Monday, April 28, 2014

Spring happenings

Just reporting in here. Tom was given dispensation to leave his hermit's cell for a few days to make a trip to the UK for eyes, ears and to look in on family and a friend - there are some very nice pictures of him here at Natalie's.  All was well in his absence; Molly pottered on in her blind, deaf and creaky fashion, didn't get stuck in too many corners or disgrace herself on any carpets, and the weather was good enough that I could leave doors open while she lay in a pile of dirty old leaves outside - her couch of choice on such occasions - long enough for me to snatch a shower a couple of times. I took advantage of uninterrupted access to the big computer and its software to work on one or two things I'd been thinking about, knitted a bit, read a bit, did some yoga with my yoga buddies and made a trip out to the shops with J, and by the time I'd done that, he was back, with hot cross buns (we didn't make any this year), new glasses and a cheerful mien, and here we are again.

A reasonable spring here, still quite chilly. Our swallows are back at last, somewhat late - the residents rather than the occasional members of the advance parties, who passed through a month or so ago, and who I like to think of making their way on up to the Western Isles of Scotland, to nest between the beams of the tiny chapel by the sea on Iona, though they're probably just going to Wolverhampton or somewhere. After the rather long, wet, dark winter, many things were delayed while others are early because it's not been cold, so it's one of those everything-at-once kind of springs.  So here are just a few sycamore leaves unfurling and dandelion clocks - I think it's never been such a year for dandelions, but perhaps I think that every year.

Oh, and a bug.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Still knitting: Quess'qui tricote, and a tiger

I am still knitting, though trying to read a bit more as well, and I've not had so much heart of late for posting about such fluffy stuff I suppose.  But it's still a very good thing to do, not least because of my lovely group of tricoteuses/bloggeuses, which now goes under the official name of Quess'quitricote, a pun on Quessoy, the town where we meet, and 'qu'est qui tricote?' - who's knitting? 

We turn up at the library every two weeks, five of us - Lyse, BN Soize and myself (with the occasional supportive masculine visit from Quercus), and Sonya who doesn't blog but is quite amused by the rest of us nattering away about it, plus the assorted children of two of our number, who either racket around or sit quietly making things and looking at books - this library is not a formidably quiet place like those of my youth but really rather lively. The librarians make us coffee and bring people over to show us to and generally make much of us, the children are involved and welcome but not made the centre of attention, we talk knitting and blogging but plenty of other things too, we swap plants and wool and stories, I don't understand everything that's said because the speech is quite fast and familiar and funny, but I'm not afraid to jump in and when I do and can't always find words people are patient and helpful, and often I find myself laughing at the stories even when I don't understand them completely because they're being told in a funny way. I always come away smiling and feeling better about life.

'So,' asked Lyse a few weeks ago, 'why haven't you put your tiger on your blog?'
'Because I've only just sent it to my sister, and I don't want to spoil the surprise if she sees it there.'

The tiger in question was knitted from Muir and Osborne's latest work 'Knit Your Own Zoo'. On the whole I restrict my knitting to the practical and wearable, but J gave me the book for Christmas, my lovely sister has a penchant for tasteful tigers, and the leftover wool from my nieces marmalade socks did strike me as very tigerish, so I thought why not do something small and silly for a change.  In fact I ended up having to buy more wool, as the skein of tapestry wool I had around and used for the dark stripes with stranded knitting proved to be nothing like enough, and the whole project was so fiddly and detailed, though brilliantly conceived and coded, that I think I could have knitted myself a full length sweater dress in the time.

The stranding with multiple wools was lumpy and he had to blocked before finishing and assembling, which amused me because it looked like a big game taxidermy project, prior to being frolicked on by an Elinor Glynn character. In miniature, of course.

when put together, pipe cleaners are required to stiffen the legs so he stands, but even so, perhaps because the only ones I could find were craft ones which really didn't have much stiffness at all (BN said afterwards I'd have been better going to a tobacconist and getting real ones, which apparently you still can), his back legs are inclined to sag and slide and he looks like he's about to pee.

However, he can be propped, and I was not unhappy with the final result.  The librarians nearly stole him to use as a prop in the children's storytelling session, and my sister seems to like him too. Still, I think I'll stick to socks and gloves in future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If you go down in the woods...

A letter came a week or so ago from ASPAS, an association we belong to because we (mostly) hate hunters, saying they were setting up a new wildlife refuge in our department, and would we like to go along on at the weekend and help put up signs and such like.

We have, I'm afraid to say, become somewhat wary of most initiatives involving la vie associative in this land where we are very happy to live, since frequently they are disorganised, unpunctual and involve lengthy bouts of tangential discussion before anything can begin. This doesn't bother me quite so much as it does Tom who dislikes disorganisation and likes to get on with things once embarked; I don't mind that impatience is so markedly absent from provincial life here, and we've developed strategies, taking books, cushions, refreshments etc, but it can be a little trying. However, I fancied getting involved, but it was a long way on big roads - most of the way to Lannion - so I wasn't very keen to go on my own, and asking anyone else if they wanted to join me meant being dependent on and/or responsible for them, their transport, boredom levels and general comfort, which is another difficult area. So Tom girded up his loins, sat a while with his anticipated impatience and agreed to come along.

There was a list of equipment which we would or might need; I concentrated on small items we would be likely to need ourselves - gloves, boots, hammers - rather than anything that might either end up being an encumbrance or be lent to anyone else so we'd have to get it back before we could leave - saws, chainsaws (we don't have one anyway), ladders etc. I was teaching in the morning so we were a little late, twenty minutes or so, many people were already gathered at the rendez-vous point but no one seemed to be forming a nexus.  After a little a woman took a text message and said that the organisers would be later still, they'd lost their way.  Tom grumbled mildly, but we perceived during this time that there was another English couple, who had brought their chainsaw and were looking a little more fractious.

Finally the organisers turned up, laughing, blamed GPS failure, although they'd sent us maps by e-mail which were perfectly easy to follow. They were bright and pleasant, distributed no hunting and no fishing signs and nails, and there were discussions and digressions about how best to put nails into trees, why galvanised nails were best, and, a couple of times, to establish the exact local pronunciation of the name of the river that ran through the reserve. We wandered off through the woods a way, gathered in front of an ASPAS chap who nailed up the first sign symbolically and posed for photos. We then expected to be divided up into relays so as to cover the whole of the area effectively and avoid duplication, but this didn't happen, no one seemed to have much idea of the extent of the reserve (part of the estate of a local château whose owner had requested ASPAS take it under their jurisdiction) so we all just set off at once with no particular plan except that we should put up the signs roughly every forty metres.  Since we were all covering the same stretch of ground we ended up duplicating anyway, often putting up a sign then noticing someone had already put one up a few yards away, and since we didn't know how far we were going, and there seemed to be fewer nails than signs, we all ran out long before the end of the reserve which we never came to, then everybody simply dispersed and disappeared, so we made our own way back to the car park, had the orange juice and Mars bar I'd brought, and went home.

The funny thing was though, I think we must be becoming quasi-assimilated, perish the thought, because neither of us gave a monkey's, we had a lovely afternoon.  It was a beautiful spot, a wide river edged with sand and scattered with big romantic rocks, banked by sloping mixed woodland, and plantations of broody dark fir trees and coppery, sweet smelling poplars. Tom bounded ahead, hammer in hand, scrambling over undergrowth, halfway up tree trunks and hanging over the water to find the most prominent and inaccessible places to nail signs, finished up at one point over his ankles in river mud and grinning like a truanting schoolboy, all most out of character. I handed him signs and nails and stood dreaming into the twinkling river light snuffing up great lungfuls of fresh air redolent with wild garlic, poplar balsam, pine bark and general oozy earthy damp springiness, exchanging odd words with whoever passed by or we passed: a cheerful ASPAS official who was chasing off a trio of refractory fishermen with philosophical arguments, a bossy woman who didn't have any more idea what was going on than anyone but was pretending she did, a pretty young couple who looked like a faun and a dryad who quickly used up their signs and spent the rest of the walk skipping and jumping and lounging around on fallen trees, and a much pierced hippy couple (not of the party) and their dogs who were foraging the wild garlic to make pesto. I haven't felt so light-hearted for quite a while.

As we were preparing to leave, the other English couple also returned, still lugging their unused chainsaw and looking fairly tired and grumpy.  Quite a long walk, I remarked.

''Tis when you're carrying a bloody chainsaw,' he grumbled 'bloody ridiculous!'
'Not very well organised,' she said.

They were right, of course, only we'd forgotten. We quickly pulled our faces straight and agreed with them. Don't know what came over us.

I omitted to take the camera, but in fact we rather had our hands full and it might have been a distraction from the pleasure of the outing. I brought back a big bunch of wild garlic leaves and flowers, though, which I put on the kitchen window sill and have had the time and leisure to get more intimate with.  This was the first time I've seen, and of course smelled, this most delightful of edible wild plants since we've lived here, though I've a small patch of it, from a bought specimen, coming on in the garden. An elegant and vivid plant, its wide, lustrous leaves and little star flowers carpet and spangle moist woodlands before the bluebells come, and its allium pungency fills the air.  As far as I'm concerned, you can keep your lily-of-the-valley, give me a bouquet of wild garlic any time.

As a child I always wanted to know how one could prepare and eat it, but no one seemed to have any idea about doing so, neither wild food nor the taste of garlic were very widely accepted in England at that time. Since then it has become a highly fashionable and sought after ingredient, posh chefs and restaurants use it all the time, bunches of it sell well at farmers' markets. This recognition is deserved, there really aren't many savoury dishes you can't add it too; so far we've had it with sauté courgettes and chicken fricassee, but it can go into salads, pasta (as pesto or straight), risotto, soups, sauces... It has a milder garlic flavour than the bulb.

It's also known as ramsons, and other things besides, including, it seems, bear's garlic, which corresponds to the French ail des ours, its Latin name allium ursinam, and I think its name in most European languages.  I rather like the idea of bears eating it, but we didn't see any while we were out, though the hippy couple's elderly dogs, who were lying around in it very contentedly, looked a little like small black bears.

We said we'd try to get back to the reserve sometimes to walk and observe, so I'll try to take the camera another time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gare du Nord, language and Üsküdara

At the Gare du Nord

The piano, a classic upright, was in the middle of the concourse, free to anyone to play.  The two little girls weren't playing anything properly, just tinkling around, but the acoustics were good and the sound floated out and all around the arches and ironwork and up the escalators, it was rather lovely.


  • Words that exist but I'm not sure I want to use them, and words that I'm not sure exist but I want them to:

A couple that have gained currency in this, the Age of Counselling:

Affirm, affirming, affirmation.

John: You have a girlfriend! ... care to elaborate?
Sherlock: Well, we're in a good place. It's um... very affirming.
John: You got that from a book!
Sherlock: Everyone got that from a book.

Maybe I quite like feeling affirmed.  Maybe I'm not sure I should.

Conflicted.  Conflict, as a verb, as in - this conflicts with that -  has been around forever and is fine; I'm quite easy with verbing nouns, on the whole, though 'impacts on' always grates a bit. It's the use of 'conflicted' as an adjective to describe a feeling that seems rather buzzy and uncomfortable. Yet it is a state of mind it's quite difficult to convey in other words, although 'torn' is perhaps as good as anything. I think I am somewhat conflicted about the word 'conflicted'.

But I'm difficult like that.  I try quite hard to avoid 'empathy', though I have sympathy with the sense of it.

I lived through too much of my life before knowing of the term 'straw man fallacy', so was more easily made a victim of it, or indeed more likely to practise it. What, though, is the expression, for when a person injures another, then makes such a show of their remorse and humiliation at having done so as to make themselves appear the injured party and have the tables of sympathy turned in their favour?  Heaven knows, we've all done it or had it done to us, there really ought to be a term for it.

  • Other reflections on language:

The perfect tense. I have spent much time trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain its nuances to French speakers who use it too much and wrongly, and often I have ended up advising them to avoid it and stay with the simple past, which isn't easy for them.  But lately I have noticed how helpful its graceful, two-part tying of the past to the present can be.

Grant me chastity and continence from the wilfully profligate over-use of adjectives and adverbs, but not yet.


Some of you might enjoy this, it's only ten minutes or so.  The song, Üsküdara, is Turkish in origin, from the days of the Ottomans, but has spread over all the Mediterranean and beyond, so there are Sephardic, Balkan, Greek and perhaps even Hungarian versions, it seems Eartha Kitt even sang it, though I've not heard that, and yes, there was a line of the melody in Boney M's Ra-ra-Rasputin.  This version, by beloved Hesperion XXI, is performed in a very fine Lutheran church in Copenhagen.  

About four minutes in, the singing moves to a recording of the late Montserrat Figueras, which the live musicians continue to accompany.  Hesperion do this quite a bit, I gather, I don't know how long they will continue to do so.  It's perhaps a little manipulative the way the camera closes on Jordi Savall as he listens to then joins his playing to his dead wife's voice, and of course he doesn't weep, he's heard and rehearsed it a thousand times and he's a professional, but the sorrow and love on his beautiful and expressive face is moving to see, nevertheless, and Montserrat's voice is sublime as ever. 

There's a very good article and interview about Savall here.

(I spent ages trying to work out how to embed the video, since Youtube no longer seem to show the HTML code to do so under the 'share' tab, in fact I don't really know why they still have a 'share' tab, as nothing comes up when you click it.  In fact you can embed any Youtube video by using the icon on the blogger toolbar thing. They really do make everything so easy, as long as you do everything on a Google subsidiary of course.) 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Sulky, or not.

For our hearts' sake, and that of our spirits and minds and legs and lungs too, we try, of late, to get to the beach on Sundays. Molly still gets quite excited about going out in the car, but when we get there she doesn't want to walk much, so she has five minutes potter round the edge of the car park and takes in a few smells, then happily hops back in the car and settles down to sleep, while we walk.  It works quite well; she has the pleasure of a ride in the car, we get the exercise, and also we hope, perhaps vainly, that we are rather practising and preparing for a time without her. 

We could of course go pretty much any day, but we've fallen into a somewhat old-fashioned pattern of the Sunday drive, and I rather like it. If you get out before about three there aren't too many people, but in fact, not being short of peace and quiet in general, I don't mind being among other people busy about their leisure activities. Although yesterday it was kite surfers.  I quite like the shape of the coloured kites against the sea and sky, but as with other surfers and many other sporty people I'm afraid, I don't much care for the practitioners' braying gregariousness and crowding physicality, and it seems to me most of them spend more time hanging around on the beach fiddling with their equipment and talking a lot than they do executing interesting moves on the water. Never mind, room enough for everyone, we were quickly able to put space between them and us.

The week before, though, we were out in the morning and the tide was still a way out, and the surfers hadn't surfaced yet, but the pêcheurs à pied had,

and so had the sulky drivers.

 I always imagined 'sulky' here must be some borrowing from the Hindi from the days of the Raj or something, but now I learn that it is, literally, about being sulky; since the traps are single seaters and fast moving, they are suited to sulky people who prefer to be alone, an etymology I find quite appealing.  These two equipages however, who made several circuits around us over the length of the beach, seemed to give the lie to that idea.

The drivers were very proficient in the way they handled their vehicles and horses, and though they went at a fair clip, they kept close together throughout and maintained a steady flow of relaxed conversation.

 It was hard not to have the impression that the horses were doing likewise, they seemed very attuned,

Made me think of Black Beauty and Ginger. Poor Ginger.  Do little girls still read Black Beauty?

This fellow is much more withdrawn, maintaining a stony silence.  You have to catch him at the right moment to notice him at all. I feel he is quite benign though.