Friday, June 14, 2019

Meanwhile, Back in the Garden . . . .

As we settle back home, we're seeing the signs of others who have spent time here while we travelled. The mason bees must have been busy here, for example. Just before we left, back in early April, they'd broken out of the coccoons mudded into tubes by last year's masons.  There had been ten tubes filled last year, and new bees broke out of all ten of them and began working immediately -- and imagine our surprise and delight to find that twenty tubes are now full of next year's crew. This seems to be a self-sustaining operation now, and we'll be sure to have new tubes on hand next year. . . .

While we were away, good friends stayed here several times, and the garden shows the results of their knowledgeable care. As well, Oldest Granddaughter took the responsibilities of her first job seriously, and except for the fig tree, most plants came through the weeks of drought in good health.
Would you like a quick tour? Above, the maidenhair fern we added last fall -- I've got to get a couple more of these into some of the empty pots kicking around, although every time I say something like this, Pater gets a worried look on his face and begins saying silly things like "There's really not room for any more plants."

I suspect this photo isn't as coherent or legible to objective eyes -- to me, it shows the glory of early morning sun shining through the rose-tinged feathery fingers of the ornamental maple. . . .
Under the fountain, wire vine (Muhlenbeckia axillaris if my research is correct) envelopes a quirky sculpture one of my daughters gave me for Christmas or birthday 15 or 20 years ago. The bird used to sit next to the wood stove at our old house, but she doesn't seem to mind being an outdoor creature these days.
And proof that the mason bees are doing their work and earning the housing we provide. . . .
Apples on all three trees! Such a thrill!
The fig, as I mentioned earlier, either needed more to drink or it missed us enough to drop all its leaves. Every single one and, presumably, any little figs as well. New growth has begun, though, and we'll see if it's vigorous enough to maintain its hold on the high-premium real estate. . .
So much I love about Corylopsis spicata (Spike winter hazel). . . .

pleated leaves, that wine-coloured leaf-sheath (botanists, help me out here? There's probably a specific term for this) against the new leaves' sweet golden green. . .

So that although it claims a large sprawl of terrace space, it's found a forever home with us. . . .

Another apple tree -- if you peer carefully at that blue sky behind, you'll see the immense crane stretched across it -- I'm so tickled by that juxtaposition. My rooftop urban orchard.
The New Dawn rose is looking better than she ever has thanks to my friend's vigilant aphid watch, her willingness to work the secateurs, and her ingenuity in using fabric strips to tie in some of the canes. . . . Thanks, Sandy!
We saw so much clever use of climbers in limited space while we were away (I'll share a few photos later) that Pater picked up two pots of Parthenocissus (Virginia creeper). . . I'm a bit nervous about the potentially thuggish propensities of these guys but My Guy assures me he will keep them under control. . . We'll see. . . .
And while we're planning to take advantage of the upper elevations, we're also enjoying the way some of last year's under-planting is filling in. This golden Dicentra -- yes, it has sweet flowers (Bleeding Heart) in the spring, but it's this lacy foliage that earns its keep. (At the front centre of that photo, you'll see the bumblebee home Pater made from an inverted plant pot tray at a workshop we went to last summer at the local botanic garden. We have no idea if it's been tenanted or not -- it was meant to allow a queen to hunker down over the winter -- and I'm trying to convince Pater to haul it out and have a look. Did you know that many of our native pollinating bees use holes in the ground for shelter? And that the huge excavations of so much urban development devastates their populations to our detriment? So we're trying to do a bit to help, but not very sure they'll want to come up this high to find a "hole in the ground."
Another point in favour of the Corylopsis -- look how beautifully it pairs with the Fuchsia we've tucked underneath it. . . .
I'm crazy about the way this hosta fills its huge pot so generously -- a bit nervous at the idea that it might want to be divided some day. . . .
That's the end of the tour for the terrace garden, but here's a very quick peek at the little balcony "out front" where I decided a small fountain might provide another buffer against street noise. This balcony gets full-on afternoon sun, magnified by that glass panel, but is sheltered from any rain by the balcony above it -- so attentive watering is a must and we're still trying to sort out what works. A Darwinian garden, if you will.
Those hellebore were new additions just before we left -- luckily, my friend was here to wage an all-out campaign against the aphids that were sapping all their vigour (I would never, ever have imagined aphids enjoying the leathery leaves of a hellebore plant!). That purple-leafed heuchera with the foamy pink flowers was added then as well, and it seems to be thriving three months later. We've added a jasmine plant -- Bordeaux's streets were perfumed with them, everywhere, so inspiring -- and one of my favourites, a Gaura Lindheimeri (common names Bee-blossom; Whirling Butterflies (the white ones) Our friend in Bayonne had those butterflies whirling  on her balcony, overlooking a lively street scene -- we peered across them at the Pyrenees. . . .

If you've read this far, you're probably keen on gardens. If you're a relatively new visitor here, you might not know about a Series of Garden Visits I facilitated here the summer before last -- some very generous readers with wonderful gardens invited us to tour (virtually) their gardens and they answered my questions about how they developed and maintain those gardens. Have a peek if you haven't seen those already (even if you have, I found it a joy to revisit those gardens). . .

And leave a word or two if you'd like, in the comments below. I always enjoy knowing you were here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Home and Thinking about Clever Cartoons and How To Draw Horses

I'm settling happily back in, chez nous, but I'm holding off a bit on blogpost-writing because of both my current familiarity with the wee hours (thank you, jet lag!) and a determination to keep "the list" manageable (currently: pedicure; gym workout; dentist appointment; get haircut; make sourdough loaves; catch up course assignments; finish sorting two months' mail, pay outstanding bills, and file paperwork; get some groceries honouring new nutrition resolutions; evict many communities of aphids; lie on the couch reading while enjoying breeze and fountain sounds -- not necessarily in that order)

But I want to keep you visiting here and I'd like you to feel that's worthwhile. . . So I'm offering you this page from my wee sketchbook, as sketched standing at the top of a hill on the Roger Lapébie cycling trail within a kilometre of our goal, the Wednesday market at Créon (watercolours added back at our Bordeaux "home"). My bike lies on the grass next to my feet -- it wouldn't stay upright on its kickstand on the uneven shoulder, and I lost patience.


  They're the same horses I tried sketching our first trip to Créon, here, and again on our second outing, they moved too much, not very co-operative models.  Even if they'd stayed still, let's be honest, I doubt I'd have captured a likeness. A memory, at least, though. . . . .

I'd by more shy about sharing these images with you (she's sketched those horses again? And they still don't look like horses!) except that the other day, checking my Twitter feed, I spotted a Tweet by illustrator Marilyn Naron which linked to this New Yorker article (by Emma Hunsinger) about drawing horses. . ..

And it's about drawing horses, yes, but it's about so much more, and it's sweet and brilliant and poignant and funny, and you can come back and thank me when you've read it. Or not, but I hope you enjoy it. I loved it completely. . .

You might know from Instagram that I also loved the Sempe exhibition we saw in Bordeaux last week (so weird to say that, the weirdest part of travel, the way it disrupts all the normal expectations of space and time, and then the rift begins healing, closing, as we settle back into our own places, places where one isn't in Bordeaux last week). Anyway, as much as I loved that exhibition, was impressed by Sempe's gentle, wise, insightful, modest humour and delightful illustration, I couldn't help but wince at the cartoons which seemed to accept the casual sexism of his time. Cartoons that replicated rather than challenged the easy mockery of women and our supposedly silly concerns, propensity for gossip, shallow avidity for clothes or shoes. . . .
He's so iconic, is Sempé -- the day after viewing the exposition of his work in Bordeaux's Musée de Mer et Marine, we walked past this Morris column advertising the New Yorker magazine via an image of a Sempé cover illustration. . . 


So to see, in the same New Yorker that so regularly hosted Sempe's work,  a 20-something woman telling a gentle story about a young girl learning to draw horses -- and shyly, slyly, telling a whole other story about growing up and gender and sexuality --- well, that was a very lovely counterpoint, and one that -- having just traveled across nine time zones to see art and cartoons on far-off gallery and museum walls -- I was able to enjoy at 1:14 a.m. in the comfort of my own home, thanks to the wonders of social media.

Where I get to chat with you as well.
Which we can do soon, but meanwhile, I have a list to work on -- what do you think I'll start with? the gym workout or the breeze-kissed couch-reading?

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

What I Wore (and Saw, and Did) in Bordeaux Sunshine. . .


Blues last week (and again, thank you for the responses, and for the conversation -- which continues), Fava Beans on the weekend. . . Seems about time for an outfit post, right? Trying to mix it up a bit here, and since Paul got a few decent photos of me (and I snapped one of him) that's what you're getting today. The outfits are Monday's; the setting is Bordeaux Musée des Beaux Arts where we'd headed to check out an exposition of Goya's prints. . .

The weather being mid-20s (after the weekend's too-warm-for-me high of 34), I'm finally wearing my Birkenstocks, making them earn that space they take up in my carry-on. White J-Crew t-shirt, a tissue-weight wool scarf in case of air-conditioning (not so common here, but it happens), and a cotton navy skirt--full, with pockets, I love it!-- that I picked up at Uniqlo here.
The photos were staged in front of this engaging installation by Franck Tallon -- featuring dramatically enlarged details from paintings owned by the museum, a passageway cut through them so that viewers can insert themselves into the works, which take on a different significance at this scale, outside, framed by the museum buildings and grounds.





Given the Goya exhibition's focus -- his satirical prints in the context of 18/19th century interest in physiognomy (very roughly, the "science" of reading morality and intelligence from facial features)-- I should be careful about showing my face here, shouldn't I?
Although those caricatures make my mugging pale in comparison. . .

Edited after Eleonore's comment (below): I've done a bit of Google-research and the caption seems to be translated most often as something like, Now that's reading!

Outside again, and not at all empty-headed, my guy walks through the installation. Those red pants he bought in Paris last year have become a summer staple for him. . .


Lunch at Le Glouton -- since we hadn't made a reservation, we felt lucky to get a table on the sidewalk, especially with that view of Pritzker Prize-winner Richard Rogers' Palais de Justice (Rogers designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris. I like both these buildings very much, but there's no question they've been controversial.)

On the way home, inspired by the Goya exposition, we thought we should check out the statue of the artist, a gift to Bordeaux from its "twin" city of Madrid -- did you know that Goya spent his last years in Bordeaux, exiled? And was originally buried here? And that while his corpse was eventually exhumed and repatriated to Spain, his skull was stolen somewhere along the way and has never been recovered?


And on that mysterious note, I shall leave you to prepare for today's visit to St. Emilion. Pater was more optimistic than I about the weather and bought train tickets in Monday's sunshine. My Birkentocks will be useless today, however, and we'll be walking around that pretty town with our umbrellas, and I think my merino pullover will get yet another chance to lord it over all the other garments I packed. . . Watch for the rainy photos on Instagram ;-)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Fav-ulous, Just Fav-ulous here in our Bordeaux Kitchen

We've just begun our last week here, and while my blues haven't left me completely, they have abated sufficiently that I know Pater and I can make the most of our remaining days in Bordeaux.  -- Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses to my last post.  Thanks also to my friend Lisa at Amid Privilege for mentioning that post (and the reader support it elicited) in her Saturday Morning post about the value of real, sincere, meaningful praise (however hard we find that to accept).

Because you've all been so kind and supportive and wise, I thought I'd share a favourite non-recipe for a meal that's been sustaining us regularly here in our (temporary) Bordeaux kitchen.  I don't imagine fava beans will be showing up at the market when we get back to Vancouver next week -- if I remember correctly, we won't see them until at least July, and your markets might be the same (or you're in another hemisphere where gardens are sleeping for the season).  In which case, we've substituted other fresh beans and we've also been known to drain a can or two of cannelini beans -- it's a very forgiving non-recipe.

Quick disclaimer: If you've been reading here for years, you'll have read other posts about preparing fava beans. Here, for example, and here. The (non) recipes offered in those earlier posts are different, and there are photographs of the process. But yes, I'm repeating myself -- seems inevitable as I come to the end of my eleventh year blogging. 

So then, if you're lucky enough to have fava beans -- we've been buying them at all the markets, Marché des Capucins, Marché des Quais, Marché Saint Seurin, Marché de Créon -- start with a good kilogram of them and first, open the pods to nudge the beans into a bowl. Your pile of empty shells will comprise far more biomass than the surprisingly small accumulation of green beans, and you may wonder if you paid too much for compost.  . . But you might also notice how connected you feel with your senses -- that particularly verdant, slightly musky fragrance of beans; the satisfying kinetic sensation of unzipping the pod along its seam;  your finger pad brushing the velvet lining of the pod's interior as you scoop the beans out.

Sometimes, those of us who prepare food complain that it takes so long to prepare and is consumed so quickly. But in the case of fava beans (as with shelling fresh-from-the-garden peas), I find the process of preparing them to be a satisfying consumption of its own, almost a pre-tasting.

Okay, enough kitchen philosophy. Next stage is to bring a pot of salted water to a boil ("salty as the ocean" was the lyrical instruction I once read regarding bean-cooking). Enough water that they'll be able to roll around a bit, but not so much that it will take forever to boil. Once the water's at a good boil, dump the beans into it and wait for the water to boil again, a rolling boil with all the beans bouncing 'round on the surface. As soon as that's happening, drain them and then plunge them into a bowl you've already filled with cold water (ice water's even better).  Note: I used to boil the beans a handful at a time, according to instructions I'd read which told me to wait for the beans to come to the surface, then scoop them out into that cold-water bath, and add another handful to the boiling water.  Lately, I haven't been taking those steps, and honestly, I haven't noticed any under- or over-cooked beans.

If the fava beans you've been lucky enough to acquire are really young, you might be able to get away without the next step -- for the first few weeks here, we were leaving the skin on most of the smaller beans. They're getting much heftier now, though, and the skin is thicker, more fibrous. So the next step, once the beans are cool, is to gently squeeze the skin off each bean.  The first reward for this extra labour? The sweetest green you'll ever eat, seriously! Plus more fodder for your compost bin -- next year's humous, if you're a gardener. . .

Finally, now that you have your (shockingly small, it's true) bowl of shiny green half-moons,  you can toss them in a salad bowl with a chopped tomato, a cup of chopped cucumber, 1/2 a sweet onion, diced, and a chopped avocado. Pater adds olive oil, salt & pepper to taste, and the juice of half a lemon. But you will adjust to taste, of course. And perhaps report back any recommended improvements. We've been known to add fresh chopped mint, and I'm thinking one of these days I'll probably add a cup of cooked couscous. . . or quinoa. . . . And hmmmm, what about adding a few artichoke hearts, quartered?

Let me know what you think, would you? We're going to brave the heat (a predicted 32 Celsius today, a titch cooler than yesterday, and far too warm for me) and the crowds (everyone's come to Bordeaux for le pont  (the long weekend built on Ascension Thursday, apparently) to stroll through the market by the Garonne again. Given that we only have a week left here, I'm going to be very careful around the cheeses -- still haven't finished last week's purchases. . .

à plus tard,
xo,
f


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Blues Catching Up, Even on Travel

Not sure if you noticed that it's been longer than usual since my last post (six days!) but I've found myself in a bit of a slough this last week, on and off. Sense of self-worth has been shaky and when I evaluate my life so far, I minimize anything that might seem an achievement to others. It gets bleak, and the ridiculousness of it all doesn't help. I mean, my rational brain echoes my husband who points out my parenting, my conservatory diploma (piano performance), the BA, MA, and PhD. I earned after I had four kids.  But She has her hooks well in, and She's very good at pointing out the mediocrity of each accomplishment, at finding the comparisons that prove that mediocrity, and whatever the biochemistry that's going on at the cellular level during these session, She is shockingly convincing.

Not that I haven't fought back. If I can get outside and get moving, I'm generally able to muster up some endorphins to help balance the scales. Paul took that photo of me (he's getting much better, isn't he? Although wow! he still takes such a long time setting up) at the Sports Club here at the Chaban-Delmas Stadium, culmination of our self-guided Art Deco tour .

And the photo below is one of the Couple Selfies I've been sharing on Instagram -- you can see the Art Deco architecture behind us and the glorious mosaic floor inside, in front of us. He's been a great support on my blue days, and overall, I think we'll both say the two months' together have been good. Not without challenges, and not for everyone's relationship, but the extended time exposed some patterns and encouraged us to change them -- and it reminded us of the best part of Us, allowed time to recognize and strengthen that without the disruptions we have at home.

I wrote this in a letter to a good friend the other day -- she'd been perspicacious enough to ask how I was feeling as I approached that liminal space at the end of a trip:

Yep, beginning to think ahead to home and pretty much ready for it, beginning to think about how well this trip matched what I’d hoped for and what I’ve/we’ve learned from where it either fell short or exceeded or even revealed the unexpected. I think I always load travel with too many expectations that I don’t even know I’m holding until I start to unpack a mood. Mostly, I think the time with just the two of us has been really good for exposing and shifting some patterns — it’s so easy to be diverted from that at home, but we’re stuck with each other here and that ends up being a good thing. Partly, when I’m here, I realize how much I’d like more time on my own, but I also see how lucky I am to have someone whose company I (mostly ;-) enjoy (and find comforting and sheltering, which is not nothing!) and whose ego doesn’t (often) get in the way — so that if I need the time alone, he gives it to me. Also, I think the time as a couple without the kids in our weekly (often daily) lives is a really good thing, even though we both miss them. It’s so  easy to get pulled into their stuff at home, and I’m happy to, but it’s good to remember that it’s really each other we need to prioritize being with and looking after. My current thinking, at least. We’ll see how that changes once I’m back home.
A few years ago, at a party on "our little island," a neighbour told me she'd been disappointed with a post I'd written, disappointed to see me express unhappiness during a trip, unhappiness at all actually seemed to be her point, given the good fortune of my life.  Although I often wonder, when such feelings are expressed, whether the speaker has any understanding of depression at all, this was someone I knew often struggled with the beast. I suspect her disappointment wasn't so much directed at me for not bucking up and admitting my happiness, my luck, but at the condition itself for so distorting our experience and sense of self-worth -- there was much in her life to be contented with as well. . .  And she probably knew as well as I did that knowing that only made the feeling worse. More ammunition for the Inner Critic to aim . . .

Anyway, I looked that post up, thinking I'd tell you about it -- it had been written here in Bordeaux as we neared the end of a seven-week trip, most of it spent locally.  What a surprise to see how uncannily close was the melancholy and frustration I expressed there to what I've been living again lately.

So it continues.

And I hope it doesn't become too tiresome to read. If you're disappointed with me for feeling blue in the midst of this wonderful travel opportunity, I hope there's compensation in the value of an honest representation.

To push the melancholy out of the way today, to make the most of our dwindling time here (just over a week left now), we've rented bikes and we'll head out into the countryside again, hit up a local market. I've got scads of photos to show you eventually, all taken during various outings designed to lift spirits, but for the purposes of this post, I thought I'd prefer to focus on the small, particular details of the extraordinary ordinary, if that's okay. . .
The saucers lined on a bar counter, each with a packet of sugar and a wrapped biscuit, all ready for the "petits cafés" that will be made up for the next wave of coffee drinkers. . .
Rare to catch these inviting benches in Le Jardin Public so empty. . .

And finally,
a sketchbook page from several weeks ago at Marché des Capucins, oysters and a glass of white wine, and one of those windows. . .

Hmmm, I had actually thought I couldn't write anything here -- and perhaps I shouldn't have. But there's one more post written; I'll click "Publish" now, and I'll hand the mic to you.
xo,
f

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Rome Shadows and Sketchbook . . .

 So. . . that walk through Rome. Happened two weeks, I told you about part of it last week, and finally, I'll show you our destination. . . .
 I must admit that it was really my destination, but my walking partner happily accommodated me.  There  was a misunderstanding to clear up when we reached the Pantheon, however. He thought I just wanted to get to it again, to see it from the outside. . .
 And honestly, when I saw the long line-up waiting to file in, I did think of abandoning my goal (and if I had, we could have zipped over to the nearby Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella and bought a refill of my beloved Melograno soap, which would almost have been ample compensation for missing a visit with the oculus).
 But Pater pointed out that the line was moving steadily and he steered us over to its terminus, clearing a path through the crowd of Selfie-takers, past the horse-and-carriage waiting to haul weary tourists to their next destination.
 And Pater was right. The line moved quickly, and we were soon inside. This was our first time visiting on a sunny afternoon, and I don't mind saying I was thrilled by the effect of the sun powering through that rooftop opening (the oculus) to make its mark on the mesmerising geometrics of the inside walls. The shadows make performance art, a meditation on time and on the relationship between light and dark. . . Even in the fifteen minutes we spent inside, we noted the change in the position of the shadows, the ancient clock telling a familiar story.
 This was my fourth visit, or fifth, to the Pantheon, and I hope I'll go again. And again. The first time Pater and I were there, rain pounded through the oculus, streamed along the marble floor to the drainage holes. An exhilarating and near sacred experience, despite (or because of?) the noisy crowds and the recorded voice that brought the crowd to silence every minute or two, held it there for a few seconds before the volume was regained.
 Different every visit. . .
 I've been to Rome a few times now, and I haven't "done" the Vatican other than walking around St. Peter's Square two or three times (once with a Three and her Papa and a giant Christmas tree -- now that was fun!).  And nothing I've heard about the inarguably fabulous art there makes me think I'll ever submit to the experience of those line-ups and that herding.

But once you get inside the Pantheon,  there's no need to keep up with the crowd or to move along.
 Despite the crowds, there is still space for contemplation (although yeah, sure, keep your bag zipped and closely held and don't forget to move your wallet from your pocket to a safer spot)
 I sat and sketched, from one of the pews, on two rectangles I'd pre-painted earlier in my sketchbook. I'm not sure how I came to draw one of the shadowed rectangles as high and the other one as wide -- when I saw what I'd done, I checked what I was looking at and couldn't understand the difference. I can only claim that there's an optical illusion that begins to happen, looking at the wall from top to bottom and/or from side to side. The rectangles I've sketched are from different parts of the wall, so the shadows create strikingly different graphics.
Afterward, stopped for a drink on a poorly chosen terrace before ending our walk at Roma Termini station, I sketched a row of windows, with heightened attention to the play of shadow. . . .

And now, if you'll excuse me, I think there will be some shadows to attend to here in Bordeaux, thanks to the sunshine finally making a commitment. There has been sunshine in almost every day here, but it's often been quite grudging and has too often been replaced by grey skies and rain.  It's 9:30 as I finish writing this, 20 degrees Celsius outside already, and really, I can't bear to be inside a minute longer.

We'll chat soon, okay? The Comments situation seems to be working better now -- I'd love to hear from you.
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