturally, I would say, quite introvert, loved solitary, quiet pursuits and places, reading, walking, peace and quiet generally, despite having six children. A lot of human contact perhaps grated on her, and she was probably really quite shy, though very socially competent when necessary. In her nursing days too, I think, she had made a few quite deep and worthwhile friendships , forged in shared difficulty, hardship, nitty-gritty, life-and-death, in-it-together times, but which were later dispersed by circumstance. The frothy, lightweight nature of much social intercourse as she saw it later, was unsatisfactory. She peopled her world with her children, and passed on a subliminal message, to me at least, that Out There was rather to be held in little value, mistrusted. This kind of sour grapes misanthropy, that because contact with the outside world is difficult, fraught, sometimes hurtful or disappointing, it is therefore not worth having, is a real danger for some kinds of people, I know. I think my father would have gained more from company, friends, chit-chat, some validation from the wider world, but he was shy and awkward too ( which is not the same as natural introversion; with practice I have learned to be much more socially adept, but am still an introvert at heart), and handicapped by circumstance and upbringing, he deferred to my mother's preferences.

I don't know to what extent these thing are born or made. I wondered if the tendency toward owlishness or larkery might be connected with the hour of one's birth, but very limited and anecdotal research on my part has not borne this out! Of the six of us siblings, we go from the very bouncy upfront extroversion that can't get enough of other people to the downright retiring. I think most of us are fairly adequately well-adjusted, and if not, it's almost certainly the fault of the World Out There!

After an hour or so of solitude, I'll make tea and take it up to Tom, who is larkish but not as much as I am, and probably quite a bit more introvert still. I don't need to throw open the curtains; we have become accustomed to sleeping with curtains or blinds open or absent, and the light joins us in a friendly, gentle way, not as a rude shock. Later, he'll come down for his session of computer-accompanied solitude and meditation, and I, with dog snoring at my feet, will slip into a delectable warm and shallow pool of sleep, a doze which seems patterned with reflected light, sand ripples, and benign, fleeting creatures and personages, but from which the sounds of the ouside world are never quite excluded, and from which I can awake almost immediately alert and ready for breakfast.