May have to do a bit more to it - wanted the dark at the top to be water with a boat in it, but it could look like sky with a moon in it. Will decide which I prefer...or may leave it ambiguous!
I had an interesting email from a chap in Prague wanting to buy three paintings...although he said I’d have to use a specific carrier to transport them - ASSESS AIR LOGISTIC. I looked them up (it seemed suspicious) and discovered it is a scam. Unsuspecting people take “his” credit card details and ship the goods, then discover the credit card is fake.
Too bad the internet is a new way for people to steal from other people, although it also provides ways of checking up. I prefer to trust, but at the same time do my homework.
Off topic, I was on the train the other day and spotted (so to speak) a poster of a little girl admiring two giraffes at Dubbo Zoo. Looking at their splotchy patterns, I began to wonder, why is it that giraffes need camouflage? I mean, if you’re that big...who isn’t going to see you?...
Ah...life’s big questions...
A recent ”Watch this space...” part of my exhibition hanging currently in Gordon.
(with cutting edge jaunty royal blue glomesh hat, diamond encrusted, complete with Poppycock feather)
Caution - highly ephemeral
Material not to be handled
No food or drink within 97.2315m
Don’t swim immediately after a large meal
On loan as part of celebrations for
World Emperor Couturier
High Achievement Awards Recognition Day
World If Only The Kid Had Kept Quiet Day
Windy August - will toast my toes by the fire tonight.
Two of my paintings have gone out into the world and are with Gallery 41 in Woolloomooloo - inner Sydney in a gallery district - not far from the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I’ve just become a member of the Art Gallery Society and so I will be going to a free (to members) viewing of the Paths to Abstraction exhibition which is running at the moment. It should be fantastic.
And the Gallery person who had to cancel our planned exhibition is back on deck and has asked if I’d like to give her a small collection of paintings to hang...so I said YES!!!! Exciting! A gallery in Tamworth would be happy to take a couple, as would one in Canberra, although the person at the latter called my work “decorative”. My back went up AND my nose out of joint. To me “decorative” means that its only purpose and value is in matching the curtains. Then I thought - hmmm...I suppose when it comes down to it, ALL paintings could be called decorative, because they all hang on walls! Anyway, she said that being the nation’s capital there are always politicians moving in and wanting to furnish houses. Come to think of it, we DO have an unexpected new Prime Minister since I last wrote, and there WILL probably be an election within the next few months, with possibly a few politicians involved...like I said, hmmm... I wonder what colours go with red hair...???
A few weeks ago I went for a bushwalk with my daughter. We have very similar navigational skills.
It’s chilly and I have the wood stove on. Cosy! I wonder how much longer we’ll be allowed to burn wood for heating? I love that in this modern day and age some of us still use the same source of heat as earliest humans. And I was reading “African Genesis” by Robert Ardrey and came to the bit about insects clustering together to form a flower that doesn’t actually exist in nature. I emailed a zoology professor of mine at the University of Toronto from 1975 and asked if they could be mimicking a flower which itself died out millions of years ago - he answered!!! He remembered me (red hair and pigtails) and said yes! Isn’t that thought exciting?!! They could be a living fossil in the most literal sense of the term!!!! I love this planet!!!!!
The exhibition is hung, the opening has been had as of last Sunday, it was a lovely afternoon with some very special bush tucker food, and several paintings will be going to new homes. The exhibition is a solo show of 49 works at Gordon Library running from June 3 to August 30 2010. I paint under my non nom de plume so it is called “Kerry Thompson - And now for something completely different...”
At the top of this page is a new little painting which I did today - first time I’ve had the chance to paint for weeks..apart from one which I did yesterday but which doesn’t photograph very well because there’s a lot of silver and opalescent paint on it. I had a bit of stage fright at first - what to paint - can I still paint - how to start - then just put colours I love on the palette, switched on the radio to music, and let the painting go where it wanted without trying to make it turn into anything. VERY fun and happy-making!!
It is cooling down as we move into winter, and I toast my toes by the wood stove every evening.
......I took my dog to the dog beach (Bayview) and was delighted by the house boat with a dog house. I guess it’s a doggy house boat with a boaty dog house. Or something.
I went for a bushwalk and found wonderful lichens, aboriginal rock carvings, and a tiny insect-catching sundew.
One item in the exhibition is called “Watch this space...” and I put new things up on an irregular basis. So far there has been this cartoon:
then I hung a little pink hat with a feather on it and this:
Hermit crabs are known for their habit of living in second hand shells. It is not always good to be known for your habits. Luckily it isn’t something worse.
As it grows in size, the hermit crab has to abandon its old home and find something more up to date. As the hermit crab doesn’t get out much it can be a little hazy about what’s up to date.
Occasionally, a rare hermit crab will throw caution to the wind and move into something bold, possibly with feathers, which it always wanted to wear and which it thinks looks quite fetching, while at the same time, deep down, being a little worried that it just looks silly.
I know a little hermit crab
She hides inside a shell.
I think she smiles when I go by,
It’s kind of hard to tell.
A couple of days ago I changed “Watch this space...” again and hung an odd sock with this:
This is my favourite sock.
It used to be a pair but the other one has gone missing.
Where DO odd socks GO?
I think this one’s partner has gone to Perth.
Which makes me wonder, WHY do socks disappear?
We treat them as a pair, but when you come to think of it, only because they LOOK the same.
Maybe below the surface they are quite different and crave individuality.
Or maybe they both prefer the same foot and one gets tired of sharing.
Or maybe one finds a solemate in a sporty little anklet.
Or runs off with a shoe.
Hmmm...all food for thought.
Which makes me wonder about knives and forks...
Some of the paintings were done on paper when I was in Western Australia over Christmas, and they’ve been framed with white mounts and frames and look fabulous!!!! I’ll try and get some photos over the next few days to show you.
One recent painting is called The tip
- a place where you can find pathos in the things we have left behind - a record of our progress and changing fashions and changing sense of values, and at the same time there’s something inherently funny seeing objects completely out of context - like a fridge or a bed on a hillside...
I’ve also been making up invitations and information cards for the exhibition........
There’s a great website for looking at photographs and paintings and writings by a worldwide group of people - it’s called RedBubble (www.RedBubble.com) and I’ve put work there under KerryThompson. Take a peek if you’d like an amazing way of seeing a whole spectrum of works from a whole spectrum of people!
It has cooled down in Sydney and I’m toasting my toes by the fire as we speak. Time for a cuppa!
Last weekend I travelled to Bendemeer (Tamworth district, NSW Australia) for the opening of the “Colours of Autumn Bendemeer Art Show”. It was a new experience to see my work hanging amongst so many other people’s paintings. The countryside was lovely, people friendly, and I had a nourishing few days painting with friends under trees overlooking golden paddocks on their property.
As I drove up to and back from Bendemeer along the highway, I was bemused twice, once in each direction, when I hit the spot where signs call out,”FALLING ROCKS. DO NOT STOP” Something about these signs always seems very wrong. I mean, if I stop, what are the chances of a rock actually falling exactly where I am? On the other hand, I admit that if I stop, I’m in that particular spot and a sitting target for a lot longer than if I speed past, but back on the first hand again, if I speed past I’m likely to collect every rock that falls. It just seems a rather whimsical way of the roads and traffic authority to deal with boulders rolling onto the road...
Paddocks at the moment (autumn) are full of weeds and succulents and grasses that have devised all sorts of methods to pierce, cling to and travel along with you and your clothing. Pretty amazing to think that they have evolved to include socks in their life cycle...
Susie, now 14, (my dog), I am convinced, is a bit touched with dementia. She is beginning to get excited about dinner earlier and earlier, in fact, almost directly after breakfast. Add to that the fact that today we went back onto eastern standard time so tea was that much later and you can understand why I was keen to take her up to the park to distract her for the extra hour until it was time for her dinner. As it turns out, my dinner was also an hour later so I had to hurry her back from the park so I could eat.
We have just had some lovely rain. Which is lucky. I installed a watering system comprising some of those hoses that leak water gently into the garden, and my ex fish pond pump lowered into the rainwater tank. Unfortunately, the pump doesn’t have enough oomph, particularly after slugs have left their silver trails sealing the hoses, so I haven’t bothered to turn it on. But because I have a watering system I haven’t thought to water the garden Hence my garden had almost expired when the rain started. Phew. Luckily the tank is now full. I expect it will be full for some time.
A friend took my very first batch of paintings away to go into an art show. They looked very exciting all tucked up in their bubble wrap, but I still feel a bit awful saying goodbye to them. They are going into the Colours of Autumn Bendemeer show, and I’ll go up for the opening to say hi to them. I don’t know whether I’ll be more disappointed if they don’t sell or if they do. I must get over that!
The latest paintings include a storm brewing in Tasmania.
Happy Easter Bunny!
The idea was to approach it as a cross between kindergarten and a mad scientist’s laboratory - to explore and experiment and loosen up, not trying to finish with an artwork but rather enjoying what happens when you put this here, or smear that there, etc. A digital camera is great to capture a painting if you like it, so you can then keep going and make a mess of the whole thing!
I ended up with a forest as autumn approaches - I keep coming back to trees!
The other day I went outside to tip some vegetable water on the garden and heard a huge racket above in the Queensland Firewheel tree. It was a group of rainbow lorikeets squabbling and rabble-rousing. The next time I went outside they were still at it, but there was a mighty rustling of leaves as well. I took a closer look and as I stood below, the leaf-rustling seemed to be descending through the tree towards me. A dark shape emerged, and I was eyeball-to-eyeball (albeit two of them were upside down) with a baby fruit bat! It had a band on its thumb so was clearly one of the orphans from a colony in the bush below me who had been hand-reared and were newly released.
I dashed for the camera and took a few snaps, then moved inside and watched from the kitchen so it could go about its business returning to the wild. You have to understand that my kitchen wall in all glass. So, having had my moments taking a good look at her, she flapped across to the palms outside the kitchen, moved as close to the window as she could get, and proceeded to take a good look at me. We looked at each other for some moments in our various gravitational orientations, she slipping on the palm branches and me wanting to commune with her while knowing I should let her get on with her re-orienting to nature. However, she seemed to be more oriented to me. I guessed she was still bonded to her carer.
In front of the house next door are some power lines where bats are often electrocuted as their wingtips span the gap between wires. I knew I should leave the baby alone but was afraid she might get zapped, so eventually ventured out with a stripey beach towel. She happily climbed aboard and half clung to it and half to my shoulder as I maneuvered through gates and down steps to a small fig tree below the house. I unpicked her claws from towel and tee shirt fabrics and deposited her on a branch, then dashed back to the stairs. I couldn’t resist watching to see what she would do. She looked about, then, like one of those triumphant scenes in a movie where out of the skies a wild creature comes to its human friend (the sort of thing you fantasised about in primary school - that’ll show them!), she spotted me and flapped across to land beside me. VERY exciting. But, I knew I should make myself scarce so did. Later she was asleep and clinging to a fig root on a cliff face below the house, so was comfortably out of the sun, and by the next morning she was gone. Sigh.
Other nature recently - a little spider who catches its prey in a tiny net which it casts over them, and a china duck who sits out front where our elderly duck used to rest. Susie, my dog, lies out with it the way she used to lie with its live predecessor............................
Coco with her boots on - Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada Dec 2007
Having discovered I need to re-size every photo I’ve ever put in my blog because in their current condition they are causing the house to tip sideways, it has been fun to trawl through my album and revisit places and excitements from the past few years...including a wonderful stay in Whitehorse in the Yukon at Christmas 2007. Read on and you’ll discover a connection with something which is unfolding, and in fact, is almost flat, as I type...
My dear friend Anne gave me her old and classic Yukon Parka which I lOVE (and this is a photo of me in it and loving it). It is currently hanging in my cupboard in Sydney...pining for the pines.
One HUGE excitement was dogsledding (mushing) by moonlight at 35 below zero (Celcius) on a frozen (natch) lake in the Yukon Territory, Canada, near Whitehorse just before Christmas. The young woman, Jocelyne, who took us out that night, (until the ice cracked beneath us and spooked the dogs) (and they weren’t the only ones...apparently the ice was metres thick and was just - repositioning - so nothing to worry about...NOW she tells us...) is at this minute running the “Yukon Quest” - a 1000 mile (!!!!!!!!) dogsledding race (1,600 km) where the competitors carry everything except food for the dogs which is dropped at intervals for them.
I think they expect to take 10 days! Phew!!! You can read about it and check their progress at www.yukonquest.com
(We went out again in daylight, hence the non moonlight looking photos.)
The landscape was incredibly beautiful and silent as it glid past (OK, glided. OK, yes, we were doing the gliding, but you know what I mean)
It was magical walking through the frozen forest, although even though I’d been assured bears would all be asleep, I couldn’t help myself from trying to tip-toe. Difficult in boots.
Winter photo sent to me by friend Nancy in Nova Scotia
I sent off two entries for consideration for the Glover Tasmanian landscape painting prize but heard on Friday that my pieces were not selected as finalists. It would have been VERY exciting to be included but there’s always next year (and the year after, and the next one...) It means I can still look forward to the first time my paintings get recognition somewhere. My main reason for entering was to have photos of my work in the hands of the three judges who selected the finalists; fun to think of people in the art world seeing them. Of course, like a lot of artists, I suspect, there’s the skillfully camouflaged worry that the judges will take one look, see right through you and collapse in hysterics.
One would be mean to hope they get a stitch.
My paintings were based on a trip through the drought-stricken midlands of Tasmania in March 2009. The second was an attempt to simplify down to the essential elements. I think that is what I aspire to in painting - something which is fundamental to my work as a cartoonist and illustrator.
I’ve also met a lot of people in the Philippines this week as I spent hours and hours and HOURS creating a new website and getting a new domain and trying to point each at the other somewhere out there in the ether and having to ring at the end of my rope for technical, emotional and mental support. And yes, I DID check the FAQs... but you have to know which Q to ask, and if you know the question you probably know enough to solve the problem. Frankly I’d be EMBARRASSED to have Frequently Asked Questions on my website. If a question is being asked FREQUENTLY, doesn’t that suggest that your website DOESN’T GIVE PEOPLE ENOUGH INFORMATION!!!!!????? But the people in the Philippines were very nice. People in the Philippines are very nice. Probably why they got the job.
While cartooning and illustrating and writing under the nom de plume Kerry Millard, I am painting under my non-nom de plume Kerry Thompson. I have a new online gallery at www.kerrythompsonsgallery.com
At least, I think I do.
If so, take a look when you have a minute. If you have any questions, I can recommend the Philippines.
Last week I spent time on a cattle property called Mullee Mullee near Bendemeer NSW painting on the top of a hill and then in the hay shed. I wanted to paint from life to see what would happen. Bumping up and down hills and around the place on the back of a quad bike and hopping off to open and close gates had me grinning from ear to ear reminding me of my own days living on a property. A country wedding at Manilla (north of Tamworth) complete with reception and bush dance in a working wool shed followed. The groom’s expression as his bride arrived and then stood before him was so wonderful that he didn’t need vows; it was all there in his face.
My main encounters with nature included being stung by a wasp when visiting a beautiful nook amongst the hills (spotted spotted deer close to the spot) and being handed a pressure bandage in case of snake bite when being dropped at the top of the hill for the day with my 6 kilos of paints. I’m aware of snakes and do look out for them, but there’s nothing like being handed a pressure bandage to make every bit of rope, every sinuous shadow, every rustle in the grass cause for momentary loss of concentration. At one stage a long slim dark thing rose up out of the grass startling me enough to leap away rather quickly and off the other end of the stick.
............... (the rest of my paintings are at www.kerrythompsonsgallery.com)
My other adventure was leaving for the 6 1/2 hour drive home on Sunday and not being able to help clean up after the festivities because of a French class on Monday morning. First one. The class was a bit disappointing - I know I need to brush up on my grammar so the lesson was OK but I’d thought it would all be in French. And more advanced. I bumped into a friend as I left...turns out she is taking the conversation class at the other end of the hall which has me on the roll! Le oops!
Travel through and camping on and under bits of Western Australia with two of my offspring and painting with the six kilos of paints I flew across the country with made for a fascinating and beautiful Christmas. Western Australia is HUGE!!!!
Somebody is eating my vegetable garden as quickly as I grow it...I had one red apple coming on and one green but whoever it is began to eat the red one as it began to colour, bit by bit. By the time it was red it was gone. Then the green one simply disappeared in one fell swoop. I’m happy to share with nature to a degree, but I can’t help feeling like somebody’s employee.
I have been madly painting - yesterday I sent off two entries for possible inclusion in an annual exhibition/prize which I visited last year in Evandale, Tasmania. I discovered a huge thrill painting for a particular end; the work has to depict Tasmanian landscape and I LOVED taking up the challenge and making the paintings. I haven’t put them in the online gallery (www.kerrymillardsgallery.com) because they’re not meant to have been displayed...but other bits and pieces as I begin to experiment with painting from life with acrylics are there. And I can for the first time see why a painter might want to do the same scene over and over- each time you know what you’re looking at more intimately, and new things happen in each rendering.
I didn’t get the grant I applied for to go to London this year. Instead I’ll make opportunities to travel about (and stay with the odd friend) to get the hang of painting from life. The first trip is coming up - to the Tamworth district. It will be hot!
So...today my shopping trolley was full and I approached the checkouts at my local supermarket. I REFUSE to use the new do-it-yourself checkout kiosks - I hate seeing people lose jobs. But I digress. Earlier, when filling my trolley, I’d spotted a woman I haven’t seen for years and who I REALLY don’t like. I really REALLY don’t like her. Can’t remember why. Very loud, very confident, a bit pushy, kind of fake...but it was probably the day she made a comment about how disgusting it is when babysitting (we were in the same babysitting club) and people have tins of dog food in their fridge. How awful. Of course, I WAS those people. Anyway, I digress again. I didn’t want to catch her eye so ducked past a couple of times like when she had her back turned getting ice. Then with trolley full, there were two checkouts with a queue of customers waiting, and one checkout with one customer. Yes, the one customer was she. Um....I paused and debated and debated and debated...then decided to pretend I needed something else so did an about turn and melted up aisle 8 to wait until she was gone.
In my mind I started running over what might have happened had I stood in line behind her and had she noticed me and what she would have said and what I would have said...
She: “Kerry! I haven’t seen you in years!!! How ARE you??” [Gush, gush, insincerity, insincerity][roots showing]
Me: [sincerity, humility, truth, strength][natural hair colour] “Great! REALLY fantastic, in fact...” [What the heck is her name] “...in fact I’ve been experiencing some huge personal growth lately...” [go me!] “...I’ve undergoing a huge internal evolution...” [that ought to show her] “...I feel really grounded, really strong, ready to take on the world...”
This dialogue would have felt far more impressive if I hadn’t just then remembered that I was crouching between the snacks and fizzy drinks hiding from her.
The day after tomorrow I’ll be hopping onto a plane to Western Australia to spend the next couple of weeks with two offspring. I’m taking my paints to see what happens when I work from life. Can I keep my brushes clean? Once the suitcase is full of paints and easel, will there be room for clothing? How long can one T-shirt last mid-summer? These and other questions will be answered. I’m quite excited at the prospect.
Cheryl, owner of the hairdressing Salon (Contours of Hair, Gordon) where some of my paintings are hanging, has asked if I’ll do a painting of her garden. That will be an exciting project for next year - I’ve said I won’t give her a price until it is finished, and then she can take the painting or not. That way I can treat it as an experiment and adventure rather than trying to live up to a particular expectation.
I was stocking up on dog food so my trusty house-sitter and Susie will be all set.
As you’ll notice from the photo, not only is tinned kangaroo on the menu, but a completely new, unexpected, and somewhat disturbing ingredient...
I hope that whatever Christmas or not you have is a good one in whatever way/s mean something for you. I look forward to chatting again next year - my trusty laptop is taking a break for the next two weeks so no blog for a little bit.
Last week I looked up one evening to discover a little brown frog sitting at the door to the living room. Being a bit inhospitable, I know, but suspecting s/he was lost I ushered her/him outside.
A few days later I met a frog in the toilet first thing in the morning (no photo available). The situation being slightly more urgent, I managed to catch it (after it had slipped momentarily up under the rim...who knows what else could be living up there?...who invented that place?) and popped it into the pond just below the house, figuring that even if it is a terrestrial frog it would be good to start out knowing where water is. Besides, it WAS in a toilet...
Then a couple of days ago I came home from the vet (Susie’s annual vaccinations, a year’s worth of flea/tick prevention etc - $370.00...gulp) and noticed somebody on the railing outside my floor to ceiling living room window, looking in. It was the most beautiful, exciting, graceful, exquisite slender green snake. Something I have never seen before. The underside was fluorescent yellow/green, and the large gemlike scales shades of blue/green/grey. They glittered when the sun caught them.
I sped glidingly off to get my camera without frightening it away (it isn’t easy to glide quickly - you end up feeling like Groucho Marx) and took a few shots from inside. As I stood watching it from a metre and a half away, I racked my brains but couldn’t remember if green tree snakes are venomous or not, if that’s what it was. I thought maybe they are, but it looked shy, so I was then set with the age old problem- do I stand at this distance watching it for ages, or go outside and try to creep closer with the camera, but risk frightening it away. I chose the latter. I managed to film it a bit, but it decided to slither down off the verandah and across to the pond.
It was indescribably beautiful. What an exciting few moments!
I Googled it. Yes, it was a green tree snake. No, they aren’t venomous. But they do eat frogs. Aha...no wonder I’ve been having froggy visitors wanting to move in!
I don’t know snakes well enough, but wonder if it was attracted by the blue pot which has lived in the pond for years as the filter and which I have just moved up onto the verandah. Using the pot as a landmark, it may have thought the pond had moved up here too.
And then there’s the St Andrew’s Cross spider who weaves a white cross in its web...to look like a flower?...to look like it has REALLY long legs? Is this nature’s equivalent of falsies?
11 of my paintings are now hanging by invitation of the owners at a local Cafe (Little Gem) run by Bryant and Cindy, and at a local hairdresser (Contours of Hair) run by Cheryl who is very active in supporting local women in business. It will be interesting to see what feedback they inspire! And it’s about time to get back to painting!
Incidentally, we had a by-election yesterday. 22 names on the ballot, and you had to number each one from 1 - 22 to make your ballot paper valid. If your first choice doesn’t get in, then your vote goes to the second and so on. Each party therefore hands out a “How to vote” card at the entrance so if they don’t get in, they hope their nemesis won’t either, but because of that may find themselves throwing their support behind such entities as the once upon a time Party Party Party Party.
I vote at the local school which has a barbecue going to raise some funds. Democracy smells like sausages.
I gave up and raised a bunch of baby beans indoors and THEN planted them at the site where two batches didn’t grow - and they are doing well. Could be the beer I’m putting out in containers for the slugs...I feel mean but hope they die happy - the level of the beer goes down overnight enough to make me suspect that the beans may be helping themselves to a tipple as well.
I was asked to be a backing singer with a rock ‘n roll band of cartoonists at the recent Stanley Awards- annual event of the Australian Cartoonists Association - it was fun (some great musicians) although disconcerting as due to being wedged in between drums and electric bass and guitars, and a sound guy who mustn’t have pressed the right buttons, I couldn’t hear what was coming out of my mouth! The first time we played together as a group was when we stepped on stage for the performance as people came from all over the country. It was quite surreal not even being able to hear my voice in my own head. Luckily we got through it OK and everybody said it sounded great so phew, and phew that the set was cut short as a few trickier harmonies WOULDN’T have sounded great! The event was held at Darling Harbour - amazing city views. ....
I have been painting, creating a new card with my gallery website on it, ,
not making postcards (have a nice new printer person but the trial cards had awful colours), hanging a new batch of paintings in the bank, building compost bays with one of my offspring, a vege garden in the middle of the front yard,
(getting compost from the local tip - they process MOUNTAINS of green waste which 5 or 6 years later is beautiful for the garden - we had big sacks in the car and were shovelling it in through the windows - must have looked like we were simply filling the car) (here I am with Susie in the half wine barrel which the lemon tree is about to be transplanted into - the barrel is from France and had red wine in it - the colour of the inside is just beautiful and the stained wood grain - except now it’s full of dirt - oh well, I guess the worms can enjoy it) ......and finally saying goodbye to paintings which have been sold and taking them to their new homes - mainly to get offered a cup of tea as I had run out of tea leaves.
The male bower bird collects blue things to attract the female - like clothespegs -although why they attract her and don’t make her suspicious I don’t know - and in fact his eyes are blue. Here a bower bird sits at the edge of a billabong. I think milk producers here stopped using blue plastic lids for a time because birds were being choked in the rings and were redistributing them into the bush- but I could be making that all up.
There’s a tea shop where you order at the counter, then instead of being given a number, you’re given a teapot or coffee pot. I LOVE it! And what a gorgeous teacup! (Mind you. the milk comes in a paper container, but you can’t have everything)......
Have you seen the movie, “A League of their Own”? It’s about a league of women baseball players who toured the USA during WW2 when the men were away. Started as a bit of a novelty, but the women were actually crack players and ended up with a big following. War ended, they were disbanded. One of my kids was working in California recently and while riding around on a bike, came across a garage sale of items from the estate of a woman who had recently died. Turns out she had been with the league and had helped to make the uniforms. My offspring bought and packaged up the most wonderful array of thimbles, unopened bias binding, packets of needles, zippers and more, including an enchanting wooden box full of spools of thread in wonderful colours. They were sent to a sibling who will give them a new life in Australia and turn them into items their original owner would never have dreamed of but would probably have been excited to know about...I love that. ......
I’ve been a bit occupied recently - first I had a cold, then I decided to create a new domain and website called Kerry Millard’s Gallery so have been glued to the computer learning new stuff...and tweaking...have a look at www.kerrymillardsgallery.com
The garden is bursting out as we get deeper into spring and I’m learning lots:
- spraying everything with garlic may keep some bugs away, but others like their veges even better with a bit of garnish
- spraying everything with garlic makes everything taste like garlic
- it wasn’t a mouse eating my spinach...and a baby spinach which has been nibbled off right to the ground will regrow. Once. I’ll keep you posted if can to do it again.
- trying to twist a baby bean plant through a fence isn’t a good idea- you may break the growing tip off. Swearing doesn’t fix it. Whether it can still make a bean, I’ll let you know.
- if you plant a bunch of beans and they don’t come up at all, then if you plant a new bunch of beans in exactly the same place, they may not come up at all.
- if your raspberry canes only produce one berry every week, it’s amazing how satisfying and flavourful that one berry is if eaten very very slowly.
- I don’t really like lettuce.
- I have an awful lot of lettuce.
- Anybody want some gourmet lettuce? It’s pre-seasoned: tastes like garlic.
Wanting to find a shop selling them, I Googled “mouse trap live sydney”.
Any luck? I got...
“See Liza Minnelli Live, in Sydney”
I’ve had a cold which is why I haven’t blogged for a while, but am on the mend! I’ve treated it with multiple cups of tea and a lot of reading...I learned that there’s a bacterium with tiny magnets in it. Just think - If I hadn’t had a cold, I’d never have known....and you might never have known. Wow!
Today I hung 10 paintings in the Gordon branch of Westpac Bank...if customers are happy about them then possibly they’ll stay longer than the trial of a month. It was quite surreal when I’d finished to look around and have the bank feeling like my house.
I’ve been painting again and am having a lot of fun with an opalescent paint that catches the light at different angles which means that as the light in the room changes, so does the painting.
And...SOMEBODY has been nibbling my baby spinach plants! I’ve sprayed with garlic in case it was bugs, sprayed with Copper stuff in case it was slugs and snails, but last night little bits were left behind looking suspiciously like a mouse or rat is the culprit - so tonight I lock the seedlings in the aviary I use as a toolshed. Take THAT! It’s getting dark- better go and do it
The other day I received an email from the new puppy chez a friend of mine. She has obviously grasped not only the language but also keyboards and basic electronic communication which I think is pretty fine. The wedding dress alluded to is one which my friend has made for a person on a diet, therefore needing judicious refitting and discussing at regular intervals. It has been an interesting and ongoing topic of conversation...I was recently sent a photo. The Emma mentioned is the pup’s much older but still very bouncy half-sister.
P.S. I have checked with the puppy, Meg, and she is quite OK with me reproducing our correspondence here. She did raise a few issues regarding copyright but had already done a search on the internet so they were easily negotiated. The internet, for all of its myriad faults, does have the odd advantage. I’m sure when I was nine weeks old I would have had a great deal more difficulty researching copyright issues. I wonder if the young of today have any idea how much they are taking for granted...
On 30/09/2009, at 11:12 PM, MEG wrote:
How bold am I. 9 weeks and I have conquered the stairs thus making my Mom get slimmer and slimmer with keeping up with me. I am faster than Emma and having two sets of stairs is really fun.
Thanks for the note. Wow, well done re the stairs. Have you tried hiding her shoes? That can be a fun game too.
And nice to meet you. You have found yourself a wonderful home, so well done for that as well. I guess you don't know much about wedding dresses yet but the one at your house is pretty fabulous. It can be your yardstick (we actually use metres these days but the expression requires imperial measure...I'm not sure how many paws that it...funnily, horses are measured in hands and they don't even have any - you may see a horse one day - be prepared - they're big but I understand their poops smell great) for wedding dresses from now on.
Bye for now,
Inner city as the dust started to clear
During the night I had begun to smell and feel the dust as wind began to buffet the house. The mildly choking sensation didn’t stop after I closed my window; fine particles leaked easily between floorboards and through cracks who knows where else. A red fog of silt lit by the struggling sunrise created a Martian landscape. Unlike a normal sunrise, red light wasn’t just illuminating everything from the east; it was all AROUND everything.
When light changes here, it usually means bushfires are about, and smoke is toying with the sun. Once the world turned green. That time a cyclone cut a swathe through the city snapping the top third off massive gum trees. When the light changes, one starts to feel a bit edgy.
I was heading into the city that morning with a wheeled suitcase full of books. By 10 am when I was on the move, the dust had tamed to a sickly yellowish fog on a boisterous wind such that the Sydney Harbour Bridge spanned a solid nothingness in a very disconcerting manner. Dust is just that degree more committed than water when it comes to pea soupers.
My mission was to do a double-act presentation with Duncan Ball at an event called Bookfeast where teachers bring kids from schools all over the city to sit with authors and chat over paper plates of lunch. I have to say, Haberfield Public School which hosted it makes GREAT chocolate cake!!!!
Duncan was on a small stage, and I leapt back and forth over it between two whiteboards positioned on either side drawing frantically while he read three short poems from “My Sister Has a Big Black Beard”. It was fun building up a drawing bit by bit while the tale unfolded. I must confess that by the third poem I wandered off topic a bit and drew Duncan in a tutu. Suited him, I thought.
By the time we left in the early afternoon the sky was blue again and the main sign that anything had happened was every car looking like it had “gone bush”, spending a giddy few days on dirt roads.
A milder dust cloud hit on Saturday; some people hadn’t waited until after this predicted second romp to wash their car. Me? I won’t be washing mine for a good while yet. Possibly years. Just in case.
(I have been making postcards today - check them out On The Drawing Table )
So I was driving along a little back road the other day - a little residential street with parking on one side but narrow enough that you have to pull over to let oncoming traffic through. It winds a bit and there are those bumpy things in the middle to keep you on your side of the road. It is a 50 km p h area. There are speed humps. It is an uphill climb to the highway. There are traffic lights at the highway and pedestrians. Suffice to say I was not speeding up to the lights at the top.
I heard someone beeping. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw right behind me a little car with two young fellas in it- presumably laughing and joking, otherwise they were fitting in synchrony. I guessed they had spotted a friend. They were right on my tail. Hey, could they have been beeping at ME???!!!
I was still in a bit of doubt until red finally turned to green and they whisked around the corner behind me with a final auditory rude finger.
Hurrumppfff! How infuriating! How unjust! OK, so my hair is mostly grey - but that’s no reason to treat me like a little old lady driving irritatingly slowly for their coursing hormones and underdeveloped frontal lobes. What about the narrow road, the speed limit, the hill, the curves, the speed humps, oncoming traffic, the pedestrians, the inevitable red light...?
I began to work out what I would have done if only I had realised sooner that they were honking at ME! And if I’d known the light would be red for that long...I would have leapt out of my car, stridden (or whatever the word is in whatever that tense is for “stride”) back to knock on their window and said,
“Are you beeping at ME?”
If they had said yes (or something along those lines) I’d have said,
“So - I can drop a full grown bull with one rope. Can YOU?”
They would have been suitably chastened and incredibly impressed by the obviously vigorous, strong, wiley and superior person that I am in comparison to them.
Too bad I wasn’t wiley and superior enough to work out that I was being honked at.
Incidentally, yes I can drop a full grown bull with one rope and have had occasion to do so, but what does it say that the thing I think of to “show THEM!!!!” has to do with showing off superior strength and toughness?
Food for thought and worth some hearty discussion I think!
After climbing over students and readers sitting at little study desks in order to hang paintings, adding labels, straightening and blutacking, helping with food preparation, picking up wine and teacups, making lists and ticking things off them, the time arrived for the Opening of my first exhibition of paintings which runs until September 30: “Kerry Millard - Unplugged, Unframed, and Ever-so-slightly Unhinged”.
There are 41 works spread along the walls of the Gordon Library, and for me it is wonderful to see them all at once! It makes the library feel like my living room made gigantic - full of books and my familiar paintings.
Duncan Ball (author of Selby books, and My Sister Has A Big Black Beard which I illustrated) gave a lovely introduction and read several poems from our book. I then had a chance to chat about how deeply important it was to me that my mother had loaned me her oil paints when I was 8 and took my painting of a puppy to a gallery owner to see if he thought I should start lessons.
Their respect for me as a painter made that part of my identity- but a part which I had forgotten. And which I have now remembered with great excitement and productivity!
People loved the paintings (yay!) and six sold on the night. All have gone to good homes. I’ve put prices on the paintings in my “gallery” on this website so they are now available for sale here as well. Bittersweet- seeing my babies going off into the world...but you have to let go to make room for the next thing!
And in the middle of it all, a beautiful colourful bouquet arrived from my friend in the Yukon - colours matching those of the paintings!
Sigh. I’m still smiling.
I decided to go into the city on Saturday and take advantage of the spring weather to walk along Circular Quay and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. I ate an expensive bowl of chowder on the waterfront (with suspicious looking peas and corn in it that looked for all the world like frozen peas and corn) and a glass of rosé to remind me of France, and a bit of a headache later on ditto.
Fun people-watching. We don’t generally tip here in Australia so I didn’t tip the waiter for my expensive bowl of soup with frozen vegetables. Walked along to the Opera House hoping to see John Olsen’s mural which I love, but it is covered by curtains during the day to protect it from sunlight, so I went to the Art Gallery instead. Looked around for a short stint- very exciting. I picked up a book of John Olsen’s work ($120) then after carrying it about for a few moments put it back down again and decided to borrow it from the library.
On the way home bought a book about pigments...fascinating stuff. Like the history of spices. Did you know that once upon a time there was a pigment called “mummy”- made out of ground down Egyptian mummies???!!! How crass are we???!!!! Is there nothing we won’t use for our own ends??... Apparently it was a purplish-brown colour.
I ran across a few Aboriginal fellows on Circular Quay dancing and playing didgeridoo to a backing soundtrack, and selling paintings. I asked if I could take a few photos...would love to have a crack at a portrait.
The Opera House has unexpected faces...
Sydney has unexpected jumbles of buildings...
Tomorrow I may visit a few real galleries to find out about how one sells through such venues. I expect to be thrown out on my ear, but you have to start with the questions. I’ll take a few paintings too.
Wish me luck!!!!!
The filing cabinet was a mess for a few moments there...it just happened to get in the way...and it’s white...
This one started out as “summer holidays” but ended up being whales travelling- they migrate up and down the New South Wales coast every year...a goldfish has actually decided to go with them.
I have applied for a grant to go to London next year to paint; the decision was London in the end because I realised that what I’d most love to do is follow the public pathways in the UK that meander over the countryside right across the middle of fields, over stiles and between houses to use as the subject for a series of paintings. I don’t actually expect to get the grant as competition will be strong, but it has helped me see myself as a legitimate painter and has made me see that going elsewhere to paint is the next goal...something I’ve been thinking about for a while but will now make happen.
And the exhibition is all set to go- I have my 40 paintings and a few extra in case I like them better than any I have already. Here is the blurb you’d see if you were to come...if I’ve managed to have them printed up before you get there! Don’t let me forget...
It has been wonderful fun being able to invite lovely people to the opening- like having a funeral that you get to be at but nobody has to worry about gifts.
And for my next trick I must stop painting for a bit and get some other jobs done! Have you ever noticed that wet washing in a laundry basket sitting in limbo between the washing machine and the clothesline goes mouldy more quickly than it dries? How is it that the universe ended up that way? Couldn’t it just as easily have worked the other way around? I mean, what’s it to the universe???
These are the BIG questions.
It actually looks better in the flesh - it’s 102 cm x 102 cm so you can see the bits better. This is based on a view from the escalator of the Pompidou Centre...I just LOVED the rolling sea of rooftop chimney pots. I’ve put a series of photos of its creation on the drawing table- not because I’d intended to do a series of photos of its creation but because I kept thinking it was finished. Then decided to finish it again...
I’ve begun to look into artist in residence spots and have come across grants awarded by the Australia Council for the Arts for just that purpose, closing date August 5th! How lucky is that???!!! I can apply for Paris, Helsinki, New York, Liverpool, Rome, Barcelona, Tokyo, or Berlin. I’m leaning towards Paris because of the galleries there, but will look into the others before I lodge the application. Other studios have more of an emphasis on meeting other artists and being involved with the artistic and wider community. I think. I’d better read it again with my glasses on. The grants are competed for vigorously so there’s not much chance of getting one, but there’s certainly more chance than if I DON’T apply! So here goes!
In the meantime I’m warming my feet by the wood stove as the house is off the market for the winter so I can paint. I’ve just turned the electric blanket on so will have a cosy toasty warm bed to snuggle into. Hmmm...now I feel like some toast!
Do dogs get dementia? I studied zoology and vet science but nobody mentioned memory loss in pets...which is reasonable. I mean, how can you tell if a dog goes into a room then forgets what she went in for...?
I ask because I suspect my dog, Susie, has it. She gets excited and starts asking for dinner as soon as it hits late afternoon, I feed her at 5, then she asks again once or twice during the evening, getting all excited, skittering around and acting for all the world as if she hasn’t had a crumb. It is really annoying that she forgets dinner because I’m blowed if I can remember whether I’ve fed her or not.
The painting is getting very exciting...I’ll write it up with step by step photos on the “On the Drawing Board” page.
The latest two...
Tapestry woods (102 cm x 102 cm)
Blue trees (102 cm x 102 cm)
The exciting thing is that I’m learning to embrace ambiguity, and have discovered that painting is all about INVENTION rather than trying to find a series of different subjects to paint. YAY! And COLOUR knocks my socks off. I LOVE making colours buzz and burn and sing together...it really excites me...and unlike chocolate or alcohol, you can have as much colour as you want and nobody has suggested it does you any harm! So far...
I went to the library a couple of weeks ago to find out about having an opening for the exhibition and discovered that the space had been double-booked! I was cancelled! I was VERY disappointed and ended up writing an email suggesting a few options and saying that while I am happy to compromise, I’m not happy to carry the burden of the mistake completely.
I had a note back last week saying that the schedule could be re-jigged and I’m back on! Just September rather than August and September but YAY!!! Another lesson in how it is good to speak up.
So...I’ve been busy varnishing the paintings I’ve done so far which is VERY satisfying as it brings the colours out, and have begun to paint again today. Painting is feeling so good and so right and as if there’s so much exploring and discovering ahead. I’ll aim for 40 pieces for the exhibition - I have 24 as we speak.
This one is called, for the moment, City Park. It started as the Botanical Gardens and Harbour Bridge with reflections in the water. Then yesterday I turned it on its side and began to paint interlacing branches which always fascinate and delight me and are everywhere at the moment now that winter is here. It grew from there...
Art compels one to ask the big questions...such as, when you’re varnishing, where DO those teeny tiny flies come from that you’ve never seen before in your well-ventilated but fully fly-screened space, and what possible instinct drives them to splat themselves onto the sticky surface of your up-til-then pristine paintings???!!! Also, how did the salesgirl in the art shop manage to charge me for my own empty tin of varnish which I took in to show her what sort I wanted and took out of my bag in front of her moaning that it had leaked...???
The magnolia is blooming its heart out, a king parrot came to visit today with its absolutely brilliant plumage, and when I was out for a few hours on Saturday a cockatoo picked all of the lemons but one off my little tree and took a bite out then dropped them on the ground. It would have been quite an acrobatic feat for such a large bird to navigate such a small tree, but the bites are definitely cockatoo! Ah nature; tooth, claw and more than a little sense of humour!
A kookaburra came to tea...the magnolia tree was ALMOST out in bloom.
A friend was wondering how to clean ivory piano keys; my mother and her mother both played piano, my grandmother having trained at the Conservatorium in Toronto and having gone to the piano factory to choose her instrument when the day came that she could afford one. Their method for cleaning piano keys was a barely damp cloth with water for the black keys, and methylated spirits for the ivory keys using little cotton balls. I remember because cleaning them used to be my job. The keys were clean but my fingernails really dry after I’d finished.
Actually, I guess toothpaste should work seeing as ivory is actually tooth enamel, but the rinsing and spitting would be hard.
My grandmother was one of four girls. One time they were out in the back garden at the rain barrel washing their hair when their suitors arrived early at the front of the house. The girls were ushered by their mother up a ladder into the bedroom window so the men wouldn’t see them until they were suitable attired.
My brother is having difficulty working on a script with a gaggle of kids on summer holidays (Canada) screaming all day outside his window.
"The screams of children at play are the gentle music of old age".
I remember Mum and me hearing that once and thinking that whoever wrote it is counting on being deaf in old age.
I've been told I need to lower my cholesterol- turns out it's actually what used to be normal but they changed the official level for normal so now it's a bit elevated. Like when a few years back "they" decided to lower the levels of certain bacteria allowable in Sydney's water supply, and we all had to start boiling our water or use bottled water even though the levels were what they'd been for decades. Then they changed the levels back again but the supermarket shelves had filled with bottled water and have stayed that way ever since.
Just musings today...Sunday...will toast my toes by the wood stove tonight.
The exhibition is disappointingly on hold for the moment as I wait to see if a fly in the ointment with a spanner in the works at the library can be sorted out - will write more detail once I know whether a bureaucratic mis-communication has put paid to our arrangement or not.
A little packet arrived today from my dear friend in the Yukon. She had been visiting Sitka and was interested in learning about the influence of the Russians who were there between 1740 and 1867. She bought a 'tea brick' which was how they packaged tea for transport from China/Russia...amazingly compressed and hard and you flake or chip off tea leaves for your cup or pot. It had a beautiful design stamped into both front and back.(Coincidentally I had just been in a teapot shop today drooling- naturally the one I liked was over $100.00.)
Neatly folded so it fit perfectly on top of the box inside the outer wrapping was a brochure from Australian Customs saying they had opened the packet, and listing the items which may NOT be sent into Australia. So let me get this straight. Customs sends a list of what may NOT be sent into Australia to the person receiving it, ie who DIDN’T send it, and in fact will only receive the brochure if the item is something ALLOWED, otherwise THEY WOULDN’T LET IT IN!!! Sheesh!
I’ve included a few images from the Pony Club nearby, and several more paintings. Also a photo of one of the most wonderful creatures I know, a gecko. It was under a piece of firewood. Exquisite.This was a city/parkscape...then I decided to look at it through different windows and framed by different frames, the ways a landscape is viewed by the different people who live in it.
This one is elements of Nova Scotia- autumn trees, round bales in white plastic, harbour, lighthouse, little houses with eyebrows over the windows, ploughed and planted fields and winter coming.
So I was in the local library and for the first time noticed that there were paintings for sale on the walls!
I’ve been excited making my various paintings and have been thinking that the next big step would be to have an exhibition. Assuming that the paintings at the library had something to do with an art group or school and that it wouldn’t be possible for individuals (i.e. me) to put work up, I bravely rang to find out what the story is.
It’s called “Art on the Walls” and is just a group of 6 artists who asked if they could have an exhibition there, and the library would be delighted for me to exhibit! But wait, I say, you haven’t seen my paintings. They could be dreadful and then you’ll have to figure out how to tell me politely that you’ve changed your mind...
Well, I suppose that seeing as I illustrate books and am a cartoonist they figured my stuff would be OK, but just to be on the safe side I took my laptop in and showed them photos of a few. PHEW!!!! They loved them!!!!
So now I have an excuse to paint flat out for the next month and a half, because the exhibition will be hung (i.e.I’ll be up a ladder hanging it) on August 1st and it will stay there throughout August and September. YAY!!!!!!!!! How exciting!!!!!!!!
NOW the question is, can I keep experimenting and playing or will I suddenly start trying to paint the kind of paintings I somehow imagine people think are real paintings??? We’ll see...
Here are the latest few.
Goanna and two geckos (This is what happened to the painting of a bird from the previous blog entry...I didn’t like the head so took it in a different direction)
The first one is a big canvas and ended up being Sydney. There’s black paint in the middle which you can’t see because it is still wet and reflected the flash. Too bad because it really helps the painting...
The next one was a bird...leaves which I painted in pink and orange and yellow got mushed together in the end which I liked (am enjoying painting with paints neat from the tube, then adding a bit of white here and there) then I layered on top the bits and pieces that might be associated with a bird and its habitat. Again, nothing was planned, I just let it evolve.
The final canvas played further with birds and their world...
Sigh...it felt so GOOD to be painting again. Then I had to tidy up...poop!
I have made a diagrammatic representation of one variety below. I’d have done a diagrammatic representation of the others but want my dinner, and the dog is looking at me so I know she wants hers too.
Other varieties include:
The Young Double-Breasted WhipperSnapper :
Male plumage includes shiny suit and wide subtley coloured tie, chunky gold ring, black leather loafers with those ridiculous long toes they have at the moment, and a white binder with laminated pages creating a manual power-point presentation. The Agent flips the graphs and dot point lists while courting with a soliloquy outlining philosophy of selling property, psychological tactics (playing on the “Fear-Of-Loss” factor) and supporting colour-coded statistics, inserting an occasional question to which there can be only one reply thus allowing one to be involved but without having to actually contribute anything. Defining features : inability to diverge from the script, being taller than you, trying to convince you to take him on because he’s qualified and, hey, qualifications are important because ANYBODY can be an agent. YOU could be an agent, he says...presumably intending to shock and so prove his case...Common Agent features: dresses better than you, car is better than yours, phone is better than yours.
The Ancient Avuncular:
The Ancient Avuncular agent likes a good chat and must, you tell yourself, be skilled at the game if he’s still in it at his age. His receding hairline and age spots invoke a level of empathy (or sympathy depending on how much younger you aren’t or are). His obvious knowledge of building is reassuring until he begins to describe defects such as the spacing between your joists , something which no man has ever complained about before, and you aren’t ashamed to admit that more than a few have had a good look up under them. You’d always assumed that your joists were the same as everybody else’s. But then again, you realise you haven’t actually seen anybody else’s... He leaves you a quivering wreck after pointing out that numerous features which were passed by council at the time would never be passed by council today (what are you supposed to do...rebuild???). Defining features: Is hard of hearing (not what you want when a prospective buyer tentatively whispers an offer in his ear), is hard of driving (ran over your baby olive tree and then parked on your neighbour’s garden), and hard to imagine selling anything, or if he did, realising it. Common Agent features: dresses better than you, car is better than yours, phone is better than yours.
The Over-The-Gate -Friendly
This agent is particularly tricky because there is nothing wrong with him. He is friendly, genuine, has good references, is attentive, has time to chat, has good hearing and driving skills and is not hard sell. His main draw-back may be in suggesting you visit one of his open-for-inspections to see how a house should be presented. You come back from it totally depressed knowing that your house will NEVER sell because it could NEVER look like that. It was so cleared out of regular stuff, had such modern furniture, such futuristic lamps (if they were lamps) you were depressed enough, but you HAD TO TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF to go in because the FLOOR WAS SO SHINY. Your floors are spotted gum friendly maps of memories - dogs, chairs, tables, kids, shoes, dancing practice, clown bike disasters, juggling, rocking chair dents... Defining feature: Really nice. No flaws. Common Agent features: Dresses slightly better than you, car is better than yours, phone is better than yours.
The You’re-The-Boss Agent
This agent will generally only be recognised by the experienced observer after some practice. Due to the fact that this agent makes you feel intelligent and important and of higher status than she is, and given that you believe you are intelligent and important and of a goodly height in status, you don’t immediately see that she may not necessarily believe you to be as intelligent, important, and elevated as you do. She outlines her strategy, philosophy and selling plan while constantly glancing up for re-assurance that she hasn’t overstepped any marks, that you don’t mind her going on about all of this, and that she’ll take your advice on any of those points at any time. In fact, You’re the boss. The drawback may be that you don’t want to be the boss, or you would have sold the house yourself. You know very well that you could be an agent (see” Young Double-Breasted WhipperSnapper”) but in fact have elected to pay somebody else to be one, but the allure of status and regard for your intelligence and importance may be deemed worth the fee anyway. Defining features: Tilts head down and looks up at one with humble eyebrows, invites you to be involved at all stages, parks tidily and respectfully without running anything over and in fact re-stakes the baby olive tree (see “Ancient Avuncular”). Common Agent features: Clothing humble and in subdued colours but still better than yours, car better than yours, phone better than yours.
Let me point out that I haven’t exhausted the complete range of agents available because the ones I sampled exhausted me first.
One question I would advise you to ask any prospective agent is how they intend to react if you tell them you have decided to go with somebody else. This can become a very important factor if you have interviewed lots of agents. It can be a very disturbing evening on the phone and you may need a stiff drink. Or two.
Once you have interviewed and classified your various agents it is then possible to make an educated decision which one you feel would best represent your home. Each vendor is different, which is jolly lucky for agents as they all seem to get enough work to buy better clothing, cars and phones than you...which they employ to show how successful they are as agents thus gaining your confidence, and to make you aware of their superiority thus gaining your respect.
Or maybe your clothes, car and phone are just crap.
Exactly like a big trip away, there’s frantic preparation for months getting more and more frantic in the final weeks and days and minutes...then finally you’re on the plane and it’s all done. I’m totally exhausted and have been standing in the living room just now with absolutely no idea what to do. There’s nothing to paint or repair or scrape off of anything else. I spent Mothers Day up a ladder and under desks with paintbrush and hammer in hand...my knees are bruised but my house is “sparkling” as we say in the real estate trade.
At one stage I wondered how I was managing to get water in my rubber glove all the time.
Now I wait for the be-skirted dynamic agent to ring and give me some feedback. I can’t quite imagine how feedback will be useful- if the house is too small for somebody I won’t be extending, nor re-painting the skirting board under the desk for somebody else. I guess I’ll find out.
Having done so much physical work to get it ready is actually very satisfying. I’ll really feel I’ve earned whatever it sells for. The flowers I’ve put around rooms are the potted ones I have anyway, or are out of the garden just as if someone were coming to stay.
It feels good to be presenting the house as I’ve lived in it rather than pretending it’s something else.
...As I’ve lived in it except with certain things painted and repaired and scraped off of one another. At the same time it feels like I’m some bird in my male plumage, primping, bowing and fluttering to catch the eye of a potential partner. Maybe if I move that vase a tad to the left...You have no idea how carefully I chose the nasturtiums.
I felt a thump of depression on Thursday - the day the sign went up: For Sale. It made the whole thing real. I’m really selling. It’s actually happening. And if I’m feeling depressed, maybe that means I’m doing the wrong thing.
Then it hit me that after 22 years living here, having raised my kids here, of course it’s an emotional move and sad and scary, but I mustn’t attach that feeling to what I’m wanting to do next. Just because it feels sad to leave doesn’t mean what I’m moving on to is wrong. It means it’s sad to leave. But I have to leave to make room for the next chapter.
Speaking of which, the first copies of “My Sister Has A Big Black Beard” by Duncan Ball arrived last week. It’s always exciting to see my illustrations turned into a real book, and I’m chuffed with it! It even has embossing on the cover! Now, how can I place it so everybody will see it but it looks unintentional...???
In a week and a half the house is open for inspection, and on June 17th it goes to auction if somebody hasn’t bought it before then.
I went with the last of five agents interviewed - a true whirlwind, jangling with jewellery, swirling in skirts, and as an economics graduate and former teacher, her papers quickly spread across the table and her explanations were scribbled on a battered pad of paper with arrows and triangles and important bits circled. I worked for me.
...The brush turkey came back to see what all the fuss was about.
Since then I’ve been madly gardening and cleaning and sorting and booking better gardeners, better cleaners, and a carpentering type person in preparation for the open for inspection. It has actually been fun. Rather than feeling invaded I feel like I want to make people really welcome. I put in a wee vegetable and herb patch the other day...something I’d normally do at this time of year and something made a lot easier by not having hens who dig everything up as soon as my back is turned. I just gaze at it. Baby celery is so cute.
Autumn is a lovely time in Sydney because plants pluck up enough courage to put out the odd flower without so much fear that they will end up cooked in the sun. I used to buy something flowering from nurseries at all stages of the year so there’s always some colour. Then I was away for a bit and neglected everything so tied bits of pink surveyors tape here and there instead.
I remember one time my grandmother admiring the spring tulips in my childhood garden in Ottawa and musing how unusual it was that they were out in the fall. I told her they were plastic. My mother said I needn’t have told her. Somehow surveyors tape feels more honest.
I cut the “grass” today. My little electric lawnmower lurched over the hillocks created by the chooks scratching around each clump as if in some kind of 4 wheel drive rally. The engineer who designed the lawnmower cleverly made it so you screw on the wheels on one side in a clockwise direction, and the wheels on the other side counterclockwise, so that as you push it forward they don’t unscrew. Which means if you pull it backwards the wheels fall off. Which means you have to keep going forward and the extension cord gets wound around the magnolia tree. Hence I’m now searching for a new house on a property about 30 cm wide.
I’ve just arrived home from a few days up in Lismore, northern New South Wales, where I was dropping off the elderly duck and my two bantam hens to their new homes. Middle daughter and I spent two days constructing a chook (chicken) tractor (moveable pen) out of plastic hose and wire. We were both very proud and very exhausted by the end. We bought a rabbit hutch for the duck and oiled it with vegetable oil. Everybody of a feathered persuasion stayed in a tent until the cage was built and hutch was bought. It worked really well, although I found a cigarette butt on the first morning so I hate to think what they were getting up to in there.
I stayed with lovely friends on a property at Manilla, north of Tamworth NSW on the way up and back. Rural NSW towns like Inverell and Tenterfield are quite lovely in autumn. Unfortunately it is hard to take photos while driving, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
There has been rain in northern NSW and the countryside is green and very beautiful...that which isn’t currently under water. Daughter’s share house is up on stilts to put it higher than the 100 year flood level as it is close to the river which floods regularly. There are tropical trees and a jungle feel just around the house, and she suggested we put wire on the cage of a small enough gage to keep snakes out. Not that she’d seen any snakes...until we were putting the thing into place and there was one under foot! Luckily she had her new gum boots (rubber boots) on! Each house is given a chart showing their height relative the various flood levels. When the river rises 8 metres they get a warning, and when higher, advice to evacuate and a map of the roads they can use to get out. Not sure how you see the roads once it floods...
I have also been talking to various real estate agents re selling the house in Sydney. One more to talk with then a decision will have to be made which one to work with. One bright young fellow said his mob play on potential buyers’ “fear of loss”...urging them to up their offer or they’ll lose the view or whatever it is they love about the place. Another said they want people to fall in love with the house. Same thing in the end, but the two approaches certainly feel different! I don’t think I’ll be going with the “fear of loss” guy.
The plot now is to sell before winter (June) then move with the dog (Susie) to Tasmania (Tasmania) and rent until I find my next house. The question is, can I get he house ready in time????
Meanwhile, remembering Tasmania...
This is a statue of Gunn, botanist, in City Park, Launceston Tasmania. Every time I saw him my first impression was that he was texting somebody.
After three and a bit weeks I am home from Tasmania. The smallest State in Australia is very varied and absolutely lovely. I puttered around Launceston in the north, cut through the drought-stricken middle and then pottered about Hobart and district in the south.
I stumbled upon a steam engine and tractor-pulling show at Sheffield, the most highly rewarded landscape competition and exhibition in Australia at Evandale (held in a little community hall- entrance fee $5), watched teenage boys practice break dancing in an historic rotunda in City Park Launceston, looked at a delightful house at Sandfly which, if I were to buy it, the owner would have thrown in two alpacas and a dog, met a man on a beach at Bridport with eight hysterically romping border collies who froze instantly at his whistle and turned out to be sheepdog trial world champions (I watched his daughter read the evening news on TV each night, and didn’t have a pen and paper to write down his number so wrote it in the sand and took a photo of it - a digital mud-map - I love putting all this smarty-pants technology in its place from time to time ), caught an amazing play in Launceston, witnessed the carpet of woodchips left behind after the annual woodchopping competition somewhere on the Tasman Peninsula, breathed in cool crisp air that smelled right, loved the wreath of cloud tickling Mount Wellington upon whose feet Hobart rests, smiled each time I drove over the hills south of Hobart into the Huon Valley, and sighed each time I drove back over the hills and found Hobart sprinkled along the river with little boats catching the sunlight below me, and once, bobbing right under the end of a rainbow. I’d have photos but was clinging to the steering wheel and sighing and smiling and forgot all about the camera!
It felt good in Tasmania. It feels like a place you can put your arms around and hug. Hobart is the second driest capital city in Australia after Adelaide, but just over the mountains is heavy rainfall and ancient rainforest. Blistering drought grips the centre, cliffs and beaches march around the coastline, forests are either protected from, wait for, endure, or are the result of logging while the log-laden trucks make drivers on winding roads stay alert.
Numerous species of whale, giant squid, penguins, dolphins, and kelp beds are some of the treasures in the surrounding ocean.
The ferry across from Melbourne to Devonport on the North coast takes 9 - 11 hours overnight. Phew! It’s further from the mainland than I’d thought!
Hobart reminds me of a cross between Sydney and Ottawa as I remember it from my childhood- a small and kind city. Fishing boats dock in front of business-suit filled city buildings.
I loved Hobart, and fell in love with the Huon Valley. In my quest to find a lovely house with a little back gate opening onto...something lovely...I found two, but one was owned by my friend, and the other not for sale.
The plot is thickening, but it looks like it will involve a move to Tasmania one way or another!
A Noisy Miner (little grey bird) hasn’t had enough and takes a bath
while Gracie has had too much and decides to come inside to look for lunch.
On Monday I’ll be flying down to Launceston in Tasmania to begin a three week search for my next home. I’ll travel about the north in a hired car with my trusty (HAH!) GPS , squiggle down to the south, then have a week twiddling around Hobart before heading home again. Tasmania is about the size of Ireland, is dry in the middle and very wet and rugged on the west coast. It has some very old houses from the more recent Australian perspective, having been an early penal colony.
Other Things I know about Tasmania
- yes, it is part of Australia.
-it has some amazing old growth mossy giant forests including ancient beech trees which are even more ancient than they were when I first saw them in 1979
- there are no house-eating termites there...a BIG plus
-yes, there are Tasmanian devils
-no, they don’t spin around like the one on Bugs Bunny
I have my fingers crossed that there I’ll find a little old house that’s been waiting for me with a little back gate leading out onto...something...with a nice community and lovely places to go for walks. VERY exciting...
This week our thoughts have been filled with the bushfires in Victoria. So terrifying. So much sadness and loss.
This week my house on the edge of the bush has been visited by several wonderful animals. They are the very reason why so many of us love to live where we do amongst the trees.
A pair of brown pigeons came to visit. I’ve never seen them before but hearing their call, I know they’ve been around.
I discovered a wee frog who sits on the back railing after dark...
A moth like a curled piece of leaf visited the kitchen...the photo doesn’t show how its wings curl around like a roll of paper...
...And shadows paint their own pictures...
This summer we have had very hot days and humid which makes them unpleasant but reduces the risk of bushfire slightly. It is frightening to smell smoke on the wind day after day but this year in Sydney has been relatively quiet and at the moment we are having cool weather and rain.
I can hear frogs as I write - two types that sound like machine guns- one higher pitch than the other, and some that sound like wood tapping against wood or somebody playing tennis. I can hear the fruit bats in the valley and parrots. I can hear a black headed cuckoo shrike. And I’m sitting in my living room.
Next month I plan to travel to Tasmania for several weeks to see if that’s where I might like to make my home. Fingers crossed...I’m ready to leave Sydney and it would be helpful to have some place to go. Otherwise I’ll put everything into storage, find babysitters for the hens and duck and dog, take my work with me and explore for a year or so. I would love to find a cosy house in a cooler climate with a little back gate leading...somewhere... a nice place for walking with my dog, and maybe a river or lake nearby...Also on the list is a vege patch for planting some giant pumpkin seeds given to me by some lovely friends! So the hunt is on for a house that goes with pumpkin seeds...
Happy Valentine’s Day
The next big challenge was to go out into the world to paint. It reminded me of my first foray out of the house with a new baby- I had seen mothers with those enormous bags they always seem to carry but had no idea what was supposed to go in them and was therefore really nervous whether I had the right things in mine. Nobody made comment which may have spoken of accuracy in my packing, or such inaccuracy that to mention it would be too embarrassing for all concerned. I decided on a bigger bag on the principle that if I took absolutely everything, I would have to be at least partly right.
A relaxing stint of painting at the dog beach was jettisoned after realising it was a long weekend (Australia Day is Jan 26th) and that the free parking spaces were full so I’d have to pay $6.50, half of the foreshore has been dug up in an attempt to begin works to battle erosion, and there were far too many people and dogs hurtling about to feel relaxed.
Plan B: onwards to the local field which is used as a Pony Club.
When painting at pony clubs, be warned that the upturned blue bucket which one cleverly intended to sit upon is flimsier than it looks. Also be warned that there exists in nature a long slim bug with an orange head and an orange bottom who exhibits a strong desire to wade through blobs of white paint. The evolutionary advantage escapes me.
Scribbly gums are beautiful trees with coarse blackened (often) bark at the base from which extend long creamy limbs. A small insect begins life just under the surface of the bark and leaves a scar as it wanders back and forth, changing its mind and getting bigger. The scribbles are enchanting, although naturally I speak for myself; the view of the tree may be otherwise. I chose to paint one such tree.
With board and paper on my lap, I was frustrated by how limiting it was working so close to the paper using fine motor skills and how deliberate the whole painting became. It dissolved into patterns as I tried to look away from the tree and play with colour. Back home I simplified and added and ended up with a pattern which is interesting but which I don’t warm to at all. Everything too deliberate. Too contrived.
The trick in painting from nature is always deciding/knowing what to leave out as in real life there is endless detail.
To shake myself out of the controlled nature of that style, I next used a fat brush and just put colour onto a canvas where it felt good. Reverting to a preschool style was incredible relieving- not having to obey rules of light and shadow, perspective and depth; small children haven’t yet learned the symbols and conventions which we use to depict three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. Their painting is from the gut and the heart.
This was the pony club through a whole different set of eyes - painted quickly and loosely on an easel. Not everything “means” something. It just felt right to be put there.
Then back to painting the tree but more as a remembered character. This third painting was such a joy to create, and the final small details ( a leaf, the scribble, the bug) which a young child would not have added, creates what is to me a deeply satisfying harmony.
I would like to do more work in this style...it is hard to describe how liberating, fun, joyful, exciting, surprising, and right from the gut it was.
The fact that going back to a child’s style is liberating demonstrates to me how our development is a process of the opposite: of being directed and learning a language of symbols and conventions which distance us from that first gut and heart kind of painting. We have to find our own ways back, whatever our medium or style, and our own voice.
I’ve bought two more fat brushes!
I was inspired by a painting begun by my daughter. The ultramarine sky and red earth colours were wonderful and I was excited to start a painting the same way. Then I remembered I’d done a book cover a few years ago with the same colours and feel.
I learned something invaluable: I was excited to see what she would do next. Not to see a finished painting of such-and-such, but to see what marks my daughter would create on that surface next. I’d get to see a bit of her. Which finally taught me something which I knew intellectually but at last really “got” - that my paintings too are a bit of me so it’s wonderful to go where it takes me rather than where I think anybody else might think it should go. And maybe others are excited to see what’s in MY head!
It was exciting to get stuck into my own new painting - nothing was deliberate so much as flowing onto the canvas much like improvised dance. I love putting colours together that buzz and zing against each other.
Then I was busting, although terrified, to go on to a huge canvas which has been hiding behind my drawing table. Onto it flew memories of the desert in northwestern New South Wales where I spent several weeks in 1976.
It was exhilarating to re-create cracked clay pan, red earth, scrubby bush, the feel of distance, and a bone which we found embedded in the hard sand.
The freedom and looseness and colours were wonderful, but could I apply that to non-desert scenes? It is fantastic to have a base of red and orange and yellow against which to play greens and mauves and blues, but could it be done the other way around?
My back verandah
So far OK...I was trying to achieve the feel rather than physical accuracy- so I got to draw the chairs as they feel - like creatures sitting out there, rather than getting them structurally correct. What a blast!
But...could the same looseness and play with colour apply to a very green Canadian scene?...
This is the B&B I stayed at when I visited Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia, Canada, in August 2008. And yes, I could start with the blues and greens then add touches of reds and oranges and pinks.
One more huge blank canvas sat in the study. I wanted to paint a beautiful bit of countryside in France, on the lowland below Saint-Flour. The trick was to allow myself to play with colours and go where I wanted with them, and to do suggestive bits and pieces rather than trying to achieve reality. At one stage the top half looked realistic and the bottom half playful, but after I put the photo away and began to work with and enjoy colour and shape as separate entities from the scene itself, it took off.
Below Saint-Flour, France
A baby brush turkey has been scratching around the garden - body about the size of a grapefruit - cute as anything!
I am planning to move this year. The other evening while savouring the evening sky I wondered how I could possibly leave such beauty. Followed by the thought that, hang on, there is sky everywhere. And sunsets. Phew!
As I sit in Sydney in the summer, Tasmania which is cooler and wetter holds definite appeal and will probably be my next target for exploration.
If you have a choice of where to live, how do you find that place? What do you look for? How do you decide which elements are most important? Follow your interests? Look for the landscape that feels like home? Look for community? How do you get to know community before you live there? Look for the house that appeals? Is it the landscape of childhood that one is seeking and which can never be found?
Map of where my thinking is now...
Back to cartooning again after a break and my brain has been sluggish. It has taken two days to come up with a cartoon relating to a story about Chinese police who arrested a driver who was using his feet to control his 4WD, having lost both arms some years ago in an accident. Part of the difficulty has been discovering how to draw a delightfully humorous recognisably Chinese figure rather than a shallow stereotype or a face too close to reality to be joyfully silly. And as soon as I draw a race other than the neutral sort of characters represented in cartoons in our culture, it becomes difficult to keep audiences from assuming that race is part of the joke. To draw the chap without arms and avoid him appearing to be a joke was just about impossible. Finally, after pots of tea, bowls of popcorn, naps, changes of chairs and a night of tossing and turning as I tried to think up a cartoon in my sleep, it appeared. Phew.
A baby bush turkey joined the hens in the front yard yesterday. I never know who I’ll stumble upon in the garden.
On Christmas Day I decided to leave with my kids at noon to travel to the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. It took two days to get there and was hot; in the 30s most days and one day over 40 degrees centigrade, but the mood and variety of entertainments and activities on hand made up for it. Music ran constantly in a number of venues - I loved hearing Lior live. There were workshops and I learned a bit of Auslan (Australian sign language), had singing workshops with Darren Percival (Mr. Percival) and The Kin, watched aspiring stand-up comedians perform for the first time and be critiqued, presented a poem at a poetry slam, and “sang” in the Auslan choir. The opening ceremony was fun and we stayed up all night on New Years Eve to watch the first sunrise of the new year from a hill. The Flame Ceremony which closed the festival was a marvel, and all started by an aboriginal chap who made fire by twirling the end of a long stick on another in a handful of dry grass.
I’ve just finished a painting (above) which wasn’t a deliberate attempt at portraying the festival but which certainly contains elements of the colour and stimulation of it all! In contrast, here’s one of Paris by night. Oops- the Paris one has just fallen face down onto the Woodford one...and I like the bits of paint it has picked up. I’ll take another photo.
Hmmm. I think I liked it better without the colour bits...
Following my own heart (while cartoon and book deadlines take a break) I have been madly painting still - the next challenge has been to leave the room I have been painting in to experience painting in the wild. I shifted to the livingroom.
Just before that, though, here is the finished France-ish one again - I couldn’t resist changing the sky. It will be going to northern New South Wales which looks a bit like this.
Then it was time to play with COLOUR! I can’t remember how this one was started.
Then I made my move out into the livingroom. I bought some Artist quality paints this week (as opposed to student quality) which I have been told aren’t light sensitive and the colours won’t change. Which means my other paintings are light sensitive and the colours will change. NOW you tell me. Poop.
This next one was inspired by shapes and objects on my back verandah. After drawing the outlines of a few shapes such as table, gateway, watering can, the spaces between were filled in first and painted as if they were solid forms with shading and light. That made the objects themselves insignificant - a good way to escape from painting a table the way we’ve been taught to see and paint a table, for example. Flowers and branches were painted in a symbol form; the zig zag represents a tree fern frond. I’ve added white paint to most of the colours which has made everything softer.
A quick chicken was morphed into a little duck.
The next challenge was to choose two tubes of paint at random (eyes closed) - I got red and blue (yay)(I’m allowed (by me) to use white) so did the livingroom again...detail reduced even further. Now this looks like “modern art”, don’t you think? Apparently the sign of good design in a painting is that no matter which way up you have it, it works. So next time you hear someone making disparaging remarks about not knowing which way up a painting goes, they have actually just complimented the artist.
Finally, I grabbed two tubes of paint again without looking and got yellow and black. “Oh no!”, I said. I went to put the black back but was caught by one of my kids who challenged me to see what I’d do with yellow and black. Again, poop. So I did a portrait of said kid which, once I was left to my own devices, and once it was rotated by 90 degrees turned into an Australian bush inspired thing. Yes, there’s a touch of orange, but I changed the rules.
Happy and Merry Christmas if you have Christmas, and Happy Whatever if you don’t!
This one appeared before...look for one with the orange rectangle. It turned into a shearing shed from above then morphed into another France inspired ditty.
This is the sort of thing I was busting to paint. It was painted very quickly with as little finesse as possible...trying to follow instinct, gut and heart rather than head.
This painting was started with the word “muse” which I picked by opening the dictionary at random and putting my finger on a page without looking...I actually began the painting by drawing the four letters m u s e anywhere on the canvas, any size, then worked with the word in mind. This painting has a personal story for me and was built up and changed as my mind wandered and moved through memories and time.
The word “play” was in my head with this one. I’m very tempted to change it back to an earlier simpler version.
My method for starting a painting with a random word from the dictionary wavered when it threw up “ultimogeniture”. Hmmm. Not only did it not inspire me particularly, but had I drawn all of the letters on the canvas it would have been decidedly crowded. So I randomly replaced it with something from an earlier page: “crow”. After drawing the letters anywhere on the canvas in any size, I filled them in with colour, filled in around them, didn’t like the result so began to scrub it together but left little patches of pure colour, and suddenly was looking at the land the way a crow in flight would see it. I added a suggestion of roads and edges of water and left it at that.
A girl flying a red kite appeared just as I was ready to pack up.
Today’s paintings have skewed off in several very different directions. ...........
The second was inspired by the sky last evening- a mauve ceiling was a edged with gold, that greeny and peachy translucent sky between the cloud and horizon were trapped behind intertwined branches. The translucent background and a band of mauve at top and bottom came first but I forgot to take a photo. I then started doing trees but the more realistically I tried to do them, the worse they looked. I changed tack and made dabs and criss-crosses which is the impression the scene gave last night. I ended up putting little flecks of colour between the darknesses with dobs of paint the same colour as any background which was still visible.
Gesso is a lovely white paste which you can use to coat old paintings and forget you ever did them, then start all over again.
I decided to cover one of my attempts from the recent painting class, then just experiment for a few days. I might paint until I’d used every paintbrush for example, then have a cup of tea or work, then close my eyes and grab three colours from the bag of tubes of paint and would have to use them somehow for the next layer. Or I might rotate the painting by 90 or 180 degrees, or I might add colours I felt like adding. If I didn’t like something I’d keep doing it to take me in new directions away from my usual choices.
Today I decided to stop experimenting with this particular painting and to find an end point. The final version was created by drawing shapes from the back verandah: twisted leaves, shadow, light coming through a woven chair, spider web in lattice, vase, crossed branches, then drawing the shapes wherever, joining them up, and painting from there. In the end it looked like a seascape viewed from above so I added little boats and houses like the ones in Tenby in Wales, and will stop at that.
Very bravely I’ll put the versions I’ve photographed here. Bits I like and bits I definitely don’t, but you have to make all kinds of noise to learn your instrument. One of my favourites I forgot to photograph before painting over it. Sure, right, Kerry. The one that got away.
................ Everything kept wanting to turn into trees or people and I had to work hard to resist...sometimes I didn’t.
Last weekend I indulged in a painting workshop aimed at exploring space and colour. I’ve been wanting to un-tether myself from drawing things you can recognise because I love colour and abstract work but haven’t been able to make the leap.
Well, I made the leap...I can now paint stuff which is totally unrecognisable. And some a four-year-old could do. At last...
The trick? Hunt for paints before a workshop and discover the forgotten heaps and heaps donated to you by kids who have left home.
Also search for paint brushes and discover a good fistfull including some voluptuously wide ones you didn’t know were there, also donated by the aforementioned kids.
Find cheap canvases likewise as per above ditto.
Lay everything out on the workshop table and when your teacher suggests you do a self-portrait, i.e. a representation of you and what you like etc, grab the widest brush and whack colourful paints on like mad.
At your teacher’s suggestion, ladle runny gesso (white base paint) onto another canvas then “make marks” in it with black paint. Swirl it around like fingerpaints.
Make lots of paintings but not for the end result, make them for the experience of being un-tethered.
Lay your work out at the end of the weekend and watch as people try to find something poitive to say about it. You sympathise. Prolific. Colourful. That one is a successful painting (the black and white finger-painting painting).
They can’t know that just using a voluptuously wide paintbrush instead of one with about sixteen hairs, THAT has been the success.
Now to make enough space in the house to lay everything out here and go nuts with colour!
My only disappointment with the workshop...the teacher suggested drawing over old paintings and leaving a bit of them showing through here and there so it looks like layers of meaning. I was cut. You mean, people only make it LOOK like there are layers of meaning? I assumed the layers we find in artworks are real for the artist...even if each of us finds our own interpretation. Is this just a trick used by artists in this young culture without its own depths, or just used by artists who paint to make decorative works rather than to say something, or maybe just taught by this teacher??
Food for thought.
“Going bush” in Australia means going away from cities. Just so you know. There won’t necessarily be a lot of bush when you go bush. In fact, there may not be any bushes at all. There are, however, bushes in “the” bush but you don’t “go to” “the” bush. However, you may be found going “into” the bush. What you’re doing in there I’m not even going to guess.
Early November is Jacaranda season...a tree with feathery leaves after a shower of lavender-blue flowers. They are beautiful...ragged domes of purple amongst the ragged domes of green treetops as you look across the landscapes and cityscapes. Very occasionally you’ll catch them sidling up spectacularly beside the brilliant red/orange flame tree. It is also final exam time. Seeing Jacarandas makes many a person feel a strange and inexplicable guilt that they haven’t done nearly enough...
Last week at this time I was driving home from visiting friends on their property out of Manilla, a town in the Tamworth region of New South Wales. To get to Manilla from here, you first drive through eucalyptus bush on either side of the freeway, then wend your way through lower Hunter Valley winegrowing country, then Scone horsebreeding country, then Tamworth country music festival country.
Tamworth has a really Big Golden Guitar. Australia has quite a few Big Things. Goulburn sports a Big Merino ram in whose abdomen one can find tourist information...a modern twist on reading entrails. If you drive far enough you can find a Big Potato, a Big Lobster, a Big Bottle (wine), a Big Banana, and even a Big Earthworm. Kind of adds up to a Big Picnic. And then just to show we may be upside down but we’re not backward, we have a Big DNA.
Although much of Australia is still in drought, there has been rain in that particular region and I have never ever seen it so green. It was beautiful, if strange. I felt a bit guilty for loving it that way.
Country towns have notoriously wide streets here, originally to allow room for bullock teams to turn around. Parking must have been a nightmare...imagine trying to get under the parking station boomgate fast enough with 20 bullocks. No wonder they used whips.
.....................................................................And home again.
You wouldn’t think that a bright red head would be camouflage for a bird in the bush (or two birds in a bush; obviously it didn’t help the one in the hand) but King Parrots blend wonderfully. They just look like that occasional red leaf. Apparently the red in the odd red leaf comes from a special form of chlorophyll that plants make when stressed, and it has some purpose, or so the parents of a girl studying it in New Zealand told me about 8 years ago, so I could have it all wrong. But it does make you wonder what pressures a stressed leaf finds itself under.
Of course, there’s stress around at the moment with the current financial crisis. I’ve been thinking about that.
The way I see it, money has value because we decide it has value. Oh no, somebody will always say, it represents gold locked away somewhere. Sure, but gold has value because we decide it has value. I mean, what good is it doing sitting locked away somewhere? Our most valuable stuff is hidden away in vaults so you can’t even use it as a paperweight.
Shares have value because we want them, or we don’t want them, or may or may not want them at some time in the future. Again, the value is totally man-made, and is based on us wanting stuff or thinking we may want stuff. We name this game “market forces” and “supply and demand” so that we’re convinced it’s a law of nature, but isn’t this sounding a bit nutty?
Speaking of which, now the government (OK, I can’t remember which one but stay with me for a minute) is worried that people will be putting the financial support it is handing out in this time of crisis into savings and paying off mortgages and record debt instead of spending it in retail outlets so they don’t have it any more...
Anyway...if stuff has value because we think it has and has lost value because we think it has, why don’t we just all get together and think that it’s worth whatever it takes so the crisis is over? Done. Fixed.
I guess one good thing, though, is that if values get low enough, gold can finally start earning its keep as paperweights.
I took my dog to the dog beach. It’s a great place; dogs never fight because they all know the rules of doggy etiquette.
Along the way there, it’s that time of year when the quite busy road to the ocean is fringed with dazzling yellow daisies. I believe that they’re capeweed, and come originally from South Africa and are dangerous to cattle. See how a little education can ruin perfectly good daisies? Besides which, if I were a cow, I think it would be smart to be more worried about the cars.
I almost wouldn’t know I’d been away for three months except for residual occasional signalling with my windscreen wipers, better comprehension in French class, and a total mistrust in the value of change I hand over; scouring the recipient’s face while s/he checks it, still sure the coins will turn out not to be what I’m expecting.
The garden has been having a high time and the house was just possible to locate, but only because I recognised the car.
The flights back were fine (except for the young woman who must have brushed every tooth individually while the rest of us queued for the toilet with crossed legs, which actually made it easier for the food trolley to get past) and the plane delivered us to Sydney on a lovely warm Sunday afternoon. Then I opened my suitcase which survived the journey, and three days of Welsh weather emerged - cold, windy, and rain with intent. Funny, I had no urge to try a bracing picturesque walk in it.
The laundry basket of mail contained about three shocks, the most exciting being the notice from the electricity mob saying if I didn’t pay up by several days ago, they’d turn off my power. I’d thought it was all being paid automatically...I think I’m the only person in Australia, possibly the world, who smiles every time I get an electricity account. When I signed up, the agent asked me what title I’d like. I don’t like titles, but apparently the computer is excruciatingly polite and can’t function on a first name basis. I asked what the options were. She said, “Mr., Mrs., Miss., Ms., Doctor, Lady, Honourable...”
“Wait,” I said,”I’m a lady. Can I have “Lady”?”
“I don’t see why not,” she replied.
So now each bill is addressed to Lady Kerry Millard. It makes me smile. And maybe that’s why they didn’t dare douse my lights.
There’s a new Premiere since I’ve been away and several new ministers, Council elections have been held (which I didn’t vote in and therefore will be fined but will feel all smarty-pants when I tell them I’m exempt because I was overseas), a house just around the corner is missing like a lost tooth, the supermarket has to be accessed via a maze of temporary walls behind which we’re assured a facelift is happening (although a door was open and I spotted a guy eating a hamburger), and there’s a new apartment block on my usual walk to French. Then again, possibly I just didn’t notice it before. Oh, and the Americans are having an election. Still. Same one.
In the bookshop today
Thanks to a trip all the way around the planet I now know how to operate an impressive array of flushing, switching, opening, locking, showering, bathplugging, water tap operating, hand-drying, soap dispensing, rubbish bin opening, ticket-purchasing, cup-holding, stirring, drying and public transport systems,
although the GPS is still in its case.
I’ll let you go now, but this needn’t be good bye. Thanks for coming on this trip with me; it’s been fantastic having fellow travellers on my shoulder! But do pop in again, because I’ll be pressing a bit more of life between the pages each week.
As we flew into Paris last night, I could see the Eiffel tower all the way down and even after we’d landed. I knew it was the Eiffel Tower from that distance because it looked exactly like those tiny keyrings everybody tries to sell you here. That thing sure is big. Funny, I thought I glimpsed it in London ( it has a tendency to move about when you’re trying to get to it ), but must have been mistaken.
If you’re leaving a friend’s house in Kent to return to Australia
it’s a scary moment when you lock the door behind you and drop the keys back through the letterbox. Always pretend to do it first, walk away a few paces, and if you don’t suddenly remember something vital, repeat in earnest then proceed to Bristol.
I was looking out my side of the train at all the railway tracks as we came into London, then glanced out the other side and there was the London Eye (a giant ferris wheel) the Thames and Big Ben (although I know that’s really the name of the biggest bell). I got some good shots of this side of bits of the bridge we were on.
Don’t believe the friendly helpful information guy at Charing Cross. Proceed directly to Paddington as the internet suggested, down miles of steps with the handle on your bag getting wobblier, rather than taking two trains as he suggested but which may have been on the level and you’ll never know.
And don’t tell Bobbies they look cute in their helmets. It’s tempting. There are lots of them on the railway; presumably they’ve discovered it’s quicker covering their beat this way than on foot or bicycle.
As you fly out of Bristol after dark on a Friday night, and over the last shreds of England, you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of pale milky green rectangles below, lit up like so many windows in a jack-o-lantern. Each small cluster of street/house lights has one, larger clusters many. You realise they’re playing fields. Each represents a tiny patch of intense feelings, victories, hopes, anxiety, excitement, flirtations, disappointments, futures in the balance, each self-absorbed and unconscious of the others, many that you can see probably don’t even know that others you can see exist. Kind of like us.
On to Singapore...
Today was a day of work ( the cartoon variety ), walk, getting short-changed at the sandwich shop ( they NEVER manage to look as if it was a genuine mistake...much like it’s impossible to not look like you’re trying to look innocent as you go through Customs at the airport...) and scientifically packing for the complicated next legs, plus washing a jumper which I desperately hope is dry by tomorrow when I’ll be wearing it. Luckily my friend has an airing cupboard where the hot water heater is...I’ve been tempted to crawl in there myself.
I love that there are miles of Public Footpaths here, beside or across fields, down the sides of garages, around ends of hedges and criss-crossing each other in scrubby corners. You wonder where the other paths are going to/coming from.
I love that there’s a stile leading out of the local park.
I love that from the train you see chipper little communities of allotments, neatly laid out, vegetables, sheds, pathways, the occasional story behind the patch where everything is overgrown.
I love the large woman in pink bringing a mug of tea outside to the carpenter who has been working up a ladder on her roof.
I love the two young men who giggle when the Decidedly Quick Train rips past the small station and gives us all a fright. ( I visited the station today. I was practicing for tomorrow).
That doors on neighbouring houses in estates are painted different colours.
That the woman in heels and a swishy calf-length skirt on her way home from work is unaware that a well fed black and white cat leapt out from under a hedge just after she passed, chased her clipping clopping shoes and flashing white shins along the footpath, pounced without conviction, then disappeared behind her under a fence.
A pub tea of local bangers and mash decorated with a garnish of apple and leeks, then tomorrow I begin the trek home.
Today required a bit of attention to an editor and publisher who are expecting work at various points. The problem with working while you travel is that you have to work while you travel. The good bit is that you have work which you can do while you travel. The bad bit is that you have to do it.
An orienting wander into the village on my own for a cuppa and lunch despite the cafe proprietor’s reluctance to let me order Earl Grey Tea considering my North American accent was followed by a trip home to regroup and a setting forth again to follow one of a number of circular walks described on cards of different colours.
Various pheasants and I startle each other. They will be getting more startled when the shooting season starts. I’m glad to be wearing blue. Public Footpaths take me over stiles and across a newly ploughed field which makes me also glad that I checked with my friend whether farmers tend to shoot walkers. ( Farmers are obliged to reinstate public footpaths across their fields after ploughing / harvesting / whatevering )
The leaves are beginning to turn, the air is cool and in the evenings is laden with fog and woodsmoke; geese flew over in formation yesterday. A biplane and a helicopter flew over today.
Tomorrow I plan the last leg of this wonderful trip, i.e., what socks I need for Singapore.
The Great Crested Newt (I’m sorry, but it’s hard to imagine any newt being very great) is endangered. So endangered in fact that knee-high blue plastic fences (people’s knees) are put up around building sites to keep them from getting in. Or it might be out, I’m not entirely clear. Judging by the number of controversial building projects scattered around the region which are held up or abandoned completely because of possibly disturbing the Great Crested Newt, (including a footbridge across the railway line which people have been wanting for 100 years) locals have come to the conclusion that their numbers must actually be in plague proportions.
What I wonder is if anybody has asked the newt how disturbing it finds all that bright blue plastic.
Each village has an emblem. The emblem for Biddenden is two women in long frocks standing side by side. In truth, they are just standing side. They are known as the Biddenden Maids and were Siamese twins born in Biddenden in the 1100s, joined at the hip. They had 20 acres and became philanthropists, then emblems.
We went to Hastings for fish and chips for dinner. Tall black tarred net hanger shacks hunched along the seafront. Pitch and tar used to waterproof wooden huts also mean spectacular fires from time to time.The delightful and slightly giddy Victorian pier was dark for winter. The menu has a plethora of fish and the buildings have a gracious air about them. I believe there is sea about but it was dark. And wasn’t there some kind of fracas here once?...
Between the two photos below is a statue of Queen Victoria. I just missed her...
A misty morning, a lazy breakfast, a walk to my friend’s family farm along country lanes and public footpaths.
Gypsies are moving their Gypsy Cob ponies back to stables for winter. The piebald markings are cheerful; the more white the better, we’re told. Two leggy foals parallel park against their mothers. The grey haired man with an empty black feed bucket invites us into the field to take photos. I ask where his interest in this old breed comes from. His response includes “heritage”, “generations”, “handed down”, “Gypsy and proud of it”. This last phrase is uttered rapidly as if he has had to say it often but the challenge implicit in the words isn’t reflected in his tone; the declaration seems oddly out of place, I suspect even to him, as we chat here together. However, the fact that he makes it speaks volumes.
A fighter pilot was shot down over a local field and is still remembered; the little cross is tucked in beside a hedge. Kent is between mainland Europe and London where defense was fierce and bombers jettisoned their payload before going down.
My friend’s mother lives in a converted Oast house which the family used originally to dry hops picked by hand, then later by machinery. This part of the world is known for its hop gardens and Oast houses. Renovations of old buildings must use only the original openings in walls for windows and doors, which is why so many ancient cottages are still dark. Oast houses had big doors to wheel vehicles in, to bring hops through, to help dry them in the kiln which is the round part with the pointy roof (the white bent tip is a cowl which moves with the wind to help draw the smoke away), and to haul the compressed hops out again. On top of that, good light was needed because monitoring the colour as hops dried was crucial. Oast houses converted to cottages are absolutely light and delightful.
Some relative of mine on some side of the family several generations ago, I think, worked, or lived in Tunbridge Wells, at a Hotel, maybe the main hotel, or coach house, I think it was big and had lots of windows and was famous, possibly, quite possibly as a chef, I think, who developed a special recipe for plum pudding, or fruitcake it could have been, maybe the Queen ate it, or a relative of hers, anyway, the name Tunbridge Wells is deeply ingrained in my family folklore so we went there.
Roast lamb for dinner. Sorry, sheep.
Did I mention that when you step off the train in Carmarthen in Wales after a trip from Paris, the first thing you notice is the smell of cows in fields? It makes you smile.
Staplehurst in Kent has heavy damp autumn air which smells of newly turned soil. That makes you smile too.
A Saturday morning misty walk to the butcher and tiny crowded fruit and veg shop in the village is best followed by a ploughman’s lunch at a real Kentish pub, then a drive through villages in landscape which is rolling and then rolled flat. You pass a shallow, narrow ditch, I mean canal, dug to defeat Napoleon’s feared invasion. Presumably the horses would get a foot stuck in it...? Your excursion ends at an endless beach along the English Channel. (Is it called the French Channel on the other side?) The tide is way way out so your admiration for swimmers of said Channel evaporates as you realise they simply wade across.
You might discover a delightful pink tea shop on the way home run by a lovely gay couple, men, each delicate teacup being different, each tablecloth different, then discover how ingrained certain stereotypes are when the men’s wives turn up.
On the way home the temperature may fall as the sun, already low, gives up the ghost. At the same time you see that mist is beginning to fill the darkening fields, the hedges behaving like the sides of a wading pool. The road is perfectly clear but on the other side of the tangled and shorn hawthorn, blackthorn and rose, sheep and cattle stand legless in the spreading wisps of cotton wool. Your camera tries its best but hasn’t a hope.
In the evening you might pootle along to a village supper where yet again you discover how paltry your knowledge is of theme songs of movies and famous bridges of the world. Except for Sydney’s. And “Titanic”.
From Carmarthen in Wales by car to Swansea, coach to London Victoria coach terminal, train from Victoria Station to Maidstone East in Kent, bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and cuppa, lift with friend to her house in Staplehurst through lovely lovely lovely countryside.
Communication may be a bit infrequent over the next week as the internet at the house may not want to co-operate. Speaking of communication...
A welsh chap behind me on the bus to London made a very many kilometers long, loud, and personal phonecall to his girlfriend despite the driver asking people to keep calls quite and brief. His accent stopped being cute just the other side of Cardiff. His girlfriend was worried about giving her dog chocolate, but our hero said chocolate is perfectly fine for dogs. Swear. No it’s perfectly safe. I mean, says he, what about those chocolate drops for dogs? They have chocolate in them. Trust me, he said. I should know. I used to eat them...
London’s Victoria station starts out looking exactly like a shopping mall. As you wheel your bag along past women’s wear and mobile phone shops, you have JUST reached the conclusion that you have entered a trendily named “Victoria Station” retail complex which has nothing to do with public transport when you spot a sign actually mentioning trains.
You watch the board for your platform number, then make a dash to the waiting train, settle into your seat and prepare to enjoy the green fields slip past as the woman in front begins a loud and animated dialogue to her husband in a language you don’t recognise and you wonder for the whole hour to Maidstone East what she can possibly have so much to say about.
Then you find yourself being driven amongst hedges, winding roads, pointy oast houses (originally for drying hops), through rich late evening light to a cosy house with a garden in the back from which broccoli is snipped for dinner. Ah, this green and pleasant land.
Yesterday I wandered down to the train and caught the two carriages which rattle up and down the line between Swansea and Pembroke Harbour. Tenby is a lovely town which I stumbled across last year knowing nothing about it except that it was a dot on the map I could visit for a day. I loved the narrow cobbled hilly roads, then found not only castle walls inside the town, but a small harbour along which runs the most delightful rainbow of houses....
This time I booked into a bed and breakfast for the night. My room had a pale blue and white theme, sweet curtains and pillows, and solid timber furniture. I had travelled light so, not wanting to waste the wonderful wardrobe, hung up my two jackets (one warm and one waterproof), my pyjamas (they got quite a shock...I hope they don’t begin to expect this) and my change of undies (ditto).
Tenby, as it turns out, also has two long soft sandy beaches reminiscent of those at home, an island just offshore with a monastery, seals and puffins (which I didn’t see) and an ancient history including mastodon teeth (which I did see). Everybody seems to try to outdo everybody else with the ancientness of their history. I think mastodon teeth are pretty good.
I caught the two carriages back again today. I’d paid for my ticket on the train by credit card; I tried to pay cash in the station but when I held out my banknote to the woman behind the counter, she said that they don’t take Euros in Wales. I’d filled my wallet with the wrong foreign currency.
The wet windy morning of sheeting rain helped some people sit down long enough to get a bit of work done, even though they still lapsed into looking at properties on the internet and trying to plan an interesting overnight trip somewhere in Wales. By the time the work was finished, the rain had turned to the misty variety and the wind had gone wherever wind goes.
A walk into town passed through the indoor markets and ended up at a cafe above a craft shop overlooking the town square. The back of a statue of an undoubtedly noble person faces the cafe (if a back can face), and to the right loom the black ruins of a castle though which public servants pass on their way to lunch. There are slots through which archers defended the alleyway between PCs and panninis.
The cemetery slides up a hillside, a small chapel with a red door anchoring it at the foot. The recent fashion for marble means that it is tempting to overlook older stone engravings which are relatively indecipherable while the more modern headstones look freshly minted and are easy to read. The finely cut and self-controlled wording, often picked out in gold, somehow speaks of trying to contain the messy grief behind it all, but doesn’t fool anybody. Placed by the headstones are flowers, plastic and freshly cut, sometimes both in the same bouquet, some colourful, others serene, some blown over, glass domes protecting browning posies, three slightly puckered deflating balloons with stars on them and the remnants of wrapping paper, and most wretched of all, soggy stuffed animals and garish disney characters on tiny graves in a desperately sad cluster of impossibly small plots at the top of the hill. It took a few moments for the meaning to sink in.
Here graves sport small marble cubes on which are written tributes from family or friends, neighbours, workmates, or drinking buddies at the Boars Head Inn.
The 20 year old soldier died in June,1945.
Cemeteries are always places to contemplate the strangeness of the cycle of life, which, of course, isn’t a cycle at all for each individual. Children who are 82 when they die, their parents 73 and 81, all buried together.
I wonder if it’s OK to step off the footpath in my wanderings, out of respect, then notice that the whole place, including mounds, has had its grass slashed by a ride-on mower.
Time to head home because tonight dog training is on. Tomorrow I head to Tenby but without technology so won’t write again until Thursday.
By the time four years of plague had finished with Carmarthen, the cemetery, which is just across the road, had increased in size by a third. Nearby houses were knocked down to make room. This little cottage and the two on either side are the only original houses left.
Today started out with misty rain which made me wonder how smart it was going to be to visit the laundromat then walk home with newly dried clothing in my backpack. The risk-taker in me won out. Some people bungee jump; I wash my socks.
The thing about Carmarthen folk is that they may lapse back and forth between English and Welsh three and four times during a sentence, possibly even a word. This leaves some other people on the cusp of making appointments for hearing tests when they haven’t been able to understand what on earth the waitress said to that elderly customer even though they eavesdropped with full concentration but were totally misled by hearing the words “tea” and “scones” at the beginning.
The driver of the enormous truck who took a wrong turn and ended up with his gigantic blue rig squeezed onto a cobbled pedestrian area did a magnificent job of not looking embarrassed while people stopped to look and the police officer strode away shaking his head, trying to work out whether creeping forward between banks and tearooms and women’s clothing shops and around the town statue held more promise than trying to back out again past real estate agents, tea shops and women’s clothing shops.
I casually hand over coins to pay for lunch and for laundrette and for a woolly hat, just like a pro, exactly as if I know which coin is which. The only thing giving me away is then feebly asking the waitress/ laundress/ checkout chick to count it for me. I resist the thought but know I’m getting a preview...I remember my grandmother doing the same thing, but because of failing eyesight and powers of addition rather than unfamiliar currency. It’s amusing when we begin to understand our parents, sobering when it’s our grandparents.
The day dawned (OK, so maybe I don’t know how it dawned exactly, but when I got up) with a soft misty rain. It was a beautiful morning to go exploring through a tunnel of branches over the road which is so beautiful I want to keep taking photos of it, and wander along country lanes between sloping fields of dairy and longhorned cattle, and black and white sheep. Everything is so green and fresh; ferns and ivy grow on elderly stone walls, holly and fuschias pop up here and there, and the hills with black/green hedges stroking their contours and lone white houses roosting here and there take the breath away.
The narrow roads curve and are edged with compact hawthorn hedgerows from which come the delightfully musical song of invisible sparrows. I can’t decide which is the safer side to walk on so tend to weave back and forth as my theories change.
On Sunday, pubs and restaurants put on a mid day dinner. We heaped our enormous, heavy white china plates with roast beef and/or pork, yorkshire pudding, parsnips, potatoes roasted or boiled, peas, carrots, cauliflower, lakes of gravy and a good splodge of horseradish. The atmosphere was relaxed and by the time we left, the pub was filling with groups including toddlers and babies. Lovely for families and friends to enjoy a meal out together.
The houses, shoulder to shoulder, sport a multitude of colours. A nearby beach is delightful to stroll along, low tide exposing acres of seabed and tiny shells while castle ruins glance down from the summit of red and grey cliffs. A row of little cottages with chimney pots gaze out across the beach while above them a pink house clings to the hillside. Dogs are allowed on the beach from September until May and are taking advantage of the day which is now sunny with a striking blue sky. Shirley romps and enchants other Sunday walkers.
The young rust coloured bull in the field behind the house has come up to lie just outside the kitchen door where he can chew his cud and confuse basset hounds.
So far I’ve been getting up earlier that Shirley, so she hasn’t yet joined me in bed. This is not entirely a coincidence. She reduced my pillow by another few mouthfulls of stuffing today, having sneaked up on it from a new direction.
Today Wales decided to show off its wind and horizontal rain...beautiful and misty from the kitchen window, billowing hoods and slapping windshield wipers once out in it, bulls in the field behind the house grazing on the long flattened green grass regardless.
Thoughts of picturesque drives along dainty winding roads through charming villages morphed into a late breakfast of tea and cinnamon rolls, and a wander (in the car) down to the undercover Saturday market where parking required patience and quick wits as on Saturday mornings all over the world. I buy a thermal mountaineering pullover. Raincoats and umbrellas, scarves and hats, woollens and gloves on display in shops suggested that the frivolity of summer is over. I understand summer happened on three days in May, and another four in September.
Over lunch I surreptitiously spread out all of my coins, appearing to be counting them, but in fact learning how to identify them. There’s only so much change that little zipped compartment in your wallet can hold before you have to stop paying every time in 20 pound notes.
Grocery shops are interesting in other countries, and of course seeing the Welsh language everywhere and hearing it spoken is a treat. Its melody is reminiscent of Hindi.
My niece and nephew and I sit with our identical laptops while the basset, Shirley, manages quite ingenious mischief. She climbs halfway up the stairs, pokes her head endearingly through the rails, checks to see if she’s being watched, then grabs a mouthful of stuffing from my pillows which have been hidden out of her reach...if she’s standing on the floor.
It takes hours and hours to come up with a cartoon, I finally email it off and within minutes it has been approved by my editor in Australia. This technology is amazing. I wasn’t even plugged into anything! I wonder how many people my cartoon passed through? I wonder if there will be lasting effects?
Today I itched to have the camera out more but needed my hands to keep my hood on.
Tomorrow we plan to indulge in a slap-up Sunday Dinner at a local pub or restaurant. I have a feeling that with the cooler weather, comfy food will be featuring big on the agenda!
An early start by yellow shuttlebus on a dark and rainy Paris morning, that awkward disassembling and reassembling of computer, camera, belts and bags through security, a flight to Bristol on Easyjet.
I booked my tickets online. When I looked closely at the times of departure and arrival afterwards, I realised two things; not only is Paris so close to Bristol that the flight only takes fifteen minutes, but I must have inadvertently booked my return flight via Amsterdam (one of the choices offered) because it will take two and a quarter hours to get back again. Oh well, I’ve never been to Amsterdam.
We whizzed along the runway (I love takeoffs) then once we’d breached upper clouds, the captain announced that we would be landing in Bristol in one hour. One hour???
Aha. I see... there’s a one hour time difference between Paris and the UK.
Shucks... and I was looking forward to Amsterdam.
When I landed in Bristol I couldn’t understand the immigration girl at first. As I’ve been doing for the past five weeks, I was concentrating on her face and listening to the sounds waiting for them to crystallise into recognisable words, then suddenly realised she was speaking English. And that I speak English.
A coach from the airport to Temple Meads railway station in Bristol, small train to Newport in Wales with the most spectacular gap between the train and the platform I’ve had to leap since a scary bushwalk in the Warrenbungles, change to another small train to Carmarthen, a phonecall to my niece and new nephew by marriage, and a walk with the one year old Basset to fetch fish and chips and Guinness for supper.
Interestingly, as quiet as the French are on public transport, the Welsh are chatty and animated. And I could swear that same father was on the train last year when I was here, threatening to cuff his freckle-faced machinegun-toting son ( being yellow and orange I suspect it was the water-firing variety...the gun of course)
There’s a wonderful petite bald railway chap in Wales at Newport who steps out onto the platform as trains arrive, rattles off to anybody who needs to know exactly the time and platform of the next train to their destination, then melts back into the station again.
This is the view from inside the kitchen door.
I believe I may wake up tomorrow with the Basset sharing my bed.
The Picasso museum has big old timber doors. And they’re closed until October 24th. Poop Picasso!!!
More time for wandering and tripping over a huge market where the handkerchief ( mouchoir ) salesman had a loud voice, strong opinions, a friendly nature and a bench just opposite where it was possible to sit and tune in to some lively French conversation, particularly as a chipper moustachioed bespectacled patron chose to argue the quality and price of his wares. Talk ultimately and naturally expanded to include the state of the Nation and the world, and finally to the son of a mutual acquaintance, who turned out not to be mutual because the spelling of the surname was different.
During most of this time the customer stood with wallet frozen in hand, arrested during the gesture of passing money across the aisle behind him to his wife, black and white check coated, black hatted and red-lipped, whose hand was frozen in a gesture reaching behind her for money as she sank deeper into animated conversation with the butcher.
During packing a pamphlet came to light suggesting the elusive Picasso might be pinned down in the Museum d’Orangerie near the Louvre, so I was off. Monet was hanging out there, and Cezanne and a few other absolutely delightful characters. Using the audio guide was great- wandering first to absorb without it, then listening to the commentary in French several times. Knowing I have to bump my bags down two and a half flights of gently winding stairs (or do they unwind as they go down?) I resisted buying the museum guide. I’m trying really hard not to regret it.
......A timber cut-out helps gardeners prune the trees to be so ROUND
I carried all of my loose change with me today to give to the ring-droppers...I still have all three kilos of it.
The Rodin museum is on the other side of the river and west, close to Les Invalides with its big golden dome which is not far from the Eiffel Tower. Can’t miss it.
I headed inland to make a shortcut, and after a goodly number of quaint twists and turns, began to worry. Using my outdoorsy skills, I remembered that moss always grows on the south side of trees. Or, is it north? Or is that in Australia? And where are trees when you need them...and where is the blasted moss? Geraniums grow on any old side of buildings so they were next to no help. Well, judging by the sun, I was going either north, or south, east, or west.
I tried downhill. That would surely bring me to the River Seine which I could follow to Rodin. Hotel Seine...sounds promising,...lots of galleries...looks promising...and there’s the river, ...and I’m nowhere near Rodin. Never mind...I like walking...
“Madam...” I turn to see, out of the corner of my eye, a hand reaching down to pick something up. A ring...Hang on...I know that hand...it’s my lady ring scam friend from the other day!! I’m genuinely happy to see her again and cheerfully remind her that we’ve met, ask if her husband is working the Louvre and her sad face appears...her husband is in Romania. Of course he is. Silly me...Why do I have trouble believing her? We part smiling, wishing each other “Bon journee”.
For some reason, the floors inside the Rodin Museum make shoes squeak. There is a hushed reverence, and all that squeaking.
I decided to visit the Eiffel Tower again before heading over to the Pompidou Centre for some Modern Art.
Now the Eiffel Tower may be drawn as the biggest thing on your map, but not only is your map fibbing because once you get amongst the winding narrow streets the buildings all around you are also pretty big, but the tower itself has quite a sense of humour and likes to pop up, now on your left, now over your right shoulder, sometimes crouching down so you can’t see it at all. Never mind. Just be determined, head in its direction, whichever silly one it chooses, and eventually you’ll catch it.
Purple clouds were scudding across the sky and I while knew there could be some dramatic photos of the sunlit Tower against the bruised background, the scudding might also mean dramatic drenching so I hot-footed it towards my next stop.
“Madam,..” Out of the corner of my eye I see a hand pick something up...yes...a ring!!! A teenage girl this time. I cheerfully tell her that she’s the fourth to find a dropped wedding band. I head for the footbridge.
“Madam,...”Almost across the bridge, slightly older teenager.
“Madam...” In her 20’s...
A fourth girl, in pink, on the other side tries halfheartedly with another couple but doesn’t approach me.
That’s seven times. I’ve been here less than a week.
OK. I decided that the next time, I would say, “Yes. Thanks, that is my ring”. And after I’d enjoyed watching their reaction, and they’d regrouped and still asked for money, I would say that my husband is a real jerk and I don’t really want the ring and it’s pure gold so if they sell it they’ll get heaps, and go ahead, keep it.
OK, I’d probably give them a couple of euros in the end, but I’d love to see their reaction.
Nobody else approached me.
Incidentally, I’ve been immensely surprised at the vivid colours in the more classical artworks, and the unexpected dullness of the paints in “Modern Art”.
A LOT of early modern artists were Jeans, I discovered today. I suppose that having a common name, they needed to do something radical to stand out. They would have then discovered they were in an even more concentrated sphere of Jeans so had to become even more radical.
I believe that’s where modern art comes from.
I knew the Louvre was closed today but was surprised (which didn’t surprise me) that other museums and galleries were too. I suppose even culture needs a day off.
What also surprises me is that a cold is supposed to take seven days to incubate, but you only have to be out in wet wind with a green scarf and rain jacket on Tuesday morning and by Tuesday lunchtime you get that feeling that something may be brewing. It is important to try to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible with French Onion soup, a glass of red wine on a red and white checked tablecloth, a platter of delicasies including inscrutible suggestions of something suspended artistically in gel, then after a good deal of wandering, a hot bath with a glass of cold white wine. You may not be cured, but you certainly don’t care any more.
I begin to sympathise with my much maligned GPS, although I’d prefer you didn’t tell it. I followed my curiosity and took a stairway underground beneath a garden and found myself in a cavernous subterranean movie/shopping complex. With lots of escalators. Enclosed spaces with escalators all have that particular smell...it must be the grease. I wandered for miles and suddenly needed to escape...it felt too much like an airport and I wasn’t ready to be in an airport yet. I decided to head for a huge bookshop so stepped over to a helpfully colour-coded map. “You are here”, it said, with a good deal of confidence. Don’t read this next bit if you are a bit delicate...”Bullshit!”, I replied. In a shopping complex which is essentially one long hallway, I’d managed to complete a circle and was back where I’d started. Somewhere there must be a use for me.
A great deal of gardening in Paris happens in tiny boxes. What IS that guy with the motorcycle helmet going to do with the rack of jeans he’s just manoeuvred out of the shop? Why doesn’t somebody invent clothing that actually looks BETTER on you than it does on the mannequin? When you’re staying in a strange building, two and a half winding flights of stairs up, it is a good idea to note the location of buttons which operate the hall lighting in case everything goes off and you end up in pitch blackness when you’re not sure where on the two and a half gracefully winding flights you are. While you’re at it, it would be a good idea to memorise which way they wind.
The best way to be constantly surprised in life is simply to not know anything. This is certainly my approach. A few days ago after walking randomly for ages I was surprised to stumble across a massive building type structure of colourful water pipes, girders and glass. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a bit over the top; you can tell the architect was pretty excited.
Today, after more rambling, I was surprised to stumble upon it again, and to discover it’s the Pompidou Centre National Museum of Modern Art. Ah, I see...
I decided to forgive it and go in. The door I was heading for was an exit, so I started to make a clockwise circuit of the...whatever it is. I could certainly see people inside, but could only find more doors marked exit.
Finally, an entrance. It said, “Public Library” (except with a French accent).
Could this be some kind of post-modern deconstructionist building oeuvre where all you can find is exits (very deep), then the entrance, if you do find it (even deeper) is has a completely unrelated name...
I kept searching just in case and discovered a HUGE clearly marked and queued-up-for entrance right beside where I’d begun my circuit.
Tomorrow I’ll actually visit the artworks...tonight I’ll leaf through the Centre Pompidou catalogue I bought at the bookshop. From a packing point of view, that combined with the one I bought at the Musée d’Orsay will still be marginally lighter than the French/English Dictionary I’m finally tossing because the front pages are falling out. At this point my French conversation, while not too bad, doesn’t cover anything beginning with “a”.
I made the long walk home, circuitously, tailing a young chic couple and then a leather-jacketed guy just to see where they went. They kept getting on public transport. Drats. But it was a great way to explore new areas, even if I didn’t see much because I was concentrating on not losing my people. Incidentally, if you try to exit that big shop behind the City Hall and the automatic doors don’t open no matter how much you step back and forth and wave at them, it’s because they have handles. Quaint.
Walking around the corner from my apartment this evening to pick up a baguette and chocolate croissant, I was surprised again. The Pompidou Centre is two blocks away.
A lively bunch of dead impressionists can be found hanging at the Musée D’Orsay, across the Seine from my little apartment.
Sunday morning in Paris, there are almost no bikes in the racks; the rest were ridden centrifugally from the city centre yesterday. Sunday lunchtime they’re all back again. The footpaths are humming. Traffic is congealing.
An aging accordion player on the timber-planked footbridge crossing the river creates a perfect Parisian atmosphere, while a stubble-chinned young man on a bench tilts his face to soak up both music and sun. The tune has a strange, halting, and uneven quality to it. I can’t tell whether it’s a particular ethnic style I’m being exposed to, or a really shocking musician.
As I walk towards the Museum along the left bank, the bells of Notre-Dame toll in the direction I’ve come from. A nun is rushing towards me, habit of deep blue plastered to her front, looking at her watch.
I realise I’ve left my camera behind...recharging the battery so I wouldn’t miss anything...
Two tall rollerbladers skim along the footpath then pull up to wait at a crossing. The tall female rollerblader leans nonchalantly on the railing as I reach them. Suddenly she’s gone. Her feet have slipped out from under her and she’s flat on the ground. I offer to help her up but she prefers her partner. Possibly she prefers to think nobody noticed.
The antique shops here really have...antiques...15th century for example. I remember seeing a 3000 year old piece of bread in the Egyptian exhibition when it came to Australia (on loan from the Louvre, as it happens)...imagine making a vegemite sandwich and having it end up in a museum 3000 years from now.
Note: If you go to the Musée d’Orsay on a Sunday, it will be crowded. The crowds actually enhanced the Louvre experience, just like live theatre, but the Musée d’Orsay is smaller so enhancement sometimes gave way to elbowing. I don’t apologise...she deserved it.
Incidentally, if you have to stop half way through looking at Renoirs and Van Goghs to go home and do a cartoon with snowmen in it, you can come back later the same day using the same ticket. Your ticket for the Louvre won’t work for the Musée d’Orsay, however, so just make sure you grab the right one out of your bag. The monsieur will notice. You could explain it was under your wallet, camera and sunglasses because you were here earlier. If you’re very lucky, he won’t ask why you interrupted your viewing of Renoirs and Van Goghs and you won’t have to say, to do a cartoon with snowmen in it.
The Louvre is on the way home from the Orsay. Don’t you just wonder what it throws out?
It was timed to perfection. Looking back on it, I have to admire the woman. A round of applause for a tidy little performance. Hers more than his. His rhythm was perhaps a bit off, or maybe I’d just been there done that.
I was striding towards the Louvre. Just after crossing the road, out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman stoop to pick something up off the gravel footpath. She looked at it and so did I. It was a ring. She asked if it was mine. No, I said and started to move off. She said that it wasn’t hers and would I like it; she showed me her ringless fingers saying she doesn’t wear them. I showed her my ringless fingers and said I don’t wear them either. Looking back on it, I think that was a cute moment.
I moved on, but she caught my arm and smiled and insisted I take the ring, as a souvenir (no thanks), she wouldn’t wear it (no thanks) out of friendship...please. OK. Thanks, and I felt warm and fuzzy. We parted. Count to three. “Madame...”. I turned...she was heading back to me, shaking her head slightly as if there were something she’d just remembered...could I part with some money...for food, she said. The penny dropped, so to speak. It was a scam of sorts. A way to make some kind of connection with somebody then play on their sense of obligation seeing as she’s just given them the ring...I didn’t give her money...I said if she needed money she should just ask and not do the ring thing; I gave it back. I had to admire her though, as I walked on. It was well done.
The Louvre was wonderful. Great marble on the floors. The sandwich was a bit stale and I have to say, while the decor is fabulous, the coffee definitely isn’t anything to write home about.
There’s an extremely odd custom here. As soon as a person gets close to an objet d’art, particularly a famous one, they turn their back on it and smile. Sometimes they don’t smile. Time and time again, individuals, pairs, even groups, would immediately present their backs to the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, perfectly good Raphaels... you name it, they turned their back on it. I sneaked a quiet go with a few Roman statues, an Egyptian sphynx and even an Innuit carving. Nothing.
Striding towards the Arc de Triomphe, I saw a man, out of the corner of my eye, bend down and pick something up...it was a ring...he asked if it was mine...after some insistence I didn’t take it, but turned around to watch him. After half a heartbeat, he did the same thing with a youngish couple. I caught his eye as he followed them for the insisting-they-take-it scene. I wagged my finger at him, and have to confess I was smiling. He put his finger to his lips saying...don’t tell them, then rubbed his belly and put a pleading look on his face. I wagged my finger at him again then took off. I reached an intersection and he was at my shoulder. Money for a baguette and a coke, he said. No money, I said. I was a bit worried that he’d followed me. A baguette and a coke? I guess the coke is because any westerner would, of course, identify with that, and the baguette for a nice French touch.
Fifteen minutes later I tracked him down and after waiting for the closing act (what is the correct etiquette about interrupting a scam?), cut in as he negotiated with another couple. I handed him a salami panini, then a tin of orange juice, then a straw, the same dinner I was having. I hope he shared it with his wife.
Even doing washing in the bathtub in Paris feels special, even though to be doing washing in Paris seems like a waste of Paris... (did I mention I’m in Paris?)
There are a lot of wheels here. Cars, trucks and buses certainly, strollers, a few wheelchairs, the odd skateboard or rollerblades or razor scooter, lots and lots of motorbikes and scooters, lots of bicycles, power-assisted and regular, and bicycle rickshaw getups. At about 300m intervals there are stands of city bikes you can rent ...the first half hour is free. Great idea and they are well-used.
After a number of weeks in France, one becomes more confident doing such things as crossing roads. First, though, it is necessary to keep an eye out for roads. One may be happily meandering along a cobbled lane in Poitiers, and suddenly realise that one is meandering across an intersection, with traffic lights, which may be against one. In Paris, a green light for pedestrians means that at least eight more vehicles will pass before you can actually venture onto the road. A steady, authoritative and confident glare at oncoming cars is called for to establish one’s priority and make them come to a halt. I find the glare is very effective, but then again I do tend to use it after everybody has stopped anyway.
Scooters and motorbikes sift through to the front while everybody waits for the lights to change. Being at the front is probably an advantage; it gives one a chance to try to figure out the rules before tackling the intersection. The Paris roadmap comprises a series of stars where multiple roads cross each other. Some of these intersections are roundabouts with very peculiar rules, obviously designed to confuse the enemy. Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen a learner driver here. Make of that what you will...
The Jardin des Plantes (Garden of Plants) didn’t allow access to the ancient greenhouse which was a shame, and my legs were too pooped after yesterday to climb the steps to the zoological building.
I tried out a lot of benches today. I sat for a time in Notre-Dame and just absorbed. It was powerful and moving, as the building was designed to be. Yesterday, soldiers with machine guns at the Eiffel tower were a reminder that the same passion and engineering that can build something like that, can also be scary.
A little nun was sitting on a chair at the exit holding out a basket with coins in it. Very generous of her, I thought.
It’s so beautiful I feel like weeping. The light in Paris this afternoon was gut-wrenching. The sun lingered low in the sky, muted, warm, hovering between golden and peach hues catching the most wonderous stonework, bridges, statues, rooves, pathways, cobbled roads, River Seine, and Eiffel Tower. A wound in the mauve clouds, edged with gold, let fingers of light through to drive one crazy. This city is like the opening performance for which every city I’ve ever been in up until now has been merely a rehearsal. What do people do if they see Paris first??
I settled in after a truly joyous introduction to the apartment by its very French owner...nested immediately, studied a map, tucked it into my bag just in case, and decided to aim for Notre Dame Cathedral then the Eiffel Tower for a good walk and a chance to get my bearings. Four hours later I’m back and still shaking my head. I used a lot of swear words and God’s name in vain constantly. In a good way. I couldn’t believe what my eyes kept finding. I could not believe the feel of this wonderful place.
This morning in Poitiers ...
...was filled with last minute packing, buying chocolate croissants, waving good bye to the cat in the window across the way, and after a quick last sweep, trundling by taxi to the station to catch the TGV (very fast train) up to Paris. I entered Poitiers backwards, and left the same way. Suddenly we were in Paris. It was very fast.
The organisation through whom I’ve rented my little apartment suggested I could book a car and driver to wait for me at the station, ring the owner to let him know we were on our way, and carry my bags up the stairs. I decided to book one, not for any of that, but because for one time in my life I’d get to be the person whose name is written on that card being held by somebody at an airport or station.
It was worth it.
When I visit a new place, it’s the people and the back gardens and alleyways and the detail that I love the best. I’m not so interested in the sights. Today, though, I actually felt a bit excited when I decided to head out and aim for the Eiffel Tower. When Van Gough’s Irises came to Australia, I was at the Art Gallery to see something else, and almost didn’t go to see it because you had to pay to get in ( maybe $4 - I am very cheap ) and I’d seen pictures of it so many times I certainly wasn’t going to be impressed. But I was. It was absolutely beautiful. Paint live does things that prints of paint don’t convey. And the frame itself was a wonder of the world.
It happened again today. I was more excited than I’d expected at the prospect of seeing the Eiffel Tower, very excited when I caught my first glimpse, and blown away getting closer and closer then actually standing under it. I had no idea it is so beautiful. I had no idea it would be so exciting to be there, even though it was essentially designed for and has always been for tourists. My first thought...the ironwork is beautiful...my second thought...it’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge on end...steel girders, rivets, lots of structure...and big. I also had no idea it would have such a halo of communications stuff on the top. I wonder if the Statue of Liberty has such stuff on her crown too, these days?...
I gave some coins to a woman who was begging - she looked like a caricature of a woman begging and I wondered if she were genuine or a con artist or an actor...I was happy to share, whatever the case.
Vendors have boxes fixed to the railing along the Seine...lots of secondhand books, miniature Eiffel Towers, art deco postcards, original oil paintings (hmmmm...)...the books not junk but classics and genuinely antiquarian.
A man was dusting the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Booksellers read ( what do they read?) while waiting for custom. Is the beret genuine or for tourists? Japanese commercial being shot at twilight; what kind of hatstand do you find in the Louvre?
There’s a cat across the way...we said hello, but this one plays on a ledge two floors up. I can’t look.
Tomorrow I may just sit somewhere and smile.
Countdown has begun for catching the Very Fast Train to Paris tomorrow. Days like today involve working through a carefully thought out list of essential tasks requiring completion before leaving, and an enormous amount of procrastinating. The day was barely long enough.
I ate out.
Menus are displayed outside each establishment. Many weird and wonderful dishes; eg “Surf & Turf”.
I ate lunch at a funny little restaurant decked out with ye olde coffee grinders, ditto flat irons, ditto milk urns, ditto tea kettles, ditto etc. I nearly jumped out of my socks when a ditto cuckoo clock went off, and I could swear I was hearing ditto bagpipes the whole time, but as if another diner were listening to them on headphones; that tinny buzzing that’s there but almost not there. I couldn’t work out what the ambience was supposed to be and I think they achieved it.
The tea kettles and urns made me feel trusting so I ordered the Plat de jour. I knew the Dish of the Day involved beef, and neither the kettles nor the urns let me down...it was ye olde slices of same with potato and cheese. I wasn’t complacent, though. I was working on what I think may be a loophole in the basket of bread scenario:
If you ask for a menu, a basket of bread is placed on your table. If you change your mind about eating something and order coffee, it is taken away again. If you order a meal, you can eat as much bread as you like and you can even ask for MORE bread, but the instant your plate is clean, the basket is whisked away. It doesn’t matter if you’re obviously enjoying some with the end of your carafe of red . It doesn’t matter if you’re reaching for it while exchanging warm smiles with the waitress as she passes. She’ll have it in her hand and out to the kitchen without breaking eye contact.
The problem: there’s only so long you can stretch out eating your main dish to keep the waiter/waitress at bay, and portions may be too chic (small) to leave a bit on the side while you keep filling up on baguette. So...why not position a piece of BREAD on the edge of your plate while you keep dipping into what’s in the basket? Genius.
Tonight was the first time in France I’ve seen Frogs legs on a menu. It was in the Chinese restaurant.
Incidentally, when being seated at a table in France, it appears you can only have up to three seats per person. Therefore, two people might be shown to a table for six, but one person is never shown to a table for four. Even if it’s quite a nice table and she was here early and doesn’t really want to sit over near the fish tank. Undoubtedly something to do with global warming...
“I was on a drip in hospital for three hours because...”...and the line went dead.
It’s my youngest daughter’s 22nd birthday today, well yesterday, somewhere between here and Australia. I had tried to ring her a few times last night and this morning (from my computer, using Skype) to give her happy birthday wishes and I’d been answered three times by a nice enough but rather humourless woman who told me to leave my number if I wished, or to hang up RIGHT NOW!!
Late this morning I got through. I sang, she laughed, then we got cut off the first time just as we began to build up a head of steam. I’d been tidying my computer desktop as we chatted and had neatly closed the Skype window. I rang her back. She was telling me about going bushwalking and ending up in hospital on a drip because...and my computer decided to go to sleep. I hit the keys and we got cut off again.
It was a tick. She had a paralysis tick (which was removed after being sprayed by insect repellant so is probably now nervous) to which she’d had an allergic reaction so went to hospital to avoid fullblown hives- it has happened before, she tells me.
When I was 22 I was very much an adult. When your child is 22, she’s very much a kid.
You can get a nifty bus ticket in Poitiers, called a ticket jour. For 4 euros you can hop on and off of buses all day. Once you buy your ticket, you tear off the smaller portion which is the active bit, and the first time you get onto a bus, you obliterate it. Train tickets require composting, bus tickets obliterating. You obliterate it in a little yellow machine behind the driver. It’s not totally obliterated mind you, in fact the date and time are stamped on it and that’s the only damage I could see, but apparently that’s enough.
I went to a stop where lots of buses berth. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years waiting for buses, but this time it didn’t matter which one I caught and so I planned to hop on the very first one that came along. It seemed unfair somehow that even though for possibly the first time in my life I could take ANY bus at all, I had just missed a bunch and still ended up waiting.
I took a number 4. Such a great way to get a feel for a place and the people in it. The city began to remind me of Ottawa with its office blocks and apartment buildings, university campus woven in amongst the rest. Then I wondered if it reminded me of Ottawa because I only knew the city I grew up in by bus, and the beast I was on was shuddering and humming up and down the scale and was driving on the right exactly like the number 75 St. Laurent at home.
Apartment blocks and parks took me back to Russia.
Then I wondered...if a new place keeps reminding you of other places, do you remember the new place?
Modern suburban houses here have angled red corrugated tiled rooves and shutters with decorative hinges.
A few days ago I watched bollards disappear into the road for a bus to go past, and today I was on that bus!
One would naturally expect the #2 would travel half as far as the #4, but au contraire. The # 12 eased its way around a bendy, very narrow road where it only JUST scraped past windows by centimetres. One would need to be mindful of the bus timetable before opening or closing the shutters. Or maybe the driver has a shutter timetable. The bus then wormed through a lovely suburb called Saint Benoit, and there was time for a snooze at the end of the line before turning around and picking up passengers on our way back to City Hall.
10 minute parking spots have a post beside them on which a bold LCD display yells out to everybody just how much of your ten minutes is left, and counting. Flashing hazard lights do not repel parking officers.
The $2 shop here is chic if the window display is anything to go by.......(actually, it would be the $3.65 shop at today’s rates)
Two gelled and black T-shirted taughtly-muscled young men with small rhomboids of facial hair on their chins who work in a restaurant kissed noisily on both cheeks in greeting. Why is that reassuring?
An 11 year old boy worries his way back to school after lunch, nothing in his hands but a comb with which he’s fixing his forelock.
Three businessmen walking briskly...three heights, three shapes; the tallest, the middle one talking. The other two, heads turned to focus not on his face, but on whatever it is he’s talking about as it moves along in front of them.
A father leaning forward, red tie swinging and trouserlegs flapping in the wind, both arms extended behind him, each one ending in a small child in exactly half as much rush as he is to get them back to school.
Brightly coloured patterned material on brown-skinned women, white-beanied baby watchful eyes from a sling wound around her mother, grandmother’s shiny green scarf twisted up into a magnificent arching headpiece like a beak; a stroller wedged against seats, one twin awake, the other asleep, another pram with tiny red shoes escaping from under layers of wraps. City clothing is black, white and red. The further you get from the CBD, the more colourful people get.
Having tried up until now to avoid looking like a tourist by not obviously photographing buildings, today I decide to try to photograph people and do so by pretending to photograph buildings.
Doorknobs are easier.
I was tumbled.
I went to see the first Real Estate Agent and explained that I’m here in Poitiers to get a feel for the region as part of my research before possibly buying a house in France. Which is true. And did she have any houses of a certain type that she could show me?
Quick as a flash she was telling me, politely but firmly, that she couldn’t be a tourist agent showing people around. Poop! Caught out. It would have been a great way to see the region.
However, she didn’t realise that I was also cleverly using my interview with her to hone my language skills. I was able to look convincing enough that I was comprehending everything she was saying that the speed and complexity of her delivery never faltered. In fact, they noticeably increased as she explained and described, consulted maps and brochures, kidded and confided while I held her gaze and nodded. I’m definitely improving. And I’m beginning to see that the key to this language is to never actually open my mouth.
We left it that she’ll email me, or... I’ll call her, ...or ...her people and my people...something about a colleague...she seemed so genuinely happy that we’d reached an agreement that I couldn’t bear to spoil it by telling her I had no idea what we’d just agreed to. I do know that she didn’t ask for my phone number so I’m guessing she isn’t lining up inspections for tomorrow. I think she isn’t...although, there may be something lined up for April...
The truth is, of course, that I need to see houses to get a feel for what a certain budget will buy in a certain area to help me decide which area/s to focus on, and also how sizes and descriptions of houses on the internet translate into reality, whereas agents need people to have already decided on the area to make arranging inspections worthwhile.
Village houses tend to open straight off the street, but can have engaging things happening out the back. Heating is important as oil is expensive but the demand for firewood is increasing. Many houses boast a cave which is a vaulted wine cellar. The equivalent of a “handyman’s dream” may be three tumbling stone walls with a giant bird’s nest of timbers for a roof or possibly just the memory of one. Placards are built-in cupboards and not residue from political activities, and exposed beams may mean structural elements criss-crossing at chest height as you lie in bed. Houses four hundred years old look appealing from the outside, but may be very dark inside as the thickness of the walls is in direct proportion to the number of years since construction. As anywhere, beware of “cute” (really small), “character” (really impractical), and “water feature” (really leaky).
I decided not to bother with the second and third Real Estate Agents.
I went for a walk. Another beautiful garden to be strolled through (a pine tree with unexpected berries...unexpected by me, that is...) then I spent ages trying to figure out how to cross what must be a mighty river spanned by a huge multiple-lane scary major motorway bridge. Eventually I discovered (after consulting the map) there’s a quiet footbridge a little way back which daintily steps across what turns out to be lovely tame and slender waters.
Tomorrow, I may take a bus. For fun.
The only drawback to taking your work with you when you travel is that every now and again you have to work.
Today I worked, partly in a cafe, partly in the apartment, and took a break and walked a bit to see what Sunday looks like here.
I had the window open a bit last night and remember being woken from time to time by motorbikes ripping down the street, a group of people calling out, and somebody alternately playing the mouth organ and laughing.
Farmers’ markets are not only colourful and good places to eavesdrop if you’re trying to pick up another language and tasty produce at the same time, they’re where small producers can, without embarrassment, lay out two bunches of knobbly carrots looking like uncles you’ve known, one cucumber, a hand full of potatoes, and for the heck of it, several small bunches of cheerfully colourful flowers. Yes, If one had managed to arrive earlier perhaps there might have been a few more potatoes, but it feels good being able to buy small amounts of blemished and tasty fruit and vegetables pulled this morning probably, right out of the earth (or off the tree) belonging to the person selling them, while he or she grabbed a bouquet or two from the garden for those wanting visual rather than visceral nourishment.
The range of fish and molluscs and crustaceans and other sea entities and meats is amazing. Especially the meats. I haven’t seen anything like it since vet school. Even than I doubt I could have identified everything. The French eat absolutely anybody. Sometimes they leave heads unplucked so you (and possibly they) know what exactly it is you’re taking home to put in the pot. But you have to hand it to them, they waste nothing; they eat absolutely every part one way or another. Remember this at dinnertime.
Of course, getting engrossed in the market can mean you’re too late for any of the real estate agents who may have been on your agenda given that they close at noon on Saturday, but instead you may be rewarded by running into a wedding at the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) then a wedding later at the cathedral. It may even have been the same wedding as there are two ceremonies I think, one civil then the religious one.
They really do hats at weddings here.
Later as you sip a glass of rosé while reading through real estate brochures at a café next to the Palais de Justice (Courthouse), you may see two men being escorted briskly down the long flight of stone steps from that very building and across the cobbled plaza through strollers, lovers, map graspers and hip-hugged jeansters, wrists handcuffed behind their backs.
It certainly is all action on Saturday.
Later, when you decide to have a meal out, you may not be too hungry after demolishing a number of pepperoni type things you picked up at the market. You may not know what they’re called because you may have cheated and just pointed.
The salad looks good. Just water, thanks. No, just the small salad. Then it appears, a mightily heaped plate of, certainly lettuce underneath, slices of prosciutto around the side and then some chopped warm unidentifiables in the middle. You eat the beansprout garnish on top. So far, so good. Unfortunately, last night you may have looked up a few gastronomical terms to explain menus which you’ve enjoyed being surprised by up till now. The words, gizzard, and offal spring to mind. Unfortunately you can’t remember their French counterparts, and even if you could, you don’t remember exactly what the menu said was in the salad you ordered.
You eat the lettuce out from under whatever it is, and wonder how on earth you’ll decorously get out of eating the rest as there are more and more pairs of diners mounting up on both sides of you, watching your progress and blocking your exit. The only option you have is to catch the waiter’s eye with confidence, then do the hand across the throat international sign language for, “I’m afraid that this might be gizzard which I’ve never had before and which I don’t wish to start having now besides I had a pepperoni type thing for lunch, in fact, several, and am not as hungry as I thought and can you take it away please because even if it isn’t gizzard I don’t think I want to know what else it is” . He nods.
Your stomach is relieved when it recognises coffee, which also makes it look like you’re coming to the close of a normal meal, all of which it could be assumed you have eaten.
Tomorrow you will explore whether it is possible to be vegetarian in France. Apart from that other salami type thing in the fridge...
Painted along the road and footpath is a blue line...I kept vaguely thinking “That’s the blue line in Sydney which marked where the Olymipc marathon runners were to go in 2000...what’s it doing in Poitiers?” then realised there was sometimes a red line and a yellow line too. Then I realised there were red, blue and yellow lines on the tourist map I’d picked up. Brilliant! Follow the line on the ground and it takes you on a tour...kind of a GPS for dummies.
Incidentally, parts of the blue line in Sydney had to be taken off the road after the Olympics because drivers were getting distracted and following it as it drifted across into oncoming traffic...
The apartment is on a busy road, albeit one lane in one direction, so striking out this morning it was fun to see cafe chairs not yet unstacked for the day, rollers going up on the side of a beer truck, baguettes, horns tooting, traffic like treacle and frowns on faces while people try to circumnavigate cars perched on impossible corners to allow owners to dash into shops for this or that on their way to work.
I walked for most of the day.
My soul wasn’t stirred by the towering Cathedrals and Churches whose stone carving is as intricate as their history - I wasn’t moved because I haven’t the tiniest fraction of understanding what I’m actually seeing . It’s too vast. It’s a frustration. I simply cannot grasp the concept of these walls having been here for centuries upon centuries and what they’ve meant for different people. That they feature in ancient tapestries and parchments.
I best heard the story that the hollowed steps told.
Possibly I need to be taken by someone passionate about such places rather than by a blue line.
A wonderful park immediately felt calming, even though everything is carefully planted and cropped and pruned and groomed. Trees pruned to stand wafer thin shoulder-to-shoulder making a wall of foliage were somehow satisfying, even though part of me was saying I should be finding them grotesque. I caught myself thinking that the bronze statues looked a bit pretentious, then laughed when I remembered that these are the actual statues that people with pretentious statues are trying to copy.
A flamethrower deals with weeds on the gravel pathways.
Men playing petanque (the onomatopoeic French name for boules).
The little animal zoo has guinea pigs. I wonder what a French guinea pig sounds like? (Oui, oui, oui ?)
Elsewhere waiters laden with trays of beer and rosé and warm goat’s cheese salad dash back and forth across the busy road between their restaurant and islands of tables in the sun, traffic and waiters ignoring and miraculously missing each other. (You can just imagine the ambulance bringing one in...
Le Docteur, “Status?”
Ambo (pompier),”Hit by car, temperature and blood pressure normal, reflexes sluggish, Duck a l’Orange slightly overdone, perky little red from Bourgogne definitely corked”)
A bus slowly squeaks and hiccups around a corner, narrowly edging past parked cars, kerbs and tables. Two fat bollards block the roadway in front of it and I stop to see what will happen. Another bus has nosed up behind the first. They’ll never get out.
I blink and the bus is lumbering past. I missed something...what happened to the bollards? They rise up out of the pavement where they’ve been patiently waiting for the bus to get through, then obediently sink out of sight again for the second bus. Something about it reminds me of elephants bowing down to their mahout.
A motorist tries to reason with two traffic police on bicycles but the ticket has already been written. His hazard lights were on as he left his car outside a bank in a no parking zone. I was struck by two things...how the police officer getting a tissue out to blow her nose was a very disarming and defusing bit of body language, and how the police wrote a ticket but didn’t ask the driver about the very heavy and awkward bag he had come rushing out of the bank with.
Oh, and it wasn’t a washing machine after all. Silly me. And I have no idea how to use it...
I’ll have to google my bidet.
A week and a bit ago I tried unsuccessfully to get to Poitiers twice. Poitiers wasn’t co-operating. Time to change tactics. One week ago I passed straight through Poitiers on a train on my way to Chaudenay. That hopefully gave it a feeling complacency and lulled it into a false sense of security having clearly seen me disappear over the horizon. Then today I sneaked up on it backwards. Totally outwitted it and here I am.
Knowing how long queues can be for tickets, I turned up at Chagny railway station this morning with an hour to spare. We passengers were outnumbered by staff 4 to 1. There were 4 of them.
Several Very Fast Trains went by Very Fast, then eventually my Little Green Train pulled up.
After travelling for two months, today I finally learned how to carry my bags. The smaller grey pack on the front, the bigger black one with my computer on my back so I look like those young backpackers who look so silly with backpacks on front and back, then I have one hand free to pull my main bag on wheels and the other to negotiate the various and ingenious mechanisms used to open and close train doors and confuse passengers. I always graciously let the natives off first, mainly so they’ll get the door open.
Also with this new method, I look so awkward, people offer to help. Although now I don’t actually need it. Unlike the other day struggling crazily up the steps to the platform in a Paris station and a man offered me aid in French. Pulling two wheeled cases up a flight of steps isn’t easy. Oui, Oui, I said. Thanks, merci, merci, and handed him my black backpack. But he was gone. How rude! Then I realised he wasn’t asking if I needed help, he was asking if I was OK. Oui, oui. Thanks.
Today I ricocheted off Paris up from Chagny and back down to Poitiers. On the first train you couldn’t book window seats because you couldn’t book seats at all, but I got one. It was a short haul. Trains number 2 and 3 I’d booked window seats. They were both Very Fast Trains, but not That Fast. It would still take a couple of hours to get there. You know how between windows there has to be a bit of wall? That’s the bit I got on train number 2. I was able to watch the passing scenery one eye at a time. A bit of left brain...a bit of right brain...parts of France I think are romantic, others I think the maize is crooked.
Train number 3 was looking better; as luck would have it I was again sitting beside the bit between windows but there was a bit more window. Then the train started moving. I was sitting backwards. #$@%* !
I’ve never been good at backwards. I was sitting on the right side of the train (as you face backwards) and wondered if people who read from right to left would have less difficulty than I was having as trees and villages and fields were already rushing towards being memories before I knew they were there. Then I looked out the other side where the scenery was passing from left to right, and I still felt seasick. Maybe it’s too reminiscent too much rosé.
At least it was quiet. French trains are very quiet. Mobile phones are supposed to be turned off, or you use them in the vestibule. Funny how quickly you get used to a certain ambience. I was getting annoyed that a few young people (at what age do we start saying “Young People”?) were going through the doors so frequently (imagine a Star Trek soundtrack...schwoosch...schwoosh), that the couple in front of me were arguing in whispers, and then some idiot was turning the pages of his magazine without any consideration for others.
Tomorrow I’ll really explore. Poitiers is a big city so for some reason the beautiful old architecture surprises. The Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) is just wonderful.
And the apartment is great. It has a French washing machine. It’s my first. It is in the bathroom and looks a lot like a toilet . I thought it was one until I saw the hot and cold taps which of course, toilets don’t have. There was some washing powder on a shelf which was another clue, and a mop and bucket beside it which were definitely necessary as it transpired. There were no instructions so I had to figure out how to use it by trial and error...always put your clothing in first, then the detergent, then turn the taps on, otherwise you get a facefull. It’s great for socks...just hold them over the spray. Personally, I wouldn’t have the nozzle facing in quite the same direction.
Then mop up the floor. And the walls.
Oh, and for dinner I just had to have Chinese. There’s a Chinese restaurant a few doors away.To hear somebody switch from Mandarin into perfect French was absolutely delightful.
But I’m still hungry...
Autumn is here. Starlings (?) are getting chummy in preparation for their annual migration to wherever the French go in the winter.
The little train from Chagny north to Beaune is too comfortable and the countryside is too pretty to want to step off when you get there.
Beaune is another lovely French city with twisting streets and fascinating shops, meandering rooves and cobbled roads, but the most interesting bits are in the back alleyways and small lanes behind the beaten track.
You may find jazz in beaune (do they play trombeaunes here?) and a display of glass spheres filled with flowers, or leather, or mosses, or fruits, which you take a whiff of through an open neck, reproducing some of the fragrances which you’ll find if you sample the regional wines, Burgundy.
The good thing about going in a complete circle when you’re lost, is that you can get lost without fear, knowing you’ll end up back at the point where you started. The only hitch is in just where your brain believes it started from. Much like a GPS, dare I say. If it latches onto the restaurant where you had lunch rather than the station from which you need to catch your train home, it is a relief the first time you arrive back there early in the afternoon when you’re exploring, frustrating the second time when you’d like to explore a different bit of Beaune, and downright worrying the third time when you were actually trying to go home.
You eventually find a sign with a map on it and a big dot saying “you are here” . Because the dot on the diagram is in the middle of the road, however, you can’t tell which side of the road it is on so you still have no idea whether the station is to the right of you or to the left. You know where it is in relation to the dot, but it is very difficult to determine which way the dot is facing, dots being what they are.
If you do ever find the station, you might decide to avoid the electronic ticket-dispenser because somehow it’s easier to deal with a human being, but people in front of you may have complicated questions for the human so you may wait quite some time. When you do get your ticket, you compost it casually like an old hand at this (zapping it in a machine that dates it), then cross under the line to your “Voie” #2. You may ask the railway man in your best French if this is the right platform for Chagny and he will answer you in English. Whenever this happens, never mind.
A TGV (Very Fast Train) may thunder past and it may be really exciting as the ground under you trembles and you may decide to video the next one on your little camera, but another one may not come. Poop.
The real estate agent (agent immobilier) rang me last evening to say he’d pick me up at 9am today to look at some houses. He sounded a lot more brusque than when we chatted in his office earlier today, spoke very quickly and densely, but I could catch most of it.
I’d be ready for him.
I stood in the sun across the road for a bit, a sleek black Audi glided past with a sleek shorn male inside but it wasn’t my guy, then it came back again and it was.
I hopped in, we shook hands, and set off. He’d had a haircut since yesterday. And I certainly didn’t remember him being so...well...gold braceletted or maroon shirted or black suited. But the eyes were familiar.
We talked and visited several small, cramped houses along the canal, and I explained that I was looking for a lot more garden, and a more rural aspect.
He had mentioned a daughter. I asked how old she is, and he said five. I said, what a lovely age, but then, they all are, and he told me he looks after her every second week. Oh, I said with enthusiasm. He takes every second week off to look after her...great. Silence...Then he talked again, and the word divorce was mentioned. He had just told me that he only sees her every second week, and I’d responded as if that were the most wonderful thing. I sat wondering what on earth he must be thinking. Will he talk to me again??? Previously he had been driving the manual car around French bends in roads while talking on a hand held mobile phone and writing something on a piece of paper. Now he was fiddling again...to produce a photo from his wallet. A lovely dark-haired little girl. His wife left him when their daughter was 2. He has made her a princess bedroom. The wife is filing for full custody. He’s distressed.
We look at another house and this is closer to something I might want to live in, but isn’t it.
Then he remembers another, if my budget can shift. It shifts. We return to his office. And there we meet the guy I thought I was with, the guy I’d talked with yesterday. I’d spent all this time today with another agent, one whom I’d only seen briefly yesterday.
I wonder if he has any idea!!!???
He picks me up again in the evening- this next house has a lovely garden with fruit trees, but the house isn’t appealing; hard to say why in French, as it’s hard to define even in English. But I love the village, and the other villages we’ve seen today.
I do a lovely walk again and wonder what it would feel like to live here.............
Back home the other guests and I are invited to share a bottle of wine with the tall, sandy-haired, polite, 50ish ex NZ owner in his 17th century wine press. It’s amazing, and so is the wine. He points out the enormous wheels used to lower the beam (!) to press the boards on top of the grapes, then he draws our attention to the other giant beams criss-crossing overhead and invites us to marvel at how they are simply pegged together. I take a REALLY good look at the extrelemy insignifigant looking pegs. Yes, they’ve held for 400 years...but I still take a REALLY good look.
The other guests are interesting people from Australia and the U.S. working on instructions for voter software for the upcoming U.S. election, telecommunications in Nigeria requiring gun-toting body guards, and preschool teaching. The others return to France yearly because they love it so much.
Tomorrow I may catch the little train into Beaune which everybody says is lovely.
The only thing that worries me is the jet fighters which scream overhead in pairs every now and again. Looking like black arrowheads they tilt to one side then the other while flying absolutely straight for the horizon. To me they look for all the world like two kids on bikes showing off to each other. They’re probably designed to make us feel protected. Jet fighters just don’t have that effect on me. Our host later tells me that it’s a weekly ritual, every Tuesday. I could have sworn it’s happened on other days but maybe I’ve just been in other place don’t tell the opposition...they, like me, might be under the illusion we’re protected all seven days.
Dogs here aren’t desexed...owners don’t want to deprive them of their fun.
Their Olympic swimming hopeful was well off her game...she was distracted. She’d fallen love. Unforgiveable.
My gite here is lovely.
I could get used to this. Reading, working in the morning, sitting in the sun to connect to internet (not so fun after dark in the rain) then a three quarter hour walk along a track between fields of sheep and cattle and, just field stuff, into the neighbouring town. I’m so glad I’m walking and not driving- I love the sun and the smells and the shadows and colours. Meander around, lunch of scallops and rosé, then try out the extent of one’s real estate French with an agent who, blissfully, doesn’t lapse into English.
It is hard when I’m asked my budget as I don’t know what the type of place I’m looking for would cost. The plot - I’ll sell my house in Sydney, spend part of the proceeds to buy here (or somewhere) then will invest the rest. Hence the budget is flexible and rather depends on what I’m getting.
I’ve arranged to be picked up tomorrow morning by an agent who will show me houses in several neighbouring villages. He knows it’s research, and he knows it’s the first step for a sale. What a great way to get to speak and listen to French, and to see the surrounding countryside and learn a bit about it. Wish I’d thought of it.
I pop into the local supermarket to pick up a few things. I think, as I stroll along the aisles, how at ease I’m becoming here. How having driven a car has given me confidence (particularly now that I don’t have it any more) and I know that next time it would be easier, and how using public transport gives a feeling of being able to get yourself around, and an equal feeling of confidence. I’m amused that on the shelf there are bottles of real fish bait, tiny fish and grubs- haven’t seen them in the supermarket at home, and the freezer contains snails (escargots) and duck paté. I sneak a few photos. This is kind of relaxing.
“Madam,...Madam...” She was addressing me. I was trying to exit from the supermarket through locked doors. No wonder they were hard to open.
Funny thing is, yesterday I entered through these very doors which were wide open. “Madam,...Madam...” I looked, realised I was being addressed and that every pair of eyes in the place was looking at me, the nightmare of every tourist gingerly navigating new turf. “We’re closed”, she informed me then. I apologised and retreated. How was I supposed to know what the shop looked like closed? I’d never seen what the place look like open...
France is trickier than it appears...
Lovely walk home again.
...There cars are small, slow, aren’t allowed on major roads, and you don’t have to have a licence to drive them
The owner here has the place on the market. His agent came today for some paperwork and we were introduced. While I tumbled straight into French to explain my position, the two of them conversed back and forth in English explaining to each other what I was saying. Sheesh!
The owner here was dropping into Chagny to the markets and thought we’d arranged that I’d come with him. I thought that was a great idea. Apparently, again. The day had dawned sunny and clear and it felt wonderful. Then I realised he was leaving me in town, and I hadn’t brought the map he’d loaned me to get back again. No problem, I had been talking of using taxis so if the backpack got too heavy, I could always do that instead of walking. I immediately found a “Presse” and bought a map so I was ready for anything.
There were French people everywhere. It was great.
Wandering, eavesdropping, even shopping.
I looked at a skirt and asked in French “What size” (two words, right?) and the guy answered me in English. Guess my French needs some work. However, I persevered...how am I ever going to improve if these people keep insisting on speaking English?
The atmosphere was great and there was a real mixture of ages in the crowds. Baguettes under arms and poking out of bags everywhere. Mushrooms I’d never seen before, sausages snuggled up in baskets, little piles of vegetables from small gardens, and the ubiquitous CDs, multicoloured clothing from Nepal, handbags, blingy jewellery. A group of sequinned youngsters, while nervously awaiting their turn, watched a pubescent girls’ dance group in lycra wring out the same steps you’d see in Australia or Canada or almost anywhere. Small children in the audience looked fascinated, older women not sure whether they approved.It was being held on the steps of the “Hotel de Ville” which, it is useful to know, is the town hall in case you are tempted to look for accommodation there, as I was warned by my friends in Bonnes.
Onlookers in upstairs windows leaned on their elbows.
I bought half a florentine (baguettes were all gone) and two “pain au chocolat”, a sausage (I don’t know what’s in it but I know it’s smoked”, a “botte” of radishes, spinach, a small cake of goat’s cheese, a melange of olives, a bottle of rose and one of a red wine (wine is so cheap here) and two slices of ham.
A restaurant boasted “Moules Frites”...mussels and fries, and forgetting I’d decided after eating them in Toulouse with my niece last year that I wouldn’t need to try those again (after discovering tiny crabs cooked in with them), I got all nostalgic about my niece and ordered some, and a glass of rose, and a caraffe of water. The waitress brought a spoon. OK...and a hand towelette...this isn’t looking good...and a big pot of mussels. I suspected I was supposed to use the spoon so tried with fingers and spoon, fingers and fork, spoon and fingers and finally spoon and fork. Was absolutely full half way through and remembered that was the second reason why I’d decided I didn’t need to try them again.
Then two elderly women tottered into the restaurant. Big pots of mussels were brought to them, one each. No...don’t tell me it’s not as strenuous as it seemed and that frail elderly people can manage mussels...It was fascinating. The first picked them up one by one, in her fingers, and just sucked the mussels out, smacking her lips and again using her fingers to pick the odd one out of its shell. The other woman sucked the first mussel out, then deftly used its shell like pincers to pick the next ones up, scoop the mussel out, and scrape out any remaining sauce. I didn’t wait until the end, but suspect they both finished their pot.
The bag was by now too heavy to carry for an hour to get home, but I couldn’t find my phone (must have forgotten it) and the pay phone wouldn’t accept money or my card, so I was a bit stuck calling a taxi.
The door to a boulangerie (bakery) was still open...I went in and a woman came out from the back wiping her mouth...it was dinner hour. I showed her the map and explained I needed to know where I was exactly to walk home because I’d not brought my phone and couldn’t call a taxi, and suddenly she’d whipped her own phone onto the counter for me. Funny, I’d assumed it was too much to ask to use the phone so hadn’t even thought of it...
Taxi called, directions to where I’d wait explained and confirmed, description so she’d know me, and warm thanks for my shopwoman who had become very interested in how I would meet up with the taxi who wasn’t sure she could get to where I wanted to meet because of the market. She said this new taxi driver is very grand. I thought she meant big. But she meant fancy. Nice though. And didn’t speak a word of English to me.
Afternoon walk, flea market (same fleas you’d see anywhere, except perhaps for the crucifix amongst the tools). Later groups of people, some with dogs, some with walking poles, some with children or various combinations of the above strolled past the house enjoying the late afternoon sun.
Incidentally, I discovered my mobile in the bottom of my backpack when I got home.
The apartment ( holiday house = gite ) is a renovated “Pressoir”, part of a winemaking establishment. It is stone and ancient timbers, tiled floors and lots of space. There are other out-buildings which have also been converted to apartments........
The amazing grand old house is now lived in by the Australian/UK-NZ owners.
A garage which was part of the winery, has several floors and wonderful timber beams and a vast doorway which leads through to a completely unsuspected parklike garden spanning some several acres with some very elderly trees, and cow fields beyond complete with cows.
As I’ve been discovering, so many houses look like blank walls on the street with shuttered windows, and you have no idea what magical rooms and gardens they actually hide. My kitchen window looks out onto the main road. Out the back I’d be surprised if there weren’t deer grazing after dusk.
A folder in the apartment describes a lovely one hour walk. Out the gate, up along the road opposite, bend around and pass the Monastery. Then look for Jesus. When you find Jesus, turn left, follow the road past the 12C church, turn left at the village square, and you are home again.
Amazing old houses started as soon as I was out the door.
It was BEAUTIFUL. I loved it. I guess the flatness and deciduous trees reminded me of where I grew up. I felt really happy. Walking and being in such surroundings make me feel wonderful.
There was a lot of maize which is used as fodder for the cattle during winter, but my eye was caught by reddish-orange splotches amongst the green. Sure enough, there were poppies! I was enchanted.
Stands of poplars mesmerised.
Some white flowers looked like morning glories, but now I think they were Moon Flowers. I have a vine at home- the most wonderful flowers, they open at dusk at such speed that you can see them unfolding. They release a puff of perfume which is said to attract the particular beetle who pollinates them. More magic.
A 12th Century Church looked its age, and there was a taste of the patterned tiled rooves which the region is known for. By those who know about them. Other tossing and turning rumpled and crumpled slate rooves supported crazy landscapes of lichens and mosses.
I was confused about actual village names but it turned out I was in ours and only a few houses away from where I’m staying when I found a park bench under shelter to read the map (it was raining), thinking I’d somehow taken a wrong turn and was in the next one.
I tried a bike but either the seats aren’t made like they used to be or I’m not made like I used to be and I’ve decided to walk. It’s about an hour to walk into the closest town where there are shops, and I’ll take a taxi home if the wine is too heavy. Tomorrow- I’m going to look for a French person.
Every aspect of the alarm clock had been double-checked.
Turned it off and had another half hour snooze, then all systems go.
Things into suitcases (GPS at the very bottom), check money, camera, information about where I was going, cupboards, drawers, under beds...all set.
Early cup of tea with the dogs.
Lovely farewell breakfast and hugs all ‘round and I stepped into my car for the last time. I sincerely hoped.
I would hand it in at Augouleme then take the train to Chagny, beyond Beaune south east of Paris.
The road to Angouleme where I was to catch the train was “dead easy”. I didn’t like the sound of that.
I got the first bit. Then went through a village which confused me and I thought I’d missed a turn, so doubled back (I’m getting very good at that), realised I had been on the right road after all and resumed the journey. It seems I expect something to go wrong to the point that I don’t recognise when everything is actually going to plan.
The roads got flatter and straighter and wider and the signs I needed were usually there. Sometimes they were placed on the other side of a roundabout or intersection where you could only see them if you knew that was the way you were going and therefore turned your head in that direction, which seemed a bit redundant to me, but I managed each roundabout with only one circuit, unlike my early days of driving here.
Suddenly the little signs to the railway (SNCF) weren’t there any more, and I wondered how people were meant to know when they’d actually arrived at the station. I’d actually arrived at the station. Spotted the car hire place, found an intersection to make a turn, and found a park right outside their front door. PHEW!!!!!!!!!
Cleverly, as I’d returned the car a week early, I used the extra time to leave my bags in the boot (trunk) (coffre) and go across the road to the railway station, use their toilet, and print out my tickets.
I had on one previous occasion run into a French railway toilet so I approached this one with a casual air. It was cheaper than the last one (30 centimes rather than 50) and the space inside was bigger. Money into the machine, electronic clunking sound, door unlocks. Step inside. Close door...no lock or handle...electronic clunking sound and you are committed. This time, however, I was finally face to face with the notorious hole-in-the ground toilet. I had met their kind before in other countries, but was fascinated to finally confront the French species. Obviously designed by a man. I have to give it to the French, though, they’re very hygienic. The instant the door locked, the water started running to wash your hands. Unlike the previous pay-to-pee unit, this one didn’t say exactly how long one had before it automatically hosed itself out. In any event, there isn’t enough time for germs to do anything untoward as you either don’t make physical contact with anything in these getups, or you are so afraid of being hosed down you are out of there as fast as you can. If only there were a way out. Ah yes, press the button...electronic clunking sound, you are released.
I had a wonderful day!
Whereas cars are designed to prevent you from making contact with others, rail and bus travel require you to use your French and wink and nod knowingly to fellow passengers as we silently comment on that idiot standing in the doorway of the jam packed bus blocking passengers from getting on and off, and watch the little French woman mutter under her breath about him, then make comments as she alights which he responds rudely to, for which other passengers admonish him. Finally a woman getting on tells him to move and he does. The rest of us nod and wink at each other.
I got my tickets out of a self-serve machine at the Angouleme station, with the help of a SNCF staff member who spoke English while I persevered with my French. I suppose it was more important for me to understand her.
I composted my ticket (see an earlier train voyage episode).
One may wonder why French stations are filled with people standing and sitting silently, gazing up at a central screen, then suddenly they’re on the move, streams of them flowing quickly in several different directions passing through each other like bagpipers in a military tattoo. On the screen is a list of all of the trains, but you don’t know which platform yours is on until the sign flickers and there it is. Then you have 20 minutes to get to your seat. If you’re smart, you’ve already sussed out where the various platforms might be. Once you’ve found your TGV platform (they don’t believe in elevators and escalators at stations for the most part..silly of one to have luggage ) you find another little screen with the “composition” of the train. If you’re in car 11, the little picture of the train will have car 11 under area “F”. You look up and along the platform and find the sign saying “F”, then go and stand under it. You feel smug that your spot is out in the first bit of sun you’ve seen that day and not under the sheltered bit. Then it rains.
The TGV (very fast train) pulls in and it isn’t car 11 but car 12 in front of you. This is my first TGV. Remembering how the subway in Russia takes one breath then pelts off at breakneck speed, and visualising ending up in a pile at the back of the train with the other tardy passengers who weren’t in their seats when the TGV left, like that stuff at the bottom of the fridge, I was a bit panicky and enlisted help. Some young fellows helped me stow my bag. I was in seat 14, but the seats seemed to go down to 32 and stopped. No, there was a small compartment at the front with what amounted to a couch running around the walls, and a large young man theatrically asleep in my place.
I took the seat beside him and tried to like it better.
French trains are very silent. People on the trains are very silent.
I prepared myself for the explosive lurch into motion.
The TGV politely began to glide forward, cautiously picked its way through the outskirts of Paris, then when it was sure we were all ready, gathered momentum and got down to the task of putting the French countryside behind it as fast as it possibly could.
I couldn’t see much because the strip of window at the top revealed the sky, the strip at the bottom revealed the bushes and banks just beside the train, and there was no strip in between which would have contained all of the villages, agriculture, geography, topography and other useful bits. I can report, however, that the clouds between Angouleme and Paris are lovely.
The train arrived at Paris Montparnasse station (Gare) , I caught the aforementioned overcrowded bus to Gare de Lyon and in so doing learned how buses work, and was delighted to pass through Paris again, a city which reminds me of Saint Petersburg in Russia. Seeing St Petersburg before Paris is like seeing the movie before reading the book. St Petersburg was built by one of the “Great”s, Peter. I don’t know how Great he was compared to Alexander . Presumably Catherine, being a woman, had to be extra Great . Anyway, he thought he could make better use of the space than the Finnish so he put St Petersburg there.
First he travelled about Europe incignito, learning architecture and shipbuilding, posing as an apprentice in order to learn from the ground (or seabed) up. Of course, being about 7 feet tall, speaking Russian, being highly educated and having Russian noblemen with him, it’s probable he was the only one who thought he was fooling anybody.
He was very excited by Europe and built St Petersburg to be a picture European city, Like Paris.
Outside Gare de Lyon.......
Gare de Lyon.....
Another TGV, a change at Dijon where I decided to get some fresh air but had to retreat back into the station due to the cloud of smoke outside...a LOT of people in France smoke, and they spread out when they go outside for a cigarette, presumably in consideration for one another’s health.
Smaller train but equally determined to get us there to Chagny, met by my host, into my new abode, and a glass of wine at my next kitchen table.
I have learned that I MUCH prefer to travel any way than by car, because then I actually get to learn so much and have to talk to people, and I LOVE people-watching. Paris is full of different people- like the monk with a coat over his robes, sandles, a monkish haircut, and a briefcase. I wondered what was in it...a quill pen, stone jar of ink and maybe some gold leaf? The man with the most stunning solid dark comb-over I’ve ever seen that stopped exactly halfway back- when he looks in the mirror it looks like he has hair. I wonder if he’s ever seen the back. Maybe he doesn’t care. Stiletto heels, leather jackets, Japanese tourists, suave older men, rollerbladers, scooters, poodles, so much to enjoy.
Tomorrow I get on a bicycle.
Oh, I bought some food in Paris between trains. It was in a bag. I hung the bag from the handle of my rolling suitcase. When I arrived at my new abode and dived for my apple and sandwich, there was a hole in the bag from running along the ground, some centimeters of the sandwich had been ground off, and my apple is lost in Paris.
A lot of the day was occupied by looking at various and sundry options to get me from the kitchen table in Bonnes, to the kitchen table in my gite (holiday cottage) in Beaune, on the other side of France, by tomorrow evening.
The only problem with booking accommodation in another country over the internet, with no knowledge of the geography of country in question, I’ve discovered, is that the accommodation may occur in places travel between which was not ever anticipated by those who designed major motorways in that country, or minor motorways, or any other roads. Including goat tracks.
I am not totally comfortable driving here, on the wrong side of roads I’m not familiar with in a car with gears which keep turning up in unexpected places, in a language I can only just order food reliably in. I have the car for another week.
My hosts and I pored over maps, fired up the GPS, and consulted the delightful French neighbour who pursed her lips and shook her head slowly. She knows the region that I’m going to very well. It was looking pretty dire in her opinion.
Then we checked with the GPS. My GPS has the voice of an Australian bloke at the moment. His pronunciation of the roads here had us all in tears. I know his French isn’t great, but to be honest, I suspect he was bunging it on just a bit for the neighbour.
Then we had what looked like a major a breakthrough. I had asked it to map driving to Montlucon, a city half way to my final destination. No problem. The GPS told me to go out the gate, turn right, turn right again, turn right once more and voila! I’m there. Montlucon.
In actual fact, I’ve just left the house through the back door, driven all around the block, and arrived back at the front door.
The others could see why I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. Which is pretty tempting.
Drive for hours and hours and hours and still not be there.
Drive all day to get half way, find accommodation for the night and drive all the next day to get the rest of the way. The silly thing is, I only have six days then have to head back west again.
Forfeit the price of the accommodation in Beaune, stay in this region and return the car to Poitiers at the end of next week as planned.
Drop the car tomorrow at an airport with hire cars and fly from wherever I can to as close to Beaune as I can get, and fill in the gaps with taxis, trains, buses, whatever.
Drop the car at a railway station with hire cars and do the trip by train.
Drop the car in an alleyway and go home.
I decided to drop the car at a not-too-hard-to-get-to railway station tomorrow morning, timing it so any fog can lift before I go, then whip up to Paris then down to Beaune and be there by 9 tomorrow evening. Having been able to watch the Beautiful countryside slip past. With somebody else navigating. And the GPS at the bottom of my suitcase. Sigh.
Today I was meeting up with the writer who is currently staying in her apartment which I’ll be renting later in the month, in Poitiers.
The city is north of Bonnes and accessible by train. I would travel there leisurely in a gently rocking carriage from which I’d watch the Beautiful countryside slip away, we’d meet, lunch together, check out the ropes for the apartment, then part with probably a peck on the cheek when it was time for me to make my leisurely way back to Bonnes.
It turns out that to get there I would need to catch the train from not too distant
Chalais at the not so leisurely hour of 6:51 am to then connect with the even less leisurely TGV (Very Fast Train) which catapults hysterically from Angouleme to Poitiers several times a day.
I set my alarm for 5:10 am for a relaxing shower, cup of tea, toast, and departure at 6:10 for the 20 minute drive, which I knew would take me longer but would still leave plenty of time for purchase of tickets in French.
I rechecked the alarm to make sure the little button was in the right position...I have been known to have pushed it a bit too far to the left and it doesn’t go off.
I woke all through the night as I do before a morning when I am due to wake up alarmed. I decided to check the clock to see how many hours I had left to sleep.
It was 6:12 am.
(Insert swear words here)
It was pitch black. Shot out of bed, groped, found light switch, threw on clothing, found light switch, brushed teeth, looked all over for car keys, could remember seeing them right there (insert more swear words), found them in the pocket where I’d just put them ( ditto) , grabbed bag, coat, camera, handbag, checked for money, added money, turned lights off, pitch black, groped, found light switch, found nifty torch keychain, turned lights off, turned handy torch on, down the winding stairs, out the door...it was pitch black.
Except for the fog.
Deep breath. I may still be able to do this...started car, remembered clutch and handbrake, gears and found light switch, crept through fog- found driveway, found gates, opened gates, crept through, closed gates, indicated, pulled out onto the road.
It was pitch black except for a wall of white directly in front, and a small doormat of grey directly beneath. I waited for me to go faster. The road, even with creeping, lurched this way and that, went up and down, met other roads wandering lost through the fog, and all the time I was painfully aware that I’d never driven to the railway before and wasn’t entirely sure where it was. I got out through the gate at 6:25 am. At 6:35 am I was just barely up the road. At 6:37 am I could tell I’d never make it. At 6:39 am I took a wrong turn which actually allowed me to make another turn and end up heading back for home. By 6:45 am I was incredibly glad I hadn’t tried to go faster, by 6:46 am I realised I’d never have arrived in time even if I had woken at 5:10 am, by 6:51am I was drinking a VERY welcome cup of tea.
I rang the writer. I’d look at alternatives...and in the end decided to take the 1:15 pm train. We’d only have a few hours together but that would be nice anyway.
At 11 am I started the drive to Chalais again, this time in bright sunshine on clear roads with green fields and sunflowers on either side.
Luckily I had lots of time up my sleeve because I still ended up travelling at fog speed: about 20 kph, behind a tractor.
Luckily I had lots of time up my sleeve because the directions I’d been given weren’t QUITE right...you DO actually have to take that little road under the railway to find the station; if you don’t you visit other interesting quaint narrow little roads with small boys on bicycles and you wonder why anybody would put a station so far from the tracks.
I practiced my French by listening in on the conversation between the ticket lady and the young man and older woman who had several complicated requests, and spent several minutes trying to figure out which side of the line my train would be on. Two signs gave completely opposite advice. I sat down, walked outside, sat down, read pamphlets, sat down.
Luckily I had lots of time up my sleeve.
Then it was my turn. I didn’t take long.
Yes, there is a train at 1:15, but I’d have to wait at Aubeterre for two hours for the TGV to Poitiers which would arrive there at 4:11 pm. I would have exactly 45 minutes before I’d have to catch the train back.
I rang the writer.
Having missed going to Poitiers twice and then giving up, I helped let the hens out again. A little family of wild ducks joined them and the two tame ducks with toupees for a bit of breakfast, but because my camera thinks for a minute before it clicks, I kept just missing bits of them. One friend has asked why my photos don’t have people in them...it’s because they’re long gone, in fact home having their dinner by the time the shutter clicks.
One and a bit ducks...just missed the second one
...Red hen...just missed her...
...Got them! ......
We stepped into the Church in Bonnes.
One of my hosts needed to make a trip to the Airport at Bergerac in the afternoon to pick up a friend.
At the airport there’s a sign clearly depicting the things that one ISN’T allowed to take onto the plane. In France, those things include fine wines and Duck paté. Show offs...
I had a chance to photograph the countryside out of the side window. Because my camera thinks as it does, and because the road is likely to change its mind at any moment about what direction it’s taking, I JUST missed photos of quaint houses, picturesque dairy cows, beautifully laid out vineyards and gardens, little old men in berets, pigeon houses, rivers, lakes, and an entire forest.
Tobacco shed...just missed the rest
...quaint church just missed.............delightful houses just missed......lake just missed...
...no idea what this was but I just missed it...
However, the French, being very considerate, and being aware of digital cameras and the nature of French roads which can make actually arriving at a destination less than a sure thing, have placed little signs at the exit from villages, towns , and cities to let you know which one you’ve just missed.
Unlike the roads in Australia which start you off in one city or town and take you to the next with relatively little procrastinating, the roads in France are just as likely to start in somebody’s kitchen as at a Town square, then wander about wherever they please. They’ll see how the maize is doing, stroll into the woods for a bit of shade, tumble down a hill and around a bend then remember they forgot something and will head back again. They come across one another and that can be a real distraction. Sometimes they forget completely where they were going. That’s why road signs are placed at an angle...because even they aren’t sure.
We put the hens to bed. It was late. Dark. I took a photo....
Incidentally, I’d set the alarm for 5:10 pm.
Do I order in French in France if the waitress and I both know perfectly well that we're both English?
The first Galette I ever met was last year in Toulouse. My niece and I thought their description looked good, and decided to order the one with spinach. It was called a galette Popeye. Thin buckwheat pancake, edges folded in over a filling to make a square. Quite stunning to look at.
The waiter came to take our order.
“Deux galettes pop-eee” we said, in our best French accent.
“Deux galettes pop-eee” we frenched again.
Still no comprehension.
We surrendered and pointed to the menu.
“OH!!!”, he said, in French.
“Le... Pop-eye” he corrected us in an American accent.
I had one again today.
I just pointed.
I was in Aubeterre and the view from the table was lovely.
The waitress and I both began in French. She was rushing energetically between the few tables and was somehow walking on the flats of her feet so the old floor heaved whenever she went past and I couldn’t help remembering that France has termites and that the restaurant was perched on the side of the hill.
She then spoke to the neighbouring tables and out poured a broad rural British accent. ALL of the tables around were occupied by British persons. I stuck to my French because I was in France and wanted to get my money’s worth, but my cover was blown when the real estate agent with whom I had just spent a couple of hours came into the tiny restaurant across the tiny square from her tiny office to get my e-mail address. In English.
At the next table were two men who had also been in the agency- the term “Million Euros...” had caught my attention...and “She...” for whom they seemed to be acting. “She...” was being very hard to please and they were bickering between themselves like an old married couple. Two architects? Investment strategists? Sons?
The delightful real estate agent friend of my B&B hosts had offered to show me to and through a few houses today, to help explore the idea of buying here. I’m thinking of moving from where I am in Sydney and have decided to explore various corners of the world, including this one, as potential new nesting spots.
I know her car is old, but her driving reassured me that my stopping and peering for absolutely minutes in all directions before crossing intersections, growling up hills in who knows what gears, and taking my time painfully and gingerly on bends and twists and through the core of villages is actually how some locals do it. My ego shifted from first into second. Or is that fourth...??
Aubeterre is yet another delightful village and has an amazing pottery studio.
......I noticed a depression carved out of the cliff face that somebody was using as a shed.
We stopped to get “Gazole” (diesel) and I fired up the camera to take a few shots. On the LCD screen I could see my legs. My GOD but I’ve put on weight!!! Then I realised it was the reflection of my legs on the side of the car. Distorted. Phew!!!
The countryside was beautiful again.
............but little stone houses have very thick stone walls and very little light inside. I need light so probably won’t end up in a little stone house. Not that I am looking for anywhere to “end up”...
Once back in Aubeterre, I discovered that not only is there a shed carved out of the cliff face, but also a whole monolithic Church, carved out of the mountainside about 1000 years ago. Visitors were handed electronic personal guides which crooned commentary into our ear in French or English at various numbered points. I chose French to help work on my language skills, meaning my History skills are still a bit rusty.
As people wandered silently through the cavernous space, guide pressed to their ear, look of private concentration and meditation on their face, it seemed as though the atmosphere may not have been too different from that created by the monks all those centuries ago. It was impossible not to imagine those who had lived their lives out there, knowing each bump in the wall and the fall of each step and the character of the echo in each chamber.
Depressions in the floor marked tombs which have been archaeologically explored and emptied. Part of a skull rested on a ledge. It felt too intrusive to photograph it. Him.
Back to Bonnes.
The sun was lovely today. When I’m working on cartoon ideas while sitting out in the garden, I can look exactly like I’m asleep. It’s uncanny.
A neighbour is away at the moment so the household here is letting hens out in the morning for her and feeding and putting them to bed in the evening. When I accompanied the two labradors, one Auntie and one small boy to do the deed this afternoon, the hens were nowhere to be seen. We looked everywhere. The garden is beautiful and peaceful and runs down to the river. A playpen with a half-eaten carrot in it suggested that the guinea pigs, who I understand have gone back to England, were called away urgently. Twin white ducks with toupees were hopeful about the container of layer pellets, but were ultimately disappointed.
Apparently these particular ducks don’t like water. They prefer to perch on top of a swimmer’s head. Makes sense.......
I went back later in the evening on my own to see if the hens had returned from wherever they’d been and to shut them in for the night, but realised after I’d lured and locked up whoever was there that I had forgotten to ask exactly how many of them there are and what they look like. Luckily “two” and “red” was right.
The light this evening was wonderful......................
....The lovely woman who lives in this house is 104 years old. Her daughter is 85.
Interesting facts picked up while travelling:
There are little cars in France that you can drive without a licence (non-permis) - they only go at 35 kph and are very fuel efficient.
There are lots of moles in France. They are much bigger than you thought.
It is simply silly to suggest you could make a mountain out of a molehill. I tried.
The Boulangerie (baker) here isn’t open on Mondays any more now that summer is over.
Octopus like to be stroked between the eyes.
Octopus must have eyes.
France has termites.
If you meet a bear, you are probably not in France.
If you meet a bear, try to look big, back up calmly, and leave your pack on the ground to distract it while you slip away.
If you meet a Black Bear, have done all of the above and it attacks, fight to the death because they don’t like to get injured, unlike you.
If you meet a Grizzly Bear, have done all of the above and it attacks, roll into a ball and protect your neck with your hands.
Or the other way around. You may be a little hazy at the time.
Unfortunately your Bear identification book is in your pack.
With your “What to do if you meet a Bear” book.
Everybody had left the house ( B&B ) for Church or Bordeaux. I had the industrial sized toaster to myself, and after a fortifying cup of tea, decided that today I would go exploring.
Abbeterre is a small village on a hillside not too far from Bonnes.......................................................
Being Sunday, the centre of the town was crowded with tourists and locals visiting the stalls and butcher, Hotel and galleries , Tabac, and other odd shops. English seemed to be the most common language. This area has been settled by a lot of English and Dutch, which has revived the various towns and their schools. As a natural mimic, I am having an extremely hard time restraining myself from falling into various British accents.
Rain played with us for a bit, but the day ended up sunny and warm.......
They have BIG bread there! ......
I got lost coming out of Aubeterre, which is practically impossible, so I decided that I would just drive whichever way looked inviting for the next little while and the whole thing would look intentional. I think it worked.
The car finally got to experience fourth gear, and I progressed to juggling the camera as well as brakes, clutch, accelerator, bending roadways, hills (both up and down), oncoming traffic on one lane roadways, corners, bridges, rain and the odd fly.
Things I learned by driving through the countryside today:
French drivers have a highly developed ability to judge, with lightning speed, exactly what the width of the road is, the width of your car, the width of their car, the extent of protrusion of door handles, side mirrors and hubcaps, and from those estimates are able to calculate precisely what position to take on the roadway in order to fit all of us on the paved bit as we pass one another at speed. If they should conclude that we aren’t all going to fit, they calculate that you’ll notice they are going to drive in the same position on the road anyway and that you will pretty briskly utilise the conveniently provided shoulder.
French drivers in general are very tolerant of cars being driven by persons not used to gears, clutches, driving on the right, bends in the road and French drivers. They acknowledge their support by revving their engine in salute as they speed past while overtaking you or as you finally scuttle out of their way into an even smaller roadway after they’ve been stuck behind you for, I actually don’t know how long.
Some French drivers are Dutch. Or British.
At an intersection, if the sign which is directing you towards a village is positioned as if it can’t make up its mind exactly which road it’s pointing to, i.e. it’s at a bit of an angle, you will take the wrong road.
If you are being spontaneous and follow a sign which points you towards a “Le”, a “La”, or a “Les” something, you will end up in somebody’s yard trying to do a u-turn either in the ruts left by their tractor, or inconspicuously on their front doorstep.
If you are being spontaneous and follow a sign which points you towards a “Saint” something, it will probably be a small village which you passed through not fifteen minutes ago from another direction.
The countryside is beautiful.
...Mussels and rosé for lunch, the car was replaced by walking shoes for the afternoon.
The path beside the river that passes through Bonnes is lovely......................
Things I learned along the river today:
Newfoundland dogs walk upwind of one regardless of which direction one is walking in.
There was a slight wind today.
If a Newfoundland dog rolls in something stinky, there is an awful lot of dog to have rolled in whatever that was.
A Newfoundland dog near the river in Bonnes definitely rolled in it.
Newfoundland dogs like to come for walks with people they don’t belong to and who wave at them and hold their noses and tell them to go home.
Other people who have canoes on the river bank think stinky Newfoundland dogs belong to the other people who are obviously waving at them.
If a person falls out of a canoe, his friends fish him out; stinky Newfoundland dogs don’t jump into the river to rescue him.
Newfoundland dogs walk upwind of one regardless of which direction one is walking in.
I had planned to take the car out for a putter today but had cartoons to do and decided to have a good solid day’s work. It had been raining and as I finished up the sun came out so I toddled off for a walk, but only got as far as the garden path. Everyone from the household was outside enjoying a cup of tea and a chat or a run around the bushes. The graphics tablet came out for a demonstration, a group illustration, then a bit of a try by the two five year olds.
A lot of conversation flowed across the kitchen table today. ......
Topics to think about:
.....How do you protect your children from unsafe others without instilling fear in them for other people in general, adults in particular, men specifically?
.....Is the move of young people from the country to cities inevitable nowadays, and maybe good for them?
.....How many five minute turns each on a graphics tablet can two five year olds want?
.....Why does it rain as soon as the clothes are hung out on the line?
.....Why didn’t the @##@$! barometer say so?
.....What are bats called in French?
.....Who would call a bat in French or anything else?
.....Who invented the desire for flat clothes? Did he (had to be a man) then offer to do the ironing????
.....Would animals in the zoo be happier if they were given a good fright every now and again to use their camouflage and running skills and instincts?
.....How would you frighten a jellyfish?
.....How could you tell?
.....What’s that scratching noise behind the wall?
.....Why do kids have the best questions, like: If worms don’t have eyes, how do they sleep?
.....Why don’t most barnyard fowl fly?
Because most of them are chicken. ( A riddle invented by my older brother in about grade 7. Ask him to tell you the elephant joke sometime...)
The garden here is a treat.
............It was market day today, in Riberac, so off we went in two cars. I had the person who knew the way as my passenger so we were leading the station wagon full of bouncy family, who are also visiting the household at the moment. While my trip was edge-of-the-seat, full concentration, alert, lightning reflexes and precision steering, scraping daredevillishly past churches and barns on elbow bends, those in the rear, I understand, nodded off at our 45 kph pace.
My passenger was aware that I usually drive in Australia in an automatic rather than on the right with gears, and in order to put her mind at rest I mentioned that I’m a very safe driver- and have only ever had one ticket which was for untidy parking...at which instant, having successfully negotiated a roundabout, I found myself, car, and passenger shooting out into the path of and then having to floor the accelerator to avoid colliding with the black 4WD which was already whizzing around the second roundabout which was attached to the first without anybody telling me. The chef friend of the household who was driving the car following us later explained to me, for future reference, that the red triangle in France means you’re meant to slow down, not accelerate.
The market was full of colour and texture and smells and umbrellas and music. Strawberries were soft and warm and delicious, doughnuts were tender and the flavour surprisingly not sweet for the wicked look of them, and we were warned about the cheese man.
The Cheese Man. There are several and I can’t swear which one it is so be generally afraid.
He offers you a taste. The cheese is delicious. You, in an unsuspecting, trusting sort of market day good humoured earthy kind of way say, thank you, monsieur, that’s lovely, I’ll have a bit. He smiles. His knife flashes and the wedge is wrapped. It costs you 20 euros (about $30.00). You pale at the realisation of how much of your holiday piggybank has just gone on a bit of curdled milk. Many tourists share this experience as their central recollection of Riberac, possibly of the region, maybe even of France.
The locals who want cheese accept the sample, say merci, I’ll just have 120 grams.
Those in the know who DON’T want cheese accept the sample, said merci, then leave.
A trip to the supermarket (wine and groceries and clothing all rubbing shoulders...the prices on the shelves are LCD displays which I suspect are changed from a central computer...you push a one euro coin into the trolley to unchain it from its colleagues, then retrieve your euro when you return the trolley to its shackles...no bags or boxes are provided...you weigh your own produce and punch the little button with its picture on it to print out your own pricetag) and once again it is amazing to see not only the same brands of toothpaste as in Australia or Canada, but that the French have to solve the same dilemma- do I want white teeth, or strong teeth, fizzy teeth, fresh breath, baking soda, new flavour, tartar reduction, cavity protection,or triple action. There isn’t one tube of toothpaste to simply get dinner off your teeth.
A drama class was held at the house this afternoon for adolescents, which is how the household earns its income. Delightful kids. English, French and Dutch. They enjoy a romp in English after their formal French days at school.
Out to dinner with my hosts- gradually less nail-biting weaving about the countryside in the car but I still take it slowly- old French house, wonderful food, good conversation, home in the dark with light rain. Two navigators. They live here. We get lost on the way home (no, it wasn’t the church she thought it was after all, which became apparent when a water tower appeared which wasn’t supposed to be there)
Fun day. On Monday I’ll go and look at some houses with the real estate agent at whose house we had dinner. She is also a cultural transplant and doesn’t feel her home of 21 years is “home”.
What is “home”?
I’m sitting in a cosy yellow stuffed armchair in a grand old house in Bonnes. It’s my first day here, having arrived last evening at 6 pm.
It was raining lightly and having taken 7 1/2 hours to drive the 200km from Clermont-Ferrand where I picked up the car, the warm kitchen and welcoming apero and an invitation to join the household for a dinner of fish pie prepared by the friend who happens to be a chef, were enough to make one weep.
I said goodbye to Saint-Flour on Tuesday.
..................A motor scooter was churning up the road far below- a blowfly in a bottle- the sound disappearing and re-appearing as it was swallowed and regurgitated by folds in the the hillside.
Madame Chaumiers picked me up in her taxi at 8 am on Wednesday morning for the short run down the hill to the station.
I bought a ticket for Clermont-Ferrand from the sour-looking chap behind the counter- even singing “Bonjour” didn’t have an effect. I “composted” my ticket- I understand it now! The ticket you buy is good for two months and has no date on it- the “composter” prints today’s date on the end so you can’t re-use it. The sound is a cross between canvas ripping and a short circuit.
The countryside was lovely- as on the same trip going the other way a week ago, rolling hills, but, of course, rolling in the opposite direction.
After being deposited at the Clermont-Ferrand railway station, I had a map of the car rental place’s street so I could walk to it, but needed help figuring out where exactly off the edge of the page I was starting from.
Car rental: My “micro car” was bigger than I’d expected, but quite nice.
It had keyless entry which I wasn’t expecting because my car at home doesn’t have it - the lady must have thought I was a bit thick unlocking the doors with the key. The car was pointing out the gate so I didn’t have to reverse, thankfully, and the nice fellow who beeped at me is probably used to customers rolling out of there, a bit stunned, forgetting to look.
The car: Overall I did pretty well, only forgetting to use the clutch to get it to change gears at one major roundabout, and kangaroo hopping when I turned on the ignition once. I signalled with my windscreen wipers a couple of times but people got the gist.
The driving: Clermont-Ferrand looks harmless as a small blue dot on a map. I thought I’d just set the GPS for Bonnes and sit back only having to worry about remembering to use the clutch and signals and driving amongst French persons. Just whip onto a main sort of road, and I’d be off. What I didn’t know then is that once Clermont-Ferrand gets a taste of you, it doesn’t let you go. Roads and crossroads keep re-appearing...you stop a bit too far forward so you can’t see the traffic lights (which are only placed at the approach to intersections and not on the far side) so have no idea whether to stop or go...you get caught in the middle of a huge intersection which you’ve navigated twice already but still don’t understand...and a man throws up his hands in frustration at you (which makes you feel better...you’ve survived your first abuse) so you try a different road and back you arrive yet again at the intersection from Hell...from exactly the same direction. You listen to the GPS for a bit, you ignore it for a bit, but you CAN’T GET OUT OF CLERMONT-FERRAND!!!!
You experience driving along narrow cobbled roadways, are in danger of having to do a u-turn inside a cathedral, squeeze past people on footpaths, take left turns and right veers and only once forget which side of the road you’re meant to be on, but nothing works. An hour later you end up back at the station which is five minutes from the car rental place, but on the other side of the tracks from where you started. You get out , (your knees don’t shake as much when you’re standing) and in fear, panic, and frustration decide to return the car and take buses, trains, marry a taxi-driver, whatever alternatives there might be to get you to...anywhere.
The GPS: But that would mean driving the car back to the car rental place. On the other side of the tracks. Damn. You take a deep breath, get back into the car, and tell yourself you can do this. But you are at the end of your rope. You have no choice. You decide to trust the GPS.
GPS Guy sounds confident enough. Apart from his hilarious pronunciation of the French road names (which you’re sure you’ll be able to laugh at in a day or two) he takes you in a new direction. This is promising, and yet you are suspicious. Clermont-Ferrand is in the lap of mountains and you have been frantically avoiding uphill as you haven’t driven a manual for 22 years except for two lessons in Ottawa a few weeks ago. The road appears to be going up. You have no choice; he still sounds relaxed. The incline steepens, the road narrows, you squeeze through a tunnel under the railway line, veer up and left, have to change from second gear to first, now pure survival is the goal. It gets steeper, your underwear will need a good wash.
At last he tells you to turn left onto the bustling road above where people are obviously coming from and going to somewhere else, but the road you’re on is blocked off!!!! They don’t connect!!!! HELP!!!! The only possible spot to turn around is in the mouth of a small patch of driveway at the very top of the road. Luckily you are good at 12 point turns.
It dawns on you that the GPS is looking at a flat map. It probably takes you straight up mountainsides because it doesn’t know, although you’re inclined to suspect a touch of malice at this point.
You decide to take a chance. Bordeaux is to the west. You want to go west. You spot a sign for Bordeaux...that will do! Missed the turn...third time lucky...no signs...are you still on the right road?...seem to be in somebody’s driveway...ah....success!!!
Over the next 6 hours, the GPS will navigate you along backroads which you take in 2nd gear while calculating how long it will take to go 200 km without getting into 3rd, and will take you onto and off of tollways (you had asked to avoid tolls but now know that one sort provides you with a ticket at the beginning and you make payment at the end, and another you have to put coins or card in at the beginning - you wish you knew your PIN) You meander around cowpats then are directed back onto the main road you’ve recently left, off again, through tiny villages, up more cobbled lanes, around fields of dairy cattle and depressed sunflowers (going brown, heads and shoulders stooped, staring at their feet)
, along one-lane roads through glowing green tunnels of branches interlaced like a guard of honour, over bridges, a stop for coffee and sandwich, back onto main roads, then you exit at its suggestion and spend two hours wandering more narrow back roads through woodlands and farms. The most worrying aspect is that the estimated “time until arrival” on the GPS is increasing.
6 pm, light rain, green iron gates and two labradors - you’ve arrived!..............................
The chimney pots across the road look like they parachuted into place...
Today I had to draw up and send cartoons. It was an odd day in that not all of the shops were open.
Every time I come around the corner from rue Sorel I’m taken aback by a really creepy guy who’s standing on the footpath. Then I recognise him...he fools me every single time!
The wall at the park is a meeting place.
*Tomorrow is the first day of the school year. Kids have gone to school on Saturdays up until now, and not on Wednesday. This year Saturday school is being cut out according to the local paper...but it all depends on my French.
*Young kids can buy cigarettes...or at least the young girl ahead of me when I was buying the paper today can.
*Rubbish in bags is collected from the street early every morning, except Sunday.
*People occasionally leave discreet bags of dog poop at the side of the road because rubbish in bags is collected from the street early every morning, except Sunday.
*If you eat at the Hotel de L’Europe and think that you’re being asked if you want mushrooms with your dinner, they’re actually asking if you have a room at the Hotel.
*Long-haired dachshunds are allowed into restaurants with their people. They pull their owners behind them and their tails are wagging.
*On the table there’s salt, pepper and mustard. A basket of sliced baguette is brought to the table but may be whisked away if in the end you decide to order an apero (drink) and not food.
*There’s no plate for your baguette if you do decide to order food so you have to leave shards of crust on the tablecloth. Nobody else is eating baguette so you can’t see what the natives do. You still don’t know.
*If you’re REALLY hungry because you were ready for dinner at five but had to wait until 7:30 pm (19h 30 ) which is when the restaurant begins to serve food, one glass of rosé totally does the trick.
Today I walked and had fun catching shapes and patterns and colours and doorknockers......................................................................................................................................................................
Apparently the last guillotining took place in the 1960’s.
Last night was noisy. A young man was shouting and banging on a door just down the street. It went on for quite a while, then there was the sound of a car pulling up, a car door slamming, a car driving away, then silence. I wouldn’t have minded if whatever he was shouting was helping my pronunciation, but I didn’t recognise any of it.
A little later, there was an enormous crash bang. A young woman had run her car into the wall at the same spot! Being a narrow road, it’s hard to imagine how one can run a car at speed into a wall, and again, the French she was using wasn’t familiar to me. She was OK - on her phone and hopping mad by the time I poked my head out the window to see what had happened. She got towed away and life went on.......People spilled out of the Cathedral, men with caps, women with canes, the priest in a bottle-green robe. Small groups went into the Hotel for a bite, or sat around an outside table with cafés reading papers and magazines from the newsagent on the corner. In the park, small groups were chatting...by afternoon, everything except the odd restaurant was closed.
Today I felt like walking and following whichever road looked interesting. I found myself at a stoney cemetery, baking in the sun, the graves festooned with flowers and little marble plaques....In a corner, plastic flowers and silk leaves had blown up against a wall. Even the rememberings by people who are left behind become forgotten.
...The road got smaller then began to climb and became a grassy track. Suddenly I was standing beneath a small Church perched on the very highest point in the region, a huge boulder in suspended animation resting impossibly just below it, a hawk wheeling above...................A few steps further and a familiar statue stood towering over the valley. ...There was a bench and I sat there for awhile; now the hawk was circling below..........If you look closely, you’ll see that on the opposite horizon, windmills, like so many whirling white crosses, also tower over the valley. Each a source of its own kind of energy......On the way back, I sat on a bench beside a tree that was doing the same thing.
Sitting in the park, legs stretched out, I watched a couple encourage their panting boxer (dog) to hop up and have a drink from a fountain. A few minutes later a man got out of his compact car to fill his water bottle from the water spurting into the same fountain. He then drank it. I would have imagined the water was being circulated rather than using fresh...? A cheerful chatty man with a grey scruffy beard had just thrown his grey hairy pup into another fountain on this side of the street...before stopping to chat with the boxer and his owners.
A policeman on a motorbike gave a young woman motorist a ticket. Much paperwork and writing was involved. She appeared to have multiple documents of different colours to hand to him. They smiled at each other. Which reminded me of being in the back seat when a senior student at college (I was her junior by several years) was pulled over by a cop in Sydney. He queried her interstate licence plates. She got out, they chatted for some time, he asked for her number, she married him.
A few notes:
Men on holiday don’t wear socks.
Wire-haired dachshunds are incredibly appealing. I’ve seen three today. Or one with three different sets of people...
When a policeman is giving somebody a ticket, onlookers all carry the same expression on their face: a semi-smile with slightly raised eyebrows conveying at the same time fascination, smugness it isn’t them, relief it isn’t them, an air of innocence in what they ARE doing, disapproval of whatever the person was doing to warrant a ticket, disapproval of the policeman for ticketing them, curiosity to see how both parties are taking it, deeper curiosity at what the motorist actually did wrong and how they got caught, sympathy, complete lack of sympathy, and longing to keep watching it to its conclusion without looking like they’re looking. Even if they have to slide along the bench a bit to get a better view past that post...
Saint-Flour is like an Alice in Wonderland world. Yesterday I helped a young woman with a stroller negotiate a door into a bank. I passed that way a bit later, and the bank was gone! In its place was a butcher shop!! A shop will be closed, dark and full of cobwebs five minutes after you’ve walked past and it was full of customers. Streets turn up in different places each time you try to find them; alleyways turn up never to be seen again. Or, maybe once again......but twice is probably the limit.
I’m beginning to recognise the local kids- the girl with long hair, glasses and a pink bike, and the brother and sister in the cobblestoned square in front of their father’s delicatessen.
And apart from the moments when I think my French is going backwards then realise the people I’m tuning in to are speaking Japanese or German, I feel that I’m getting the hang of it.
P.S. I absolutely mean no disrespect. Absolutely; it’s a beautiful thing and very moving. I am simply sharing the workings of my brain. After admiring the statue on the hill, my first two thoughts were; he looks like Elvis, and, I forgot to put sunscreen on.
I have a habit of doing various jobs then stumbling upon markets just as they are packing up.
After finding out from the office of Tourisme how to get to Clermont-Ferrand from here next Wednesday, I stumbled upon the market packing up. One day I’d love to take photos of faces, and baguettes, but it’s hard without a telephoto lens. You get caught!
- In France, a big man and a little man in clunky boots and overalls with reflective patches on them who ring the doorbell (which you didn’t know you had) loudly at some ungodly hour of the morning have come to do the annual water meter reading. This may not be obvious to you.
- What may not be an ungodly hour in the morning to water meter readers in France may indeed be an ungodly hour in the morning to tourists/visitors who have been enjoying reading late into the night and then sleeping in.
- Water meter readers speak a lot of French very quickly.
- When water meter readers are confronted with somebody who doesn’t appear to speak French, they speak even more French, even more quickly. It is possibly different French.
- When that fails, they try Latin. “Aqua!?...”
- Just let them in.
- The bit of the human brain that contains French wakes up about 20 minutes after the rest of it, i.e. 10 minutes after water meter readers have left.
- The bit of the human brain that contains Latin goes back to bed.
In the evenings, next to the Hotel at the Place d’Armes in Saint-Flour, I’ve been hearing the exciting and evocative clanging of cowbells close by. It is not, as I discovered when I sat at a different table with a different view, a bit of local colour, agriculture or music. It is the shopkeeper rolling a rack of cowbells-for-purchase-by-tourists over the stone footpath into his shop at closing time.
A good walk from Saint-Flour takes you down out of the upper village and along the river.
Beside the river there’s a farm where I could see sturdy pale cattle grazing and could hear their real cowbells clanging. A rooster was crowing in reply to each clang.
At the same time, as almost everywhere, technology wasn’t far away.
Walking back, you can see the wisdom of perching your town on top of a cliff...by the time your attackers reach you, they’re pooped and want to take a shower.
If you order un café (a coffee) in the lower town before you start the long climb back up the hill, you get an espresso with a little tablet of chocolate. You can also ask for a caraffe of water (free). Very reviving. I don’t normally like coffee but so far here it’s been smooth and delicious and I can see why people enjoy it.
Dinner here is generally served after 7 or 7:30 pm. Tonight I walked the streets to fill in time and discovered corners I hadn’t noticed before,
then had a delicious meal of mouse of lamb (“souris” -turned out to be lamb shanks) and a most delicious mashed potato melded with cheese, and some rosé.
The view was absolutely breathtaking as the evening light changed.
I found a beautiful curled hook as I began my walk today, which started me collecting curves (and a triangle or two).
......(These tiles are identical to those used by the Romans, which are on display in the Museum)
I also came across some new neighbours...
saw French road kill...
...and the cat.
Tonight I’m going to bed early!
Last night, in the extremely comfortable bed, I read and went to sleep late, what a luxury, then slept and woke up late. Ditto.
View from the bed if your eyes are open
Breakfast was natural yoghurt (as found in nature, I guess), and a cup of tea made with water boiled on the little gas stove and steeped in a lemon yellow teapot, while I hung my washing on a rack in the sitting room window (The bathroom is underneath the kitchen, the kitchen is underneath the bedroom, the bedroom is underneath the sitting room, the sitting room is underneath the second bedroom, which is connected to the ankle bone...). The little washing machine did a lovely job last night, but whereas the instructions suggested hanging washing OUT of the window, I was a bit shy and hung my knickers and jeans on the rack on the INSIDE of the opened window. Call me a spoilsport, but I didn’t really want my underwear to feature in tourist photos of quaint Saint-Flour washing hanging out of quaint upper floor windows.
Incidentally, there are lots of tourists here, but just about all of them are French. Here are some photos of quaint upper floor windows which a tourist might take...............
My evening meal last night ended up looking at me (trout) while I tried to eavesdrop on my neighbours to improve my francais, only to have relatively rare Pommie (British) tourists at the next table. Serves me right. The view from the restaurant in the Hotel d’Europe was fantastic- countryside a sleep-tossed bedspread of hills and fields, villages and tufts of woodlands.
Today I needed people. I began the day (at noon) by sitting at the Hotel de Ville with a glass of Rose so I could access the internet there. A delightful little dog said bonjour.
”Puce” likes having her derriere scratched and it makes her dance with her hind legs...”Puce” means “Flea”. I mentioned that I used to be a vet and her owners asked if she looked in good health. She’s overweight, but what could I say?...Yes, she looks in fine health....But she’s too fat, they said...What could I say? I don’t think they thought I was much of a vet.
I visited two museums and attached myself to a group in the Cathedral where the commentary and occasional banter between the dashing young male guide and fascinated middle-aged women was all in French. What a marvellous way to learn a language.
Apparently a lot of VERY interesting and amazing things have happened during its history, and can be seen in its architecture (including the asymmetry of the front), but I’m not entirely clear what they were.
I brought with me a bunch of books (I take after my daughters...not much clothing but a stack of books) including a visual dictionary which is ridiculously heavy, and a delightful book which I’d recommend if you are ever going to France, or have ever been to France, or have ever heard of France. It is called “Pardon My French” by Charles Timoney. In it he tells of all the things he would like to have known before he made the move from the UK to the country of Napoleon and Champagne and Parisian drivers.
He warns that when you sit down in a restaurant, the waiter will immediately ask if you’d like an apero- a drink. If you ask for water, as I did yesterday, he warns that the waiter will, as quick as a flash, ask whether you want it sparkling or still (gazeous ou non-gazeous) completely ignoring the possibility that you might want free tap water. Which was exactly what happened last night, and do you think I could remember how to ask for tap water in time? Before I could get my act together (“un caraffe de l’eau” is the answer ) he had slapped a Vittel mineral water and glass onto the table and had whisked off the lid. Damn!!!! Too quick....but I’ll be ready next time.
Charles also tells us that you can order a half (demi) baguette (baguette) in your boulangerie (bakery) if there’s only one of you to eat it, as whatever you can’t manage to eat if you get a whole baguette will be as hard as a rock the next day. So tonight I did just that, and it worked. Nobody batted an eye. I felt like a local.
The fruit and vegetable shop and chocolaterie are tempting............................................ ...........
and the cafe/bookshop where you can sip coffee ( but not decaffeinated = “deca”) or tea and browse through the books is very comfortable (cafe/librarie)
How to look like you speak French:
A lot of French sounds are made with the lips pursed forwards (reminiscent of wine-tasting) , even though the sound itself is made somewhere in the back of the throat, like halfway through a yawn. So, tuck the local paper under your arm, purse your lips slightly, tilt your head a bit to the right, add a mildly sardonic smile, shrug the shoulder on the same side while spreading the hands palms forwards, and you will have had a completely intelligible conversation. Today I managed to not buy some meat, to not buy a skirt, and to not wait for the next tour all in perfect French while barely uttering a sound. So far I have only tilted my head to the right, the consequence of having a slightly pinched nerve, so I make no guarantees about tilting to the left. (It is much as in India where a little wobble of the head immediately breaks down the barriers, indicating that neither party is flummoxed by what is being negotiated and all will be sorted out, however the wobble is to the left and to the right so covers both directions)
If uttering a greeting, start at a relatively high pitch, and singsong your way down. BONjour madam flows downwards in three or four steps. If you are being friendly, or if you’re a shopkeeper with high hopes for this particular customer, it’s four steps down; if a bit pushy or making a point (that skirt is obviously not your size), the “madam” is all on one note, a good hike below the “bonjour”.
Note: To sound even more authentic, blow slightly over your back teeth while talking, much like a balloon slowly deflating. “Oui” (“yes”) becomes more like “wheee”. It works a treat. “Merci” ( Thank you) trails off at the end with a little gust of wind. Particularly useful for seeming authentic if “Oui” and “Merci” are the only words in your vocabulary.
The two museums nearby contain paintings, crockery, coins, swords, jewellery, musical instruments, bonnets, icons, flints, furniture, and much more. It is always poignant to see objects which have outlived their owners. These, by centuries. At home I have a pair of scissors on which is inscribed, “Not to be removed from the Rectory”. They belonged to my mother’s father who was a minister in the Church. He is gone now, as is she, and all of the people to whom the scissors belonged, and all of the people who might have borrowed them. And the rectory. But in my hand I can hold those very scissors, still asking to be returned.
Here the oldest artefacts are from the first century A.D. And they are all local.
Apparently, as soon as people figured out how to forge iron, they made jewellery in order to be more beautiful, and swords and arrows and axes in order to kill each other. The earliest gun had beautiful decorative bone inlay...clearly not owned by someone who expected to get shot.
There were two bows- one a crossbow which needed a winch to pull it into firing position, the other used to make music on a five stringed instrument. I wonder which came first?
Little toy wild boar to give to your hunter friends.
And here’s the cat again, and some joyful “silverbeet” from the Tangled Garden in Nova Scotia because I left it out of the photos before.
...........”My” little house- built about the time of the Revolution between the buttresses of a church...
The setting...................the market...................Trash and treasure here includes busts of Beethoven, Limoge vases, statuettes of Romulus and Remus.............................the shops..........................the neighbours......................................
I believe that when what you expect doesn’t happen, then something new can happen instead. Lots of new stuff happened since I left Nova Scotia!
Half way across the Atlantic realised that I hadn’t filled the rental car with gas before returning it and that I’d probably paid a bomb because of it. Today I found the key to my room at Canning still in my Jeans pocket! Oops.
Several people I know hate Heathrow Airport (near London), but I actually enjoyed it. Flying over London : red rooves and nicely behaved parallel and right angled roads and town-houses with neighbours side-by-side-by-side, meandering brown River Thames , London Eye (which I haven’t figured out yet) , bridges, parks, the odd palace.
At the airport I had to get to Terminal 5 and I had to take a TRAIN to get there! It was free, not hard to get to, a nuisance not being able to continue with the trolley my bags were stacked on, but a hoot as we were warned to “Hang On!!!” before it lurched hysterically into motion. The trip took 4 minutes, according to the (necessarily) short film that was played to us, in which a very friendly and nicely dressed young man who seemed truly chuffed about the train we were on, suggested we check the safety procedures on the card in the pocket on the seat in front of us then showed us a quick Creature Comforts video. There was hardly time enough to read the card let alone have an emergency.
Once at Terminal 5 I managed to grab a seat and lie down for a bit of sleep while I waited to find out what gate the flight to Paris would leave from.
B25...it would take 10 minutes to get to A gates, 15 to B gates, 20 to C gates. And the gates were only announced 40 minutes before the flight was due to take off...so off I dashed...to discover it would require a lift and a train to get to the gate! No film, but we arrived with lots of time to spare.
I had managed a meal and enjoyed hearing the British accents all around- it felt like I was in The Bill, or Dr Who.
Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport looked relatively shabby after the flashily upgraded Heathrow and aspiring flashily upgraded Halifax. Luggage collected, I looked for the Navette (shuttle) promised on the Hotel internet site. I got to practise my French quite a bit as I discovered there was no such thing. I would learn that the shuttle only takes people TO the airport. Bus into the Gare de Lyon (Rail Station) where I haphazardly made my way to the Hotel by an unintentionally circuitous route (as my French improves, the distances when I follow directions will shorten)- smaller backpack on my back, one wheeled backpack and one suitcase rolling along behind...my computer’s teeth were rattling...over picturesque cobblestones...with a few updated directions sought along the way. The shuttle would have known where to go!
Small, claustrophobic, functional hotel room. Dinner at a sidewalk cafe sipping Semillon. Two Semillons! (Do two Semillons make one Llon?)
Next day back to Gare de Lyon to catch my train south. I didn’t quite understand directions at first but found the platform and train and my seat. I felt utterly happy and comfortable. Until the two charming women pointed out that I was in their seat. Right seat, right car, right day, wrong month! My ticket had been issued for September instead of August!!!!
Found le Conducteur who eventually found me a new seat, The silver lining, it was facing forward and the original seat had been facing backwards...but for an extra 15 Euros!
We reached Claremont-Ferrand (I LOVED the countryside and villages and wonderful fairytale houses along the way) where the rest of the journey would be completed by bus, but by the time I discovered where the bus left from, I’d missed it. No matter, my ticket was re-issued for a train AND bus later that day.
I learned how to get Madeleines (special French pastry) from a vending machine, how to get money from a teller machine enclosed in a locked glass booth, how to Compost (stamp) a rail ticket (I have no idea why), how to discuss tipping and Australia with a man at the next table (Australia is a rich country, non? Interesting question...) and how to use an automatic toilet: First you surreptitiously watch for as long as it takes to have watched enough others figure it out to have some idea what to do.
Next, you approach the booth cautiously, and insert 50 centimes. You are allowed in, do whatever you need to do (even with all of your bags squeezed and stacked in with you), then turn around (even with all of your bags squeezed and stacked in with you)(if you’re a girl, boys are probably already facing the right way) and insert your hands into a cubby-hole into which water flows to wash them (the French are always on about “Wash your hands”) then, miraculously you aren’t electrocuted with your luggage as hot air now issues with Boeing gusto from the cubby-hole and with which you dry your hands. The interior of the booth is all metal. A sign tells you that you have 15 minutes maximum. And if one were to exceed that time? Once you exit and close the door behind you, there’s an almighty swooshing and churning and sucking as the booth hoses itself out. Presumably, after 15 minutes, it hoses itself out whether you’re still in there or not.
The train I had been waiting for arrived. I was to change to the bus at Massiac. Halfway there, we were told that the train would now terminate (it always worries me when they say that...) and there was now a bus to take me to my bus. The longer this journey went on, the smaller segments it was breaking into and the more vehicles I was requiring.
The flat cultivated countryside with patchwork fields and dotted higglety-pigglety villages had changed into rolling hills as the first bus headed south. My bag had been pushed by other bags into some nether regions and I wondered at one point if the driver actually believed me that it was there when it was time to change to the “car” (bus) to Saint-Flour. This final (I hoped) bus chugged and climbed up the highway to the highest village in France, Saint-Flour, where umbrellas were once made.
I asked if I could get a taxi from the now defunct rail station bus terminal to the upper city where my little house is...and the driver said he’d take me there! Once at the Ville Haute (Upper city) he showed me where to go on my little map, so with a “Merci”, off I trundled, my various wheels bumping over the picturesque cobblestones again, several confusions and back-tracking, then there it was, in front of me! Little window boxes full of geraniums, and a baguette and bottle of red wine on the table!
Today, all in French, I wandered, ate at a restaurant, didn’t buy a little marble head of a cow, had a tiny delicious coffee and connected to the internet, bought the local paper and carried it under my arm, eavesdropped on conversations and chatted slightly with two women commenting on the infantile behaviour of the young lad on the noisy dirt-bike racing around the narrow streets. I also believe I now know how to get a new SIM card for my phone and prepaid credit for when I hire a car and need to be prepared for emergencies. At least, that’s what I believe...it WAS in French...time for an evening meal.
Ah, bonjour France!..................................................................
It’s 6:05 pm - five hours before I have to board my flight to London.
I drove my rental car around as much as I could to fill in time today,
but in the end decided to return it ........ and hang out at the airport. I had the GPS on for company, like a slightly obsessive companion wanting to catch a flight and telling me in a good-humoured but insistent manner how to get back to the airport at every turn. I deviated in various interesting directions. Even following road signs, I ended up in a field of corn; when the grass on the track was more prominent than the track, I decided it was time to do a twelve-point turn.
Dairy farms, red barns, muscley beef cattle grazing, white plastic shrouded round bales like so many fat peppermints, and a surprising cafe on a deserted elbow.
I stopped at a lovely spot called the Tangled Garden.............................................................Self portrait in a garden
Wicker edging to the kitchen gardens
reminded me of the same woven edging surrounding hidden herb gardens in a monastary in southern France which I visited last year with my niece.
So, farewell to Canada, and onwards I venture. The big question: Will security let my almost empty toothpaste tube through?
I’m about to pack up for my journey to Paris tomorrow.
Today I drove into Wolfville where, appropriately enough, there seemed to be dogs everywhere I turned visiting the Farmers Market.
Incidentally, I mentioned to a friend that the main problem I had when driving here wasn’t keeping on the right hand side of the road, but remembering not to drive too far with the handbrake on. She asked, wasn’t there a little light telling me it was on?
Not that I’d noticed...
Well, I solved it. A little sign kept lighting up ...”Traction On”. Well, to me, traction is a good thing. Of course I wanted traction. Who wouldn’t want traction? Why did the car feel it had to point out that its traction was on? I mean, if its traction was off, wouldn’t it just stand there with its wheels spinning?
OK, so Traction means handbrake. OK.
Today I tried to get ahead with some work, including illustrating a piece teaching kids how to juggle, using “hand A” and “hand B”, “ball 1” and “ball 2” and “point X” , all demonstrated by a cockatoo and a pygmy possum.
I took my computer and graphics tablet with me to a local cafe which I hadn’t tried before. It is gorgeous,
and is half restaurant and half art shop. I may get some paints and a little artist’s notebook tomorrow...
.......reminiscent of a shop in Annapolis Royal which is half bookshop and half leatherwear!
I had forgotten to bring my stylus to the cafe which I needed in order to be able to use the graphics tablet to do drawings, so left my computer on the table and dashed back to the B&B. Wouldn’t do that in many places! I hadn’t paid for my coffee yet but I guess they trusted me to come back...I hadn’t been able to find the stylus I’d been using earlier in the kitchen at the B&B (the only place I can get an internet connection) so had to use my spare. Later I searched for the original in my handbag
and under the bed...it was behind the bookcase. Phew!!!!
Annapolis Valley from the Look Off
I drove into Wolfville which is a lovely old university town. I managed to find a parking space where I wouldn’t have to parallel park. I wonder if I can do this whole trip avoiding parallel parking on the right? I always seem to be crooked when I park here. Even if there’s nobody for miles. Also, the horizon in Nova Scotia is generally on a tilt. It’s quite interesting...it isn’t noticeable until you look at my photos and in them the horizon definitely tilts down to the right...Bay of Fundy tidal effect I suspect.
For lunch I had seafood chowder at a Nova Scotian Irish Pub. It tasted great, even after I found the hair in it. I mentioned the hair to my waitress when she came to take the bowl away, saying that I don’t expect to die from it so not to worry, but I thought they’d like to figure our how it got there. She asked me to describe the hair (male, about six foot two, sunglasses, grey tracksuit with a logo on the back, slight limp...have I read too many detective novels?) Can’t say I had paid too much attention to it, and it was covered with chowder so was pretty well white, but I guess was about this long, and originally dark.
She brought the bill and only charged me half. Nice. Although I tipped her according to the whole amount .
I HATE tipping. I get the bill, and if I’m paying by credit card I take it to the till where I hope that they’ll take a signature rather than needing a PIN which I forgot to remember, and where various employees stand breathing down my neck as I try to figure out, in front of them, how much the wretched 15% tip should be (making sure not to include tax in the amount 15% of which the tip should be) and how much that is when you add it to the total. Sometimes my brain does a complete freeze.
I wish the service industries paid adequate wages so that people didn’t depend upon me being able to do multiplication (or division - I’m a bit hazy). Silly that you, the waitress, get paid more if somebody orders lobster than if they order haddock. You still have to carry one plate.
B&Bs are great for meeting really interesting people and having scintillating breakfast conversation. Yesterday’s conversation...Hurricane Katrina and why and how and the construction of dykes here around Canning (!!! a lot of this land has been reclaimed by dykes made of sod built up over the centuries) and levies there (New Orleans) and what has happened since; distributing aid money to various countries; building schools in northern India and Nepal; food banks and poverty in Nova Scotia.
Today’s conversation - making big life changes; finding a man; strong women in their fifties; strong women in their fifties making those big life changes and looking for those men.
There are four main ways to find a man...but she forgot the first...what if that’s the one that works? Like forgetting the punchline of a joke...What if somebody doesn’t want to buy the most expensive tickets to a baseball game or pretend to have a 1966 blue Mustang for sale? What if she gets the man but he’s always away at baseball games in his 1966 blue Mustang?
My thoughts about life- coming to know that we have a little toolkit that will have the appropriate gear to deal with whatever comes up, so we learn that we don’t need to control and predict and be prepared for every eventuality because whatever happens, we’ll be able to find what we need to deal with it at the time.
I had a great clown teacher who couldn’t live by the most profound thing I learned from him- that if what you expect and plan for doesn’t happen, something new will happen that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. You can embrace the new and step into it like an stumbled-upon secret garden, or be completely unable to see it because your focus is backwards on the thing that didn’t happen.
When I arrived in Canning, the room I’d booked wasn’t available for the first night so I was upgraded to one with a BIGGER bed. It had six pillows.
I have never seen a bed with six pillows before.
In respect for my hosts, I diligently did my very best but had an extremely difficult time trying to use all of them during the course of the night as I can only handle one pillow at a time. I’ve now been moved to a room with four pillows and am getting 33.3% more sleep.
I met up with some friends and joined them for supper at their friends’ house. The chap used to make chairs so I sneaked a photo of his handiwork.He now makes wine and radio-controlled model aircraft (he’s with a group with their own little radio-controlled airport), and has restored a 100 year old pool table with real ivory balls and the original leather pockets. The surface is green baize material (see MANY Agatha Christie books and descriptions of doors)(now I know what she meant) over slabs of slate. Did you know that? I’m glad I didn’t as I stood in the workshop underneath the timber floor that’s supporting its monstrous weight.
Speaking of radio-controlled- I’m reminded of how bemused I was when I first heard of electronic whiteboards- what could it POSSIBLY be electronic about a whiteboard? Like electronic soap, or seat cushions...now I wonder about the chap integrating his skills and creating radio-controlled chairs...
Today I went to Hall’s Harbour
The sand on the beach is of a roughish nature
I visited a little house for sale, built in 1825. Absolutely enchanting, and I loved it,
but is it the home I’m looking for...what is“home”?...
I’m now working in the dining room of the Inn because the elderly house here doesn’t believe in wireless internet and so it makes sure that the signal drops out if I step across the doorsill of my sweet suite. Never mind...
Time to think up some cartoons for sending tomorrow...
So far travelling with my graphics tablet (4 x 6 Intuos 3) and laptop is working well, except PainterX still doesn’t like running on the latest Mac operating system.
The story so far...
I said good bye to my house
then flew to Vancouver for a good sleep.
I had week in Toronto with my brother where the gardens were beautiful,
I fell in love with a bicycle (but couldn’t fit it in my bag)
and raccoons visited in the middle of the night.
The next week I was in a B&B in Ottawa and had a chance to speak French with my hostess. Their garden on the river was delightful.
I love visiting the Ottawa Byward Market- I once worked in a butcher shop there for a month- there was sawdust on the floor.
This bear was dancing between some buildings.
The sentry outside Canada’s Governor General’s house is always eye catching and a bit exciting to me.
I took the walk I used to take summer and winter with the dogs when I was growing up in Ottawa.
Next thing I knew I was in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia, looking across the river to tiny wooden houses and a little white church.
I explored along the Annapolis River and found a small stark house, completely isolated on a hill overlooking the Bay of Fundy where the world’s biggest tides put on a show twice every day. As I watched, a finger of dense fog rolled in across the bay. At Annapolis Royal you can see the only Tidal Power Generator in North America.
The host at my B&B is a chef and the ingredients for the beautiful meals he prepares are mostly from their Mr McGregor “organically grown” garden.
Blueberries were ripening and delicious!!!
Did I mention the tides are big?...
Houses here are generally timber, usually white or pale yellow or blue with white trim, and the older ones have elaborate timber decoration. When doing a search for real estate, one criterion you can use is “Houses greater than 100 years old” and there are still lots to look at. Annapolis Royal is 403 years old.
The various little harbours are fascinating and it would be interesting to be around at the time of day when they’re working to get a glimpse into a way of life centuries old. I keep finding the curves and colours and textures arresting.
I explored backroads...
dined in a Harbourville cafe
had fun teasing my GPS as I meandered through the Annapolis Valley countryside (“Re-calculating...re-calculating...”)
and had a wonderful time chatting with the artists who were involved with “Paint the Town” in Annapolis Royal over this past weekend.
I love colour!
In the evening paintings were noisily silently auctioned and following tension mounting to the six o’clock deadline people queued to pay for their “wins”.
Time for me to vacate the B&B
(Croft House- beautiful)
and wave good bye.
Tonight I write from Canning. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Thought while driving...
To err is human, to get away with it is divine.