Monday, June 30, 2014

Melusine, or never on a Saturday

Apologies for absence on the blogging front; a visiting sister and other distractions are my partial excuse.  I have, however, deadline cleaving as ever, on this the last day of June and final day for submission, managed to make something other than knitting and complete my offering to Clive Hicks-Jenkins' latest Artlog challenge, and made a puppet complying with the theme of myths and legends.

I chose the mythical figure of Melusine, who is something of a favourite of mine. I was determined to make her from old felted jumpers, old t-shirts, scraps of wool and other textile and knitting related materials which were waste or which I had already, and knowing I would leave the making of her quite late and be short of time, and that sewing to any kind of perfectionist standard often discourages and deters me from finishing things, I would deliberately make her in a rough and improvisational manner. In fact on researching the story, I learned that one of the best known versions of it from the Middle Ages was that of Jean d'Arras, and was part of a cycle of stories designed to be told by ladies at their spinning and needlework, which seemed appropriate.

The tale goes that Raymond of Poitou, founder of the House of Lusignan, came across a beautiful woman, Melusine, in the forest one day.

Instantly smitten, he proposed marriage, and she was happy to consent, only exacting the condition that he should never seek to find her on a Saturday. She bore him many fine children and brought him much wealth but of course, in myth as in life, if you make someone promise things like that the one thing they want to do is break the taboo and find out.  Raymond had to go looking, and found Melusine at her Saturday ablutions (sometimes simply in the bath at home, sometimes in a forest pool or spring, the kind of place associated with her).

Oh dear, she was all serpentine from the waist down, and, many of the tales say, with a double tail!

Raymond was shocked, as was Melusine.

Then she was furious.

But also deeply saddened. Jean d'Arras has her say the words:

Ah! Raymond, the day when I first saw you was for me a day of sadness! Alas! for my bane I saw your grace, your charm, your beautiful face. For my sadness I desired your beauty, for you have so ignobly betrayed me. Though you have failed in your promise, I had pardoned you from the bottom of my heart for having tried to see me, not even speaking of it to you, for you revealed it to no one. And God would have pardoned it you, for you would have done penance for it in this world. Alas! my beloved now our love is changed to hate, our tenderness to cruelty, our pleasures and joys to tears and weeping, our happiness to great misfortune and hard calamity. Alas, my beloved, had you not betrayed me I were saved from my pains and my torments, I would have lived life's natural course as a normal woman, I would have died in the normal way, with all the sacraments of the Church, I would have been buried in the church of Notre-Dame de Lusignan and commemorative masses would have been observed for me, as they should. But now you have plunged me back into the dark penitence I have known so long, for my fault. And this penitence, I must bear it until Judgement Day, for you have betrayed me. I pray God to pardon you.

And she showed such remorse that there is no heart in the world so hardened it would not have relented.

Though some say she forgave him his curiosity and for seeing her, but couldn't do so when later in a public row he called her a serpent.  

She resumed her serpent form and disappeared back into the forest, never to be seen again.  But she got to found the royal house of Luxembourg first, anyway.

She appears in many stories and images, too many to link to here, but I'm still enjoying following up lines of research about her, and is perhaps unusual in being an indigenous French myth, of which there aren't too many.  She's an admirably feisty woman, certainly. 

Many thanks to my lovely sister for puppeteering, and to Tom for tolerating the puppet Melusine in the house, as she totally creeps him out!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Monday, June 09, 2014

Collage for May

A bit late again with this, never mind. Things from May, left to right, top to bottom.

  • Chive flowers and fennel, we ate a few with salad but mostly the chive flowers were just lovely and very long lasting as cut flowers on the window sill.
  • Jantien and her sculptures.
  • Hawthorn, or may blossom, of course.
  • Philadephus, form Marcel's hedge. Ours, which is Belle Étoile variety with a moody mauve centre to the flowers, isn't out until June. When Marcel's first comes out if I'm passing I nip a sprig and carry it with me to sniff at; the perfume is overwhelmingly redolent, and has been a joy and a comfort to me most of the years of my life.
  • The Troglogîtes. This is with mega-zoom on the camera as I was coming down from Menez Mickael, having just called Tom on the mobile and asked if he could see me on the track, so he's probably fiddling with his mobile in the doorway.
  • Fern fronds forming fiddleheads.
  • The holly bears a blossom. It really does, I've never quite noticed it like this before.
  • Swallow.  They were late back, the forerunners a good month before the residents. Ours made straight for the garage, where they've built an extension to an old nest, and are in and out very brazenly. We don't disturb them too much; Tom has covered up what he can underneath, and I go in and out, braving the point of a wing tip swiped across my face as we cross in the doorway. I was never more pleased to see them.
  • Sorrel in flower, the soft red haze in fields and verges, mown by tractors by early June.
  • Broom, planta genesta.
  • Oaks in leaf in the landscape, green green green.
  • The first Plougastel strawberries from the market.
I've done a bit of knitting of course, but it's either unfinished or for presents not yet delivered, so needs to be kept under wraps, and we've eaten asparagus, always the green, I don't care much for the purply-white.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Landevennec abbey, museum

Out of the dark,




polychrome, bare-breasted, with saints .

From beeswax and amber, brimstone, horn and gall,

 the pages take flight

out of the dark.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Meditations on moorland

Wendy recently posted a fine meditation on the psychology of landscape and people's response to a moorland, which more often than not an uncomfortable one: 'its very openness mistrusted for a lack of delineation and directive patterns'.

I was expecting myself to struggle more with a sense of fear and hostility to the landscape of the Monts d'Arrée, but I was curious to find out.  Wendy points out that the kind of person to whom the emptiness of moorland does appeal is 'not necessarily the clichéd solitary spirit of romantic literature'. In fact the one of the people who encouraged me to go there was my knitting buddy Soize, with her busy small town life and all its networks, her lively family, funny dog and hobby 2CV, but whose eyes kindled when she told me how she loved the desert landscape of the Monts, as did those of her cherubic twins when they showed me the photo album they'd put together of the trip and told me with glee that it was 'the Gates of Hell!'

And when I came to walk in that landscape, it was like a return, and I remembered that in fact I had loved moorland as a child, from chasing ponies on Dartmoor and Exmoor, to marvelling at the slopes of the Yorkshire moors (hoping vainly to see a merlin), to falling in love with the uplands of the Long Mynde in Shropshire on what turned out to be a sad family holiday (which I wrote about here, a long time ago).

Childhood literature fostered this rather, many of the adventure and pony books I remember reading (I was not a precocious reader, when I was a child I read as a child, so the menace and melancholy of Wuthering Heights, Hardy's Heath, and even Jamaica Inn I didn't come to till I was older) featured moorland as exciting and full of adventurous possibility, and somewhere often to which the characters ascended at epiphanic or transitional points of the narrative. I remember a description in (I think) an Arthur Ransome story where the moor is described as like a ragged counterpane thrown over the skeleton of the earth, with the rocks as bones showing through in the threadbare places, and a passage in a pre-war pony book, Jerry the Story of an Exmoor Pony (a hand-me-down from who knows when which I held in such nostalgia that I recently sought out and bought an old copy on-line) where the eponymous equine and his young rider follow a stag hunt, to a high and desolate part of upland where 'the moor looked wild and, even at this time of year, rather stern.  Colourless too, for there was very little heather, only crisp wiry grass. The very sheep looked different...' Everyone the boy knows has been left behind, including his father who has tired earlier with an injury,  he is among strangers.  A sudden storm washes the landscape, the hunt is abandoned, then the stag appears, to the boy's eyes only, from a thicket, but he says nothing, allowing its escape.  Yes, yes, I don't like bloodsports either but that's kind of mythic, isn't it?

No stags where we were in the Monts, that I know of, or even many sheep, though the last wolf survived there until 1906, but it is good horse country; we saw more evidence of horse riding and pony trekking her than elsewhere we've been in France.

For me though, much of the appeal of moorland, I think, is the juxtaposition of vast to small, macro to micro, the wide horizons and long views,

set against the fine detail of the flora and fauna and stone, detail which would be lost in a mass in a lusher landscape,

the counterpane may be threadbare, but it is nevertheless finely bejewelled and embroidered.  Much of my delight in the heathlands I discovered as a child was in the rich texture of the heather and in finding the succulent tiny jewels of bilberries, though it was too early for those now, in fact moorland comes into its full beauty perhaps in late summer, when more fertile country is often overblown and past its best.

On such an open and austere canvas, marks and lines, whether natural or man-made

acquire drama and power, indeed, human constructions and objects become quickly weathered into abstracts and emblems:  

It's worth rediscovering the moor.


(I should have got this post done a while ago, I've some excuse to plead that I've just been knocked over by some unpleasant flu type thing and have only just been able to face screen and keyboard.  I have more photos of the trip to post, and will try to do so before they are completely out-of-date!)