Monday, April 28, 2008

Lime schnapps

Take a handful of limes (I bought a netful the other day because I love them so, when I only really wanted one for some fish), a bottle of any old cheap vodka, Lidl's own, rather amusingly labelled 'Rachmaninoff, will do just fine (so then I had to buy a bottle of vodka to make the schnapps), and a sealable jar (I find it hard to resist buying these whenever I see them, most women, I understand, have slight container obsessions of one kind or another, boxes, jars, vases, it's a womb thing...)

Cut the limes in quarters, and put them in the jar. The smell of limes makes my mouth water and pucker at the same time, and I can't help just touching the tip of my tongue to the cut flesh. They taste more savoury than lemons, and seem to ask for salt.

Then simply cover them with the vodka,

and store it in a dark cupboard for a few months, shaking occasionally.

Then strain it and leave it a little longer. You can mix it to taste with simple syrup for a sweeter drink, or just leave it bone dry. I fancy it as part of a variation on the dessert Coupe Colonel, which was one of my favourite things last summer: good lemon sorbet liberally dosed with vodka. Don't know who the Colonel was but he can't have been fit to take command after many of those.

Many thanks to the wonderful Danish Schnapps website for this and more, you name it, if it's of vegetable origin anyway, and they'll give you a schnapps recipe for it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In the sunken lane

The following is something I submitted for the latest qarrtsiluni edition, which has the mouthwatering and intriguing theme of 'Nature in the cracks'. A lot of people evidently found it tempting, as they received a very large number of submissions, and the ones they've published are of very high quality. They finally decided this didn't make the final cut, though they were very nice about the photos especially, but said they couldn't agree. That's fine, as Jean said about the photos in the last post, acceptance or rejection is not the point. I wasn't too sure about the text myself; it's neither prose nor poetry, and rather rambling and shapeless, like an overwrought (and somewhat morbid) blog post perhaps! So that's what it will be.

In the sunken lane

The sunken lane is a fissure, with no clear beginning nor end, no junction with the road, gouged deep between the fields so that, walking there, cows graze and crops grow above my head. Some half-way down it is an enclosure. A mossy concrete slab covers...what? Something apart, forbidden, circumscribed. It is not a grave, I assume it is a well.

A wilding lilac, mauve in May among yellow broom, stands at its corner; surrounding it are fractured fences of crumbling wood flaked with dull green paint,

friable, lichenous concrete posts,

their surfaces and clefts infibulated with barbed wire

and embossed with the oxidising nodules of iron rivets.

Briars and brambles spring and coil among the untensioned wire,

and ligatures of ivy bind the concrete, like the carved decorations on Victorian tombstones.

The wood is becoming inert and stoney in decay, while the thorny stalks and stems merge with the wires that mimic them. The organic becomes atrophied and mineralised, the man-made, metal and silicate appears vegetal. The boundaries between states are mutable, uncertain here.

The well is not a grave, but a child might think it one. Death and murder, not altogether shielded, stalk the child's imagination.

" There is a dead body in the old car, Miss! David saw it, there is..."

"Someone was murdered going over the Blue Bridge last night, on her way home from school..."

And yet, and so, the boys appropriated the rusting wrecks of cars in the hollow, through the fence and out of bounds, just as we crossed the Blue Bridge in secret to build camps in the ruined lock-keeper's cottage. Ivy and sycamore saplings colonised the fallen walls, and we made man-traps over holes in its bewildered garden, to catch the bad men.

We crossed the Blue Bridge and skipped across the forbidden lock-gates, far from fearless, daring ourselves on the vertiginous edge of the basin, its stones greened with algae, ferns sprouting from the cracks around its rim. To fall would likely have meant death: I could not swim.

The well is not a grave, yet wells are uneasy, deathsome places. Like darkness by electric light, their necessity in our world has been largely banished by mains water. We fear the bottomless drop of them, their cold blackness, their slimey, inescapable, vertical sides:

" Ding dong bell, pussy's in the well..."

and Little St Hugh, child martyr, found dead in one, victim of a child-killer, blame and penalty for his death laid on the Jews at the beginning of a darkness of unplumbed hatred that submerged Europe.

Springs are clear and bright and healing, the living fountains, bounty from hard rock, images of purity, but about wells we are more ambivalent. Yet they are also sources of deep abundance, of hope and possibility. We pollute them at our peril.

The lane rises gradually and emerges, peters out, beside the long, kindly field whose hedge is palnted with mirabelle trees. Their blossom is fine and white early in the year, and, spring weather permitting, their amber and ruby fruits are there for the taking in the summer, heavy and glossy and falling in the furrows.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pictures of the Bay

These are the four photos I've picked out to submit to the competition marking twenty years of the nature reserve on the Bay of St Brieuc. I'm not sure what the rules are about publishing stuff first but no one's likely to see this, and I don't stand a chance anyway; there'll be people with fantastic eyes who got up at the crack of dawn with fantastic light and fantastic cameras with fantastic lenses to capture shots of flocks of rare birds doing fantastic things ...

I left it late to go there, just a few days ago and the deadline is the end of the month. It was a lovely trip anyway, not least because spring is quite a lot further advanced on the Hillion peninsular than it is up here, and the lanes and gardens were foaming with leaves and blossoms. It was quite a fine day, but still quite hazy with mist, and everything was very flat. A few little sandpipers twittered past, there was the odd egret in the distance, but clearly bird photography was not going to be the thing to do. So I went for simplicity and humble subjects. This was my final cut, though I'm not quite certain even now it's the right one, so I won't publish any of the others in case any of you say ' Oh you should have chosen that one instead!'

The categories were:

Human activity: this is one of the vehicles that collects the mussels from the mussel beds at low tide.

Fauna: I told you I was sticking with the small and humble didin't I?

Flora: likewise. Otherwise it was yellow wallflowers or thrift, and none of them came out very well. I liked the spareness of this, it echoed the forms of the umbrella pines on the cliff edges, but couldn't be lined up in such a way as to reflect this. There is a backdrop which shows clearly where it is too.

Landscape: difficult to decide whether this was landscape or human activity, but landscapes without any human reference points or activity in them looked a little empty. The sepia is perhaps a cliché, but it does make the scene kind of timeless, and black and white was a bit too cold.

They say they'll display the winning four; a photo exhibition of just four pictures seems to me rather small, so whether they'll mount any exhibition of other submissions I don't know. It was nice to make the prints, to have something concrete to hold and show, and they didn't look bad, the colours in the rock and lichen in the snail one came out well. Worth going to the trouble , really.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008


Connections are playing up in the fog.

Our friend J. goes for first chemotherapy tomorrow.

We drank wine and talked about fear and faith and failure.

We feel alive as we never thought to when we were young and full of life.

I am happy and it hurts.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

L'Imagerie, and what I saw there.

When I first walked into this gallery, with its cool, white intersecting rooms flowing into one another, all devoted to photography, I felt almost beside myself, a kid in a sweetshop. I had to make myself calm down and take the time to look properly. Inhabitants of bigger towns and cities where art and culture is on tap may not easily understand this. I know photography and visuals are everywhere, and the internet is a rich and wonderful resource, but a large part of going to museums and galleries is the experience of being in that space, surrounded by the objects shown; I'm sure I could enjoy being in a museum dedicated to a subject I had no interest in whatever if it was a well-designed, beguiling environment.

The second exhibition here, for example, on the work of Thierry Le Saëc, which consisted of blocks of deep, subtle colour juxtaposed with very simple, minimal pictures of sky, or other abstract images and text etched onto reflective surfaces. It was luminous and serene, I found myself breathing deeply and calmly as I moved around it. Yet the accompanying book looked flat, pointless, rather pretentious.

The main exhibition was to mark the twentieth anniversary of Editions Filigranes , who I'd never heard of before, but who are, it appears, a local and well-renowned photographic publisher. The entire catalogue of books were displayed round the walls, along with a selection of the photographers' work, and you could browse many of the books in a small library corner, which I enjoyed. Something that struck me, completely not au courant as I am with any matters of contemporary art, was that while the photographers whose work I've become familiar with on the internet, mostly amateur but not exclusively, seem to seek to obtain higher and higher levels of finish, sharper definition, more contrasting contrast, bolder shapes and forms, while the trend in much of this art photography seemed to be the other way: indistinctness, seemingly haphazard focus, low contrast, a sense of obscurity and occlusion. Sometimes it worked (for me, subjectivity is obvious), the effect was subtle, nuanced, compelling in its uncertainty. Sometimes it just looked like not very good photography.

What did work for me though, was a new work being showcased, the first from Joséphine Michel, entitled, perhaps a little unfortunately for English speakers, Lude. In fact the title is a pun on postlude, which is also the title of a poem by E.E. Cummings, which is quoted in full at the end of the book. Joséphine seems amazingly and enviably young, born in 1981, the year I went to university. She graduated in philosophy from the Sorbonne, then went on to study photography at Arles. I should imagine she might be one to watch. The work consists of a book with a DVD, the exhibition contained a number of blow-ups from it and a projection of the DVD onto one of the gallery's walls. The film is a series of stills, abstracts and everyday objects, with strong emphasis on texture, which overlay and supercede one another gradually; some start as and some become double exposures, others disappear into darkness and obscurity or dissolve into light. A thicket of pampas grass is illuminated by a set of rectilinear ceiling lights; a lorry crossing a concrete bridge appears to go up in smoke, which is then shown to be a stain on a whitewashed brick wall; a gorgeous flash of translucent carmine pink lingers tantalisingly after the neutral tones of the forms around it have faded.

I often find it difficult to look with interest at too many photographs of people, find them tiring, troubling, repulsive even. Doubtless my problem. Here, though, the human forms were at once remote and very moving, numinous, blurred or partial, filled with mystery and beauty, often seen in reflection or through slatted blinds or frosted glass, like the one in the clear, lovely orange of a Buddhist monk's robe (though probably it was just a woman's orange t-shirt...), standing beneath a nimbus of blue, the image then slowly dispersing into pure white. A sleeping woman's profile is illuminated, transfigured, by a ray of sun through the window of the plane she is travelling in, she is sleeping in light.

The whole is accompanied by a soundtrack by Julien Civange which is just music, beginning with faint rustlings, clicks and crackles, moving into plangent drawn out notes before fading away again.

I promised myself a book from the visit, and was torn between this one and one of black and white coastal landscapes. I'm glad I chose this one. I find I'm wanting to watch the DVD again and again, sitting back on the sofa, with a dog and a cup of something; watching on the TV screen is a different way to take in sound and vision again from the more intense head to head with the computer screen. We are really so lucky, to have so many interesting possibilities open to us.

The photos in the book are a good selection,( you can look inside the book here and see some of the pictures). The text, by the photographer Julien Claass, in parallel French with an English translation, is quite difficult in either language, seeming to be rather turgid and precious as that kind of writing in French often does to Anglo-Saxon perceptions. But as well as the E.E.Cummings there is this pleasing quote from Emerson: ' We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.'

The visit has left me both inspired and enriched but slightly confused, as any opening up of possibilities does. It reminded me once more how photography is all about light, and the dizzying and sometimes frightening omnipresence of beauty, if we only know how to see it. I long for the kind of vision that blurs and transfigures thigs so that office workers behind a frosted glass screen appear as translated, near-angelic beings, and the talent to be able to communicate that vision to others. The paradox is as conveyed in the Cummings poem:

'Here less than nothing's more than everything.'

L'Imagerie is free entry, open most afternoons and all day in summer. Well worth a visit if you're in that neck of the woods.

Postscript: By an interesting coincidence, the link to the EE Cummings poem 'Life is more true than reason can deceive' is to a recent post at Loren's blog, In a Dark Time'. I'd been unable to find a good link directly to the poem before, then while passing the time this morning at via negativa, I noticed the first line in his favourite blogs feed reader, which led me to Loren's! Loren has been reading and commenting on Cummings in several recent posts, but while I knew of his blog, I had never visited before. I'm very glad I did, as it is clearly a very good one, so I'll be going back.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I think perhaps, after admittedly only one visit, I could live in Lannion. I'd looked forward to going there, especially to the photo gallery, l'Imagerie, so much I thought I was bound to be disappointed, but I really wasn't.

We set off in our lovely new (to us) car, and when we got there,wandered about, had a bit of lunch at quite a posh, though not overpriced, restaurant, where Molly was allowed to sit under the table and scrounge from Tom, she knows better than to try it from me . He had fish and I had pig's cheek. Yes, I did say pig's cheek, sorry vegetarians. Not the kind of thing I'd have ordered at one time, but a restaurateur in St Brieuc once urged me to, and now I think I always will when I get the chance. This time it had a delicate orange sauce and prettily presented vegetables, a slice of potato gratin and some multicoloured pasta shells with it.

Then there was pud, which was white chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis, and I just had to get the camera out.

After that, Tom and Molly retired to the car, to read and doze and loaf about by the river, and I strode outwards and upwards to mount the escaliers de Brélevenez, which are intensely picturesque.

I should know better than to try to take postcard photos; most of those I took that day were dreadful: boring, wonky and featuring large items such as wheely bins which my brain had entirely edited out when framing the shot, but which no amount of software could succeed in doing the same with afterwards.

Better, as ever, to concentrate on the details.

And why scenic photos anyway? I became aware that I couldn't satisfactorily represent much of the impression of the place: the sweet and melancholy chimes of the church clock, the prettiest I can remember hearing, because I'm no musician, and couldn't even have transcribed the notes, or the scent of Mexican orange and wisteria in the breezy air around the church at the top of the staircase. I couldn't frame the blossom-filled carpark, the two ironic old men on their bench, the wiry, independent white dog going about his business, the families with their growing-up kids with their boy- and girlfriends, a little awkward and dutiful and happy. The scene was cluttered and in flux, and of course, full of cars. A street photographer might capture it, but I am no street photographer.

But this shop front intrigued me; I have looked up the quote to no avail; who or what is Tapioca, why is he, she or it likely to get wheels, and why then be called Mirza? Perhaps one of my more clued-up French speaking readers can tell me? And look, there I am in the right window...

So, I think I could live in Lannion because it's pretty and quaint, near the sea and the pink granite coast, with walks in and around the surrounding valleys and countryside that start from the centre of the town. As well as a tourist town it is a student town. (Anais is at university there, though she's not there at the moment because she's in Southampton), and as Tom is fond of telling me when I do something like stirring my tea with my knife handle or otherwise making shift, in many ways I never really grew out of being a student. Consequently there seems to be a fair amount of cultural life, shops of artists collectives, quirky bars, Tibetan flags in shop windows...

But mostly I think I'd like to live there because of l'Imagerie. I was going to tack my impressions of this wonderful gallery, and what I saw there, on to this post, but then I've found I have come away so filled with interest and taken up by it, and consequently have so much to say, that perhaps it might be best to write another one!

So more anon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh so slow!

Everything seems to be taking longer than it should, why am I so slow?!

I'll catch up with you all soon...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More from the pond

A couple of weeks ago, when I did the poissons d'avril post, there was a helathy clump of frogspawn in the pond. We always have plenty of toadspawn, but frogs are scarcer than toads, and nicer and more useful citizens, so their eggs are more welcome. The tadpole embryos were very visible as such, and twitching plenty.

Now, the last of the jelly is disintegrating, and the tadpoles, both frog and toad, are making their way to the nearest available surfaces, the brick edging, rocks and stones, undersides of lily-pads, where they mass and cling for a time, presumably feeding on the algae.

The wisdom in the wildlife gardening books is that you should not stock a pond with goldfish if you want tadpoles to grow up. However, though our goldfish are many and only haphazardly fed, they never seem to eat the tadpoles; I have seen a fish take a smallish taddy into its mouth, apparently chew on it a bit, and spit it out again, unharmed.

The small black fish is a young goldfish; possibly hatched last year. The newest ones mostly seem to be black, whether they change colour later or whether this is a dominant form which is beginning to prevail, I don't know.

Later, a frog jumped away from me as I was cutting the grass. Frogs tend to be more alert and to be able to escape more quickly, unlike toads which have been known to meet distressingly grisly accidental deaths at our hands with lawn mowers and garden forks. This one allowed me to approach quite close with the camera, and only leaped off under the hedge when I started the mower up again. It pleases me that in French la grenouille is feminine, while le crapaud (toad) is masculine. The gender, I know, belongs to the word not the thing, but I can't help feeling in this case it is appropriately assigned. Not that I've anything against toads...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Plane crash dreams and some classy loos

It took a while to come to this morning, from a plane crash dream. Please don't think because I'm getting up early again this will become a dream diary, nothing is more tedious generally than other people's dreams, I know. I rarely remember mine in any coherent form, probably because I don't have coherent dreams. Tom has enormously long and cogent narratives which he can remember completely, no matter even what time of the night he dreamed them. I never mind hearing about his dreams, they are interesting, often quite logical at least in their own terms, and frequently amusing, and I love the voice and mode he slips into when telling them.

But the plane crash dream seemed to have some sense, unless I'm just imposing that, and I was deeply involved with it for quite a long time after waking, so it seemed like the only important thing. From a house high on an escarpment with my family, I saw the crash, and the events leading to it clearly in the valley below - usually the plane disappears behind trees or buildings before exploding. As we watched, a huge fountain of oil exploded from the ground where it had crashed, and began to rain down on us. I hurried everyone into the house, but a slate was loose on the roof, and the poisonous shower rained inside also. We fixed it, but the sense of menace prevailed. Later I drove off in the direction of the cataclysm, I had an appointment to keep, but drawing nearer, I, and others were driving into a thick and impenetrable darkness. Just when it seemed hopeless, we found ourselves in a kind of farm shop, selling plums and aubergines and other fruit of the most beautiful purple hues and textures. The staple vegetables, beans and suchlike, would no longer grow in the aftermath of the disaster, but these luscious things would. I was charmed but uneasy, it compounded the sense of guilt I already felt about the relief of escaping the crash, and the fear that it may have further consequences.

I think, but I don't know, this may have been triggered by a post, with a stunning poem, over at Dick's place, about creating beauty out of suffering, and to what extent it is acceptable.

It may seem strange to bolt this on to the last thing, but I was moved to go and dig out some of these photos from our New Zealand trip in September 2006, after seeing Jean's post about the beautiful Hundertwasser buildings in Vienna. Hundertwasser retired to Northland, New Zealand, and designed and built the most astonishing public toilets anywhere, I should think, in the nearby town of Kawakawa. The link gives more details, but these are some pictures I took. I especially like the idea he expressed that a toilet should be a place of meditation akin to a church.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Time for some cooing...

... the latest images of Princeling. Smiles are not in short supply, he is a very sunny character.

He's grown out of his silver coat already, so I am urging the production of a second-in-line to make the making of it worthwhile.

Here with his papa. Isn't he cute and adorable? (Saying the baby's not too bad either is just toooo predictable...)