Sunday, December 31, 2006
Saturday, December 30, 2006
... and very jaunty red hips.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
John Taverner's (the original, with an 'r') "Western wind mass" is of a more attenuated beauty. It is based on the melody of the anonymous "Westron wynde" lyric from the 16th century.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Albert Einstein, 1932.
(OK, so you've probably heard it before but I only came across it recently...)
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Saturday, December 23, 2006
After a crummy couple of days with many checks and reverses and small abrasions, many self-inflicted - to my self-esteem, and a failure, despite liberal doses of aspirin, vitamin C and L52, to resist this season's current viral infection, I came home yesterday to find lovely comments peppering my blog. This cheered me beyond measure. So thanks Rachel, thanks Pol.
Furthermore, on coming down this morning, the fire was still glowing embers. While nothing impressive in terms of the laws of physics, to me this is always a small grace which needs must be honoured with the application of paper screws, tinder, but strictly no matches or fire lighters, and now I have flames for company too.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Moncontour church, near us, was built by Spanish settlers who came here following the Wars of Religion, about 400 years ago. People here have names like Helio, Caro, Carlo, Phillipo. It has an interesting Hispanic-style bell tower which adds much to the distinctive skyline of the town.
But within it's mostly tawdry, shabby, mawkish old baroque tat, of the kind that it seems the Catholic church has felt it ought to foist on the people in a desperate Counter-Reformation attempt to titillate an overwrought response to revive their faith. Mostly in France it seems there was neither the will nor the means to maintain the stuff, and the result is a sorry sight.
What I do like though, are the earthy, heartfelt little country chapels and small churches hereabouts, and my favourite is the chapel of Notre Dame du Hault, at Tredaniel. It's not the oldest or the most rare and beautiful, but it's the one that has most endeared itself to me. It's chief raison d'être is, or perhaps rather was, the Seven Healing Saints. The history of both chapel and saints is obscure; it was part of a priory with a hospital, la Madeleine, before the Revolution, but it has an allée couverte next to it...
There is a suggestion that the cult of these Saints is strongly Celtic, if not pre-Christian then stemming from the hermit evangelists who paddled across the Channel in their coracles from Cornwall and Wales, and whose identities became merged with local folk spirits, legends and sacred places.
The little saints as they are represented are of polychrome wood, I think from perhaps the 17th or 18th century. They are unarguably quaint, in danger of appearing like folk-religious garden gnomes. This primitive quality led to an uneasy attitude to them on the part of both the established church, and of the secular authorities on what constituted good art and worthy cultural treasures. But religious officialdom's discomfort about them stemmed also from the fact that they were more popular, more prayed to and venerated, than the officially sanctioned icons: the Virgin whose name the chapel bears, and of course Jesus. The votive plaques thanking the saints for their healing intervention include some quite recent ones, even a couple in English. The picture below for some reason features only six of the seven, the seventh, the only female, St Eugenie, is not shown.
The ills that they healed were the commonplace ones of simple country people living hard lives without much access to medical care: stomach pains, headaches, eye problems, but with a strong emphasis on mental, psychological and emotional problems too, ' fear and folly '. St Eugenie, I've been told, was often appealed to by women who were sexually unhappy. The dog accompanying one (not shown) may be a guide dog for a blind man, or may be a wolf, symbolising rage subdued, or may be a wolf who killed and ate the guide dog and was, by the grace of God, rendered subdued and contrite by the saint and obliged to take the dog's place. It looks like a fairly innocuous pooch to me, but is almost certainly not the original.
Everything about the chapel and the saints, their origins, history and identity, even their names, is uncertain, fluid, susceptible to morphing and contradiction, full of story and hearsay. The story of its foundation goes that a Breton was travelling the roads in the area, which long had the reputation of being the haunt of brigands, outlaws, robbers, Chouans, and those generally outside of the law and society. He was set upon, beaten, robbed, hanged and left for dead, even his fine red coat taken. On the point of death an angel cut him down, and the Virgin appeared to him with instructions to found a chapel at the site, which he did with the help of the local people. The fairly modern stained glass window tells the tale.
Aesthetically the window is nothing special, but I have found it a rewarding focus of meditation. It speaks to me of re-integration of the self, of last-ditch hope of rescue, salvation, renewal, grace. The Little Breton is lost and vulnerable, alone and alienated The murderous brigands can be a perception of a hostile world, the ill-will and cruelty of others, or they can be inner demons seeking to destroy you. Yet in the final resolution, others, outsiders to the self, are shown as a source of support, solidarity, devotion. The red coat is pride, joy, self-esteem, self-protection, a sense of warmth; it is stripped and taken, but then finally restored.
The other characters who people the place are also polychrome wood, again, I believe, 17th or 18th century, of the extended Holy Family at different points in their lives: Virgin and child, in foremost position, with a small figure of the Little Breton kneeling before them, St Anne with the child Mary, and Joseph with the child Jesus.
The Virgin has a rather stolid face, but lovely wavy brown carved hair down below her waist. She has a fine blue cloak with gold stars. The baby Jesus has a dear little white flannel nightgown.
St Anne, whose name graces many a French Catholic primary school, has something of Baroque womanhood about her, large, long thighs, a bland oval face, but she is solid, kind and dignified. The child Mary is a delight; a fierce, skinny, hyperactive little tomboy, challenging and eager with her scroll, hungry for literacy. This model, seen frequently, of the woman teaching the girl, not housewifely duties but reading and writing, is one I like. It was perhaps a reflection of the grass-roots movement of orders of sisters, such as La Retraite of Breton origin (who run Emmaus House in Bristol, in the UK ) who made it their mission to educate and improve the lot of the girls and women of the countryside.
Joseph and the boy Jesus are less interesting, except perhaps for the showy rendering of Joseph's draperies. The child has something of the ruddy-cheeked, square-set, laughing Jesus of the early church, but to me he looks spoiled, chubby and petulant. I like his little basket of woodworking tools, mind.
The obligatory grisly, pallid, standard issue crucified Christ is leaning against a wall at the back of the church, looking rather redundant.
There is also a curious rugged relief carving in granite of an indistinct and somewhat infantile looking angel carrying an enormous book, which feels very old and very mysterious. It didn't photograph successfully.
I found a post on Brother Bartleby's blog which seems to me to describe the role of the chapel and its genii loci. He says: "... theologians come up with tidy religions, yet the everyday folk are simply trying to survive in their constantly changing material and spiritual environment, and more often than not this includes a theology that is in flux."( All is flux, nothing stays still.)
Despite the popularity of the little saints, and their inclusion in many guides and other books on the region, little effort was made to safeguard them. The originals were stolen some twenty years ago, but fortunately a local antiquarian and woodcarver had made faithful copies, which were installed in their place. These too were stolen two or three years ago ( with the exeption of St Eugenie, who must have been better secured). Only recently has the local commune seen fit to even explain their absence with a notice to the numbers of visitors in cars and camper vans from all over Europe who stop at the chapel. The powers that be, sacred or secular, may not have valued them; they were too pagan, too maverick for the theological correctness of the established church, too crude and odd for the artistic arbiters, and too irrational and superstitious for the secular, intellectual spirit of modern France. But obviously someone somewhere did. Their absence poses interesting questions on the nature of objects and focus of prayer, meditation, worship and spirit. Can they still be petitioned and prayed to if their images are not there? Will they still heal? Will they work willingly for the person who obtained them dishonestly?
As well as St Eugenie, the Holy Family, the Little Breton, and St Houarniaule 's dog, remain. For the moment.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
For the light and darkness of St Lucy's Day, and a moment of humbling.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I was at once childishly pleased with the trick, and also rather depressed. Why do watercolour painting, I challenged my spouse, when Photo Shop can do it for you? But of course, as we concluded, there is no process worth speaking of - barring my passing satisfaction at getting anywhere at all with my francophone version of the programme. And the result, however clever you and Adobe may be, is always dictated by Photo Shop. And, of course, you'll never make a mistake, which just ain't right.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
In the orchard on the corner, a rather histrionic flock of guinea fowl berated us...
... and we went on to greet our dear friends, two beautiful, gentle, pregnant Breton ladies, who always come to the fence for me to blow up their noses and kiss their soft pink muzzles.
Molly doesn't mind them, she was brought up with horses, but was happy when we went on into a field with soft, clean, new grass, where she ran and rolled and barked like a mad dog!
Sunday, December 03, 2006
The whole house is rattling - no small thing when the walls are granite a metre thick - with gales off the bonny bay of Biscay-o, as is much of north west Europe I think. Since our first winter here, when we had taken the roof off and barely got it back on properly, and the whole fabric of the place was altogether ropey, I haven't cared for windy weather, so I'd rather be up and doing and masking the sound with music and activity. Tom's deafness is a blessing at times like this and he sleeps the sleep of the just upstairs. I am putting it out of my mind that if one of Victor's trees does finally take the plunge and come crashing down on our roof bringing the intervening electricity cables with it, it will be on our bedroom roof, where he is and I am not.
'Cowards die many times before their deaths'. I die few deaths myself, but I have to say this often to myself to stop Tom and Molly dying over and over in my imagination. Yesterday's parting with Betsy was not so bad as long as I didn't let my thoughts go down the route of seeing my darling girl curled up in that basket. Tim was an angel and Emilie was brave. Tom made himself go and measure how big we needed to make the hole and came back with the familiar clenched expression of outrage - ' Death is a fucking insult ! '.
But the rant was momentary, and we set to with the digging while Emilie took the other dogs for a walk, and we chatted and laughed as we worked, which Emilie said heartened her as she heard it coming back. She and Tom gently picked Betsy up out of the basket and wrapped her up, which I think took a bit of courage but then wasn't so bad, and I took Emilie off to put the kettle on. Apparently the others spontaneously observed a few moments stillness and silence, then Tim said 'Goodbye darling.' and they filled it in.
In fact if I could relax, there is something quite magical about being here with the wind and the rain and the Tallis Scholars and my solitude. I'm quite sure that chestnuts seldom fall but only split.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I've got some Russian liturgical music playing, which is just right, and M. seems quite happy to curl up peacefully beside my chair having beaten the bounds of the garden and eaten a spot of breakfast.
We're a little more settled to our grim task today having visited Emilie last night. She rang Tim also, our own particularly faithful gardener, who unhesitatingly agreed to come and help wield a spade, which lifted our spirits in the matter. Tim is a young father of a family, a dear, gentle and incredibly hard-working soul, who has made himself indispensible to a lot of people.
What's more,I found a lovely comment on the blog this morning from someone unknown to me, a guy in Maryland. When I saw there was a comment I was pleased but assumed it would be from my brother who I'd told about the blog, but finding a new friend who found me on their own is rather nice! So, thanks Moe, I'll get back to you soon.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Let me say now that I had a happy childhood. I had my share of disappointments and difficult times, and the things I'm often now grateful for were also the things which were sometimes a source of feeling different, excluded, insecure. I was, and still am, though I hope I have tried to swim against the current of my nature, introvert, sometimes odd, and inclined to a lazy timidity and know-it-allness. I was, quite frequently, a fairly horrible child and young person. I am sometimes curious, how much remorse one is required to feel over childhood actions. I do feel some. The composer John Tavener, when asked if he had any regrets, said something along the lines that naturally he regretted the sins of youth, but that is in the nature of youth, and as he grows older he finds he looks at his youthful self with increasing gentleness and compassion. This desirable combination of detachment and compassion seems easier to achieve towards one's past self than towards others, alas.
My parents were old when they had me, and I was the last of six. They were kind and indulgent, had less energy to shape my upbringing positively as they had with my elder siblings, but my mother spent much time talking and sharing experience and knowledge with me - not an unmixed blessing, but which ones are? My father suffered a mature onset of epilepsy when I was very small, and was on phenabarbitone for the rest of his life, which was one factor in what seemed his general effacement of himself, another were to do with my mother and her sense of disappointment, I think. Until I was six though, the vigour and optimism which I feel should play a part in good childrearing were made up for by my three oldest siblings, war and just post-war babies who had known just enough privation to give them drive and appreciation of their opportunities, and ample talent to secure those opportunities when they became enthusiastic young 1960s adults. In addition to themselves and their interests they brought home adorable and doting boyfriends and girlfriends, husband and wives, all of which ensured I was thoroughly spoiled.
Then the lure of the wider world drew them on, and they departed variously to Australia, South Africa and Bermuda. Second sister, always caught painfully between those three and we two smaller ones, suffered badly at the loss of them, her adolescence seemed thenceforward hedged about with storm clouds and eggshells, and though she was never unkind to me, often very lovely and loving, and later a fine friend indeed, she was frequently unapproachable, and a source of puzzling chagrin to our parents. To this day, she and I find airport farewells difficult. I heard an echo of this particular sense of loss at the diaspora of young people from Britain at this time from Ray Davies of 'The Kinks', who said that the song 'Waterloo Sunset' was written in a spirit of sadness at the parting from of a sibling's family, including a beloved nephew, the Terry of the song, who had emigrated to Australia ( I think...), and its wistful, elegiac quality is a reflection of that. I'm not a big Kinks fan, but I do like 'Waterloo Sunset'.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
This inferiority, little me, unaccustomed as I am, stuff is tedious. If I'm ever to get this blog off the ground, I can't waste any more of the short and precious time I have to do it in airing it but simply have to bypass it altogether and get on with it. Same goes for a lot else.
Great to see family ( a distaff gathering this time ) , good to see English land- and townscapes, not least trees allowed to grow into their natural full shapes and not hacked back into distressed vertical fuzzy caterpillars for the sake of firewood. It was good to dive into a supermarket and buy naan bread and brazil nuts and Marmite, of course, and to be able to function at all times in my first language. But after a few days I wasn't sorry to leave a growing perception of a society riven with greed for money and status, and the seething feeling in myself that I'm reluctant to identify as envy but is certainly resentment. I've no illusions about France being any better in many regards, but living here as an outsider I can succeed in maintaining ignorance.
And very quickly I start feeling soothed by my sense of rootedness here, which has taken a while to take, and wasn't always there. Now it is, and I'm glad of it.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Lapwings are true pied beauty. Wonderful though it is to see the first hirundines, which are often sand martins over water, the first lapwings have a deeper magic. Their departure too has a haunting quality, beginning as it does that Lenten period when the last of deep winter is over, but the first of real spring has not begun.
Some years ago, a former neighbour died in somewhat shocking circumstances in midwinter. The lapwings seemed to offer some strange comfort, speaking of a kind of transmigration of soul that I couldn't quite explain. Rather later, an old friend sent me a postcard with an Edward Thomas poem, "Two Pewits", which echoed this feeling I had about them.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
On reflection I've decided I shall embark on this on the assumption that no one is actually reading it - after all, it seems to me that soon everyone will be writing blogs and no one will actually have the time to read them. I'm going cheerfully to sing my own song, out loud, for all the world to hear, safe in the likelihood that nobody's listening.
My initial trepidation comes in part from ineptitude and unfamiliarity. Less than a couple of years ago, our household was a self-styled oasis of digital-free quietism, sans computer, sans mobile phone, sans digital camera, sans everything. The DVD player was the first that ever burst, then my husband fretted once too often that I might have absconded with the dog ( my absence would possibly be supportable, but not Molly's ), and we succumbed to the mobile 'phones. Less than a year ago we were still without the computer, the camera was acquired this summer, and precipitated something of a turning point in my relationship with the digital world, because I rapidly fell in love with it and its possibilities.
I have only started to look at blogs in the last month or so, and in doing so I've discovered some real treasures, staggeringly talented people with deeply interesting inner and outer lives, and one or two who are, unfortunately, not as interesting as they think they are, tiresome and narcissistic wastes of cyberspace even. I can't hope to join the former group, and can only hope not to join the latter! But here I am anyway, at a good enough place to start.
Friday, November 03, 2006
So, why box elder? A box elder was the tree I grew up under.
We didn't know it was a box elder, we called it the maple tree, which is indeed what it was also, a kind of, not an elder at all. For much of my life I was not aware of seeing another like it, but on coming to France I've seen many, and much more recently, having acquired a good tree reference book, I've finally established its proper identity.
I shall write more on this tree, but for now, I am very tentatively finding my way around this blog, so let that be all for now.