June 6, 2015
France still closes down at lunchtine 12-2pm. Quite civilised and to be respected. Very pleasant sitting in Place de l’Eglise in Fontvieille – a small town that appeals more and more . . .
. . . wandering around the old streets, intrinsic compositions can be seen, admired and recorded.
A garden of pots – well tended plants, all thriving and with somewhere to sit and admire them . . .
. . . and a green roof, which some might say is just ‘les mauvaises herbes’.
Mûrier platane foliage on neatly managed trees shading a small modern square – very inviting – and just close by, in contrast, spreading branches of an ancient plane tree form a ceiling by the quarried stone face of the old town wall.
In the château gardens, now the town park, all ages are catered for. The home of Alphonse Daudet, the writer, now a museum dedicated to him and his work – most notably “Les Lettres de mon Moulin”. Water courses run through the parkland where holm oaks and pines cascade over lauristinius and broom providing a simple vegetation matrix
Following one walking route (there are many others to Les Baux, to San Remy and to Eygalieres) around the top of the town, the landmarks are three windmills named after their owners – Tissot-Avon (2 owners), Ramet and Ribet also called St Pierre and also also called Daudet’s mill with sails completely restored.
rather fell for it and the whole area of Les Alpilles.
J’ai dans mon coeur un oiseau bleu,
Une charmante creature,
Si mignonne que sa ceinture
N’a pas l’epaisseur d’un cheveu.
Il lui faut du sang pour pature.
Bien longtemps, je me fis un jeu
De lui donner sa nourriture:
Les petits oiseaux mangent peu.
Mais, sans en rien laisser paraitre,
Dans mon coeur il a fait, le traitre,
Un trou large comme la main.
Et son bec fin comme une lame,
En continuant son chemin,
M’est entre jusqu’au fond de l’ame!…. Alphonse Daudet L’Oiseau Bleu
February 4, 2015
No one is out here in the village . . . but a few have been busy. A chance to observe shapes and patterns accentuated by the thick layer of snow . . .
In the graveyard . . . what to say? Just quietly and slowly move and absorb. Sorry to disturb.
The poem – beautiful and melancholic – just like today.
There are lone cemeteries,
tombs full of soundless bones,
the heart threading a tunnel,
a dark, dark tunnel :
like a wreck we die to the very core,
as if drowning at the heart
or collapsing inwards from skin to soul.
There are corpses,
clammy slabs for feet,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
a bark without its dog,
out of certain bells, certain tombs
swelling in this humidity like lament or rain.
I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.
Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot, a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring, stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo, hushed like a tree.
I do not know, I am ignorant, I hardly see
but it seems to me that its song has the colour of wet violets,
violets well used to the earth,
since the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death green
with the etched moisture of a violet’s leaf
and its grave colour of exasperated winter.
But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
lapping the ground in search of the dead –
death is in the broom,
it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
the needle of death looking for the thread.
Death lies in our beds :
in the lazy mattresses, the black blankets,
lives a full stretch and then suddenly blows,
blows sound unknown filling out the sheets
and there are beds sailing into a harbour
where death is waiting, dressed as an admiral. Neruda Death Alone
February 2, 2015
Today is Candlemas or la Chandeleur, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox- the pagan festival of light when the churches blessed their candles. Snow is forecast so a prompt to get out . . . and walk down from Goult through the pine and white oak scrub covering Les Terrasses to the valley of Lumieres. Poplars, planes and some willow line the river here – delicate ivy clings on its upward journey . . .
. . . a solitary young soldier on a plinth. As yet I have failed to come up with identification. Maybe a question in the epicerie will supply an answer. On the plinth: ‘Ge suis venne au roi de France de par la Vierge Marie”.
Scrambling up the Mange Tian ( a regional cooking vessel at the first level of research – the shape of?? or where food was offered??) – precipitous, slippery but exhilarating climb to the plateau covered with pines . . . and a few bories that young master H. Dupont Fogg would love to investigate . . .
. . . dry stone walls retaining the terraced land and also free standing structures as boundaries. Some ruins of a hamlet . . . about 6 houses clustered here no doubt with livestock – cereal growing, olives, vines and other crops – on the open plateau. The terrain would have been intensely farmed enough to sustain a small community. Now holm oak and the white oak have regenerated to cover the land and the lack of light is evident.
. . . where nature has started the process of reoccupation.
The journey along the narrow paths has dramatic interludes when and where unstable or tired trees perform their dance of death. More dancing from those lively specimens alongside too – all elbows, hips and flashing legs . . .
. . . and then a solitary sign of another wasted object left to rot – Citroen Ami? Interesting that the lichen and algae have inhabited the surface – shows how clean the air is.
Down and beyonds lies an area called Les Fenêtres Rouges where the ochre landscape sits centre stage. This occurs intermittently within this intimate terrain but always surprises visually and evocatively . . . No other souls around. Bliss.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost The Road not Taken.
January 7, 2015
The terraces in Oppède-le-Vieux hold a decent collection of native plants – all labelled with correct nomenclature and explanation for herbal or culinary use if applicable – but it’s difficult to concentrate on these when the panorama is so splendid – the Luberon valley, Mont Ventoux and part of the Vaucluse – like tiers of old stage flats punctuated with pencil slim cypress. Clients often express the misguided notion that trees will block the view but there are ways of planting trees to emphasise the view as shown here . . .
These terraces are dedicated to Sainte Cécile. Flat plates of Umbilicus rupestris – navelwort – are springing forth now in the crevices not only here but in many dry stone walls in the area. Below is the site of the old threshing floor – aire de battage – now an angular foot print but originally it would have been circular so more practical for the tethered animal to do his or her circuit.
From here, the old village is seen spread across the north facing side of the Petit Luberon. The winter sun starts casting its shadow by midday so houses beyond the medieval ramparts are dark, humid and tricky to maintain apparently. The domination of the restored church of Notre-Dame-D’Alidon and the ruins of the castle are felt from a distance as well as within the village streets. I found it a charming and quirky place and many others have enjoyed it and settled here. Following the armistice of June 1940, architect Bernard Zehrfuss founded a commune of artists in the old town, a project that attracted French sculptor François Stahly and the writer and artist Consuelo de Saint Exupéry. The commune proved short-lived but, interestingly, it was the basis for Saint Exupéry’s fictionalized account, published in 1946, called ‘Kingdom of the Rocks’.
Looking at close up details, the clock and bell tower on the town hall and then at even more smaller scale . . .
. . . a statuette, religious of course, as the Popes, based in Avignon, dabbled religiously and relentlessly here. The main route up to the church and castle was the village street; access points of the wash houses and modest homes are still evident . . .
. . . they retain a theatrical feel (like a discarded film set) of the past – very beautiful and evocative. In the 19th century, the inhabitants had enough and started to move down in the valley, dismantling the roof of their houses to stop paying property taxes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Oppède-le-Vieux was a ghost village and a new community was officially established in the valley, with larger streets, cosier houses and farmers closer to their fields – the new village – Oppède-les-Poulivets (“nice view” in Provençal),
The Chapel of the White Penitents is set half way up the stepped ramp path, beautifully laid, and then, in the full light at the summit sits the church (12C) and the medieval fortress.
Spacious steps with integrated landings below cantilevered gargoyles lead to a rocky unmanicured area where temporary safety fencing protects the castle – an engineered structure integrated within the natural environment. Work due to start in 2015.
A line of Renaissance villas line the north facing rock face – a mix of superbe, mysterious and the fairytale. Glamorous and expensive.
Sitting in the cemetery, something I do in a regular fashion, and looking beyond the walls, the tiers of vegetation – ivy in flower, Viburnum tinus in berry, olive, oak and pine gave me goosebumps. And then the surface of the wall, encrusted with stonecrop. Marvellous.
Despite the open window in the room of long absence, the odor of the rose is still linked with the breath that was there. Once again we are without previous experience, newcomers, in love. The rose! The field of its ways would dispel even the effrontery of death. No grating stands in the way. Desire is alive, an ache in our vaporous foreheads.
One who walks the earth in its rains has nothing to fear from the thorn in places either finished or unfriendly. But if he stops to commune with himself, woe! Pierced to the quick, he suddenly flies to ashes, an archer reclaimed by beauty. René Char.
December 31, 2014
In San Remy de Provence (specifically Glanum) for the year end. Can’t think of a better place to be . . .
. . . much to admire and much to reflect on.
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me
But hope of orphans and unfather’d fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.
Sonnet 97 william shakespeare
November 6, 2014
Through the glass of YSP (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) visitor centre – a very decent building by Fielden Clegg Bradley – tree canopies abound. Elements of the original parkland estate remain.
Yorkshire is synonymous with dry stone walls. This level of craftsmanship doesn’t appear often enough in counties to the south. The only person I know of who can select, cut and place stone well is Mr Swatton. He’d enjoy these modest but well built retaining walls . . .
. . . the major exhibition is a survey of the work by Ursula von Rydingsvard – she works with wood – mostly Red Cedar – bronze, polyurethane resin and other more organic materials. Is she crafts person or an artist? Or both? If I could, I be there to listen to her.
In the Camellia House, her work sits well within the singular architecture.
A little history as provided by Pevsner The Buildings of England 1967: ‘Camellia House circa 1812 by Jeffrey Wyatt for Col. Thomas Richard and Diana Beaumont. Materials are ashlar stone and glass. A symmetrical composition of 7 x 1 bays plus a diagonal projecting bay at each corner. Square panelled piers to the front supporting the entablature . . . . full height glazing. Large round-arched windows . . . framed by engaged Tuscan columns. Hipped glass roofs, separate over the projecting bays . . . Interior: niche at left and right. Scrolled iron brackets support the iron gutter and similar arched braces to roof apex. Iron tie rods to 2 intermediated trusses clasped by pairs of slender ion columns‘. It is a little gem.
Traditional furnishings alongside a strong masculine head by Frink . . . .
. . and a Pye water feature.
The Cascade Bridge spans the Lower and Upper Lake and connects the gardenesque part of the estate with the pasture and woodland. A gentle and quite mesmerizing feature . . .
. . . lost in thought here too.
David Nash made the Seventy-one Steps – amongst other site-specific works in 2010 along the walking route to Longside Gallery. This path runs along by some modest estate workers cottages and the quarry and the old well below.
Another David Nash, Black Mound, in a lovely setting. And a piece of Goldsworthy called Outclosure.
Ai Weiwei has taken over the Chapel both inside and out. Ming + Qing dynasty chairs fill the interior and a rather ugly ‘tree’ sits outside.
Walk over recognition to all those who have contributed financially and with their time and effort – on leaving or arriving. Much appreciated, thank you.
A stranger here
Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange all and new to me;
But that they mine should be, who nothing was,
That strangest is of all, yet brought to pass. Thomas Traherne The Salutation
When I wake the rains falling
and I think, as always, its for the best.
I remember how much I love rain,
the weakest and strongest of us all;
as I listen to its yeses and nos,
I think how many men and women
would, if they could,
against all sense and nature,
tax the rain for its privileges;
make it pay for soaking our earth
and splashing all over our leaves;
pay for muddying our grass
and amusing itself with our roots.
Let rain be taxed, they say
for riding on our rivers
and drenching our sleeves;
for loitering in our lakes
and reservoirs. Make rain pay its way.
make it pay for lying full length
in the long straight sedate green waters
of our city canals
and for working its way through processes
of dreamy complexity
until this too- long untaxed rain comes indoors,
and touches our lips,
bringing assuagement- for rain comes
to slake all our thirsts, spurting
brusque and thrilling in hot needles,
showering on to anyone naked;
or blaming our skins in the shape of scented baths.
Yes, they are many whod like to tax the rain;
even now, they whisper, it can be done, it must be done. Penelope Shuttle Taxing the Rain
‘A small but special Spring Plant Fair’ (the header on the flyer) this weekend at Great Dixter offered the opportunity for a gentle stroll around the garden as well as to view, buy, make notes about and order from exquisite plant nurseries. Wandering up the drive by foot and admiring the structure of the trees around the horse pond – an experience often missed if entering and exiting by car. A still and misty morning . . .
. . . some plants just need more observation now such as the chusquea in relief against the castellated yew hedging.
Simon’s stacks of timber await his decisions on their reinvention into a functional item. Organised groupings and practical arrangements show clearly in the early season before the masses of ornamental vegetation take over . . .
In the field below the nursery and the shop, many small, established nurseries showed their plants, seeds and products. Lohhof Stauden displayed many grasses and Wildside with Keith Wiley presented delicious, delicate looking but tough treasures.
Around the Lower Moat, gunnera fronds are on view – the unfurling is magnificent to behold – such stature – accompanied by new vertical growth on the iris – slim and neat in contrast.
From the orchard the house appears to retreat behind the flowering fruit at this time of year but in the Long Border the drama is centre stage. Confident planting with all companions appearing well orchestrated. Great knobbly stems of salix, naked and as yet unadorned, punctuate the composition . . .
. . . the beauty of emerging foliage and flower heads is quite breath taking.
The Exotic Garden looks tantalising but we are not allowed in quite yet, as everything is under wraps until the temperatures rise, so the Topiary Lawn claims our attention . . .
. . . large trumpets of lime green and piped stems of bamboo and the coppery skirts on Euphorbia x pasteuri delight my eye around the Blue Garden.
Pretty blossoms on Prunus tenella in the Sunk Garden – so feminine. And various compositions both detail at ground level and bulkier and more distant at eye level offer themselves up to those who can’t get enough . . .
. . . Fergus has a thing about euphorbias and he’s right! Marvellous with the clipped yew backdrops . .
and just to finish lines of early, fosteriana, double and late tulips. All one could wish for.
Preludes and dawns, those spare awakenings
Gone before listened to, how we miss such
Arrays of opportunities. As sun lifts up
Its wings and birds tune their large orchestra,
We are invited out of sleep, called to
Take part, share all such daily, sweet beginnings.
Dramas of dreams rise up, the haze of them
Dries in the sun and the awakened mind.
The spirit’s opportunities see flights
We seldom heed. Good moments of regret
Vanish in our wanton rummagings,
O bold designs, O short disparaged nights. Elizabeth Jennings Missed Chances