Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Winter's Beauty

The sap is rising, days grow longer, bulbs busily thrust themselves through the earth, some even have flowers. Trees stand unadorned, silhouetted in their skeletal nakedness against Winter's skies. They too await Spring's arrival, their bare limbs show signs of buds but throughout the year many play host to some of Mother Nature's frilly, lacy, little jewels.
Lichens are a partnership between members of two different kingdoms that live together in a special, mutually beneficial relationship - a symbiosis
Each lichen is made up of a fungus and an algae: the body of the lichen is built up by a tough fungal hyphae, and the algae lives inside that framework 

The fungus protects the algae from the harsh world outside, and provides it with water and mineral nutrients. The algae makes its own food by photosynthesis, then leaks some of this food, which in turn is absorbed by the fungus as it cannot make it's own food
Their partnership is so tough and self-reliant that lichens can grow on rocks in the desert where nothing else survives. When it is too dry, too hot, or too cold, lichens go into a state of suspended animation until conditions improve. Because the algae make up only 5% of each lichen, and are out of action for much of the time, lichens grow very slowly - only a few millimetres per year. They make up for this by living for centuries, or in some cases, millennia 

Lichens have one serious weakness - they must absorb their mineral nutrients from the rain. So if the air is polluted with sulphur dioxide, this dissolves in the rain and is absorbed by the lichens which often die as a result - lichens are a good predictor of air quality.
All of these lichen photos were taken in our garden - the row of skyline trees are on Exmoor 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Utstein Monastery, Norway

 The coping stones running along the tops of our garden walls are frosted, but already beginning to melt in the early morning sun. There's no tempting me outside, I am like the cat that got the cream, warm, cosy, and content to stay indoors

Endeavouring to tidy up my iPhoto storage I came across a visit made during a past trip to Norway
The trip was taken at a time when our eldest son and family still lived in Norway. The images are from my first digital camera - long gone now, and not very good, but they hopefully convey a sense of place. 
Utstein Monastery 
To reach Utstein Monastery you travel through a deep undersea road tunnel from Stavanger to the island of Mosterøy in Rogaland. On arrival at the island there is a brisk walk to the monastery across a natural causeway - an area surrounded by inlets of water as far as the eye can see, distant mountains, and sheep grazing along the pathway. 
I had assumed that these sheep were a Norwegian breed but in fact they come from Wales - Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep whose striking tails are traditionally left undocked as in the photo.
Utstein is the only preserved Monastery from the Middle Ages in Norway and one of it's important landmarks

It served as the Royal residence to the very first Viking king of Norway; Harald Fairhair, and is first mentioned in historical records going back to the C9th.

King Harald from the c14th Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók
 The building was later donated to the Augustinian monks of Stavanger towards the end of the c12th.  They lived a pious life of strict discipline and prayer at Utstein Monastery until the Reformation in the c15th.
At its height there were 12 monks in residence, but the abbey was sustained by double that amount of local lay people who worked on their farm, grew produce, cooked the meals, and generally took care of the monastery. The extensive lands belonging to the monastery were sufficient to support 250 people throughout the year.

The monastery church has traditional Nordic/Scandic painted wood and carved stonework

Although medieval they have a contemporary feel, and I suspect that this could already be heralding their innate sense of style and design which many of us admire today
With its tranquil setting and fine accoustics it is now a favoured place for concerts, seminars, conventions, and tourists

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Vegetarian Supper Dish

The halls are now undecked, the 'thank you' letters written - the festivities are over, and I want simpler food on my plate.  
Take a handful of fresh basil leaves, two fat cloves of garlic, two tbspns extra virgin olive oil and blend together, add more oil if necessary
Place on prepared vegetables and roast - fresh herbs and garlic elevate the flavours of the vegetables to another level
I served mine with some homemade macaroni cheese, dressed salad leaves and runner beans. To make the cheese sauce really tasty add proper English mustard, freshly ground nutmeg and use a mature grated vintage cheddar cheese.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Thank you so much for your visits - I really enjoy your observations and thoughtful comments, but above all I value your friendship - Happy New Year

Monday, 26 December 2016

Boxing Day

Hope that you have all had a happy seasonal holiday whether you celebrated or not
A gift of a pen and ink drawing by one of our granddaughters
and hanging hooks made for us by our grandson
A brisk walk in the winter sunshine followed by an easy meal of leftovers from Christmas Day. Tomorrow we shall be on our own again, but lots of clearing up to keep us busy - take care♡

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Palais Garnier

The Dance - Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
The Paris Opera House was commissioned by Napoleon lll in 1861 and designed by Charles Garnier, but its inauguration in 1875 was too late for Napoleon who had died two years previously 
In the frieze E for Emperor N for Napoleon
Designed in the very popular Beaux Arts style of the time, it symbolised the opulence of the Second Empire. The exterior is one of the impressive landmarks in Paris with an interior of grand chandeliers, sweeping marble staircases and gilt decoration. 
Garnier designed a private turnaround carriageway at the back of the building for Napoleon. He could have arrive securely, leave his carriage to await his return, and come and go as he wished.
 The 'Bassin de la Pythie' is situated below the Grand Staircase. Pythia was a high priestess at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassus - this theatrical entrance flanked on each side by a grand sweeping stairway gives a taste of things to come
The double sided Grand Staircase is made from white Cararra marble with a red and green marble balustrade leading up to the Auditorium and the Grand Foyer
At the top of the stairs is a beautiful marble arcade which has some exquisite Venetian mosaic work within the arches
At the centre is a vaulted ceiling showing paintings by artist Isadore Pils of Apollo, Minerva, and Orpheus.
two images courtesy wiki 

The inauguration in 1875
This sumptuous, breath taking, gilded Grand Foyer, was modelled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The domed ceiling was painted by Paul Baudry to represent various moments in the history of music
A close up of the fine details at the bases of the gilt columns
All of the small side foyers are individually decorated and also have striking ceilings

With the opening of Opéra Bastille in 1989 the Palais Garnier lost its role as the main opera house in Paris. It is now the principal home of ballet although it still does host some opera 
In 1960 the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux controversially commissioned Marc Chagall to repaint the ceiling in the auditorium. Rather than destroy the original painting by Jules-Eugène Lenepveu, Chagall painted his canvass on a removable frame. Twenty years later, however, the original painting by Lenepveu was removed to the Musée d'Orsay where it is now on display.
Chagall's painting celebrates the music of both opera and ballet by 14 different composers. At its centre is the grand chandelier made of bronze and weighing a staggering 7 tonnes.