Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hamburg parsley, epistemological exoticism, and a thousand colours

1: Hamburg parsley: a very poor germination of the seeds means I only have four plants to show for it, but I pulled one today and roasted it with some carrots and leek and an undersized and barely ripe butternut squash.  I've never eaten it before; it does indeed resemble, as Jane Grigson described it, 'an underprivileged parsnip', but the flavour and texture are not much like, and certainly more delicate.

2: My big brother Phil gave me a book he'd written when we met earlier in the month.  It's a GURPS role-playing game supplement on the subject of Atlantis. GURPS stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System, and in fact what big bro is best known for in this line is his collaboration with Terry Pratchett in creating the GURPS series for the Discworld books.  I am only a little the wiser as the the arcane nature of these activities, but I am already absorbed in the book, which is full of fascinating information on every possible aspect of the Lost City, from Plato through Madam Blavatsky and Jules Verne to modern submariners.  It's meticulously researched and delightfully, accessibly written, and it serves to remind me of  how we spent so much of our childhood, with Look and Learn comics and Jackdaw folders and wall charts and maps and bickering over knowing most about obscure things, and generally being pretty horrid little bookish know-it-alls, and how marvellously enriched our lives have been by it, even though neither of us, he by choice and I by aptitude or the lack of it, has ended up as conventional academics.

3: More knitting! The Lang Mille Colori I mentioned before, which Iso bought for me as a present when we had our knitting day out , I started making into a fairly narrow single rib scarf, along the lines of the famous Noro striped scarf as written down by the mighty Brooklyn Tweed.  However, and this wasn't my original idea but I can't remember whose it was so I can't credit it, instead of using two different self-striping yarns, I used two different ends of one colourway, so that instead of one end of the wool being at the start of the knitting and the other still embedded in the ball, both are left at the beginning and one runs out in a loop instead of an end, a topologically interesting proposition. Thus the broad fuzzy bands of colour are broken up into narrower stripes but only by other colours of the same wool.  I've no idea if this makes any sense at all, but this is the result:

(In fact at this point I'm using opposite ends of two different balls, but anyway, the principle is the same.) I've lately picked it up again since putting it aside in favour of other projects for other people with deadlines. I must say that knitting seems to be one of the only things I've ever taken up where I'm finishing things some time before the deadlines, which must be a good sign, though how long this situation will continue before I overreach myself I don't know.

Yarns and knitting are extraordinary for provoking memories and associations, particularly the colours involved.  The chalky hues in this wool put me in mind of a couple of ceramic items I came upon at a particular time in my life: a fragment of mediaeval floor tile preserved at Muchelney Abbey in Somerset, and a small pottery pendant in the shape of a leaping salmon, small and simply shaped but with a glaze of remarkable complexity, which I bought from a young woman on the street in Killarney.  I may one day revisit Muchelney, and even perhaps Killarney, I hope so, but the little fish pendant I left behind somewhere and won't see again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dinan, in search of lost glasses, bag wash.

Deadline cleaving as ever, though this one is entirely self-imposed so no one but I will give a monkey's if I make it or not anyway.  In order to reach exactly one thousand published posts in exactly seven years of blogging, I must now produce one a day for the next four days as of today.  So it's really a question of making myself sit down for a short time and come up with something, just like I did when I first started, only I think I can safely say I I will not be getting up at six in the morning, plugging in the dial-up connection, making tea, going for a walk round the block, reading the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu etc before the connection was made and Blogger Dashboard, in its dear old chunky black and blue format appeared... ah, those were the days.

So, when daily blogging calls, and inspiration falters, what else is there to do but the time-honoured and always handy Three Beautiful Things! In my preferred format of two written items and an illustration.

1:  Tom is stir crazy from resting his Rabbits' Revenge twisted leg, and decides it's better enough to drive to Dinan and eat Indian.  The New Delhi is fairly new, and the menu is good enough to assuage our yearnings. The nan breads are especially good, the right balance of puffy and light yet still chewy and substantial, and they bring us a vindaloo strength sauce, savoury and tomato-ey, in a separate dish, so we can add it judiciously to taste.  I beg a stop at Fil de Lune, get an extra ball of one I've already got on the needles to be sure, and some sea-green bouclé on clearance which I'm not 100% sure about but think I can do something nice with. It's a glorious sunny day.

2: On the way we are passing through Moncontour to go to the bank and a large elderly man in a wheelchair is stuck in the middle of the road on a very steep hill, holding up the traffic.  We pull over, Tom goes to the bank, I join in the effort to push the man out of the road into a safe parking place in the sunshine until his carers can come and get him.  Much later, in Dinan, I realise I've lost my nice new reading glasses which were hanging round my neck in a case on a string.  Did they get caught up in the wheelchair?  Who knows.  I retrace as many steps as possible, including the site of the wheelchair episode, but without success.  I call in at the retraite where the man comes from.  The woman at the reception is so kind: 'Oh he's a pain,' she grumbles about the old man,' he's always going into town and he knows her can't get up the hill again.  And you were trying to help and now you've lost your glasses!' I add that I don't know for sure that it happened then.  She promises to ring me if they do show up, but I trail home drearily and without much hope.  Tom urges me not to wait around feeling rotten about it, ring the opticians in England now, get them replaced.  All the paperwork is still together, and I find a voucher with it for 50% off if I buy an extra pair.  A quick 'phone call to the always lovely, cheerful, helpful people at Specsavers in Bishops Stortford and the request is underway and an identical pair will be in the post shortly, for not much more than the cost of the Indian lunch. Till then, I've got the older ones, which are still OK.

3: Molly is smelling rather sousty.  'Put her in the bag wash!' says Tom.  The what?  But he can't really say what it was, it's an elusive childhood memory, his mother putting a bag of dirty clothes in an old push chair and it coming back all wet and crumpled, perhaps having been washed still in the bag.  Hooray for the internet! Not only was it confirmed that such things did take place, but there is a photographic work in the Tate Gallery collection about it:

It's by Nigel Henderson, there's more about it here.  But we won't send Molly off to the bag wash really.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A plethora of plump and pleasing pumpkins, and the why I greatly appreciate Lyse.

Getting on for a month ago now, we went to the festival couleurs d'automne at Coëtmieux.  The latter isn't a large place, in the countryside between St Brieuc and Lamballe, but this fête was really quite impressive: stalls and exhibitions and demonstrations of all kinds of things, this slideshow gives just  a taster, there were apples and mushrooms and wine and cider and arts and crafts, and lots and lots of plants.

This rather sinister fellow was to be seen watching us:

Despite all the lovely things there were to seen and despite having the camera with me, I wasn't much moved to take pictures, until we reached the pumpkin stand,

where all kinds of varieties of curcurbits were on offer,

warts and all.

I was especiallly impressed that so many varieties were on display so early in the season, when my small crop of butternut were still a callow pale green. 

I had just gathered a reasonable harvest of photos, turned round and found myself looking at Lyse, who was right behind me.  This was a surprise and a conincidence, as although she lives in Coëtmieux and we had communicated and knew the other would be there so were looking out for each other, there were so many people there I wasn't holding out much hope of seeing her.  We instantly fell to discussing everything very intensely, while Tom reappeared and shifted from foot to foot, rather lost. Happily he was wearing his Transfiguration Waistcoat which was thus available as an object of discussion, so his presence wasn't altogether redundant.  Monsieur Lyse remained in the shadows and was not to be seen on that occasion and we regretfully declined Lyse's kind invitation to return chez elle afterwards, since we were about done and had lunched rather well, and they were only just beginning on the afternoon. 

I greatly appreciate Lyse as a fellow blogger, not only because she knits and writes in Gallo and lives round here, but because she has become a very faithful reader here.  Although I have few other much valued French speaking visitors that I know of, mostly they are bilingual or polyglots, whereas Lyse's English,by her own account, is over fifty years old from school, and she painstakingly reads through my sloppy, idiomatic and demotic ramblings to get as much meaning as she can, then applies an on-line translator to it.

To try to get some inking of how difficult and opaque this must be, I decided to put a section of text from the middle of a recent post into Google's English to French translator, which even I could see was fairly bizarre, but just to get an impression how much so, I then put that French text back through the French to English function, and this is what resulted:

I wanted to knit in the storage cycle stitch (so it is actually a flattened tube), rather than a rib, but quickly abandoned the idea of the do in double underlined the needles as much too slow. I have tried to learn magic loop with a circular needle but has decided that I do not have the right to the circular needle and i do not have a lot of care for the practice of any way, too much tinkering with the needles and cables and not enough actual knitting. And then I hit the bold idea to take one of my incredibly cheap, bought-by-the-set directly from Hong Kong, the bamboo circular needles, of the reduction in the tubular plastic cable, forgetting the bonded connection section with a specialty of the knife, and discharged the shortened cable on it. Friction held easily in place, and the resulting needle was perfect for the job, i along whistling suite and continues to go there until I have more or less lack of wool. (The link above gives an overview of all of these terms, with the exception of my technical patent shortening of bamboo circulars, if you do not know already that I am going to speak about and care enough to know).

It has proved to be very long.

Bon courage, Lyse, et merci!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Arab a capella

Well, I was going to post some pictures of pumpkins from the lovely autumn fête at Coëtmieux where Lyse lives, but then I watched Euronews, and they showed some clips from this video, a version of Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry made relevant for a Saudi Arabian audience: No Woman No Drive.  I looked it up on Youtube, finding myself to be the one million, two hundred thousand-and-something-th person to do so (a couple of hundred thousand more have done so since, as I write).  It made me laugh quite a bit, but I also thought that the chap doing it had rather a lot of charm and talent.  He turns out to be Alaa Wardi (the Saudi ingénue character on the video is part of the spoof, though not many of the commenters there seemed to grasp this), and I spent the time I could have been editing pumpkin photos watching and listening to more of his videos.  He's Persian born, lives in Saudi Arabia, has studies and records in Jordan,and is very popular in India where his maternal uncle runs a restaurant. His music is a wide ranging mixture from Middle Eastern standards, Bollywood songs, soft western-style pop, even a Pink Floyd and a Radiohead cover, a tune played very cleverly, hilariously but also melodiously on Vimto bottles, (with a bonus video where you do this yourself) and his own compositions, some with backing musicians - his band, Hayajan and others, on one song his grandfather plays the violin - and singing in Arabic, English and Hindi, where it seems his diction and expression are remarkably good for a non-native speaker.

Best of all though, for me, are his a capella numbers.  I found it hard to choose between these to post here, but decided on this one because the song sounds lovely but also because of how it breaks down all the parts and shows him making all the sounds and voices, and the quirky names he gives them.

I have to say I was delightedly astonished that anything so joyous, humorous and life-affirming could come out of Saudi Arabia (be my guest to berate me for cultural prejudice), though judging by this one which has a refrain which the subtitles translate as 'for god's sake get me a visa before I go crazy' he might have reservations about the matter himself (it's hard to say, I think it might be another parody of a certain kind of traditional Arabic popular song, it sounds fairly deliberately awful).  There's also this very funny little animation where he introduces himself, telling his story and asking for support, since the independent, on-line route is really the only way for original people like him to make their way in the world. I should imagine he'll probably do all right now, I hope so.

So pumpkins will have to wait until tomorrow, that's if we have any power or any internet.  The storm and gale warnings are so dire for tonight that we've decided to sleep downstairs, where at least we won't hear quite so much of it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stripes, 3/3, Tom's scarf

Although I mostly avail myself of all the excellent free stuff on the internet, one of the unexpected joys I'm discovering about knitting  (yes, it's true, I do rather like knitting, did I not say?) is the literature of it.  I never knew!  Some of this comes across as rather smug lifestyle porn: produced from knitting cafés full of preposterously slim, glamorous people who seem to have nothing to do but sup on dainty cakes, practise yoga and pilates, hang about the edges of the film industry and create teeny-tiny bijou sweaters and jackets from sock wool (you have to be skinny and/or leisured ever to finish a sock-wool sweater that you can get into).  But the best of it, from the chatty, quirky, witty style of Elizabeth Zimmerman, who's like a really good, funny, enthusiastic blogger, giving a vivid impression of her unusual character and way of life, addressing the reader with irony and affect, quite unlike any other writing on this subject or probably any other of the period, to Nancy Bush's remarkable, scholarly, ethnographic travelogues, knitting books can be so much more than just collections of patterns.

One that I've enjoyed lately is called 'Knits Men Want' by Bruce Weinstein. As well as achieving what I regard as the almost technomagus-like feat of creating universal patterns so that you can knit the given garment for any size person in any yarn, by a kind of matrix whereby you cross-reference the number of stitches per inch with the measurements of the person concerned, he intersperses each of these with an essays and advice about what one needs to consider when knitting things for men.  He observed from his own knitting groups that women were frequently disappointed when presenting the men in their lives with lovingly made and, as they considered them, suitable gifts, only to have them unappreciated. So as a man himself and a knitter, he decided to address the situation.  The chapters have headings such as 'Rule 1:Men Can't Fake It', 'Rule 3: Men Sweat', 'Rule 5: Not All Men Are Worthy of Cashmere', 'Rule 10: When In Doubt, Make Him Something Basic', are very funny, and while somewhat hyperbolic at times, contain some useful and interesting observations.  

It has certainly made me appreciate what a good sport and loyal husband my Aussie brother was to wear the forget-me-not blue fluffy mohair sweater my sister-in-law made for him when he went on his long pilgrimage walk last year*, since other pieces of advice the writer gives, are to avoid itchy fibres ('men are babies') and stay with subdued colours ('think under the rainbow - most men want to live in Kansas, not Oz').  Bearing this in mind, when we went into the lovely wool shop in Morlaix, I picked out a nice flecky grey wool, possibly something from the soft underbelly of a yak or similar, and offered to make Tom a scarf.

'Bit dull,' he said 'what about this?'

and selected a ball of sock wool in glowing red, russet, grey and anthracite.  It was Lang Jawoll Magic degradé,  - shade no.85.0028, if you do follow the link.  In fact his initial choice was 85.0017, and it was I who demurred and suggested there was perhaps a little too much pink and purple in it for comfort, though to judge from our friends' account of spying two notable French icons of film and fashion in Paris lately, the men's department in Marks & Spencers on my England trip, and our lovely doctor's new pullover the other day, pink and purple are cool for men just now.

The photo doesn't really do the colours justice, indeed neither does the colour chart in the link, it really is very rich and does glow like embers.  Another of Bruce's counsels is not to make scarves for men too long, but Tom says that one skein's worth isn't enough, he envied his granddaughter her long scarf, and would like this one well wide enough easily to loop round double, and as the 4 x 4 rib makes it a bit narrow, that's just as well.  And as it's sock wool, this makes it something of a work of patience, so I doubt he'll get it before Christmas, as I still need to have more than one thing on the go at once to avoid boredom. But since it's still very mild, and as he's not going for walks much since he stepped in a rabbit hole and twisted his knee (poetic justice perhaps after all the cursing of bunnies he did when they were coming into the garden earlier in the year?), that doesn't matter much either.

I promise, no more knitting for at least one more post...

* though in fact it was reported that this made him something of a 'cuddle magnet', in our other brother's words; women who were complete strangers came up to him at bars and hostelries and snuggled up to him, or at least to his jumper.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vivid stripes; 2/3

So much for yellow and black, this one I dubbed 'delphiniums blue and geraniums red'.  The blue wool was repurposed, as I explained earlier, and enlivened by the addition of the red stripe.

I sent it to Clémence and Ralph's baby Owen, and here he is in it:

Owen is eighteen months old, I've only met him once and he was cold and hungry and a bit fed-up and not quite one year old, so he probably doesn't remember.  He lives in Scotland with his parents who are a doctor and a professor at Aberdeen university, though they've been living in Norway for the last year because of his dad's particular line of work* and he's probably more likely to grow up on Norse sagas and Apollinaire than Harry Potter or even AA Milne, though I have put in a word for Noggin the Nog. His mum tells me that he likes his slipover very much, which she calls his 'tub' which I've not heard before in that context but must be a French word for such a garment.  When it arrived he laughed and put it on his head, which is a sign of approval, and he loves bright colours and vivid stripes generally, I'm told; he's enamoured of flowers and autumn leaves, and goes to sleep holding them, and sometimes cuddles the jumper when he's tired too, which I take as a great compliment.

Clemence came originally from St Brieuc, where her family still live, and she wrote her doctoral thesis on Heather's work, which was my initial connection to her.  We correspond quite often, and she can be deceptively humouring me with chit-chat about baking brownies, knitting, yoga, Radio 4 and such like and then she'll casually throw in a phrase like 'epistemological exoticism' and I remember this is a completely bilingual French academic and intellectual of remarkably tender years (early thirties is tender years from where I'm standing) that I'm dealing with, and I get a bit star-struck and over-awed.  Happily she's also a fiercely sincere and lovely person.  

I'm impressed enough that she can do all the things she does and colour co-ordinate her baby's clothes so beautifully on demand.

* one of the several books he's written - Ralph, not Owen, give him a year or two - is a translation of with introduction to Icelandic histories and romances, which is on my Christmas list.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Knitting again: vivid stripes 1/3

I finished step-grandaughter Emily's Hufflepuff scarf in plenty of time for her birthday in September. While I suppose one might not consider it an object of beauty in itself, it was what she wanted, and she sent me a very nice thank you e-mail, in which she said she wished she could wear it all the time, and that it was 'definitely one of the best things I own', which sounds pretty good.  Unfortunately she hasn't sent me a picture of herself wearing it, so here's one of me wrapped up in it, taken on the webcam while I was knitting it.

I wanted to knit it in the round in stocking stitch (so it's effectively a flattened tube), rather than a rib, but quickly abandoned the idea of doing it on double pointed needles as much too slow.  I tried to learn magic loop with a circular needle but decided I didn't have the right kind of circular needle and didn't much care for the practice anyway, too much fiddling about with needles and cables and not enough actual knitting. Then I hit upon the audacious idea of taking one of my amazingly cheap, bought-by-the-set direct from Hongkong, bamboo circular needles, cutting down the tubular plastic cable, whittling the bonded joint section with a craft knife, and shoving the shortened cable back on it.  Friction held it easily in place, and the resulting needle was perfect for the job, I whizzed along thereafter and just kept going till I more or less ran out of wool. (The link above gives an outline of all these terms, with the exception of my patent shortening technique for bamboo circulars, if you don't already know what I'm talking about and care enough to find out).  

It turned out very long,

about ten foot long, I think. But I reckoned skimpy scarves are sad things, this way she could wrap it round a couple of times and still have decently long ends - the ones in the films are quite long and bulky, we watched the films again while I was knitting it and I started looking at all the costumes and other details much more closely.  Also I thought she might not really wear it out all that much, but as she loves to spend as much of the weekend in her pyjamas as possible and generally retire to an adolescent cocoon state as and when the fancy takes her, she'd probably like to curl up with it like a comfort blanket at home anyway.  However, her mum tells me she has worn it out and about already, and intends to do so when they visit the Harry Potter studios for their family Christmas outing.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this scarf, in truth, was making the fringe; the action of taking a tuft of wool, hooking it through and knotting it reminded me of my dad making rugs.  He made a number of these, mostly in plain colours, including two stair carpets at different times.  It was a labour of great patience; my father was a patient man, and in any work requiring that kind of staying power - picking fruit, peeling and freezing apples, working his way through piles of ironing - he could be relied on.  We all had a go at knotting these rugs, but they were really his projects.  I've still got one of his rug hooks in my sewing tin, though I didn't use it for this job, but used a crochet hook.

More stripes tomorrow.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Somewhere there's a book

A poem.  I seem to be averaging about one a year of those of late.  No matter, things wax and wane in importance, and I often think the world is running out of wall space for pictures and poems anyway.

Somewhere there’s a book.
The one you didn't write and never will.
Give me time, you always said,
to figure out the plot, but still
the story stays unfinished,
unedited, unbound, unread.

Somewhere there’s a book
stored. It’s not so much a case
of how we cook the books as how
the books cook us.  However rare
we think we are and like things,
we seldom can quite stomach ourselves raw.

Somewhere there’s a book,
she said. For sure, there were
ten thousand, maybe more,
floor to ceiling tapestried
with them, their mad-eye spines
lettered up and down regardless.

Somewhere there’s a book
you cannot find. Slipped between
its pages, barely readable, a letter
from one who only wished to see you,
and asked, not ‘who are you?’
but ‘who are you?’

Somewhere there’s a book
containing an account.  And does it hold
the things of worth, or tell the worth of things?
A talent is a tally is a tell;
the untold things might yet be read there,
counted, valued, told.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Queen of the Tea Cosy and her High Priest, and some radio treats

My sister is the Queen of the Cosy.  That is to say the tea cosy, or the coffee cosy, and perhaps others.  One particular example she had in her stock, a neutral linen edged with multicolour silk pompoms, caught my eye and I begged it off her. In fact we have more than one of her tea cosies in operation already, a couple of chickens and an elephant (in the shape of), so didn't see the need to contaminate this one with tannin stains.

Instead I used it to transform John-Pierre/ Josephine-Pierrette into the High Priest of the Cosy.  JP is my polystyrene head.  I ordered him/her at very little expense from Hongkong via E-bay (same as all my lovely bamboo knitting needles and crochet hooks which I bought in complete sets for about the price of a single pair), because I had a fancy for making knitted hats and felting them but didn't really fancy shaping the wet soggy fabric on my own head.  The head has the letters JP moulded into the back of his/her neck, hence the names, and is supposed to be a male since it is 23 inches in circumference, the female version being a couple of inches smaller which isn't big enough for me or many other westerners, and has been wearing the straw hat from Quessoy Straw Hat Sunday shown in the bottom right of the picture.

JP is also sporting a bow brooch also made by my sister, here she is making some more,

these ones shaped like birds which looks a bit like Nogbad's crows in Noggin the Nog, only more charming. I love Noggin the Nog, we paid a visit to the Isle of Lewis Chess Set in homage.


After a day of carpet cleaning and other such wholesome chores, and a morning of errands and cat feeding, and with no lessons to prepare for the boys for tomorrow as they are on holiday and doing Chinese courses, I indulged in a pleasant hour or two with radio, podcasts, dog and, guess what, knitting, which yielded this, a wonderful play about a block of London flats (apartments) and its inhabitants, and a man sent to fix the lift (elevator), who turns out to be something of an angel unawares, (but it's not one of those quasi-supernatural, oh-he-was-really-an-angel conceits, it purposefully subverts that several times). It's moving and uplifting and unsettling and well worth forty-five minutes if you have them, and it's available for a week from today.  Also a Food Programme about slow and pressure cookers.  Yes I really do get a buzz out of listening to such things. I learned that the pressure cooker was invented in the 17th century by an expat Frenchman in London using the lab of Boyle (he of Boyle's Law) out of hours, who cooked all kinds of things in it with a view to making rough and cheap food more edible to poor people.  His invention failed to take off and he died in poverty, but pressure cookers are now the preferred method of all kinds of food preparation all over the world, except, it seems, among the British, who were put off by scary big aluminium versions with dodgy regulation and a propensity to explode, and the rather horrid bland and soggy culinary matter they produced, which I can only confirm.  However, I shall now look with a little more favour on the next wave of autocuisseurs and cocottes minutes that appear to an enthusiastic reception here.

And that will do for today!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Knit and Stitch, socks and sari silk

Back again, nice new glasses, good times with family under the belt. 

The Knitting and Stitching Show, in the rather magnificent setting of the Alexandra Palace, was quite something. It served to bring home to one in very real terms that knitting, and stitching, are sedentary occupations, almost exclusively practised by women, many of them of a certain age.  When many thousands of these were brought together in one place, moving amongst these jostling multitudes involved a dynamic process of being bounced to and fro by and between generously proportioned bottoms and bosoms.  This wasn't necessarily as much fun as it sounds, but humour and good cheer were helpful, and it was by and large a pretty jolly crowd, with merry exchanges between strangers commonplace:

Large girl (swooping and whooping over basket of shiny coloured threads): Oh WOW, look at all the colours... (checks herself looking round) Sorry! (To me) I keep doing this, then getting embarrassed, then realising I'm at the K and S Show, and it doesn't matter!
Me: Yep, you're in a safe space here.

Me (after burbling away for a moment or two to a woman wearing the same colour shirt as my sister): Sorry, I thought you were my sister.
She: That's all right, we're all someone's sister.

The excellent Black Sheep Wools, whose mail order service I sometimes use, had booked a double pitch on the end of an aisle, and filled the centre of it with an enormous unfenced pile of cellophane wrapped bargain packs of all kinds of mass-market yarns which they topped up continuously, and a throng of customers dived and swam about in it uninhibitedly like kids in a ball park.

The number of males we saw, perhaps discounting the vendors, could probably have been counted on two hands, and half of them were in pushchairs. I caught the eye of one larger one as he resolutely trudged behind his female companion, and told him he was a very brave man, at which he laughed and graciously thanked me.  We couldn't, we thought, imagine any area of activity, at least of a legal and respectable nature for which one might attend an exhibition or trade show, that would be so massively dominated by men.

There was a vast range of stuff, from a couple of Indian guys on a small corner pitch selling scraps of silk fabric and rough looking skeins of yarn without labels to choice and costly cashmere and qiviut*; there were quite a few stands selling ready made clothes, and a big section largely dedicated to aid organisations and recycling projects. There were plenty of things I could happily walk past with zero interest in their wares.

I spent to the limit I had set myself, and came away with a good haul, including these skeins of recycled fairly-traded, empowering-of-women sari silk, which are remarkably inexpensive, look like they might be the devil to knit with but could produce gorgeous results.

Now I really should do nothing else but sit down and knit all these sumptuous things into sumptuous things.  

And here are some useful if not sumptuous things I made earlier: socks for my niece and her chap - his legs and feet are on the left, should you wonder.  Hers are Chunky Foot-Ovens, too thick for anything but house socks really, but as she works from home a lot and feels the cold a bit that's OK, and his are Mainly Black; he tends to wear mainly black, my sister once bought him a black t-shirt with the words 'I am wearing mainly black today' in small grey letters on the front, so I made them so that the section normally visible between shoe and trouser would be black, with the lurid colours lurking on the cuffs and toes.  To offset the woes of Second Sock Syndrome, whereby one rompses through knitting the first sock with enthusiasm then loses heart at the thought of having to do it all over again a second time, I inverted the colours, as you may see. They seemed pleased with them.


Now, in order to fulfil my self-imposed target of one thousand published posts in seven years of blogging, I have to accomplish twelve posts in eighteen days before my blog-birthday on 3rd November, so I'll be around more frequently but short and (hopefully) sweet is the order of the day, I hope without too many knitting posts.  See you soon!

* in fact I didn't really see any qiviut, though I believe there was some there somewhere.  It is combed from the belly of the Arctic musk ox exclusively by Eskimos (which they're really called Inuit...).

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Off again

I'm off on the morrow, just me, entrusting myself once more to the good offices or otherwise of R¥anair for a quick look-in on sister, brother, niece and nephew-out-law, the optician of a well-known British chain on Bishops Stortford high street (my distance glasses have not been the same since I accidentally stood a piece of garden furniture on them, and I think my prescription's probably changed again anyway), and the Knitting and Stitching Show at the Alexandra Palace, which my sister has been trying to lure me over for for some years now.  As always, it took all the screwing of my courage to the sticking place to decide to commit to a scant four days away, convinced as I am that something catastrophic is bound to happen here in my absence, and as always, this doesn't allow time to get around and see all I'd like to.

Tom has lists of instructions regarding comestibles and cleaning products, and has his survival kit to hand:

so he will not starve (he also has some bananas for banana sandwiches, lest he succumb to scurvy).  He has kindly lent me his camera which is smaller than mine and thereby leaving more room in my cabin-baggage-restrictions-size mini-suitcase to stuff with wool.

Back on Monday, wish me, and them, luck.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Morlaix - interiors: the church of St Mélaine and la maison dite de la Duchesse Anne

The first building we went into was the church of St Melaine, which you can just see something of outside in the previous post.  We were a little cursory in our visit, but in trying to find out a bit more about it, as always there were plenty of interesting details I evidently missed, for example engoulant dragons swallowing ermine-painted beams to hold up the ceiling, and stained glass depicting the allied bombardment of the town in the second world war, when, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to disable the viaduct and destroy German supply lines, a number of other places were hit, including a nearby school, killing thirty-nine children and their teacher.  But we were somewhat taken by the crypt-like low arch behind the altar, with its depictions of Annunciation and Deposition.

Though in fact I tried to squint and my eyes, and blur the photo, over those, I preferred the general dramatic effect of the lighting to the iconographic detail.  We like crypts, with their sense of what-lies-beneath; once in the Charente we visited an ancient underground church with a crypt yet further below it so old it was reckoned that bulls were sacrificed to Mithras there.  Creepy but wondrous. And if I didn't take in the dragons, despite their being right in front of my eyes and camera, it was partly because I was so taken with the ceiling they were holding up, a deep blue, gold-star-spangled barrel vault with windows set into it,

which almost made me consider going home and putting an ultramarine glaze over my blue-room ceiling and stencilling gold stars onto it.  And then I became distracted and delighted by the cobwebs in the windows, which had the effect of muslin drapes:

I'll go and look more closely at the other things another time.  One of the many pleasures of going back to the same place often for holidays.

Then we wandered into la maison dite de la Duchesse Anne.  Good old Duchesse Anne of Brittany, she must have stayed in more lodgings than Elizabeth I, and she's had everything named after her from tea shops to beer to coastal embankments.  And poor little Duchesse Anne, from the rosy cheeked girl married at fourteen, to the wan young woman remarried, seven unsuccessful pregnancies later, at twenty-two, to her death at under forty, fourteen pregnancies later, from kidney stones. Only seven children were born alive, and only two of these survived infancy. With such a traumatic, exhausting and short life, it's astonishing that she was able to assert any historical or political presence at all, but she did, and it wasn't all propaganda; she assured rights and distinctions to the region which are felt to this day.

A surprising number of reports, on travel websites and the like, confidently assert that she lived in this house in Morlaix, but in fact the no one, including the owners and the official website, make any such claim, probably the dates don't quite fit, which is why it is la maison dite de la Duchesse Anne - the so-called Duchesse Anne's house. But it's known that she stayed in Morlaix during her peregrinations, and the house might just have been new at that time, the early 16th century, and clearly belonged to someone rich and important, probably a noble-turned-linen merchant of standing, so it's not altogether impossible that she was there.

It's what's known as a maison à pondalez, the word presumed to be a conflation of pont (bridge) and aller/z(go), and these are unique to Morlaix. They comprise a central, four-sided well, open from ground to roof space,

a staircase, the central pillar of which was carved from a single tree,

from which ran the 'bridges', galleried landings leading to the rooms at back and front of the building. 

There are only two of these intact house interiors accessible in the town, though there is a complete staircase with galleries reconstructed in the V&A in London , and others in collections in the US.  The timber for the houses was the same as was used in the town's shipbuilding, solid oak from Brittany's forests, soaked long in salt water so all the sap was driven out, and it became massively heavy and impervious to rot.  With the added effects of age and hundreds of years of human contact, it almost seems as though the vegetable life of the the tree is becoming mineral, 

stone and wood growing less and less distinguishable.

On the ground floor is an enormous carved stone fireplace, from which wild faces and lush floriate forms look out.

They are also called lantern houses, either because the central well contained a large lantern to illuminate the whole, or because, once glazing and window building techniques advanced and roof lights were set in, the central chamber was like a lantern itself, filling the interior space with light.  These roof lights were put in later though.

It's an oddly populated space; Tom didn't linger, his eyes fell on a standard issue morose and grisly crucifix hanging on one wall which made him shudder, and altogether he found it lugubrious and heavy.  There were other figures, probably not original to the building but which looked like refugees from abandoned religious sites, such as this pale and lonely lady loitering in a corner

But the wooden structures are rather marvellously peopled, the dedicated website page details and explains them very thoroughly; they are full of vitality though worn and and blurred with patina. Many of them on the main pillar are loosely religious,

though the angels, such as this one above, are decidedly earthy, fleshly beings. As the website account points out, there are no images of the New Testament, crucifixion, martyrdom, just an upward progression of these lively, semi-mythic personages. 

Opposite the staircase, on his own, this acrobat walks on his hands on a wine barrel, beckoning people into what is thought to have been the dining room.

So what is now a twilighty, somewhat sad space was clearly once alive with a robust spirit, both sacred and profane. Its fortunes changed, and for quite some time it was lived in as apartments, with a family on each level - which must have been crowded to the point of squalor, but then at that time people were - and a commercial enterprise on the ground floor, at one time a bakers, which at least would have smelled good, and the last one was an antique dealer, who left the free-standing items, such as the chair in the upper room, this handsome settle

and presumably the other religious artefacts and statuary.  It was given historic status and a protected as a historic monument by Prosper Merimée and co in the 19th century (though he notoriously hated much that was traditionally Breton), but it continued to be privately owned, and still is, and was still lived in until the 1980s.

That evening, as the couple who had been sitting at the next table to ours in the Café du Port at le Dourduff, chatting comfortably over their moules frîtes, got up to leave, the elegant silvery-haired lady spoke to me, and said she had seen me that morning 'chez-moi' at the house.  I apologized, saying I was hopeless when it came to recognising people in different places from where I'd seen them, which is true, in fact I'm fairly face-blind at the best of times, but in fact she did appear quite different in relaxed evening mode form the rather serious and intense curator who had frowned at us earlier.  She is, it appears, Mme Lahellec, and the house was bought by her husband's family in 1938 -there's an audio of an interview with her in this article (in French).  Much of the research I've been able to do on it has been from materials, interviews, articles, the excellent website with its unusually excellent English translation, compiled and created by them, and by her in particular.The place seems to be their life's work and a labour of love; odd how some women sometimes seem to marry houses.  They need a large amount of money, more than can be provided by state bodies or by the very small admission price, to do essential repair work on it, and to open many more of the rooms and levels, as well as the garden, since not much of it is safe to be open to the public, but they seem cheerful in the face of this.  I hope they get it.